Pots and Pans

15 kitchen tools you NEED – and 7 you can live without

There are so many kitchen tools out there, but which ones are really worth purchasing? There’s nothing worse than buying an expensive gadget that seems like it’s going to change your life, only to use it once, before watching it collect dust on your shelf. It hurts to know your money could have been better spent elsewhere.

I’m very familiar with this problem. I consider it my life’s mission to collect as many cooking gadgets as possible. When I see a juicer or a spice grinder, my heart goes pitter patter. While many of the items I’ve purchased have been languishing in the back of a cupboard somewhere, several others have become some of my favorites. Many of these kitchen tools have saved me dozens of hours in the kitchen. I went through the trial and error so that hopefully, you don’t have to. Keep reading to find out which ones will save you time and effort, and which ones aren’t worth the counter space they sit on.

Kitchen tools that will make your life easier

1. Food processor

Two words: Worth. It. I use my food processor constantly. I use it to make cauliflower rice, meatballs, puddings, smoothie bowls (my blender can’t handle frozen fruit unless I add a ton of liquid, and it becomes a smoothie instead of a smoothie bowl), nut butters, and I’ve even used it to make bread. This was one of the first purchases I made when I moved out of my parents’ house and had to start cooking for myself. It has served me well over the last few years.

Kitchen blender

2. Blender

This kitchen gadget pretty much goes without saying. If you want to make smoothies, soups, milkshakes, homemade ice cream, or frozen drinks, you will need a blender. I ended up getting a blender and food processor hybrid, which is great because it takes up less space on your countertop. And let’s be honest, who wants extra stuff cluttering up your kitchen countertops?

3. Ice cream maker

This one isn’t essential, but it’s really fun. If you’re like me and ice cream was a big part of your childhood, it’s hard to give that up once you go low carb, paleo, or dairy-free. Sure, there are some great vegan ice creams, and there are even a few keto ice creams now, but I have yet to find a good ice cream that is both keto and dairy-free. That’s where making your own comes in. It’s a bit of an investment, but after a few weeks of making your own healthy ice creams, you’re saving money versus buying seven $5 pints of vegan ice cream every week (or is that just me?). This is the one I use, and I’ve been very happy with it.

Ice Cream Maker

4. Instant Pot or Crock Pot

These two pots can be incredibly useful. As someone who has both, I don’t think you need both. I got the Crock Pot first when I was trying to meal prep. I would dump a big serving of meat and vegetables in it, turn it on, leave for work, and worry all day that it was going to burn my house down while I was gone. It never did, but I was always just a little bit uncomfortable with leaving it on all day.

Now that I have the Instant Pot, I almost never use my crock pot. It can cook pretty much anything the crock pot can, but faster. I like being able to come home from work, pop a meal in the Instant Pot, and have dinner ready in under an hour. It also has some pretty cool features. It can make rice, yogurt, soups and stews, and so many other foods. There’s even a new one that comes with an air fryer built in.

5. Kitchen scale

I didn’t have a kitchen scale for years, but once I got one, it changed my life. It helps a lot with portion control. Rather than counting out 17 chips (or 60 chocolate chips), I can just weigh my food and make sure I’m getting the number of calories, carbs, and nutrients that I want. No more guessing if I had 5 carbs or 15. I know exactly what I’m putting into my body.

6. Electric mixer

Whether all you can afford is a budget hand mixer, or you have the money to invest in a KitchenAid, there’s only so much whisking you can do by hand. Having a motor behind your whisk allows you to create stiff peaks for meringues, souffl├ęs, or even making the TikTok-famed dalgona coffee. All of this without your hand cramping up. Plus, the KitchenAid has a ton of awesome attachments (most of which you don’t need, but a few that are super useful!).

Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer

7. Vegetable spiralizer

If you are trying to lower your carbs or include more vegetables in your diet, a spiralizer is a must. Zucchini noodes are the perfect medium for your favorite low-carb sauce. Add some chicken or vegan protein, and you have a healthy keto dinner. Make sure to check out the reviews, because there are some not-so-great ones out there. The first spiralizer I bought did not work well at all. I slaved away to get a single serving of zoodles, and ended up with a few cuts for my trouble.

8. Grater/zester

Some of the best recipes call for zest. Whether it’s lemon, lime, or even orange zest, it can make a huge difference in the taste of a dish. Plus, many graters can double up and be used for both fruits and veggies, as well as things like cheeses. I have this one. It’s affordable, and a beast with lemon/lime zesting. Previously, I had a cheap one I had picked up at the grocery store, and it would take me 20 minutes just to get a tablespoon of zest. Now, it’s a couple of minutes, tops.

9. Juicer

Speaking of citrus fruits, you need a juicer. I’m not talking about those expensive devices that pulverize fruit and vegetables. In fact, I think those are unnecessary (I’ll explain why later). Just a simple, handheld device that squeezes juice out of lemons and limes can be incredibly helpful. It can save your hand from cramping up if you’re making margaritas. You can get them for under $10, and within a few uses you’re already saving money, since you get a lot more juice out of each fruit.

10. A set of good kitchen knives (and a good sharpener)

You wouldn’t believe the difference it makes when you switch from mismatched hand-me-down knives to a good set of knives. That’s not the end of the story, though. Then you actually have to sharpen them. You’re actually more likely to cut yourself if your knife is dull, because you will be pushing really hard on the knife, and it may slip and slice you.

To be honest, if you can’t afford a good set of knives, you can make do for a while with just a whetstone or knife sharpener. A cheap sharp knife is often better than an expensive dull knife.

Kitchen knives

11. An ice maker

Now, hear me out. I’m not saying you have to go out and spend $200 on a stand alone ice machine. (Side note: who knew ice makers were so expensive? I couldn’t find a single one under $100.) But as someone who is renting a place with a fridge that doesn’t have an ice maker, I really miss it. I’m not saying I’m picking my next place based on ice alone, but I’m definitely including it in my list of things to consider. I know ice cube trays exist, but I always knock them over and they spill all over my freezer. It’s not great. If I don’t have a fridge with an ice maker by this time next year, I might bite the bullet and purchase a standalone one.

12. Glass food storage

I used to store my food in re-usable plastic containers that I bought for a couple bucks at the grocery store. I remember seeing one of my coworkers pull glass storage containers out of the break room fridge, and I thought she was so rich and fancy. Only rich people store their food in glass, right? Then my plastic containers started cracking, and I had a lid fall down into the dishwasher and melt, and I was in need of some replacements.

I was looking on Amazon, and I found these glass food storage containers. $40 seemed a bit steep at the time, but I can meal prep with containers to spare, and they have lasted me for years. It’s a small price to pay, since it seems like every week I hear about another study showing the link between plastic and health problems such as infertility and cancer. It’s especially bad to heat food in plastic, since the chemicals can leach into your food. Since I was bringing lunch from home and microwaving it almost every day, that fact scared me into making the switch. $40 seems small when your health is at stake.

13. Pots and pans

It’s pretty obvious that you need pots and pans to cook, but it’s less obvious which ones you need. A wok? Cast iron skillet? Grill pan? You can definitely go fancy and buy a whole set of pans, and pick the optimal one for each dish. My strategy, however, is simplicity. Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? I make 80% of my meals with 20% of my pans. I could cook and eat indefinitely with only 4 pans: a frying pan, a pot, a baking sheet, and a loaf pan. I could even cut the loaf pan if things got desperate.

Pots and pans

14. Toaster oven

To be completely honest, if you have both an oven and a microwave, you don’t need a toaster oven. I lived for years without one. But now that I have one, I can’t believe I went so long without it. You can re-heat fries and pizza without making them soggy. You can cook frozen egg rolls in half the time it takes in the oven. Plus, you’ve never lived until you slather peanut butter on a slice of bread and toast it in the toaster oven. The way it melts in your mouth is like the culinary version of stepping out of the shower and wrapping a warm towel around yourself.

15. Waffle maker

This one comes down to how much you like breakfast foods, but I’ve found a lot of use out of my waffle maker. If you’re keto, they’re great for making chaffles. If you’re gluten free, there are some great gluten free mixes and recipes these days. They’re pretty affordable as well. You can find one for as little as $15.

So which ones aren’t worth the money?

Kitchen gadgets that aren’t worth the hype

1. Immersion blender

I bought this one on a whim when I bought my first cookbook and I was reading the “kitchen tools” section. It suggested buying an immersion blender for making soups. So I went onto Amazon and bought this bad boy. It’s not a bad blender, but I never use it. It’s mostly used for making soups, and I just don’t make that much soup. If you do love making blended soups, it’s a pretty cool gadget. You don’t have to worry about transferring hot soup into your blender and spilling it everywhere. I might pull it out again as the weather starts getting colder and I’m craving something warm.

2. Fruit Soft Serve Maker

This device is cool in theory, but I got it for Christmas two years ago and I have literally never used it. Everything that it claims to do, I can do with my blender or food processor. Maybe one of these days I’ll try it out and report back, but for now, I just can’t recommend it. It takes up a ton of space, and has such limited uses that I don’t think it’s worth the price or the storage space.

3. Dehydrator

A dehydrator is another ill-conceived kitchen gadget that I thought was going to change my life. Now, it just sits in a box in the pantry, taking up a lot of valuable space, because I can’t bring myself to get rid of it, but I don’t use it, either. When I bought it, I had grand plans to make beef jerky and fruit chips. Then, after a few attempts at each, I realized that I don’t actually like dried fruit that much (so many carbs!), and it’s often the same price to buy jerky as it is to make it.

Dehydrated fruit

Why spend time prepping the meat, plus hours running a loud dehydrator, when I could just buy the same thing at the grocery store? Beats me. I’m sure there are some people in the world that have a dehydrator and use it all the time, but I’m not one of them. Plus, you can already make your own kale chips with just a baking sheet (check out my recipe here.)

4. Sous vide

Unless you’re a big foodie, you’re probably not going to use your sous vide more than a handful of times a year. Plus, that whole problem with heating plastic that we talked about earlier. I have a friend who eats a lot of steak and swears by it, but I think most people can pass on this machine.

5. Bread maker

Growing up, my mom had a bread maker. She made all types of breads — wheat bread, rye bread, sourdough bread, banana bread, and many more than I can list. I loved the taste of the fresh, warm bread straight out of the bread maker. The smells were amazing, and the taste was 10x better than any store bought loaf.

After all of that, I don’t think you need a bread maker. Unless you’re starting a bakery or feeding a family of 12 with ham sandwiches made from scratch, it’s just not necessary. Instead, a loaf pan or two will allow you to make most breads and satiate your starchy cravings. I’m also trying to eat fewer carbs, so this is one kitchen gadget I intentionally excluded from my shopping list.

Bread

6. Cocktail smoker

I had to include this one, because I had never heard of it until I was researching this post, and it looks really cool. It adds a smoke flavor to cheeses, meats, and cocktails. This one one of those devices that I would buy on a whim because I get obsessed with a certain cocktail and I just have to make it at home. It’s pretty cool, but it’s completely unnecessary for the 5 times a year you make an old fashioned.

7. Juicer

Juicers seem to be popular among dieters who want to lose weight and get healthy fast. They are a quick way to get in a ton of vitamins and minerals, and the fruit juice is easy to digest. It’s also a pretty simple way to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. But these kitchen tools tend to be expensive, sometimes running over $500, and you’ll find that it’s often cheaper to buy the juice at the store than to make it at home. Plus, many fruit juices are filled with sugar, and the juicing process strips out much of the valuable fiber that helps regulate your blood sugar levels. For most purposes, the hand juicers that I talked about earlier will meet your needs.

The bottom line

At the end of the day, buy what makes you happy. If you’re confident that buying an immersion blender will get you to eat more vegetable soups and improve your diet, go for it. If a juicer helps you get more magnesium in your diet, splurge on it! Cooking is intended to bring joy, provide nourishment to ourselves and our loved ones, and fuel our bodies so that we can go out and kick butt and accomplish our goals. Happy shopping, and happy cooking!

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