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Cooking like Chef Thomas Keller—chef and proprietor of The French Laundry, in Napa Valley, and Per Se, in New York, among many others—might seem like a tall order but the right set of kitchen essentials can help you on your journey to becoming a better chef.
Chef Thomas Keller’s List of Essential Kitchen Tools
“I really have an aversion to useless tools. We tend to clutter our drawers with things that we don’t need.” —Chef Thomas Keller
- Knives: A good knife is an invaluable extension of the chef’s hand. A chef’s knife is an excellent all-purpose knife, capable of intricate dicing, carving, and chopping interchangeably. A paring knife handles more delicate work, like trimming artichokes or peeling tomatoes and can also be used to test the doneness of everything from roasted root vegetables to cake. A long, thin slicing knife (or carving knife) is best for presenting and serving large roasts. A serrated bread knife has the all-important task of slicing bread and baked goods, but it can also be used to slice paper-thin slices from ripe tomatoes.
- Sauté pans: Stainless steel and nonstick sauté pans are essential tools to keep on-hand, in both 8-inch or 10-inch sizes, for braising, searing, shallow-frying, or sautéing.
- Saucepots: Saucepots are recommended for boiling, building sauces and glazes, and heating oil for frying.
- Stockpot: An 8-quart stockpot is an ideal size for blanching vegetables, cooking pasta, poaching eggs, and of course, building stocks.
- Universal lid: To eliminate clutter, use a universal lid—one lid that covers all of your cookware—with a handle so you can hang it. The French have used this tool for generations. Using a single lid helps eliminate confusion and is more sustainable.
- Roasting pan with rack: A roasting pan can conduct heat incredibly well thanks to its high sides and depth. The pan also catches valuable drippings while keeping the roast itself elevated and crisp.
- Cast iron skillet pan: As one of the more versatile pans in the kitchen, a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is a must-have. Use a 10–12-inch cast-iron skillet for searing meats, open-fire cooking, and one-pan meals.
- Half-sheet pans: These workhorse pans are half the size of a restaurant-style full sheet pan, and measure around 18x13 inches with a one-inch raised lip. Half-sheet pans are a go-to for roasting vegetables, drying pasta, or baking meringue.
- Mixing bowls: A set of mixing bowls are versatile and indispensable: With descending sizes that fit inside one another for easy storage, they can be used for organization, mixing, whipping, and more. Mixing bowls can be found in both glass and stainless steel—which you choose is a matter of personal preference, but steel bowls are both lightweight and less prone to breakage.
- Trivets: Flexible trivets can be used both as protection when dealing with hot pots and pans, opening tight jars, or to protect presentation surfaces like a dining table.
- Digital gram scale: Exacting technique calls for exact measurements, and that’s done with the use of a digital scale that flips between grams, ounces, and pounds. Try brands like Escali or OXO.
- Cutting board: Cutting boards are the foundation for all of your prep (and some parts of the cooking process, like resting meat) cutting boards come in wood, plastic, and rubber, with different advantages and price points. Assess your needs: A combination of two might work best.
- Pepper mills: Different kinds of pepper suit different dishes, and having a few mills stocked with your most-used varieties makes it easier to season accordingly.
- Ladle: While you could use a measuring cup in a pinch, a ladle is a more elegant option for serving soups, stews, and plating sauces with finesse.
- Spoons: Spoons come in a variety of sizes for different applications, from smaller metal spoons for tasting, to larger spoons with a deep cup for basting a pan-seared steak. A sturdy, long-handled wooden spoon is ideal for stirring and scraping up flavorful fond, as it won’t damage the coating on the pan.
- Rubber spatulas: A stiff rubber spatula is essential for dishes that are too delicate to stir and require the gentle folding in of ingredients. Rubber spatulas are also useful when scraping down bowls or food processors.
- Palette knife: A palette knife (also called a cake spatula) is a flat, flexible level used to smooth frosting along the top and sides of a cake, transport delicate pasta like agnolotti onto sheet pans for storage, or lift lacy Parmesan crisps from a pan intact.
- Strainer: A strainer is an easy way to rinse smaller, loose ingredients or remove blanched ingredients or pasta from boiling water. A strainer can also make purees and custards smoother.
- Cheese grater: While a mini-grater is best for zesting or grating harder cheeses like Parmesan, a standard box grater can also be used to grate tomatoes for pomodoro sauce and pan con tomate.
- Whisk: Whisks are key to good emulsification and mixing. They can be used for eggs, sauces, vinaigrettes, and the incorporation of dry into wet ingredients. If you have the space in your kitchen, a small and large whisk is great for different uses.
- Scissors and shears: Small kitchen scissors can be used for finesse, like trimming messy edges off delicately poached eggs, or garnishing with fine herbs like dill or chives. Heavy-duty shears are useful for light butchery, like butterflying a chicken or turkey.
- Towels: Find lint-free kitchen towels for wiping your hands and keeping your workspace clean. Paper towels are a good way to absorb excess oil from frying or confit, or water after blanching.
- Pastry card: Also known as a bench scraper, this flat, rectangular tool is found in both metal and plastic. It’s ideal for lifting and cutting sticky doughs to make bread, pastry, or fresh pasta—and cleaning your work surface afterward, too.
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