The Only Five Kitchen Essentials You’ll (Ever) Need

BrianBrian says:

There’s one thing you need to know about me: I love to cook. No, I really love to cook. But all the love and passion for anything in this world means absolutely nothing if you don’t have the right tools for the job. So often, people cram their kitchen spaces with machines and gadgets that an able-bodied person can do with just their hands and a little elbow grease. The time has come, though, to break the bonds you have with that Kitchen Aid 35-in-one monstrosity and bring it back to the basics with these must-haves:

1. A Silicone Spatula

Albeit not the best material for modern-day augmentations, silicone is heat resistant up to 800 degrees and can be used as an all-purpose tools fro everything from folding those late-night scrambled eggs to adjusting anything that might even look hotter than Hades to the touch. And because it’s silicone, it’s much easier to clean than its plastic or wooden cousins.

Brian’s recommendation: Le Creuset’s “Spatula Spoon”.

2. A (mid-sized) Chef’s Knife

In a world where longer is perceived as being better, an eight-inch chef’s knife is the perfect size for handing both large and small cutting jobs throughout your kitchen space. Make sure that whatever knife you end up getting has a handle with some weight to it and the blade is durable and sharp. Chef’s knives are ideal for chopping onions, tomatoes, beets, carrots and potatoes for some homemade fries. You do make your own French fries, right?

Brian’s recommendation: Quintin Middleton, an S.C. native, has a beautiful collection of knives that you might want to try.

3. A Stainless-Steel Skillet

This tool is absolutely crucial for anyone who has ever given a damn about a well-made steak. For too long, people have destroyed steaks over the grill and stove top, cooking them into sad, little shells of the meat that they once were; but I digress. You can use this skillet for sauteing, roasting and browning various meats and vegetables. Keeping in mind that it’s stainless-steel, you can also deglaze the pan after browning chicken or searing beef, to make a delicious jus that you can later pour over the finished product.

Brian’s recommendation: Williams-Sonoma carries an All-Clad version of the skillet.

4. Kitchen Towels

Aside from being cost effective and environmentally friendly, kitchen towels are essential in keeping your space clean before, during and after you’ve finished preparing a meal. They also come in handy when  trying to grip things that might be too hot to the touch. Cotton will do. It’s heavy duty and machine washable. Towels are good for the everyday spills and such of your culinary misadventures.

Brian’s recommendation: Kitchen towels from Target.

5. The Four-Quart Saucepan

A veritable workhorse of any kitchen, the sauce pan is an indispensable tool that allows you to boil and simmer everything that your heart desires. Great for various soup stocks but delicate enough to boil an egg or two, the best sauce pan enlists the heartiness of steel with the lightweight agility of aluminum.

Brian’s recommendation:  Calphalon’s Non-Stick Saucepan

Brian Wilder is a writer for Home Ec 101. You can also find him at Things My Grandfather Taught Me. If you have a question you’d like Brian to answer send it to


  1. Amanda on May 2, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    One more – an apron! I hate to have my clothes all stained up after cooking. There's nothing like taking off the dirty apron, washing your hands, and all clean!
    My recent post Swarovski Angel Ornament Annual Edition 2010 9800

  2. Alison Moore Smith on February 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Love to see what people find most useful. Both the post and comments are helpful.
    My recent post What Happened to Your New Year’s Resolutions

  3. Milehimama on February 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Oh yeah, I hear you about the plate. I have a beautiful glass cutting board that is useless- for the same reason! BUT if you have a minimalist kitchen- only 5 or 6 things- you have to cut on something.

    In my last few rental houses, I wasn't allowed to use cast iron!

  4. Lorrienna on February 4, 2011 at 10:42 am

    I'd have to disagree on the stainless-steel skillet. At least the stainless steel part – I have cast iron skillets, and love 'em. Naturally non-stick, and you get the flavor enhancement from the seasoning.

    • ... on February 4, 2011 at 7:08 pm

      Cast-iron is very old-school and oh so cumbersome. Between the heavy weight of the skillet itself and the time it takes to "season" the skillet before each use, it turns cooking into a chore more than anything else.

      My mother has one of those monstrosities and the only good thing I've ever had from one was her cornbread.

      • Ron on February 14, 2011 at 2:13 pm

        If you're having to season a cast iron skillet before each use, you're doing it wrong.

    • Sophie on February 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm

      Oh, I adore my cast-iron skillet and Dutch oven. The Dutch oven is perfect for everything from pot roast to poached eggs and I use my skillet not just for cornbread but also for chilis, spaghetti sauces, hash browns, frittatas, apple crisps, peach cobblers, pineapple upside down cakes, etc etc etc.

      My cast-iron skillet was given to me by my mother. She got it from her mother, who received it as a wedding present around 1920. So it’s been in use for about 90 years, at least 3 or 4 times a week, and is still going strong.

      I’m not sure why anyone would have to season cast-iron before each use, unless they’re putting it in the dishwasher or something like that.

  5. Andrew on February 4, 2011 at 1:37 am

    Milehimama, I would advise against using a plate as a cutting board unless you hate your straight edge knife and your ears. If you are using a serrated knife it won’t ruin the knife, but still makes my skin crawl. If you are using a straight edge knife I would go for plastic or wood cutting board, anything with a hardness less than that of the knife.

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  7. Milehimama on February 3, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Oh disagree. If these are essentials, the only things you'll need- you need a paring knife or veg. peeler to prep food. You can use any towels, cloth napkins- even washcloths- to clean the space, as hot pads, as trivets but other kitchen equipment is indispensible.

    I've lived in a very minimalist kitchen and IMO these are "can't live without" equipment for an American kitchen:
    6 qt. stainless steel casserole/dutch oven/pot with lid (which can be used as a frying pan, make a pot roast, make chili, boil pasta.. very versatile.) It's 6 items, not 5 though!
    Medium chef's knife
    paring knife/small sharp knife
    can opener
    Plate (doubles as a cutting board)
    Silicone spatula (use for flipping or stirring).

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