There are those basic, essential tools that everyone needs to cook awesome food at home. ManMade thinks there are a solid fifteen, and we've shared them here - The Essential Kitchen: The 15 Tools Every Man Needs to Cook Like a Pro
But then, there are those less obvious tools... The ones that make cooking a real pleasure, and allow you to turn out restaurant-quality food with the charm of homemade. So, we've selected ten of our favorites to expand your arsenal and perfect your technique. Let's do it.
1. Bamboo steamer - Want to reheat food without drying it out? Steam it, man. Want to cook fresh vegetables without robbing them of their nutrients and crunch? Steam it, man. You want to... Well, you get where we're going.
Steaming food is an essential cooking technique, and one that's not usually part of the arsenal in U.S. kitchens, which is a real shame. Perhaps it's become too associated with healthy cooking...meaning it doesn't add any flavor. But 1) that's not true, and 2) sometimes you just need to partially cook something before grilling, searing, or sautéing. And steaming kicks boilings butt.
An Asian-style (horizontal) steamer often beats those little folding insert things, cause you can stack up the layers and cook more food with the same amount of energy. Plus, how you gonna make something like this with a little basket?
Recommended: Norpro Deluxe 3-Piece Bamboo Steamer Set
Of course, to use one of these, you've got to have....
2. A Carbon Steel Flat-Bottomed Wok - Lots of cookbooks and resources will tell you that Western stoves aren't designed for woks, and that they don't get as hot , and you might as well use a 12" nonstick skillet. While the first two are true, the latter is most certainly not. A steel wok is much bigger than a standard skillet, which allows you to push up the cooked food to the cooler sides, and focus the new ingredients near the heat. Also, the size is essential. There's no way you can make fried rice for four in a non-stick skillet.
Plus, there's that mysterious wok hay - the flavor compounds that form when fresh ingredients hit a hot steel wok, and make a great stir fry taste like a great stir fry. They're pretty inexpensive for their versatility, and couple with a lid and bamboo steamer (see above) you can make a whole, whole bunch of dishes in a whole new way. (It's still my favorite way to pop popcorn).
3. Large restaurant-style food storage container: These things require a bit of cabinet space, but they make themselves worth it in the first few uses. Need to brine a bunch of chickens before grilling or smoking? Cool down a batch of stock or broth right fast? Store a large amount of soup? Ferment a big batch of pickles, kimchi, or sauerkraut?
This is your guy. A six-quart model is a good option for general use, and will fit on the shelves of most refrigerators. You'll love it come Thanksgiving. Just made sure to get the accompanying lid.
4. Stone mortar and pestle - Science: food tastes better and more flavorful when the cells are crushed rather than just cut and separated.
Answer: use a big old mortar and pestle. Garlic, spices, herbs, seasoning pastes, salsa... anytime you can. There are two styles I'd recommend: the Mexican molcajete, made of volcanic basalt, and the Thai-style krokhin (pictured), made from granite. The molcajete is designed for grinding and smashing, and the krokhin more for pounding. The latter is a bit more versatile if you're only going to own one, as the surface is smooth and little bits of spices won't get stuck in the coarser cracks. But I have, and use, both on at least a weekly basis, and won't make guacamole or a curry without them.
Whichever you get, get a big one.
5. Boning knife - You can break down meat and fish with a chef's knife or even a paring knife, but it'll be much easier with a tool designed for the job. These have flexible blades that will ease around bones and other solid bits, allowing you to get the most meat from the carcass. The blades are also slightly offset and curved to allow the most access while keeping your hand out of the way.
This is $20 well spent.
6. Digital Scale - Good for baking, good for foodcrafts like canning and pickling and making beer, and many modern chef-y cookbooks list ingredients by weight. Be sure you get one with a nice broad plate, a standard and metric switch, and use it often.
7. Rice cooker - Yes, you can cook rice in a saucepan on the stove, or in the oven. No, it won't be as easy as a rice cooker. The real benefit here is: with one of these guys, you'll be willing to try to cook more Asian and Southeastern Asian dishes. With the rice aspect handled, you can focus on the other, less-familiar components and ingredients of the dish. Knowing you can pull off a perfect jasmine to accompany that Thai curry, or some Chinese long-grain to match those new pantry staples you snagged at the international market means you get to learn more about cooking, and not have to worry about not burning the side dish. And I wouldn't cook brown rice any other way.
Look for an Asian-style model in the four-six cup range, with both a cook and warm function.
Recommended: Zojirushi NHS-10 6-Cup (Uncooked) Rice Cooker
8. Cast iron grill pan + griddle: Turns your stove top into a griddle and a grill, and your grill into a stovetop (and a griddle). Not just for pancakes and bacon, this will make quick work of a batch of fajita veggies, cooking 3-4 steaks a la plancha, or to even out the heat on a charcoal grill to use a saucepan.
9. High End Instant Read Thermometer: Can I really recommend spending a hundred dollars on a thermometer? Yep, for two reasons:
- It's really fast, and really accurate, and really well-built. That means you'll use it.
- It's bigger than just a tiny metal probe, which means it's easy to find. That means you'll use it.
I've owned my fair share of digital thermometers. They'd last a year or two, and I'd use them maybe six or seven times when grilling chicken thighs and the like. Then they'd get misplaced, or break, or stop working, and I'd buy another one.
Then, I bit the bullet and bought the (hopefully) last one I ever need. It's so fast, I'm willing to grab it to check everything from the water temp of my morning tea to my homebrew mash to the ambient temperature of my garage. And I know I've spent more than $100 total on those $30 jobs that break after a year or so.
I wish I'd done it years ago. I didn't buy it because I had a million needs for a high end digital thermometer; I found those needs because this thing works, and makes me a better cook. It'll help you, too.
Recommended: ThermoWorks Thermapen
10. Electric Kettle: Makes quick work of coffee, tea, and noodles. The gooseneck design is essential for pourover techniques, and helps you keep the scalding hot water where you want it to go, not on your hands.
Recommended: Bonavita 1.0L Electric Kettle BV3825B
What next-level kitchen tools would you recommend? Share your picks in the comments below!
Just starting out? Be sure to check out The Essential Kitchen: The 15 Tools Every Man Needs to Cook Like a Pro