Chris Kimball, founder, publisher and editor of Cook’s Illustrated and host of “America’s Test Kitchen,” was on the Leonard Lopate Show recently to share his list of essential kitchen equipment. Here’s his list – along with some helpful pointers about how to care for your pots and pans.
First, here’s Kimball’s gauge of whether you really need that new gadget: “If something’s going to get used once a month, you don’t really need it. [Over the years] your repertoire gets smaller, but it’s higher quality.”
When it comes to pans, there are 3 indispensible ones: a 12-inch saute pan; a 3- or 4-quart sauce pan (both All Clad); a 9- or 10-inch nonstick pan for eggs and fish. (Most “non-stick pans” are really “low-stick pans” – they’re smooth, but they’re not non-stick pans. But be warned: the coating will wear off in about a year when used every day.)
Get a Dutch oven that’s at least 6 quarts. If you know how to season a cast-iron one, those will run you about $40. Le Creuset, which are enamel-coated, don’t need seasoning, but are much more expensive. (To season a cast-iron Dutch oven or pan, put it on the heat, put about a tablespoon of vegetable oil and then put on an oven mitt and use a paper towel. Do it every time.)
If you have a cast-iron pan that’s gotten a crusty bottom from poor cleaning: heat a bunch of canola oil, add a lot of coarse salt, put an oven mitt on, use paper towels to scrub the pan.
Kimball says to make sure that stainless steel cookware is heavy and fully clad, both of which are key for even heating.
Roasting racks are helpful but they can be improvised by putting a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet. He recommends a v-rack for turkeys, though.
Chris Kimball warns: “We recommend never buying anything in sets…What sets are, are manufacturers who want to dump the stuff that doesn’t sell. So they’ll put 3 good pieces with 3 kind of silly things.” And, he adds, you almost never need as many items as what’s grouped together for sets. The exception: Tramontina makes a set of pans that has performed well in America’s Test Kitchen.
There are 3 essential knives you should have in your kitchen: an 8-inch chef’s knife (Kimball recommends the $30 Victornox), a 3.5-inch paring knife and a 10-inch bread knife. To keep them sharp, Chef’s Choice knife sharpener is the best. They’re expensive, but there’s a $10 option: AccuSharp makes a knife sharpener that does a decent job.
Kimball uses a plastic polypropylene cutting board that he sticks in the dishwasher. But if you don’t wash your cutting boards in a dishwasher, you should have one for meat and fish and another board for everything else. But America’s Test Kitchen tests show that hot soapy water does get rid of 99% of bacteria.
You can’t use baking pans interchangeably because different pans having different volumes and so require different baking times. So here’s what you’ll need: half baking sheets (13 x 18 with a 1-inch lip on them), which you can use for roasting, and a box of parchment paper to put in the bottom of those; a 12x17 pan; a 10-inch springform pan (Kimball says you’ll still have to season the inside of the pan, even it says it’s non-stick); 8-inch and 9-inch square baking pans. When buying cake pans, the key is to get ones with straight sides that are 2 inches high. (Chicago Metallic makes some that Kimball likes.)
Kimball’s essential splurge? An instant read thermometer by ThermaPen by ThermaWorks, which runs about $100. (We did say splurge.)
So which gadgets are actually really helpful? Kimball says a garlic press is handy because it’s very hard for most of us to achieve a fine mince. And you get a lot more flavor from the garlic if you use a press.
Mandolins are helpful for potatoes, but they can be dangerous, so always use the guard and be careful.
Salad spinners – Oxo Good Grips has a good one with a break and a ring on the bottom that prevents the spinner from travelling across your counter tops.
Digital scales – these are good because if you scoop things like flour, the amount you’re actually getting in the scoop can vary a lot.
If you’re looking for a food processor, Kimball says to go for quality. KitchenAid and Cuisanart makes ones that have done well in America's Test Kitchen. And buy a fairly large one that’s at least 6 quarts. Stand mixers are important if you frequently bake things involving heavy doughs, like cookies.
Did we forget anything? Tell us in the comments below!