20 Essential Cooking Tools Under $50
Stock your kitchen without breaking the bank
Having a well-equipped kitchen makes cooking both more efficient and more enjoyable. Plus, it gives you the freedom and ability to tackle any cooking or baking project. After evaluating our own home kitchens, we realized that so much of the equipment we reach for again and again, from the workhorse kitchen knife to the weathered baking sheet, are things you can stock up on without blowing your budget. There is so much you can accomplish in your kitchen without fancy gadgets or top of the line appliances. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up our 20 go-to tools, pots, pans, and equipment that you can buy for under $50.
1. 8-inch Chef’s Knife
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The chef’s knife is by far the most used tool in any kitchen. You can use it to do everything from mince garlic to carve a Thanksgiving Turkey. We find that an 8-inch blade can tackle almost every job and is a length that most people feel comfortable handling. This lightweight model from Victorinox is durable and has a super-sharp stainless steel blade. It’s hard to find a chef’s knife at this value, but it’s made by a reputable company and is a good purchase for a starter kitchen. When you’re ready for an upgrade, check out our complete chef’s knife guide here.
Victorinox 8-inch Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife, $44.95 (Usually $54) from surlatable.com
2. Paring Knife
For smaller jobs that require precision, like hulling a strawberry, deveining shrimp or segmenting citrus, you’ll want a paring knife. A 3- to 3.5-inch blade is the easiest to wield. There are many affordable paring knives out there, but one of our favorites is this reliable Japanese-style knife from Kuhn Rikon. The steel blade holds its edge for a long time, and at this low price, you won’t feel bad when it’s time to replace it.
3. Offset Serrated Knife
A serrated knife comes in handy when you need to slice bread or super-ripe tomatoes. An offset handle will ease the strain on your wrist and help you slice more quickly and efficiently.
BergHOFF Soft Grip 9-inch Offset Bread Knife, $16 from target.com
4. 9-by-13-inch Baking Dish
A 9-by-13-inch baking dish is an all-purpose size that is called for in most recipes. You can use it for breakfast casseroles, lasagna, French toast, gratins, and even roast chicken. We prefer a ceramic one with clean lines: It looks a little more elegant on your table than a glass dish and is versatile enough to go with whatever plates and flatware you’re using.
Essential 13-by-9-inch Rectangular Baker (in White), $40 from williams-Sonoma.com
5. Dutch Oven
A Dutch oven has high, thick cast-iron walls that retain heat and then disperse it evenly amongst whatever is stewing, roasting or simmering inside. This pan from Lodge is well-made and will last you a long time. Plus, it’s by far the most affordable option compared to other brands. Five to six quarts is a good size for preparing food for up to four people.
Lodge 5-quart Cast Iron Dutch Oven, $40 at target.com
6. Cast Iron Skillet
We love a rustic cast iron skillet for roasting chicken, baking pull-apart biscuits, searing burgers and making a juicy fruit crisp. Lodge cast-iron comes pre-seasoned, so it’s ready to use right out of the box. If you’re nervous about maintaining it, then check out our do’s and dont’s for keeping yours in tip-top shape.
Lodge Round 10-inch Cast-Iron Fry Pan, $30 from williams-sonoma.com
7. Nonstick Skillet
A nonstick skillet is a must for tasks like searing fish and cooking eggs. Pick a pan with a metal handle so you can take things like a shakshuka or frittata from the stove top to the oven.
GreenPan Chatham 10-Inch Ceramic Nonstick Frypan, $40 from bedbathandbeyond.com
8. Vegetable Peeler
You will find this lightweight Kuhn Rikon peeler in most professional kitchens. It has a dual rotating head, so it works for righties or lefties, and allows you to peel faster and more efficiently in multiple directions.
Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler, $5 from surlatable.com
9. Pepper Grinder
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 invest in a grinder? Plus, this sleek Le Creuset Pepper Mill looks much prettier on your kitchen counter than the dinky plastic ones from the grocery store.
Le Creuset Pepper Mill, $32 at lecreuset.com
10. Mini Food Processor
If you want to make quick work of mincing garlic or chopping an onion, or need a last-minute pesto or chimichurri for tonight’s dinner, then this mini chop will become your new best friend. It’s less bulk than a larger food processor so you can easily store it under your counter and it will give you a rustic texture that you can’t get from a blender.
Cuisinart Mini-Prep 2.6-Cup Food Processor, $35 from macys.com
11. Baking Pans
It’s good to have an assortment of metal pans on hand so you’re ready for any baking project. There are three pans we reach for most: A 9-by-5-inch loaf pan ($16), which is great for everything from banana bread to ice box cake; an 8-inch or 9-inch round pan (from $14) for layer cakes; and an 8- or 9-inch square pan (from $15) for brownies, focaccia or coffee cake. Light-colored aluminum pans are our material of choice. Glass heats slower than metal and retains heat longer, so by the time the middle of your baked good is cooked through, it’s likely that the outside will be overcooked. Also, darker metal pans can overheat and cause the bottom and edges of your baked goods to burn.
12. Mesh Sieve
Use for straining gravy or custard, fetching pasta from a pot of boiling water, or draining blanched fruits and vegetables.
Set of 2, $28 from williams-sonoma.com
13. Mixing and Prep Bowls
Whether you’re tossing a salad, mixing up a batch of muffins or prepping your mise-en-place, you’ll need a set of mixing bowls in a range of sizes. (Plus, there’s something very professional about having matching bowls, am I right?) These bowls are made of durable tempered glass, are microwave and dishwasher safe and neatly stack for storage.
10-Piece Glass Mixing Bowl Set, $40 from williams-sonoma.com
14. Fish Spatula
Despite the name, you can use a fish spatula for just about any task. The thin, malleable metal spatula is great for tossing roasted vegetables, flipping grilled cheese and, yes, sliding under a delicate piece of seared fish. You can (carefully) use it in your nonstick pans, too, but this silicone-lined one is also an option.
9-inch Stainless Steel Fish Spatula, $11 (Usually $16) from surlatable.com
15. Rimmed Baking Sheets
There are few jobs that a rimmed baking sheet can’t tackle: Roasting vegetables, baking cookies, cooking a Thanksgiving turkey, broiling a whole side of salmon. We find that it’s best to have a few on hand and in different sizes. A half-sheet pan will fit most ovens, while the quarter-sheet pan size is great for smaller roasting jobs, finishing a thick steak in the oven or keeping your mise-en-place organized.
Nordic Ware 2-Pack Aluminum Baking Sheets, $20 from target.com
16. Cooling Rack
We use metal racks for cooling off a sheet of cookies or cakes right out of the oven. Also, if you get one that fits inside your rimmed baking sheet, it’s the best way to cook bacon or roast a spatchcocked chicken. Need more convincing? We’ve even used it to speed up homemade egg or potato salad.
USA Pan Half Sheet Cooling Rack, $12 from surlatable.com
17. Kitchen Shears
A super-sharp pair of kitchen shears can be used to do everything from portioning parchment paper and kitchen twine, opening boxes, popping open a beer and cutting into a flatbread or thin crust pizza.
Wüsthof Pull-Apart Shears, $20 (Usually $30) from williams-sonoma.com
18. Liquid and Dry Measuring Cups
It’s very 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.
19. Instant Read Thermometer
The ThermaPop pen is a compact, reliable thermometer that can give you the internal temp of your meat in just 3 to 4 seconds.
ThermoWorks ThermoPop, $34 from Thermoworks.com
20. Metal Tongs
We’ve found that a 12-inch set of tongs is the perfect in-between length for working over the stove top or a grill. This set from OXO is lightweight, yet strong. Also, we prefer the metal tips over the silicone alternative - those can melt when exposed to really high heat.