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If you’ve ever visited the kitchen section at your local department store, you’ve probably seen a lot of flashy gadgets for almost everything imaginable. But what’s actually useful while cooking from scratch? Which are the best food prep tools to make it easy?
The right food prep tools can make all of the difference along the way. Let’s find out what you should get!
Hand-Held Rolling Pin
These are amazing! I know a lot of people swear by Grandma’s old rolling pin (and I actually have a handmade one from my own grandmother, so I completely understand), but nothing beats the ease and convenience of hand-held rolling pins.
I use mine for rolling pie crust, crackers, and flatbread, meaning it gets a lot of heavy use. In my experience, the newer ones aren’t nearly as sturdy as the older ones–the roller pops off under pressure eventually, so make sure you have a backup on hand if you do a lot of baking.
Quality Paring Knife + Sharpening Stone
Nothing beats a quality paring knife! Years ago, our family was gifted a few Cutco knives from someone, and they’ve stood the test of time. But have you priced those things? They’re SO expensive. (We’re talking $100s of dollars, just for ONE knife.)
If you’re not ready to spend that much money, I suggest checking out Rada instead. They’re made in the USA and readily available in Amish-type stores in the Midwest, but they’re also available online. I have several Rada knives (both plastic- and metal-handled versions), and so far, I’ve never had any real problems with them, and the knife edges are easy to keep sharp if you have a sharpening stone. (Sharp knives are safer than dull knives, remember.)
You’ve heard of cutting boards, but what about kitchen trays? Well, technically, I am talking about lunch trays. Our family uses them as cutting boards, because they have lips around the edges that prevent juice or pieces of food from escaping, keeping your workspace tidier and making food easier to transfer when you’re done preparing it. They’re also handy for cooling baked goods like cookies.
If you’re serious about cooking and baking, you NEED a solid stainless steel pancake turner (sometimes known as a “spatula”). Why do I mention this one? Because there are a lot of options out there that work terribly.
What are you looking for in a pancake turner? Primarily, you need a flat scraping edge. A lot that I’ve seen have curved edges, which means they don’t push flat against the surface of the pan and thus can’t pick up the food as easily (or scrape stuck bits from the bottom of the pan either). I personally prefer the sturdier ones that don’t bend, but I’ve seen a few thinner types with a flat edge that work well for, say, cookies.
By and large, the best one I’ve tried (the one in the middle) was also quite affordable and available at a local Mennonite store, but there are other good options available as well. (The one on the bottom is an Oneida brand.) Thankfully, these are fairly low in price considering how much use you’ll get out of them.
You’ll also need a soft plastic spatula for scraping out every bit of dough from mixing bowls, for example. There are lots of different types around, so it just comes down to preference–my Mom and I have a long-running difference of opinion over which style is better. 🙂 I tend to mix a lot of things with my spatulas, so I prefer the scooped version, while she prefers the firmer, flat-edged types.
Both will work, so it’s just up to your preference. You just need something that comfortably scrapes out the nooks and crannies of a container, without making a mess.
Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl
This probably makes the “obvious” list, but it’s worth mentioning here…because in my kitchen, a mixing bowl is a LOT more than just a mixing bowl!
Not only can you mix up bread dough in them, but you can also use larger bowls for washing produce, picking vegetables, collecting compost scraps, brining meat, and many other things. Even cheap stainless steel mixing bowls will do!
I personally far prefer stainless steel over glass. Glass mixing bowls are heavy and clumsy, making them difficult to maneuver around the kitchen, especially if you’re trying to pour dough into a cake tin or handling something oily, for example.
Cast Iron Skillet(s)
Every from-scratch cook needs a cast iron skillet! We use ours almost daily. They’re great for cooking things like hamburgers, pork chops, pancakes, fried potatoes, burrito shells, gravy, and so much more.
Unlike many other skillets, they can be used in the oven too, making them perfect for cornbread and other dishes. As long as you keep your cast iron well-seasoned (don’t wash with soap!) and hot, it will form a naturally non-stick surface.
Pyrex/Glass Pie Plate
If you don’t eat a lot of pie, you might not need one of these. But if you do a lot of baking, I highly suggest finding yourself a classic Pyrex-style glass pie plate, preferably one with a flat edge on top.
These bake pie crust to perfection, leaving the pastry crisp and crumbly, and the flat edge helps the top crust set properly.
Mason Jars w/Lids
No, canning jars aren’t just for canning! Mason jars have a lot of different uses in the kitchen.
They can be used for storing food in the refrigerator (especially liquids like broth or homemade juices), as well as storing dried goods in the pantry. I love them for storing home dehydrated fruit, since they allow me to seal out the air better than plastic bags. Some people even freeze food in Mason jars, though you need to be careful not to overfill them for this purpose, because they easily crack.
Jars also make great drinkware. Call me a country bumpkin, I don’t care! 😉 A pint canning jar makes one of the best drink containers around.
We call this our family’s “teapot.” A saucepan is a medium-large pan that can be used for all sorts of things, not just making sauces.
Our pot with a glass lid is perfect for cooking pasta, warming up frozen soup, making herbal tea, boiling vegetables, stirring pudding, and so, so much more. It’s the perfect size–not too large to waste space, but large enough to still hold a good amount of food.
Stainless Steel Scratch Pads
When you transition away from non-stick cookware and start cooking/baking more from scratch, you will find that dishwashing can become a lot harder! Get yourself some stainless steel scratch pads, if you don’t already have some under your sink.
These things are great for scrubbing tough dirty dishes like meat-burned skillets and sourdough-stuck mixing bowls. (I use ours for cleaning cast iron too.)
Flour Sack Dishtowels
Remember those pretty embroidered dish towels your great-aunt made? Well, they still sell those basic white dishtowels, which are incredibly useful for drying your hands or dishes, covering proofing dough, protecting food from flies on a picnic, etc.
Even if you don’t plan on canning, you might want to get yourself a canning funnel (plastic will work fine). You can use them for filling jars with ingredients or food, as well as filling plastic bags for freezer meals…while cutting down on the mess.
Skinnier, more traditional funnels are useful for filling saltshakers and smaller containers, such as bottles.
One of my family members brought his electric teapot home from work over lockdowns, and it has proven indispensable in the kitchen. Once you have an electric teapot sitting on the countertop, you find a lot of different uses for it!
I love it for heating water quickly while cooking or making tea, and it’s also handy for canning season, when I need to fill jars with hot water. It brings water to a rolling boil in just minutes.
A mesh strainer is essential for cooking/rinsing any sort of grains, including rice, quinoa, barley, etc., as well as straining broths and even lard. They come in various sizes, so pick something for your needs. The little “hooks” on the edges of the strainer allow you to prop it over a bowl or some other dish, making it easy to drain the food.
What are the best kitchen tools that YOU use? Share in the comments, and we might just add it to the post! 🙂