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

Kitchen tools in a holder, from ShelfCooking.com

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. You do need the down-to-earth basics. Keep on reading to see my list of must-haves, along with some “nice-to-have” items thrown in.


Here are my favorite kitchen tools that I 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  ShelfCooking.com

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 that 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 a one. While those fancy knife collections are cool, I 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 that 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 that’s 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, I would get a 10-inch one since that bad boy is big enough to handle anything. Also make sure that 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, things with thick rinds (like melons and squash), and big chunks of meat. The standard ones come in 8- or 10-inch sizes. Just choose the one you feel that 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 my three absolute essentials and an additional pretty-much-essential.


  • 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. I'm talking about 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 that cute saucepan. The sky is the limit in this big mama!
  • A 10-inch frying pan with a lid. You’ll want this for frying (duh, as the name suggests), sautéing, and searing. It’s best if you can get a nonstick pan, it's really helpful to not have to worry about things sticking while you cook and makes clean up SO much easier! Just be careful not to use metal utensils in it. You’ll end up scratching it, and before long, the “non” is gone from the stick. (I don't speak from experience or anything!)


Cinnamon rolls in a cast-iron skillet, from ShelfCooking.com

A cast-iron skillet. This is the versatile darling of the kitchen. You can use it on any cooking surface (stovetop, oven, grill) and can cook practically anything in it. Obviously, don’t use it in the microwave unless you’re up for more adventure than I am! 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 it), it’s a cinch to clean. Just rinse it well with hot water (you don't even need 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 then store until you're ready to use it again!


Measuring cups and spoons are essential if you’re going to follow any recipes. Baking especially requires precise measurements. Here are my three basics:


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 I'm 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 my 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 ShelfCooking.com

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 looks nice and lasts forever, but needs to be maintained (don’t put it in the dishwasher, and apply a little oil once a month). Plastic 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, I would suggest one 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 I 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 throw them in the dishwasher, too. 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 me, I’ve done it. But a hand mixer makes so many jobs so much easier! You’ll use it to beat cake mixes, blend pancake batter, whip cream, make mashed potatoes, I 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 ShelfCooking.com

Have you ever burned yourself trying to drain pasta using the pan and lid? I think we 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 will 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 that I use mine:

  • 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 that 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 and you can thank me 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 to store food in is such an essential kitchen tool! It helps you to keep from being wasteful, which is what I'm alllll about.


Stack of dish towels, from ShelfCooking.com

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. I make sure that I have one for each of my sheet pans so that I'm able to use all of my pans at the same time if I need to.


Meat thermometer in a turkey, from ShelfCooking.com

Sometimes, like when you’re making candy or fudge, you have to bring ingredients to a precise temperature. The only way to pull that off is with a food thermometer. You can also use them to make sure a roast is done or that oil for deep frying is hot enough. Look for one with a digital display, they are a lot easier to read.


Here’s to 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 on a grease fire. Water will merely fuel the flames. Just remember that fire depends on oxygen, so if you can cut off the supply of oxygen, you can put out the fire.

  • Oven fire – Keep the door closed and back away, it will eventually extinguish.
  • Stovetop or broiler fire – Slap a lid over it or pour 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 my top 13 kitchen tools, along with a few extras that are nice to have. What are your essential tools? Let me know in the comments!

Image with text that reads "24 essential kitchen prep tools" from ShelfCooking.com

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