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Utensils: The Seven Essentials

posted in General by Kathy Maister

In a previous blog, we talked about the “Three Good Knives ” that every beginning cook should acquire. Now let’s turn our attention to the various utensils (otherwise known as tools and gadgets) that you need to buy.

There are hundreds of these on the market, most of which you can do without. Over time, like all cooks, you will undoubtedly acquire many, many useless gadgets and utensils that take up space in the cupboard, and rarely if ever get used.

There are, however, seven “essential utensils” (don’t say that too fast) that you need to buy. When you have these, you will have everything you need to startcooking.

The photo below shows you all seven. We’ll discuss them starting with the glass measuring cup at the top of the photo, and move anti-clockwise.


1. One 16ounce (or 2 cup) glass measuring-cup. This is for measuring liquids, and can also be used as a container for mixing ingredients (such as Jello, scrambled eggs, instant pudding mix, salad dressing, and so on .)

2. One set of dry measuring-cups. These are usually made of tin or plastic and there are 4 cups to the set – 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, ½ cup and 1 cup. You will need these for measuring things like rice, popcorn, flour, sugar, etc.

3. One set of measuring spoons. There are four spoons to the set – ¼ teaspoon, ½ teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, 1 Tablespoon. These spoons are used to measure salt, pepper, spices, etc.

4. One heat-resistant silicone spatula. This multi-purpose tool can be used to mix everything hot or cold. They come in really great colors!

5. One pancake-type spatula. A great tool! It’s used to flip burgers, eggs, pancakes, chicken breasts, and such things. It’s also good for serving food.

6. Tongs. Think of them as asbestos fingers. They are used not only to prepare foods, but also for serving. I also like to use the long tongs to reach for something high in the cupboard when I don’t feel like getting out the step stool, or for reaching up for the window shade when it flips to the very top of the window.

7. A can opener. Of course!

That’s it!

So, everyone, chime in. Does anyone want to nominate one or two additional “essential utensils?”

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Jon Sacker said:

My initial reaction is that the essential 7 depends on where you are. In the UK the measuring cups are not essential, but a set of scales are. British recipes use weights not volume.

Others I might nominate are:

grater – either a cheap 4 side grater, or if you have more money the fabulous ones from microplane

a garlic press

justin said:

A wooden spoon with a long handle! I’ve always had one in my kitchen. I’m not sure exactly why I find it essentail, but I use it almost every day.

will said:

agree with justin—the wooden spoon is absolutely essential, and a wooden cutting board.

for some, a garlic press

a seive for pasta draining

also, you need a really good all purpose pan, like a good cast iron pan

Kathy (Maister) said:

I used to only use wooden spoons until I discovered silicone spatulas. I think they are a lot more versatile, and easier to clean.
I should definitely add a vegetable peeler to the list.
Does anyone use kitchen shears? Joyce Chen makes a fabulous pair which I use all the time.

Jon Sacker said:

I have a pair of poultry shears for jointing a chicken, but I’m not sure that I would put that on the essential list.

I would also suggest plastic rather than wood for chopping board – much more hygenic (and if on is being ultra careful – they should be different colours for meat and vegtetables).

As for Will’s mention of a pan, I would guess that there is a whole other discussion to have there …

neil said:

Not a new suggestions, but possibly just a refinement, especially for new cooks. A safety can opener is a lot handier, safer and easier than a standard one. It leaves you with a can that is not only not sharp, but is closable.

JP ROSA said:

A good Kitchen knife and cutting boards!

How does one cook without a knifeqqqq

Dina said:

This is kind of off topic, but it’s a thought that kinda spiraled off of what Neil said…I always wondered: is it true that it is unsafe to store food in the same can it was in after it’s been opened? Something about the food reacting to the metal and oxygen?

Kathy Maister said:

I always distill everything! You are right Dina, it is not a good idea to store food in the metal can it came it.

Ivy said:

A mortar and pestel is a must in most Malaysian kitchen for pounding chillies, garlic, ginger, etc, especially for older generation Malays who swear that it won’t taste the same if you use an electric grinder.

Kathy Maister said:

I do have a mortar and pestel but I never quite got the hang of using it! Ivy are there any tips on using a mortar and pestel that you could share with us?

doingsoso said:

This is as good a basic list as any I’ve run across. Ya’ll have to remember we’re talkin about newbie cooks here. Those of us that know our way around a kitchen have added and discarded items from our kitchen essentials list over the years depending on what type of cooking we do.

Kathy doesn’t claim that it’s a complete list, just the basics:) And everyone has a different idea of what the basics are. Ask ten diffferent cooks and you’ll get ten different answers:)

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks doingsoso! I love that fact that more experienced cooks are joining the discussion! And yes this site is and always will be all about the basics. Cheers! Kathy

Doingsoso said:

That’s okay Kathy:) I admire you for putting this together. A lot of time and work goes into something like this:) And It’s very easy for people to sit in front of their monitor and be critical, they’re not putting their valuable time into creating and maintaining a helpful blog or website.

There are not really that many websites for newbie cooks that explain things to the newbie cook realizing they don’t know ANYTHING.

My very first cookbook was the Betty Crocker basic book with lots and lots of pictures and instructions and just about everything, LOL. It’s nice to see someone doing something similar on the web.

Yes, Betty Crocker does have a website but it doesn’t have the personal touch that these pages do:)

Cynthia said:

I have spent the last month off and on scouring the Internet for cooking lessons. NO ONE teaches the basics….I have even called the local < ?xml:namespace prefix =" st1" ns =" "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags"" />Agriculture Center to see if they offer classes….THEN, I found your site….PRAISE GOD!!! This site is awesome!!!!! I will be visiting daily for lessons and tips. Can I boil water….yes….can I fry and egg…NO! I absolutely LOVE your site. I took the time to look at a few videos and read a few blogs….AMAZING! I plan to use your site as a course….just like school. Can’t wait to see what hubby says about the difference it will make……don’t plan to tell him yet what I’m doing….hehehe! Thanks so much for the time and effort you have taken to help people like me to get down to the basics and learn these things. Reading your site I don’t feel like an idiot and can say that no question is to simple or complicated. You are a life and kitchen saver. Thank you Kathy!!!!< ?xml:namespace prefix =" o" ns =" "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office"" />

Kathy Maister said:

Welcome Cynthia! And good luck learning how to cook!

Kelly said:

My God, this website really is like an online training culinary class. Amazing! Many, many thanks!

june said:

Just love this website. I’ve learned a lot.

I would love to make a pre-cooked spiral sliced ham but don’t know how to slice it.

Can you help?

startcooking said:

June, all the work is already done for you! You will need to just peel off the spiral cut slices from the ham and put them on a serving platter!

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