Essential Tools

26 Cooking Tools Even a Minimalist Can't Live Without

February 26, 2018

Kitchens are often the first place in a home to become overrun with clutter. We got tips from a devoted minimalist—who spends a lot of time in the kitchen—on how to streamline what we need and what we don’t, for a happier, healthier, and more efficient experience in one of our favorite rooms.

Rebecca “Bex” Shern is frequently in the kitchen for both her work and her family. She also happens to be a minimalist, and partner to Joshua Fields Millburn, one half of the writing, podcast, and filmmaking duo, The Minimalists. From her blog, Minimal Wellness, to the ways she and Joshua have found to live a more fulfilled life, Bex doesn’t weigh herself and her home down with any items that she doesn’t use and truly value. When we last talked to both her and Joshua about their home and lifestyle, we realized Bex had some great insight into what makes a pared-down and happy kitchen.

“The only requirements I have for a kitchen are adequate counter space and a good stove,” Bex told us. “Of course, it helps having a space you enjoy...In terms of keeping it ideal for productivity, I work hard to keep our refrigerator and pantry pared down to the essentials. Nothing I cook is very complex, but that's the point. Simple, fresh, whole foods are almost always the most nourishing and delicious.”

For many of us, all those cabinets and drawers seem to magically fill up with tools and servingware pieces we never use—cleaning those out can lead to easier, more fuss-free cooking and baking. Bex’s list won’t be the exact list for everyone, but it’s a guide to really evaluating what you work with in the kitchen and what you don’t. Since we caught Bex packing and downsizing for a move, it was an especially perfect time for her to define what she needed and what she could toss. Here’s what she had to say about how she works in the kitchen and what she keeps on hand to do it:

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I will say that I upgraded to a stainless steel rice cooker last year to move away from the Teflon pot. I love that I can scrub my stainless steel rice cooker without having to worry about scratching the Teflon.”
— Emily

On her food philosophy: “As a registered dietitian nutritionist, mom, partner, and wellness entrepreneur, I consider food the foundation for a healthy life and happy family. I prioritize healthy eating and cooking, but try to make meals as simple, nourishing, and delicious as possible. Eating well shouldn't be complicated. Our daughter currently lives with us half of the time (half the time she is with her father); when she's with us, I cook the vast majority of the meals for that week at home. When it's just my partner and I, we tend to eat out a bit more. Although I cook a lot, I almost never bake as our diet is centered around fresh, whole, and unprocessed foods."

On her day-to-day cooking style: “I worked in the hospitality industry for nearly two decades and I run our home kitchen much like a quick-service restaurant. I have a small handful of recipes that I tend to make most of the time. I implement bulk prep and batch cooking techniques to ease the day-to-day burden of cooking and I add variety to the standard lineup by changing ingredients like vegetables, proteins, sauces, or finishing herbs. A couple of times a month I'll make a 'special'—something completely new that's a little more labor intensive and several times a month I'll play around with new recipes for the blog."

On recipe development: "Because my primary revenue stream comes from nutrition coaching, I don't focus as much on recipe development as food bloggers do and I tend to approach development of new recipes very practically. When I want to make a particular new item or use specific ingredients I'll take an initial stab at that recipe and serve it to my family, then I'll make necessary adjustments to the recipe the next time I make it, sometimes a couple weeks or months later. Eventually I post many of those recipes, others just never quite get there. It's a slow process, but I'm allergic to the idea of wasting food—even if it's to develop a new recipe—so I avoid that whenever possible.”

Bex’s Essentials

Bex's cookware Photo by Bex Shern

1. A large cutting board "Mine is close to 15 years old and made of bamboo. I’ve never oiled it or done anything but wash it off to maintain it and it’s still going strong."

2. A chef’s knife

3. A paring knife

4. A knife sharpener

5. A 12-inch fry pan

6. 2-quart, 4-quart, and 8-quart saute pans, each with a lid

7. A 12-inch deep cast iron skillet with a silicone handle "I’ve burned myself too many times grabbing the handle, so I got a silicone gripper for it and keep it on all the time."

8. Two sheet pans

9. A flat spatula

10. A silicone spatula

Cast iron = always a good idea (silicone gripper = also a good idea) Photo by Bex Shern
Bex's utensils Photo by Bex Shern

11. A wooden spoon

12. A large microplane

13. Measuring cups

14. Measuring spoons

15. A wire whisk — stiff

16. Silicone hot pads "They can double as jar openers and trivets."

17. A peeler

18. A blender

19. A can opener

20. Kitchen scissors

More of Bex's trusted tools Photo by Bex Shern

21. A fine mesh strainer

22. Salt and pepper grinders

23. A garlic press "I realize this isn’t essential for most chefs or competent home cooks, but I hate mincing garlic. This little tool makes me happy."

24. A citrus juicer "Another item I could live without, but it’s super handy as I do a lot of recipes with citrus."

25. A hand mixer "I only use this a couple of times a year, but when I need it, I really need it, so it continues to make the essentials list."

26. Muffin tins "Used only twice a year, but still an essential. We celebrate birthdays with cupcakes!"

Not critical, but handy when needed! Photo by Bex Shern

What Didn’t Make the Cut

  1. A rice cooker "A saucepan works just as well."
  2. A stand mixer "I had one but it was stolen during a move two years ago and it hasn’t been replaced. I realized I only used it once or twice a year and it took up an absurd amount of counter space. A few months ago I purchased a small hand-held mixer, which works great."
  3. A coffee maker "A single pour-over or small Chemex are just as easy and make far superior coffee."
  4. A pot or pan in every size "I’m amazed at how easy it is to execute a host of recipes with just a couple of quality pots and pans."
  5. An arsenal of servingware "I’ve found that I only need a couple of large bowls and a couple of smaller plates and bowls for hosting get-togethers. If you really need a specific piece, it’s pretty easy to borrow one from a friend."
  6. Various peeling and slicing gadgets "Some basic knife skills go a long way."
  7. A slow cooker "I prefer fresh flavors, so slow cookers don’t mesh well with my preferences."
  8. A bread maker "Be honest. How often does it actually get used?"

What do you think of Bex's list? Tell us how it compares with what you'd consider to be your core kitchen essentials.

This post originally ran in January 2018.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kehaulani Kelly
    Kehaulani Kelly
  • Michelle Wood
    Michelle Wood
  • marymichael
  • papermageling
  • Suzanne Dion
    Suzanne Dion
Courtney Iseman

Written by: Courtney Iseman


Kehaulani K. March 8, 2019
Aloha. I notice your pans have scum. Well please use Bar Keepers Friend. It’s a miracle cleanser. Than pass the info on to your family and friends and readers too
Michelle W. March 8, 2019
Oops I don’t have a handheld gardener I do however have a wonderful handheld sharpener!
Michelle W. March 8, 2019
Love my over 2’ long cutting board(cut out of counter from stove top)
Use as a hot pot landing spot, serving multiple dishes, tons of veggie chopping.
More antibacterial than plastic and no tiny pieces of plastic in my food.
I avoid plastic as much as possible.
I use smaller boards for meat, cheese, onions. Easier to scrub.
It lives on counter next to my sink and abouve the trash. Easy to clean scraps.
I use my chefs knife for EVERYTHING .
Use my hand held gardener everyday.
Have multiple micro planes for garlic,lemon,nutmeg, onions ginger for marinades is much nicer Than mincing.
Go through ungodly amounts of jumbo bounty p-towels. Not worth the bacteria of anything else.
I recycle everything so feel less guilty!
Have loads of Staub. Super heavy and awkward but I love knowing they are there:) I have great biceps.
Use my 12” staub skillet 2-3xs a day.
Multiple salt pots for different uses. Much faster than grinding...
Super fast pepper mill.
Quality Silicone turner and spatula but fav is fish spatula from WS. The best -why wouldn’t you need a flexible super thin spatula for EVERYTHING?
Also multiple metal tongs!
Grilling ,turning, serving. Long,med,short,silicone tipped.

Get the best quality you can and you won’t need to buy more throwaway things. That’s to me is minimal.

marymichael March 8, 2019
Stainless steal tongs!! I've been known to go out and buy one when I find myself cooking away from home...
papermageling May 9, 2018
I appreciate that this list wasn't super prescriptive. She's not saying that no one needs a stand mixer, merely that she doesn't, as she bakes a few times a year. Or that everyone needs that garlic press (although I'm definitely keeping mine: it passes the Marie Kondo test with flying colors).

I absolutely do have my own items that I use often and which spark joy. I love my wok, for example. I like having multiple wood spoons as it's much nicer to cook multiple things that way. On the other hand, I find salt grinders rather pointless.
Suzanne D. April 16, 2018
I'm a baker .... and I can't live without my stand mixer, which also doubles as my pasta roller and meat grinder. Food processor grates, shreds, slices and juliennes veggies for advance preparation of salads and it doubles as a mixer for quick pie crust. Yep, I'm a slave to my countertop appliances. The mixer is 10 years old, the food processor 15-20 -- oh, and lest I forget, my stovetop pressure cooker. I wouldn't trade them for anything.
Suzanne D. April 16, 2018
And I forgot ... that dough hook on the mixer has helped me knead more loaves of bread than I can count ... and my microwave oven can be turned into the world's greatest proof box. So there ...
Eli April 16, 2018
To Suzanne, I agree completely. I too use many accessories on my mixer, so that saves space and money to have one motor for many appliances. I also have a stove top pressure cooker (and electric ones). It is not clutter if you use it, especially if you have space for it. I keep many appliances in roll out shelves in cabinet and lesser used ones, still easily accessible, but in the garage. I just hate these definitive lists telling us what is what.
Eli April 6, 2018
This is list is way over supplied to be considered “minimalist.”

You can easily get rid of or replace 16 of their items too.
1)”A large cutting board, ‘Mine is close to 15 years old and made of bamboo’ . . . " Yikes. DO NOT GET BAMBOO! Get a wood/plastic composite board like Epicurean that can be sterilized and put through dishwashers! They last forever, weigh less AND are thin so they move about and store easier (if you ever happen to put yours away). You need a size 4 inches longer that your largest knife across the diagonal of two kitty-corners (that is how some knife skills classes help you choose the proper size per each knife used).
4)A knife sharpener – nope, take it in and have it professionally sharpened (need to do that at least annually anyway).
5)A 12-inch fry pan – Not size specific! Get a fry pan that suits YOUR cooking, 12 inches is a very big pan for many. Get a pan that meet your cooking requirements
6)“2-quart, 4-quart, and 8-quart sauté pans, each with a lid.” You do not need that many pans, and universal lids can minimize space too, Again, get pans that meet your cooking requirements. Do not buy a set, but individual pans for your cooking volume and style.
7)”A 12-inch deep cast iron skillet with a silicone handle.” Get a silicone handle COVER, so it will fit other handles. Not a skillet with a silicone handle. And, why two pans (items 5 & 7) the same size? That is crazy wasteful. Choose cast iron or non- stick or stainless steel. And again, not size specific! Get a fry pan that suits YOUR cooking, 12 inches is a very big pan for many.
8)”Two sheet pans,” nope, one sheet pan will do, really.
11)”A wooden spoon.” I hope this was a joke. Plastic is better & lasts longer. (Wood has pores and can be dirty holding onto microbes and such.)
12)”A large microplane.” Really, why? Use the paring knife & cut up whatever you want to microplane, or put it in a small container, cup your hand over the top and use your very good stick blender (think bamix, really, bamix).
15)A wire whisk — stiff – NOPE see item 12, a good stick blender will take care of this need.
17)”A peeler” – no way, learn to use your paring knife to peel your citrus, potatoes, apples etc. That is the whole point of a paring knife, flexibility and function!
18)”A blender” no, see item 12, a good stick blender will take care of this need.
20)Kitchen scissors” I hope this was a typo. Get kitchen shears NOT scissors, they need to come apart to be cleaned. PS Cutco makes the absolute best pair called “Super Shears,” I had mine engraved so they would not disappear.
22)Salt and pepper grinders – NO WAY, at least buy pre-ground salt if you really want to save space.
23)”A garlic press,” nope, learn to use your paring or chefs knife to do this simple task quickly. Or better yet keep a jar of minced garlic in the kitchen!
24)”A citrus juicer,” nope, just get a hand reamer, you’ll save money AND space.
25)”A hand mixer,” not needed see item 12.
26)”Muffin tins.” NOT NEEDED, you can bake in grease glass/Pyrex cups and use that one baking sheet you have.

Happy Cooking!
YvesNY March 8, 2019
Cannot agree with most of what you say. Sorry. Ok for minimalist cooking, but not for hi-end.
cookinalong March 22, 2018
I couldn't live without my Instant Pot. I use it nearly every day. I still use my stove top PC, but nothing beats the convenience and consistency of the IP. absolutely earns its real estate on the counter.
Lipstick L. March 16, 2018
I disagree about the slow cooker. I use it about once per week to either make a slow cooker meal, or to soak and cook dried legumes and beans. Even in the summer this appliance gets a workout (it makes great shredded pork or chicken for tacos without heating up the entire kitchen in the summer).
Benjamin G. March 6, 2018
In addition to the Chef's and Paring knives, a good serrated bread knife is essential for many tasks. I would also add a quality medium nonstick skillet or carbon steel skillet to the list for making certain foods (fish, eggs) that are tricky for most home cooks to accomplish on stainless steel.
YvesNY March 6, 2018
Just read this:
YvesNY March 6, 2018
OOPS! "A pot or pan in every size "I’m amazed at how easy it is to execute a host of recipes with just a couple of quality pots and pants." I did not know I needed PANTS to cook.
Emily March 2, 2018
I agree with all things except the rice cooker. It's a godsend. And let me tell you why. When I'm making a whole meal, it frees up space on my range and its one less thing I have to keep an eye on on the stove because it turns itself off when it is done. I will say that I upgraded to a stainless steel rice cooker last year to move away from the Teflon pot. I love that I can scrub my stainless steel rice cooker without having to worry about scratching the Teflon.
Lipstick L. March 16, 2018
I agree Emily, I use my rice cooker to free up a burner, and it makes a perfect pot of rice EVERY SINGLE TIME. I even make batches of oatmeal for the week. I actually have 2 sizes, a 3 cup rice cooker and a 10 cup rice cooker for big get togethers (about 1 per month)
Nance March 2, 2018
A pressure cooker. It's my favorite pot.
Ellen March 1, 2018
So, what do you do with all of the stuff you cull? Things that are used maybe two or three times a year? Where to put them?
Traveler March 1, 2018
Food processors - regular size and mini. I use a lot of shallots and find the mini food processor works really well in chopping them up. I put it in the same category as a garlic press. And the food processor is my favorite small appliance. I use it for shredding carrots, shredding potatoes, shredding cheese, slicing potatoes, and mixing just about everything.
Dianne G. March 1, 2018
I don't know about y'all, but I consider a corkscrew essential.
YvesNY March 6, 2018
Of course!
Catherine B. January 7, 2021
At the #1 position!
ELLE February 26, 2018
Please identify the utensil third from the right in the photo "bex's utensils".
Excellent list. I have everything on it plus a couple more. I love my Bialetti coffe maker.
Rhonda35 February 26, 2018
It's a silicone spatula (the design on it makes it hard to recognize.)
Stacy I. February 26, 2018
I agree with all of this. My one can't live without? An enameled cast iron dutch oven. That, along with my cast iron skillet are the work horses of my kitchen. Anything that can go from stove to oven or even to grill- for me, is essential.
Kathy March 2, 2018
Great list and great comments! I can’t live without my Cuisinart mini prep or enameled Dutch oven. Also concur that a corkscrew is a must and a can-opener essential. But one of my all time favorites and most used utensil is my bamboo “spider”.
Diana M. March 4, 2018
@Kathy - what is a bamboo spider?
Kathy March 4, 2018
Hi Maureen- also known as a spider strainer. Used to scoop out food from liquid (water or oil) - great for pasta, veggies, etc. comes with long handle made of either stainless steel or my fav
- bamboo.
Catherine B. January 7, 2021
Enameled Dutch oven is mandatory for sourdough bread and stews.