Essential Tools

The 24 Kitchen Tools That Survived My Cross-Country Moves

June 29, 2018

I am not, by nature, a minimalist when it comes to kitchen tools. I adore impractical but beautiful single-use tools like fluted ravioli cutters, cherry pitters with enamel handles, and antique copper jam pans. However, I have an unusual job that forces me to keep my kitchen tools pared down to just the essentials.

I’m a cookbook writer and recipe developer—I’ve contributed to a dozen cookbooks, translating recipes from restaurant kitchens to home kitchens and writing original recipes of my own. You’re probably thinking, wait, what? Most people guess that because of my work I must have all the latest kitchen gadgets: sous vide machines, expensive juicers, and a fully automated grill that does all the cooking for me. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. My kitchen looks a lot like most regular home kitchens across the country—and it’s crucial I keep it that way.

When I write a cookbook, I develop and test every single recipe at home. I’ve made everything from pig’s head fritters to six-layer vegan lasagne. There are numerous ways in which I measure the success of a recipe during its development. Chief among them is feasibility. I don’t mean a recipe has to be easy. Instead, I mean it has to work in a real home kitchen using tools that home cooks are likely to have.

I’ve had the great pleasure of collaborating with brilliantly talented chefs, including Elisabeth Prueitt, Jessica Koslow, and Suzanne Goin, and one of the most inspiring lessons I’ve learned is you really don’t need a lot of fancy tools to cook delicious food.

About halfway through writing the Sqirl cookbook, Everything I Want to Eat, I moved from Los Angeles to Brooklyn. I had to consolidate my batterie de cuisine into a group of hardworking items. I carefully considered each kitchen tool before boxing it up. Shipping fees aren’t cheap, so any tool that hadn’t proven its worth was ruthlessly cut from the pile. My madeleine pan, although lovely, was only really good for, well, madeleines. I loaned it to a friend who loves to bake. The huge roasting dish I pulled out once a year for Thanksgiving turkey was too enormous for me but might be just the right size for someone else, so I donated it.

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Top Comment:
“Also, the three knives you list are essentials but a good, sharp mezzaluna is a workhorse in the kitchen, too. ”
— Dee

Living in small apartments has also helped keep the size of my collection in check! When I moved from Brooklyn to Berkeley a few years later, packing up was easy since I had already pared down. Here are the 24 essential kitchen tools that came with me on my cross-country moves:

What made the cut! Photo by Maria Zizka

3 Knives: Chef’s Knife, Paring Knife, and Serrated Bread Knife

The larger chef’s knife is for general slicing and dicing, whereas the paring knife is for cutting smaller ingredients like strawberries. The bread knife is for—you guessed it—bread, although I’ve also found it be useful for deftly chopping blocks of chocolate.


I started with a handheld immersion blender before I bought a countertop blender. Handheld versions are less bulky and usually more affordable.

Bottle Opener and Waiter’s Friend–Style Corkscrew

A waiter’s friend-style corkscrew is the kind you’ve probably seen waiters use in restaurants. They are inexpensive and work very well.

Never be without freshly ground pepper (or wine!). Photo by Maria Zizka

Cast-Iron Skillet

My cast-iron skillet has naturally built up a shiny, nonstick interior surface from years of use (although it’s got nothing on my dad’s 40-year-old skillet). If you don’t yet own a cast-iron skillet, look for one at garage sales.

Kitchen musts. Photo by Maria Zizka

Enameled Dutch Oven

This tool is an investment, but you’ll find countless uses for it. I use my enameled dutch oven to make pasta sauce, to bake a loaf of bread, to fry foods in (it holds an even temperature quite well), and to cook soup.

Fine-Mesh Strainer

For rinsing rice grains and straining liquids like chicken stock or almond milk. A colander, with its bigger holes, would be ideal for washing fruits and vegetables and draining cooked pasta, but if you have room for only one straining/draining tool, choose the multipurpose fine-mesh strainer.

Food Scale

The surest way to cook and bake with precision.

Half Sheet Pan / Rimmed Baking Sheet

A true kitchen workhorse. Even after years of hard use, mine has never warped or rusted.

Trusty baking essentials. Photo by Maria Zizka

Loaf Pan

Essential for banana bread and other loaf cakes.

Measuring Spoons and Cups

Let’s set the record straight: Liquid and dry measuring cups technically hold the same volume, but the former is designed to more accurately measure wet ingredients (like vinegar) while the latter is better suited for dry ingredients (like flour). I have both, plus measuring spoons.

Mixing Bowls

A set of nesting bowls in various sizes doesn’t take up too much space. I love glass bowls because I can easily see what’s inside, but stainless steel and ceramic bowls are terrific, too.

Muffin Tin

Muffins, yes, but don’t forget about cupcakes!

Pepper Grinder

Freshly ground black pepper is what you want. It’s way more flavorful than the pre-ground kind.

Pie Plate/Dish

In addition to baking pies, I use my pie plate for fruit crisps and crumbles and even for roasting a small chicken.

Rasp-Style Grater

Be careful—these can be quite sharp. They swiftly and finely grate citrus zest, nutmeg, and fresh ginger and turmeric.

Round Cake Pans

I have two identical pans so that I can make a layer cake.

Rubber Spatula

Good for scraping down the sides and across the bottom of a bowl of cookie dough.

Stand Mixer or Handheld Mixer

I know it’s possible to beat butter and sugar together by hand with a wooden spoon, but it’s so much easier and faster with a mixer. If you love to bake, you’ll be very happy to have this tool.


With one medium-size whisk, you can beat egg whites, make aioli, and whip cream by hand.

Practice Your Whisking on a Classic Aioli

Wire Rack

Choose a stainless steel one that fits perfectly inside a half sheet pan. It’s great for cooling baked goods, for draining bacon and other fried foods, and for resting grilled meat.

Wooden Cutting Boards

I’ve learned the hard way that it’s useful to have at least two boards. Reserve one for chopping garlic, leeks, and onions, which will leave fragrant traces of their presence. You wouldn’t want to roll out a pie dough that smells of garlic.

Wooden Spoon

For stirring without scratching your pots and pans.

What are your bare-minimum kitchen essentials? Share them with us below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Magnus Andresen Solhjell
    Magnus Andresen Solhjell
  • Dee
  • Maria Zizka
    Maria Zizka
Maria Zizka is a cookbook writer and recipe developer who has collaborated with leading chefs, including Elisabeth Prueitt, Jessica Koslow, and Suzanne Goin. She has co-authored numerous award-winning cookbooks, most recently Tartine All Day, Everything I Want to Eat, and This Is Camino. Her first solo cookbook, THE NEWLYWED TABLE, will be published on April 2, 2019.


Magnus A. July 4, 2018
A honing steel. Ideally sharpening stones as well.
Maria Z. July 9, 2018
Great point, Magnus! Sharp knives are definitely essential.
Dee June 30, 2018
In addition to all of the above, I rely heavily on my instant read thermometer. Even when cooking at my parents’ or a friend’s home, I take it with me. It eliminates the guesswork. Also, the three knives you list are essentials but a good, sharp mezzaluna is a workhorse in the kitchen, too.
Maria Z. July 9, 2018
I love my instant-read thermometer, too. You're so right, it does eliminate guesswork. And a mezzaluna is beautiful!