Whether you're just starting out or a cooking master, we're sharing the best kitchen tools to make your meal prep quick and easy. Come see if your favorites made the list!

Kitchen tools in a holder, from Shelf Cooking

While eating out can be a nice treat sometimes, it can get really expensive! So unless you plan on eating out for the rest of your life (and spending LOADS of cash), you need to stock your kitchen with some important basic kitchen tools.

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While they can be fun, you don’t need the expensive tools like food processors, blenders, or Instant Pots to do the job (even though they are super nice to have!). You do need the down-to-earth basics. Keep on reading to see our list of must-haves, along with some “nice-to-have” items thrown in.


Here are our favorite kitchen tools we wouldn't be able to function without. They don't have to be fancy brands, but do make sure that they're quality when you're making an investment in tools like this!


Woman cutting strawberry, from  Shelf Cooking

It's kinda hard to prepare meals without knives, right? You’ll need ’em if you want to slice, dice, chop, mince, and carve. Just make sure your knives are in good condition and sharp. Dull knives are definitely not fun to work with, and you’re more likely to cut yourself when you’re using one.

While those fancy knife collections are cool, we consider these three knives essential (as in can't-live-without-them!):

  • A Paring Knife – This is the go-to knife. It's the little 3- or 4-inch knife you use to peel fruits and veggies. This little baby does the small jobs you don’t need a huge knife for, like cutting an onion or slicing a carrot.
  • A Long, Serrated Knife – This one’s perfect for cutting bread (and sandwiches), fatty cuts of meat, and anything firm on the outside but soft on the inside (such as peaches and tomatoes). Serrated knives come in different sizes. If you’re only going to get one, we recommend a 10-inch knife. That bad boy is big enough to handle anything. Just make sure the blade is thin enough to be a bit flexible.
  •  A Chef’s Knife – This is the big daddy of knives. It's the large, heavy-duty knife you’ll need for cutting big stuff. We're talking things with thick rinds (like melons and squash) and big chunks of meat. The standard ones come in 8- or 10-inch sizes. Choose the one you feel you'll be able to handle the easiest. The bigger one looks scarier but provides better leverage.


Here’s where the pot for the chicken comes in. Again, it’s nice to have a spiffy collection that would put Martha Stewart to shame (raise your hand if that's you!). But here are our three absolute essentials:


  • A 2-Quart Saucepan with a Lid – You’ll use it for cooking/heating everything you don’t need to throw into a massive pot (heating a can of green beans, making macaroni and cheese, and even cooking rice). This little thing will be your best friend!
  • An 8-Quart Stockpot with a Lid – This is your go-to pot for all the bigger jobs. You can make soup, pasta, stew, and anything else that won’t fit in your cute little saucepan. The sky's the limit in this big pot!
  • A 10-Inch Frying Pan with a Lid – You’ll want this for frying (as the name suggests), sautéing, and searing. It’s best if you can get a nonstick pan. It's really helpful when you don't have to worry about things sticking while you cook. Plus, it makes clean up SO much easier!

Pro Tip: Do not use metal utensils in non-stick pans. You’ll end up scratching it, and before long, the “non” is gone from the stick. (We speak from experience!)


Cinnamon rolls in a cast-iron skillet, from Shelf Cooking

A cast-iron skillet is the versatile darling of the kitchen. You can use it on any cooking surface (stovetop, oven, or grill, but not the microwave) and can cook practically anything in it. Oh, and here’s a little side perk: you’ll add a touch of iron, an essential nutrient, to everything you cook in it.

Once you’ve “seasoned” it (just follow the directions that come with your pan, or search YouTube), it’s a cinch to clean. Rinse your pan well with hot water (try to avoid using soap) and dry it thoroughly with a towel. Then place it on your stove over low heat and add a thin coat of oil with a paper towel. Cool the pan and store until you're ready to use it again!


Measuring cups and spoons are essential if you plan to follow recipes. Baking especially requires precise measurements. Here are our three basics:

  • A 2-Cup Glass Measuring Cup -They're perfect for ingredients which tend to spill out of smaller measuring cups (like shredded cheese) and liquids.
  • A Set of Measuring Cups – These are for dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cornmeal, oats, you get the drift). These nest neatly and come in graduated sizes from ¼ cup to 1 cup.
  • A Set of Measuring Spoons – These also come in graduated sizes from ¼ teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.

Pro Tip: Look for metal measuring cups and spoons with indented letters and numbers. Hand-wash glass measuring cups (or wash them in the top rack of the dishwasher) to prevent washing off the markings.


You’ll use mixing bowls for absolutely everything. And if you get a set that isn’t metal, you can use them safely in the microwave, oven, freezer, and dishwasher. There are all kinds of sets on the market, but a 3-piece nesting set should meet all your needs and will probably last forever.


Pick a can opener that feels comfortable in your hand, is durable, and is smooth to operate. While we're all about saving money where you can, it’s usually smart to stick to known brands. The cheaper ones are usually much harder to operate and don't last as long. Learn from our mistakes!


Wooden spoons are the best! You can use them for everything, they don’t crack and split (like plastic tends to do), and they’re easy to clean. How many do you need? That’s up to you. Start with a few basics in several sizes and go from there.


Cutting board on a counter, from Shelf Cooking

You’ll need a cutting board to do all your slicing, chopping, dicing, and mincing. This will keep you from destroying your countertop and makes clean up super easy! They come in a variety of sizes and in wood or plastic, the choice is up to you.

There are pros and cons to both. Wood cutting boards look nice and last forever, but need to be maintained (don’t put it in the dishwasher and apply a little oil once a month). Plastic cutting boards can eventually get a little “hacked up” by all those knives, but can be tossed in the dishwasher and won’t absorb juices/flavors from the food like wood does. If you do get plastic, we suggest a cutting board with rubber on the edges to help keep it from sliding.


Spatulas are one of the best go-to tools in the kitchen. You can use them to stir, blend, and fold your ingredients. They can even scrape the bowl when you’re done (if you don't lick it clean first)! And we can’t say enough about silicone:

  • Nothing sticks to it.
  • Silicone withstands high heat, so you can stir that bubbling spaghetti sauce without fear of a meltdown.
  • It also withstands freezing temperatures, so don’t worry about mixing up frozen treats.
  • Silicone never corrodes like metal can.
  • It’s incredibly durable, so it won’t crack or break.
  • It doesn’t conduct heat, so the handles are always cool to the touch.

That’s not all! You can also throw them in the dishwasher. Oh, and they also come in lots of cool colors and patterns. They're a durable kitchen tool and a fun way to brighten up your kitchen!  


It is possible to whip cream the old-fashioned way, and believe us, we’ve done it. But a hand mixer makes so many jobs so much easier! You’ll use it to make cookies, blend pancake batter, whip cream, make mashed potatoes, we could go on forever. Look for a nice durable brand that’s easy to use. You definitely don't want to have to wrestle the beaters to detach them.


rinsing vegetables in a colander, from Shelf Cooking

Have you ever burned yourself trying to drain pasta using the pan and lid? We probably all have, which makes us all appreciate a colander. Those steam burns are wicked, right?

Use it to drain anything that needs to be drained as well as to wash fruits and veggies. You’ll seriously never know how you did without it. Choose a large, stainless steel variety; it'll be big enough to do any job, is easy to clean, and will last forever.


Ah, the kitchen shears. You’ll use these gems in more ways than you can even imagine. Here are just a few of the ways we use ours:

  • Open food packages
  • Chop up herbs
  • Slice pizza
  • Cut green onions
  • Chop celery
  • Shred lettuce or cabbage
  • Cut bacon
  • Trim the crust from bread
  • Cut off cauliflower/broccoli florets
  • Slice green peppers
  • Cut meat into chunks
  • Cut food for kids into bite-size pieces

Make sure you look for a thick, durable, sturdy pair with a comfy handle and take-apart blades. Wash them thoroughly before and after using them on food. Find a pair that are dishwasher-safe (you can thank us later)!


What? Tongs? You betcha. This is another tool you’ll use in more ways than you could ever imagine. Use them to flip chicken breasts or bacon without getting burned, retrieve potatoes out of boiling water, squeeze the last bit of juice out of a lemon, and more.

And oh yeah, use them to fetch things off those high cupboard shelves when there’s nobody taller around and you just really don't feel like getting the step stool out. 😉


Containers for food storage are such an essential kitchen tool! They help you to keep from being wasteful, which is what we're alllll about.


Stack of dish towels, from Shelf Cooking

No self-respecting kitchen is complete without some good-quality dish towels. You’ll obviously use them to dry things. They’re also great for wiping off your counters, covering bread dough as it rises, keeping phyllo dough from drying out while you’re assembling that fancy dessert, and even insulating your countertop from that dish you just took out of the oven.

Speaking of ovens, dish towels can even double as oven mitts or potholders. Look for towels that are large, linen blend (great for glasses and doesn’t leave lint) or cotton (terrycloth is the most absorbent fabric), and soft. The color and pattern choices are almost endless, so have fun!


These kitchen tools aren't necessarily essential, but they sure do make life a little bit easier!


These spiffy, reusable silicone mats are nonstick and make baking things on sheet pans an absolute breeze! Use one on your pan when you roast veggies, make pizza, bake cookies, and so on. You won’t have to use as much butter or oil, nothing ever sticks, and you don’t even have to wash the pan afterward!

Simply rinse the mat off in hot soapy water, rinse well, let it dry, and use it another million times. It’ll last forever if you’re nice to it. We have one for each of our sheet pans, so we're able to use all our pans at the same time if we need to.


Meat thermometer in a turkey, from Shelf Cooking

Sometimes, you have to bring ingredients to a precise temperature. The only way to pull that off is with a food thermometer. You can use them for everything from making candy to cooking a roast and deep frying with oil. Look for one with a digital display, they're a lot easier to read!


Here’s hoping you’ll never need one, but it’s a good idea to have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. But just because you have one doesn’t mean you’ll always need to use it even if a fire does break out.

The cardinal rule for fires in a kitchen: never use water to try and douse a grease fire. Water will merely fuel the flames. Remember that fire depends on oxygen, so if you can cut off the supply of oxygen, you can put out the fire. If you ever experience a kitchen fire:

  • Oven Fire – Keep the door closed and back away. Without oxygen, it will eventually extinguish.
  • Stovetop or Broiler Fire – Slap a lid over the pan or pour salt or baking soda on it.
  • Small Fire – Cover it with a thick dishtowel.

If those measures don’t work, grab the extinguisher. Look for one that’s relatively small and easy to handle. It should be rated B, which means it will handle fires caused by gas, oil, and grease.

Well, there you have it! Those are our top 13 kitchen tools, along with a few extras that are nice to have. What are your essential tools? Let us know in the comments!

Image with text that reads "24 essential kitchen prep tools" from Shelf Cooking

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Now, get to cooking!