The 18 Best Kitchen Tools Under $20

Thanks to these affordable tools, you no longer have to wait to have the fully-stocked kitchen of your dreams.

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Essential Kitchen Accessories
Photo: Amazon; Crate & Barrel

In my early 20s, I lived in New York City and spent most of my meager income on rent. I had just graduated from culinary school, and cooking occupied most of my time, both at work and home. While I dreamed of equipping my (albeit very tiny) kitchen with a KitchenAid stand mixer, a Le Creuset Dutch Oven, or a high-powered Vitamix Blender like the ones I used in restaurant kitchens, I flat out didn't have the budget for those splurges. So instead, I relied on affordable yet reliable kitchen tools that could get the job done without eating into my rent money. Years later, I still turn to these tools more than those big ticket appliances. I'm talking about workhorse sheet pans that still haven't warped all these years later, a cast-iron skillet that only gets better with time, a brightly colored citrus juicer that has helped me through many batches of margaritas, and more. Thanks to these trusty tools, you no longer have to wait to have the fully-stocked kitchen of your dreams. These are the essential kitchen tools under $20 that every cook should own.

USA Pan Bakeware Half Rimmed Baking Sheet

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Amazon

Everyone from amateur cooks to the best chefs in the world use sheet pans in the kitchen. They are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment you can buy. A half sheet pan (about 18-by-13-inches) is perfect for most ovens in home kitchens. It offers plenty of surface area for baking a dozen cookies, browning vegetables, broiling a whole side of salmon, or roasting a 12-pound spatchcocked turkey on Thanksgiving. I usually opt for a rimmed baking sheet, like this aluminized steel one from USA Bakeware. The slight lip prevents your food from slipping off the edge as you lift it in and out of the oven, but it's low enough so that it doesn't trap moisture and accidentally steam your roasted broccoli. These pans have a slightly corrugated surface which helps with air circulation and makes it easier for your food to lift from the pan. The BPA-free nonstick coating makes cleanup easy without compromising on browning. I like to pair these half-sheets with pre-cut Parchment paper to make things easier.

USA Pan Half Sheet Bakeable Cooling Rack

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Amazon

This half-sheet-sized cooling rack is a must-have companion for your baking sheets. The wire rack fits snugly inside a half sheet pan (roughly 18-by-13-inches), so you can use it for cooking bacon in the oven or roasting a whole chicken. The elevated rack provides more air circulation, giving you better browning and more evenly cooked food. This steel rack from USA Bakeware can withstand temperatures up to 450 degrees in the oven and is coated in a BPA-free nonstick coating, so it's easy to clean. When you're not using it in the oven, it's also great for letting cookies cool on your countertop, making a quick homemade egg salad, drying homemade fresh pasta, or straining noodles from a pot of boiling water.

Lodge 10-inch Pre Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Amazon

Who doesn't love a rustic cast iron skillet for roasting chicken, baking pull-apart biscuits, searing burgers, and making a juicy fruit crisp? This Lodge skillet comes pre-seasoned, so it's ready to use right out of the box. The cast iron builds up a naturally nonstick surface with each additional use, making it easier to use and clean. While cast iron does require slightly more maintenance than your stainless steel and nonstick pans, that little bit of extra effort will make your pan last for decades (check out our do's and dont's for keeping yours in tip-top shape). I like the 10-inch skillet because it offers a little extra surface area for large roasts or searing thick steaks on the grill.

Blue Diamond 10-inch Nonstick Skillet

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond

A slick nonstick skillet is a must for tasks like searing fish and cooking eggs. Unlike other nonstick skillets, this 10-inch one from Blue Diamond uses a diamond-infused ceramic coating which gives you surprisingly effortless food release and even heat distribution. It can withstand higher temperatures than other nonstick pans and has a metal handle (vs. a silicone one), so you can use it in your oven or pop it under the broiler, much like a stainless steel skillet. This pan would be ideal for recipes like a shakshuka or a frittata that start on the stovetop and then finish in the oven. And not for nothing, but I'm also a fan of the sleek dark blue color and stainless steel handle. This pan looks excellent perched on my stove top or hanging from a pot rack — like it costs much more than $20.

Microplane Rasp Grater

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Williams Sonoma

A rasp has unlimited potential in the kitchen. This fine grater is ideal for delicate tasks like finely zesting citrus or grating garlic. The Microplane grater has been my go-to for some time now: the small teeth stay sharp longer, and it has a comfy silicone handle that is easy and comfortable to hold (as opposed to the sharp metal edges of a traditional rasp). Plus, it comes in various colors to match your kitchen style. Finely chopping garlic or ginger with a chef's knife is laborious and messy, so I love how this grater can turn them into a smooth paste that melts into sauces and rubs. Plus, it gives you beautiful airy pillows of parmesan cheese to pile on top of pasta or charred broccoli.

Misen Large Plastic Cutting Board

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Misen

A good cutting board with an expansive workspace makes cooking much more enjoyable. No one wants to be chopping up onions, carrots, and celery on a cramped cutting board with no room to spare. This large board from direct-to-consumer cookware brand Misen is roughly 18-by-12-inches and offers plenty of working area. While this board can tackle any chopping job in your kitchen, it's especially great when working with meat or fish because you can pop it in the dishwasher afterward for proper sanitation—the dense plastic won't warp. Plus, it has grippy silicone covers on each corner, so your board stays in place while you're chopping. I also love its versatility: one side is a flat chopping surface, and the other has a shallow indentation for trapping any juices if you're carving up a chicken or roast.

Sabatier Edge Keeper 8-inch Chef's Knife

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond

A chef's knife is the most used tool in any kitchen. You can use it to do everything from mincing garlic to slicing up a grilled ribeye or carving a Thanksgiving Turkey. I find that an 8-inch blade can tackle almost every job and is a length that most people feel comfortable handling. Finding a quality chef's knife under $20 is no easy task (the good ones usually run you upwards of $100), but this Sabatier knife proved quite impressive. At first glance, it could easily be mistaken for a more expensive German-style knife. The forged stainless steel blade is attached to an ergonomic polypropylene handle, has some heft, and feels nicely balanced in your hand. The blade is sturdy enough to cut through the bones of a raw chicken but is also delicate and sharp enough to smoothly glide through a ripe tomato. Bonus: It has a protective sheath that helps keep your blade sharp with a built-in honing mechanism. Handwashing your knife will also help the edge stay sharp longer. This knife is a good purchase for a starter kitchen, but check out our complete chef's knife guide here when you're ready for an upgrade.

Zyliss 2-Piece Paring Knife Set

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Amazon

For smaller jobs that require precision, like hulling a strawberry, deveining shrimp, or segmenting citrus, you'll want a paring knife. A 3- to 4-inch blade is the easiest to wield. There are many affordable paring knives out there, but one of my favorites is this 2-piece set from Zyliss. The duo includes two super-sharp knives: a standard paring knife and a serrated paring knife. I like how the contoured, grippy handle feels in my palm (especially if my hands are slightly wet from doing the dishes or handling washed produce), and the stainless steel blades hold their edge for a long time. The serrated paring knife has deep, sharp teeth perfect for slicing tomatoes or small crusty loaves of bread. While these knives may not last you forever, at this price, you won't feel bad when it's time to replace them.

Mercer 9-inch Offset Serrated Knife

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Amazon

I consider a chef's knife, paring knife, and a serrated knife the only knives you genuinely need. You can tackle any slicing or chopping job in your kitchen between these three. A serrated knife comes in handy when slicing bread or super-ripe tomatoes. The teeth on the wavy blade can easily slice through a food's crust or skin without tearing up the soft inside. I like this offset knife from Mercer because it's durable and can withstand banging around in your kitchen drawer. It won't break the bank when it's time to replace it (for what it's worth, mine has lasted many years with heavy use). The offset handle eases the strain on your wrist and helps you slice more quickly and efficiently. When working in a professional kitchen and slicing baguettes for an entire restaurant, this angled handle is a godsend.

OXO Mandoline Hand Slicer

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Crate & Barrel

There are some jobs that a mandolin just does better than a chef's knife. This inexpensive little device comes in handy if you're looking for paper-thin sliced radishes or uniformly cut potatoes for a baked gratin. Oxo's mandoline slicer allows you to position the blade in three different thicknesses, so you can slice your vegetables exactly how you want them. The handle is a grippy silicone for easy use, and they also include a plastic finger guard to protect your fingertips. While some might argue that this tool is not essential because it is a job that your chef's knife can tackle, I disagree! A mandolin can slice vegetables thinner and faster than you can by hand. Plus, it takes up very little space in your kitchen and is less than $20.

Trudeau Seville Pepper Mill

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Amazon

Freshly ground pepper has bright, fruity notes that you don't get from the pre-ground stuff. Considering it's one of the backbones of our cooking, why not grind it yourself? The most important thing to look for when buying a pepper mill is the range in grind size. This mill from Trudeau has a knob on the top that lets you adjust the size, whether you want super fine grounds for a silky risotto or barely cracked peppercorns to add some crunch to a steak. I also like the classic shape and dark wood—it will look much prettier on your dinner table or kitchen counter than the dinky plastic ones from the grocery store.

Anchor Hocking Measuring Cup Set

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Williams Sonoma

It's important to be precise when measuring your ingredients—especially when it comes to baking. While liquid and dry measuring cups technically hold the same volume, they are specifically designed to measure their respective ingredients. For this reason, it's good to have a liquid measuring cup and a set of dry measuring cups on hand. Anchor Hocking's liquid measuring cup set includes 1-, 2- and 4-cup options. They're marked with easy-to-read red indicators in ounces, cups, and milliliters to help with whatever you're measuring. I also like that the durable tempered glass is microwave-safe, so you can use them to temper chocolate or melt butter.

Pyrex 3-Piece Glass Mixing Bowl Set

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Amazon

Whether you're tossing a salad, mixing up a batch of muffins, or prepping your mise-en-place, you'll need mixing bowls in various sizes. (Plus, there's something very professional about having matching bowls, am I right?) This Pyrex set includes 1-, 1.5- and 2.5-quart size bowls. They're made of durable tempered glass that is microwave and dishwasher-safe. Pyrex's glass products are always reliable — they are almost impossible to break (let's just say I've dropped a few from counter height, and they've survived), and the non-porous glass won't absorb food odors, flavors, or stains. I also love that they neatly stack and are easy to tuck away in your cabinet.

Our Table 5-inch Green Marble Mortar and Pestle

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Bed Bath & Beyond

The fact that the mortar and pestle has been used in some form since the Stone Age should be reason enough for needing one in your kitchen. Typically made out of hardwood, metal, or stone, the mortar (bowl) and pestle (the blunt stick) are used in tandem to crush, grind, and mix foods, either wet or dry. Pressing, grinding, and smashing releases more flavor from your garlic, herbs, and spices than a metal blade ever will. I keep mine on hand for crushing toasted spices for more flavor-packed rubs or homemade dukkah. It also makes an incredibly fresh and aromatic pesto or chimichurri. I've had my eye on this dark green marble one from Our Table.

Last Drop 2-in-1 Citrus Juicer

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Amazon

Until you've made a pitcher of homemade lemonade or margaritas for a crowd, you cannot fully understand the struggle of juicing citrus by hand. Your hands get sticky, the juice stings your dry skin, and you never get as much juice as you think you should. This is why I am obsessed with this 2-in-1 citrus juicer. While I don't usually advocate for single-use tools, I get so much use out of this $9 gadget. If you halve all of your citrus before beginning, you can squeeze out cups of fresh citrus juice in minutes. (And before you ask, the store-bought juice is not an option. Come on, guys.) In addition to puckery drinks, you can use all of this super-fresh juice to make lemon curd, lemon bars, key lime pie, citrus-scented pound cakes, jams, marmalades, and flavored simple syrups. The list goes on! Psst! You can use them to rub down your smelly countertops and wood cutting boards when you're done with all of those citrus rinds.

Oxo 12-inch Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Oxo

Every cook needs a lightweight, easy-to-maneuver set of tongs. In my opinion, Oxo makes the best (in fact, I have three tucked in a large crock next to my stove at all times). I've found that a 12-inch set is the perfect in-between length for working over the stove top, maneuvering food under the broiler, or rotating something on the grill. This set is lightweight yet strong, and the metal tips won't get damaged if exposed to really high heat, unlike the silicone alternative. A large pull-tab on the end enables you to lock them for easy storage and doubles as a hole if you wish to hang them from a pot or utensil rack.

Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler 3-Pack

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Sur la Table

A vegetable peeler might not be the most exciting tool, but a bad one makes peeling potatoes, carrots, or butternut squash unbearable. This lightweight Y-peeler from Kuhn Rikon is what you'll find in most professional kitchens. It is a slight adjustment if you've never used a Y-peeler, but it works much more efficiently than the straight swivel peelers. It has a dual rotating head, so it works for righties or lefties and allows you to peel faster and in multiple directions. There are also small cutters on the side of the peeler for removing eyes or blemishes on potatoes. I like the wider handle, too — I find that it's easier to maneuver, and you don't need to have a death-grip on it like the straight peelers. Kuhn Rikon's blades are made out of stainless steel, so they stay sharper longer. However, they will rust if put away wet, so wash and dry them well before storing (this is good practice for all knives, pans, and skillets!).

NorPro #40 Cookie Scoop

Kitchen Essentials
Courtesy of Amazon

A cookie scoop works for so much more than just cookies. Yes, it helps you scoop out uniformly portioned cookies to bake up evenly in the oven, but even non-bakers will get use out of this tool. I use it to scoop ice cream, make homemade meatballs, portion pancake batter, spoon drop biscuits, shape falafel—the possibilities are endless. I like this spring-action stainless steel scoop from NorPro. It is hefty, and the small metal scraper is stronger than others I've tried. While I have a variety of sizes—the small 1 tablespoon (#60) scoop is great for homemade truffles, and the larger 3.5 tablespoon (#20) scoop makes perfectly portioned muffins—the 2 tablespoon (#40) scoop is the most versatile size. It will give you a two-bite meatball and a good-sized chocolate chip cookie.

Our Expertise

Julia Heffelfinger is a longtime contributor to Food & Wine magazine and a former Associate Food Editor. She currently works as a writer, recipe developer, and food stylist in Boston. She based this list on her years of experience in restaurants and test kitchens.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles