Learning to cook feels like a huge undertaking to many people and figuring out where to start gets confusing. If you are looking to start cooking, you need to start with essential cooking tools.
I have noticed that a lot of people just jump right into learning how to cook. I am not saying that is the wrong approach. But before you jump in you should ensure you have what you need to be successful.
It is like driving your car with the gas tank on empty. You are only going to get so far.
So, let’s start with why you need these essential cooking tools.
Why You Need Essential Cooking Tools
It makes cooking easier. When you are learning to cook, making things easier on yourself is vital.
It is going to be what keeps you cooking.
For example, if you don’t have proper measuring cups you would need to guess on the amounts.
Now, there are people that can accurately do that and make something amazing.
But if you are just starting out, I highly suggest you follow your recipes until you enhance your skills.
And if you don’t have the right amount of certain ingredients, you could completely throw off the end result of your recipe.
It can be frustrating to cook without essential cooking tools. Learn to cook can already be frustrating.
So why compound the problem by not having the basics when you start?
I always make sure the utensils that will be needed are clean before I begin because it is frustrating to not have what you need when you need it.
Keep this in mind because it tends to make people quit.
I don’t want you to be one of those people. If you weren’t taking this journey seriously, you wouldn’t be reading this post.
So, take the extra time to get what you need before you start.
Essential Cooking Tools
Now, I want to get into what I feel are essential cooking tools for anyone who wants to successfully learn how to cook.
I would not suggest going to the store, walking through the cooking section, and picking items out.
I’ll be honest I love walking through kitchen stuff. There are soooo many gadgets and appliances. And it can be super easy to clutter your kitchen with all of them.
In reality, only a fraction of them are really essential.
In creating this post, I did a lot of research and looked at what others felt were essential cooking tools. And I can say I did not like all of their answers.
Especially for those just starting out and not knowing what they should get.
It may just be my opinion, but I do not feel that you need an extremely expensive knife set or a Dutch oven when you are learning to cook.
Heck, I have been cooking for years and I still don’t own a Dutch oven.
So, here are the essential cooking tools actually need to get started.
1. Pots and Pans
A pot is generally referred to as having high, straight sides that can hold larger quantities of food.
A pan, such as a frying pan, has lower sides and can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
You use these for different things.
Pots can really be used for all purpose cooking. But if you are looking to fry, sear, or brown food, a pan is typically used.
Be careful when it comes to what utensils you use on your pots and pans.
For example, you don’t want to use a metal spatula on a non-stick pan because it would scratch up your pan.
If you have ever looked at pots and pans, you know you could spend a lot of money on a good set.
However, when you are first starting out it is not necessary. You might even have a set already. Don’t feel like you can’t use it or like you have to replace it.
Just be sure to have a saucepan with a lid, a frying pan, and a big pot.
You can get by just fine learning to cook with these.
If you are looking for a set, here is Amazon’s #1 bestselling set. They are nonstick and easy to clean. And again, considering how much you could spend on a single pot, these are a great price.
2. Knife Set
Okay so you know knives are used to cut items, but do you know the different kinds of knives and what they are used for exactly?
If not, that’s okay. I’m going to walk you through them here and then we will talk about a great knife set, if you don’t already have one.
This is going to be your most used knife.
It typically has a blade that is 6 to 12 inches long with a blade that tapers upwards to a point.
This allows the blade to easily rock back and forth for fast chopping.
If you are looking for just a single knife to have, the chef’s knife is what you want.
You can use it for pretty much anything in the kitchen.
This is an interesting knife. It is the Japanese version of a chef’s knife and the meaning of Santoku is “three virtues”.
This refers to slicing, dicing, and mincing.
Because of the blades design, it doesn’t rock back and forth like the chef’s knife, but it is great for slicing veggies.
This knife is smaller and lighter than a traditional chef’s knife, so it is replaced by some cooks who prefer that.
A kitchen shears is basically a kitchen scissors.
The blades on these scissors are very strong and sharp, which makes them perfect for cutting everything from herbs to sectioning meat.
A utility knife is almost like a mini chef’s knife.
It is usually around 4 to 7 inches long.
It is used to cut things like fruits and veggies that are too small for a chef’s knife, but it can also be used to cut meat.
This would be the smallest knife in the set.
A paring knife is around 3-4 inches long and is primarily used for cutting and peeling fruits and veggies.
It is also great for trimming fat.
A bread knife is usually between 7-10 inches long and has a serrated edge.
This makes it perfect for cutting through bread without ruining it.
If you have ever cut bread with a normal knife before, I’m sure you noticed that you push down harder, causing the bread to get squished.
I suggest always cutting your bread with a bread knife.
This knife does exactly what the name implies.
It is used to separate meat from bone. This could be used for cutting up meat or filleting a fish.
These knives typically have a blade that is 3-8 inches long.
Steak knives can come with serrated or non-serrated edges.
They are most commonly used for cutting meat. But they can be used for cutting other foods as well.
This is a big knife. It is probably what pops into your mind when you think about a butcher.
The clever is designed to cut through meat and bones in a chopping motion.
Tip: Always make sure your knives are sharp. This is important to ensure safety and makes it easier for cutting.
A knife set or even just a single knife is another area where it can get expensive.
I do suggest getting a decent knife set. You don’t need spend a lot of money, but also don’t just pick the cheapest.
I only say this from experience because I have used super cheap knives before and recently my husband and I invested in some nicer knives. It has been much easier and more enjoyable to have the nicer set.
I would recommend this set below!
It has everything you need in a knife set, plus kitchen shears, a peeler, and a knife sharpener.
I want to repeat this tip again. It is important to keep your knives sharp, so they are at their best. When knives are dull you use more pressure, increasing your chances of injury.>
3. Measuring Cups and Spoons
Liquid measuring cups should be used for liquid items and dry measuring cups should be used for dry ingredients.
You can use dry measuring cups for liquids, but you will not have as accurate of a measurement.
How to Measure Liquid Ingredients in a Liquid Measuring Cup:
Place the measuring cup on a flat surface.
Pour the desired amount into the measuring cup.
Bend down to look at the cup at eye level to ensure the meniscus is at the appropriate level.
Adjust if need be.
How to Measure Dry Ingredients:
Dip your measuring cup into the dry ingredients and scoop it so that the cup is overflowing.
Then, take the back of a butter knife and level off the top of the cup to get rid of the excess ingredient.
Tips: Always stir flour before measuring because when it sits, it settles and isn’t as light as it should be when measuring. Also, gently spoon it into your measuring cup. Never pack flour. When measuring brown sugar, always pack it to get rid of the air that gets trapped.
Now, before you start thinking these are not essential cooking tools because you never see people use them on cooking shows, I want to stop you right there.
When you are just creating something up on the spot you do not necessarily need to measure.
But when you are following a recipe, which everyone who learns to cook must do, you will need to measure.
Both liquid and solid ingredients.
If you have too much or too little of an ingredient because you decided to eyeball it, you will end up with a very different result than what you were going for.
So, don’t go rouge and invest in some measuring cups and spoons. They really aren’t that expensive, and you will be using them a lot.
Here is a great set of liquid measuring cups that are durable, won’t absorb food odors or flavors, are stain resistant, and safe for the microwave.
You will also love this set of dry measuring cups and measuring spoons.
These are made from food grade steel, which makes them great for food and easy to clean.
They also not only have the cup/spoon size marked on them, but they also have the “ml” as well.
I mentioned this when we talked about pots and pans, but it is important, so I am going to repeat it.
Take into consideration your utensil and the cookware you are using.
You want to maintain the life and condition of your cookware so use utensils that won’t beat up your cookware.
The set I am recommending below is silicone, so it can be used on any of your cookware.
When it comes to picking the right utensil for the job, I am confident that you are going to be able to see what you have and pick something that will work.
I do want to point out that some utensils will work better than others for certain jobs.
For example, if your recipe tells you to whisk an egg, you will want to use your whisk for that. Keep in mind if you don’t have a whisk, a vigorous movement with a fork will also work.
I am grouping several things into this category but for a good reason.
What is included in utensils?
When I say utensils, what I mean are spatulas, slotted spoons, serving spoons, rubber scrapers, whisks, and tongs.
If you are going to learn how to cook, you should be using the proper tools for the job.
For example, if you are going to fry an egg you would want a spatula. If you are going to boil some veggies, you would want a slotted spoon.
Also, certain ingredients are going to need to be whisked together rather than just stirred together.
Another reason I am putting them all in one category of essential cooking tools is because you can find many sets that contain all the major utensils you would need.
I love this 14-piece set! I have my eye on it for when I need to replace some of the utensils I have.
There are made from food grade silicone, which makes them easy to clean, durable, and able to withstand high heat.
It includes a slotted spatula, slotted spoon, flexible spatula, slotted turner, solid turner, pasta server, solid spoon, kitchen tongs, draining spoon, whisk, ladle, spatula, and a basting brush.
When taking the temperature of meat, you want to make sure that you are checking the coolest part of the meat.
That is going to be the center of the thickest part of the meat.
If you are cooking a thin item, you will want to insert the thermometer sideways.
Here are some common meat temps that you might want to keep on hand:
White Meat Chicken 150F
Dark Meat Chicken 165F
Red Meat: Rare 120F
Well Done 160F
There are a few reasons that I consider this an essential cooking tool.
First, you should always make sure that your meat is cooked to the proper temperature, so you do not get sick. Certain meats can be eaten with some pink in them, but others you should not, such as chicken.
Next, a thermometer will tell you what temp your food is at without having to cut it open to see, and risk losing all your juices.
Lastly, when you are first learning to cook you might not know what exactly the food is supposed to look like when it is cooked to a certain temperature.
So, follow the recipe and use the thermometer to make sure it is done right.
You can get any thermometer you would like. You can get a really cheap one at any grocery store.
I recommend this thermometer though.
It takes reading very fast and it has a large digital screen, so you are never guessing what the temperature is.
I also love the fact that it has common meat temperatures on the thermometer itself and comes with another temperature guide.
And as an added bonus, it has a lifetime warranty!
6. Prep Bowls
When using prep bowls, it is important to remember, if you are prepping or marinating any meat in a bowl, it should never be used for other items. Use a clean bowl so you do not cross contaminate.
These are essential cooking tools that people often overlook.
Many feel they can just use the bowls they have to eat in. For some recipes that might be okay.
But you want some actual prep bowls if you are going to get serious about cooking.
You always want to make sure you have enough room to combine your ingredients and most of the time a small bowl just isn’t going to cut it.
You do not have to go crazy and buy a million different sized bowls.
It can be addicting buying things for cooking. At least I know I have that problem.
But you really only need a few nice bowls.
I prefer bowls with lids in case I am prepping ahead of time or want to store extras.
Plastic Prep Bowls
Here are some nice prep bowls that are the #1 best seller on Amazon.
There are four different sized bowls, each with their own lid. And they come at a great price.
Some people have a preference when it comes to what stuff is made of. So, I want to show you some glass and stainless-steel options as well.
Glass Prep Bowls
Here are some glass mixing bowls. These do not have covers, but they can be used in the microwave and oven, which gives them a dual purpose as a mixing bowl and a baking dish. They are also inexpensive.
Stainless Steel Prep Bowls
These are stainless steel. Again, some people have a preference and with all of the options out there I wanted to give you my top 3.
I personally have glass and stainless-steel prep bowls. I love to bake in my glass bowl, but I tend to prep more in my stainless-steel bowls because I find them super easy to clean.
This set comes with lids, which is always handy. But they are a little more expensive than the other 2 options I have shown.
7. Sheet Pan
Again, you want to be careful what utensils you are using on your sheet pans to keep them in good condition.
Also, if you want to help your pans last longer and make clean up a breeze, consider getting some baking mats to put on your pan.
When you use these, you do not have to use cooking sprays or parchment paper. And it helps to cook your foods more evenly.
This is for sure an essential cooking tool. A sheet pan can be used for so many different things.
I suggest having a couple. You just never know what you will be making where having an extra is really needed.
You can go with one that has no sides or one with small sides.
I have both and I will say I tend to use the one with sides way more often because I like the fact that if my food gets a little juice or starts to slide around when I move it, I won’t lose my food.
I have had a couple “Aw Sh*$” moments with the no side sheet pan. But I learned my lesson when I cook certain things.
Here is a set of 2 sheet pans that I would recommend. They are made of aluminum so they are durable and will never rust. They also conduct heat so your food with cook evenly. And it has 1-inch high sides so no food will slide off!
8. 9X13 Baking Dish
9×13 baking dishes are amazing so there isn’t much you need to know.
The only tip I can really give you is to make sure it is broiler safe before testing it out. Many are not, so if you plan on broiling with your dish a lot, make sure to get the right dish.
I can say I have never broiled in mine, but it is something to keep in mind, just in case.
When you get into cooking you will learn that a 9×13 baking dish is an essential cooking tool.
When you want to make anything like casseroles, bakes, or lasagna, you are going to find that this is the best tool to have.
I have one that I use all the time and it has a cover that I love because you can easily prep something ahead of time or store your leftovers.
This is a nice 9×13 baking dish that is low cost. This dish will get the job done. It is oven, microwave, refrigerator, freezer, and dishwasher safe. Plus, it has a lid!
The most important thing to remember when using a colander is to always pour items into the colander away from you. This reduces the changes of hot water splashing back on you.
Also, be aware of the steam. You can get steam burns, so be sure to keep your hands and your face out of the way.
When you need to drain noodles or vegetables, or even clean your veggies, you will learn that the easiest thing to do is dump them in a colander.
Many people try to drain things from their pots by using the lids. That leaves you open to getting burned and making a mess.
Make the smart move by purchasing a colander now to save you headaches down the road.
And I want to point out that they are relatively inexpensive, so there is no reason not to invest in one.
This is a stainless-steel colander that is dishwasher safe. It is big enough for any dish you decide to make. And what I mean by that is, you are going to be able to fit a lot of food in it.
If you are limited on cupboard space, you might want to get this colander. It is made of non-toxic rubber and BPA-free plastic. It is large, sturdy, and folds up nicely to store away.
10. Cutting Board
Always use separate cutting boards for meat and other foods. You do not want to cross contaminate your food.
A suggestion would be to designate a specific cutting board for meat only, to ensure you don’t cross contaminate.
When using your cutting board, place a damp cloth underneath it to keep the cutting board from sliding. This will help prevent any accidental cuts.
Cutting boards are so important. Don’t think you can just get away with cutting on a plate. It is not nearly as safe. Plus, you could damage or break your plate.
And not using anything at all can damage your counter top.
Get a couple cutting boards. At least 2! I say that because there will be a time when you are cutting up raw meat and then need to cut something else.
Again, you never want to cross contaminate your food. Having at least two cutting boards is going to save you from that.
Here are is Amazons #1 seller for cutting boards.
It is a pack of 3, which includes a large, medium, and small cutting board. They are thick and durable. They are not porous and won’t crack, so you do not need to worry about food or juices getting stuck to the board.
11. Can Opener
I’m sure everyone has used a can opener before. They only thing to keep in mind is that it does need to be washed after using it.
Even if you can’t tell, food and juices get on the blade when you open a can and without washing it, you can transfer it to other items you open and it can actually make you sick.
Now, I hope out of all of the things we have discussed here as essential cooking tools, that you at least have a can opener.
Don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t have one. I’m not trying to make you feel that way. It just tends to be one of those gadgets that no matter how much, or how little you cook, you have one.
If not, it is necessary.
Not everything has a pull top so at some point you will need a can opener.
If you try to do all fresh ingredients, like vegetables, that is great. Sometimes, however, when it is not peak season, that might not be your best route.
Plus, there are other ingredients, such as chilies or beans, that you will need for a recipe and that will require a can opener.
If you do not have a can opener, go for Amazon’s Best Selling can opener. It has an over-sized turn knob to grip and turn easier. It is also stainless steel and easy to clean.
Plus, it has a 1 Year Hassle Free Replacement and Lifetime Limited Warranty.
12. Hand Mixer
Depending on the type of hand mixer you are looking at, you could spend a lot of money.
If you plan on doing a lot of baking, investing in a heavy duty mixer would be the way to go.
However, if you are just learning to cook you can purchase on that is going to get the job done.
I suggest having a hand mixer because you will find it very useful for certain recipes.
For example, if you want to make homemade whipped cream or mashed potatoes, your arm will be awfully tired by the time you are done. Unless you are working on getting beefy arms you might want to go that route.
The point is, a hand mixer is going to make thing easier on you.
And as I said you do not have to pay a lot for a mixer.
Check out this mixer. It is a very reasonable price for a durable mixer that has 5 speeds plus power boost and has a comfort grip.
Recap Essential Cooking Tools
We just went over why you need essential cooking tools and the top 11 essential tools you should get before you begin learning how to cook.
You want to make things as easy as possible for yourself, so you do not get frustrated and quit.
These tools are going to help with that.
The tools that I have labeled as most important are what I feel you need at the bare minimum to learn to cook successfully.
I did not put anything in here that you could easily cook without, nor did I add anything super expensive.
Like I said, when you are first learning to cook, the best of everything is not necessary.
But you should be sure to have a knife set, pots and pans, measuring cups and spoons, utensils, a thermometer, prep bowls, a sheet pan, 9×13 baking dish, a colander, at least 2 cutting boards, and a can opener.
Check out my recommendations and get ready to get cookin!
And if you are just getting started on your cooking journey, check out my post How To Cook For Beginners: Getting Comfortable in the Kitchen!