Essential Tools

The Best Deals at Restaurant Supply Stores (& the Tools to Get Elsewhere)

September  6, 2016

Maybe you’ve never been to a restaurant supply store. They're often located in out-of-the-way strip-malls or concentrated in particular parts of town. They're large and intimidating, devoid of the free samples or festive music. They're overwhelming.

Or maybe, you’re already a restaurant supply store fanatic.

Because there are two reasons to visit a restaurant supply store that outweigh all reasons not to: They are cheap, and they have everything.

The low prices and utilitarian look of restaurant supply store wares might make you suspicious: Does the quality suffer? I would argue no. As their name might suggest, restaurants typically stock their kitchens from these sorts of mega-shops, and, on the whole, their basics are just as durable as what you would find anywhere else. Plus, they offer a huge variety of options, so you can pay bottom-dollar for a totally passable tool or shell out a little more for a higher-quality iteration.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Parchment paper, pizza peels, pizza pans, tongs, Cambro tubs, big stainless bowls, cake pans in all sizes, long and short big metal spoons, spatulas in every form, plastic bowl scrapers (one is not enough.) So many good things! On my wish list is the spinny cake stand to decorate cakes. ”
— mrslarkin
Comment

This is not to say that these gadget meccas are the right place to buy everything you need to stock your kitchen. Yes, their wares are inexpensive, but they’re typically not the most attractive options around. And while most goods in the restaurant supply store are cheaper than what you would find anywhere else, that’s not always the case. But if you’re on a budget, if you tend to work your kitchen tools to death, or if you don’t care too much about aesthetics (let’s say you’re looking to stock a kitchen temporarily), read on.

To help navigate the twisting aisles of your local restaurant supply store, we’ve compiled a list of what is worth buying—and what is not.

The Basics

Restaurant supply stores have an incredibly wide selection of all the basics, so treat it as a one-stop shop to stock your kitchen with the essentials. They often aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing, but they are relatively durable and extremely versatile.

  • Carbon steel wok: For all of your stir-fry needs.
  • Saucepans: Go for stainless steel over aluminum. Though aluminum heats more quickly, acidic foods, like tomatoes, can degrade the pan.
  • Non-stick fry pans: Sunny-side up eggs. Enough said.
  • Set of stainless steel mixing bowls: Metal mixing bowls can also double as the top half of a double boiler, be the mold for your next Baked Alaska, and serve as the basin for a handy-dandy ice bath, in addition to all your everyday mixing needs.
  • Metal cooking spoons: They might not be attractive, but these spoons will be the workhorses for all of your sauces, soups, and chilies.
  • Whisk: Heavy duty, no-frills.
  • Aluminum sheet pan: One can never have too many sheet pans, especially restaurant-style ones that have a lip to ensure your granola doesn’t skid off the pan when you’re taking it out of the oven. Plus, restaurant supply stores keep small half-size sheet pans, which work well for roasting vegetables for one or reheating leftovers. Plus, since they’re super cheap, you can use them to make your stickiest and messiest recipes without any guilt about ruining them.
  • “Utility” spring-loaded tongs: From flipping vegetables on the grill to twirling pasta in sauce, you will use these far more than you think you will—buy two.
  • Bar set: If you’re stocking your bar for the first time, restaurant supply stores are the perfect one-stop shop for tools. For under $10, you can get a shaker, a jigger, a bar spoon, and a strainer.
  • Cutting boards: They may be white plastic and not especially attractive, but these cutting boards are very utilitarian (and easier than wood boards to wash).

Restaurant Tools

Since restaurant supply stores gear their wares towards professional chefs (hence the name), they often have gadgets outside the tool kit of the typical home cook. While it can be hard to justify purchasing single-use items, when they’re this affordable, they may very well be worth it (if you have the space to store them, that is).

  • Kitchen shears: From snipping open packages of frozen peas to slicing pizzas to cutting herbs, kitchen shears come in handy in all sorts of situations.
  • Metal dough scraper: For the avid bread baker—or baker in general—these are a super helpful. Not only do they make dividing dough crazy easy, for, say, a braided challah or rolls, but they are also helpful for de-doughing countertops.
  • Plastic dough scraper: A million times better than a spatula for getting that last bit of cake batter out of the bowl.
  • Heat-proof spatula: You might be asking, “Why would I need a heat-proof spatula?” Until you get one yourself. These babies are like wooden spoons that get in every nook and cranny of your pan, plus they’re great for making scrambled eggs. And they don’t absorb any flavor!
  • Food mill: If you find yourself making large batches of tomato sauce or mashed potatoes on a semi-regular basis, it is extremely helpful.
  • Wooden steamer baskets: For those times you make dumplings, or decide to experiment with DIY rice noodles, or just want some simple steamed broccoli.
  • Spider: The perfect sidekick to all of your fried food adventures — also useful for grabbing bobbing gnocchi or tortellini.
  • Asian soup spoons: For your next ramen night, or anytime you want to eat miso soup.
  • Wooden pizza peel: Sure, you could use a sheet pan to transfer your pizza into the oven, but the pizza peel just has so much more flair.
  • Aluminum sizzling platter: Since aluminum conducts heat so well, these platters are well-suited to keeping meat (or anything) warm in the oven until you’re ready to eat.

The Price Isn’t Right

These items you may be tempted to buy while you’re at the restaurant supply store, but they’re not markedly less expensive (and, in some cases, they’re actually more expensive) than what you would find at a local store. The price difference, however, is typically marginal, so if you’re feeling like you want to do a one-stop shop, go right ahead and throw these things in your cart:

  • Meat thermometer
  • Plastic-handled, carbon steel workhorse knives
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Microplane
  • Mandoline
  • Rotary sifter
  • Cast-iron skillets

Just Say No

Restaurant supply stores are dens of temptation for cooking nerds, kitchen geeks, and the gadget-obsessed. These are the items you may feel the urge to buy because they are very cool and you could probably impress people, but in reality they are highly impractical. Just say no.

  • Giant pots/pans/steamers of all stripes (unless you’re planning a crawfish boil): The storage situation is just a nightmare. You’ll find these pots two years after you buy them in your garage, serving as a den for spiders.
  • Aluminum jerky shooter : This is a tool to help people make large quantities of jerky at one time. Yes, it’s cool—but no, you probably don’t need it.
  • Whipped cream dispenser : You can do this by hand, people!
  • French fry dicers : See above.
  • Milkshake maker : Just use a blender.

Which kitchen tools do you buy at the restaurant supply store? Which do you splurge on? Tell us in the comments below!

19 Comments

Chris G. April 1, 2017
For me my 4 gallon stainless steel Stock pot, bought at Costco is a must!<br />Also, my latest 'supper-find," is a flat bottom non-stick Wok, with many concentric rings on the bottom so it sticks to the electric burner or anywhere like glue and is safe for two-handed stir fry or never having to worry about tipping over during deep-frying on the stove! Found at Ranch- 99 or H-mart with glass lid for approx. $23.00 with 2, count-em, 2 bamboo stir-fry spatulas! I've had Carbon steal wok forever, and yes you don't have to worry about over-heating the carbon steel one, but there is nothing safe about using it with the ring on an electric stove and it's not efficient there either! The price is right most places...all I can say is try them! You will think you have died and gone to heaven! But non-steel tools are a must! I have two carbon steel woks that someone will get at the second hand store for a song!<br />Chris
 
Lynda K. September 12, 2016
I also buy Cambro and use it for storing flour/grains and leftovers. The lids fight tightly, it does not stain and does beautifully in the dishwasher. I also have a large one that I use as a dough bucket. With measurements on the side, you know instantly when the dough has doubled. I also love the tulip muffin liners, thick terry potholders and industrial size coffee filters for lining the coffee toddy. Makes for EASY cleanup.
 
Karen H. September 11, 2016
Round cake pans, all sizes. The aluminum ones they sell are superior to the things I find elsewhere. Giant stainless steel bowl - a great buy.
 
arielcooks September 11, 2016
I use my 12-qt aluminum stock pot frequently and it lives in the kitchen. When the contents are cool, I can offload the contents into smaller containers for dinner and the freezer. But I almost never used my 16-qt Le Creuset pot, so whoever bought it in our last garage sale has that storage problem now.
 
barbara N. September 11, 2016
I bake so, storage containers for all my flours etc. We also have two small dark blue, not ugly, small platters which work great for the two of us.
 
Janie September 11, 2016
I am looking for an extra large non- stick fry pan. Approximately 17" across, 3-4" deep, and 7 quarts capacity. The company that made them does not have them any more. I would even use a 2nd hand one if it could be found. Does anyone know of a place to find one?
 
arielcooks September 11, 2016
Perhaps Lodge cast-iron?
 
Janie September 11, 2016
Thank you. What I wanted was something with calphalon or similar coating. Lodge has a pan that would work.
 
cosmiccook September 11, 2016
Several years ago I bought an OXO veggie peeler with replaceable blades thinking that was the best. Now I get the CARBON BLADE veggie peelers at $3 a pop--superior performance. I get disposable piping bags and buy my tips. If you have a Restaurant Depot in your area and have a business or know someone who does--GET A MEMBERSHIP. Its FREE and SO worth it! The food costs are so much better!
 
Author Comment
Catherine L. September 7, 2016
Sounds like I need to reconsider my dismissal of the whipped cream dispenser tool! You guys have me convinced.
 
jeanmarieok September 6, 2016
The pre-cut, sheet pan sized parchment is amazing. I also like to pick up plastic storage in pint and quarts (the kind you sometimes get chinese food in) - great for leftovers at parties.
 
suzybel63 September 6, 2016
I got the heavy duty spring loaded tongs, 2 long and 1 shorter and they are the best. I've had the cheaper ones from Walmart and Dollar Store and there is no comparison.
 
M September 6, 2016
Is "whipped cream dispenser" supposed to mean an isi? If anything, I'd call it a useful tool in disguise.<br /><br />While it's not necessary to whip up whipped cream, it's a tool that can have many uses -- especially if you like cocktails & want a small workhorse. It will make foams and creams, carbonate, and probably the best use: rapid-infuse flavours, which saves a lot of patience and storing space for everything from drinks to olive oils.<br />
 
mrslarkin September 6, 2016
Yes to the whipped cream siphon! It's so great, and the cream stays fresh in the container for many days.<br /><br />Parchment paper, pizza peels, pizza pans, tongs, Cambro tubs, big stainless bowls, cake pans in all sizes, long and short big metal spoons, spatulas in every form, plastic bowl scrapers (one is not enough.) So many good things!<br /><br />On my wish list is the spinny cake stand to decorate cakes.
 
RobR September 6, 2016
Food storage containers. The brand I see most is Cambro. Store rice, beans, pasta, or anything else that you buy in bulk. I raise bread dough in them, the measurements on the side of the container tell me when my dough has doubled in size. Airtight lids keep things from going stale and keep out vermin. I use these constantly.
 
creamtea September 6, 2016
But we loooove our little whipped cream dispenser!! We have a half-size one purchased on sale. Useful to take it, chilled, on picnics then whip it out (!) for the grand finale. Good for hot chocolate. Good for individual dollops on plain chocolate cakes or short cakes when guests come for tea. We get a lot of use out of it.
 
mnr_t September 6, 2016
Second the parchment paper! I became a much better cook when I realized I didn't have to feel guilty about using parchment!!
 
Maurina R. September 6, 2016
Also, inexpensive metal serving trays. I use these all over the house, to corral remotes on the coffee table, hold lotions and soaps in the bath, and to set center pieces on the dining table, to prevent over spills and leaks from ruining the surface.
 
Dona September 6, 2016
Don't forget a life time supply of parchment paper!