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Hi there! For those of you who don’t remember, I’m Katy, Assistant and Jill-of-all-trades for Paleo Parents. Most of the time, I do work behind the scenes for PaleoParents.com. I help with email, coordinate with bloggers for guest posts, help out on social media, and make fun graphics for giveaways! I love working for Stacy and Matt because it is so different than what I used to do. For ten years, I worked in restaurants all over the south. I went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu, but I have been cooking since I could stand at the counter with my mom. Cooking is my passion, and I do it everyday.
All my friends (and my followers on Instagram) know that I cook all the time, so it isn’t surprising that I get a lot of questions when it comes to all things kitchen. Recently, a couple I know was about to go register for their wedding, and they asked me to give them a list of what I would register for if I wanted to build a solid kitchen if I were starting from scratch. I have a pretty stocked kitchen myself because when I was in culinary school, I worked for The Cook’s Warehouse in Atlanta, and I used my employee discount whenever I could spare a few bucks. As an employee, I got to try anything and everything in the store, and we often had vendors come out to the store and demo new items and let us try them. I had so much fun!
So after years in the kitchen, both professional kitchens and my own, I have put together a list of the 20 Kitchen Tools I Couldn’t Live Without. There are plenty of gadgets out there, but these are (in my opinion) the most important that I use on a regular basis. You can tell it is true from the wear and tear on some of these items. I think it gives them character, and more importantly they give my kitchen flavor.
1. Cast Iron Pans (and scrapers to clean them with)
I’m from the south, and a cast iron pan is essential. You simply cannot beat the sear you can achieve on a cast iron pan, and they are also great for shallow frying (also called pan-frying). I have 3 different sizes: a BIG 12 inch, for making Everyday Meat and Veggie Hash, which is a staple in my house. I also have a 10 inch that I use often for searing pork chops and steaks, and mini 6.5 inch for making fun recipes like a skillet brownie or skillet cookie. And if you are going to have a cast iron pan, you have got to have a plastic scraper (sometimes called a bowl/dough scraper) to clean it with. When cleaning a cast iron pan, wash with hot water, and scrape clean with the scraper for tough messes. NEVER USE SOAP. It will ruin the pan! After it is clean, simply oil it with a little coconut oil.
You can do SO MUCH with a good, large Sauté pan. You can cook tons of simple veggie recipes by simply sautéing sliced veggies in a healthy fat. You can use a saute pan to brown ground meat, meatballs, chicken strips, and you can also cook fish filets. Like a cast iron pan, a stainless steel pan can also go in the oven. I use mine literally every day.
3. Good Knives
I love my knives. If you have been paleo for even a week, you know that you spend lots of time chopping vegetables. A good sharp knife is invaluable. When it comes to choosing knives, you can go German style or Asian Style. For a German Style Classic knife, I love the Wusthof 8 inch Chef’s Knife. I use my Chef’s knife and my 7 inch Santoku Knife interchangeably. I also use my 3.5 inch Pairing knife for small jobs quite often. Knives might seem like an expensive investment, but these high quality knives will last you a lifetime if you take care of them. So my tips? Always hand wash knives immediately in very hot water. NEVER put them in the dishwasher. It dulls the knife and you risk damaging the blade with nicks and dings.
4. Good Cutting Boards
Good knives deserve some good surfaces to cut on. NEVER cut on marble or glass. Always choose a thick plastic cutting board, a nice wood cutting board OR my personal favorite, Epicurean Wood Composite cutting boards. What I like about these is that they are gentle on your knives like a wood cutting board, but dishwasher safe like a plastic cutting board. I was introduced to these cutting boards while I was working at the kitchen supply store, and I was immediately hooked.
5. The Best Cheap Vegetable Peeler Ever
There are lots of fancy vegetable peelers out there, but while I was working at The Cook’s Warehouse, we could hardly keep enough of these Y Shaped Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peelers in stock. Who was buying them like they were going out of style? Every single professional chef and cook from the fine dining restaurants in Buckhead. We were only a mile down the road from the highly swanky culinary neighborhood of Buckhead in Atlanta, and ALL the cooks knew we had their favorite peeler.
I do a lot of shallow frying in my Stainless Steel Saute Pan and also in my Cast Iron Pans. A couple of slotted spoons are essential! I seriously use these every day. My favorite are “Blunt Ended” spoons because they are great for scraping on the bottom of the pan and getting into the corners the best.
7. A Dutch Oven
I love to braise things. I love love love my dutch oven. I have an awesome 7 1/4 Qt Kiwi Le Creuset enamel dutch oven, and I use it all the time to make pot roasts and stews, especially in the winter time. Can’t spring for the Le Creuset? Lodge makes a comparable one for under $75!
I can’t live without my tongs. I use them for grilling, sauteeing, breaking up ground meat while browning, turning meatballs, searing, and on occasion, I use them to reach things on the top shelf. True story – I’m short after all. In culinary school and while training in restaurants, chef’s learn how to use a pair of tongs like an extension of their own hand. I’ve had this simple pair since culinary school. I’d go with 12-inch locking tongs. And those tongs covered in rubber? Yeah, those are worthless. Don’t buy those – I just don’t feel like I can grab anything with mine and they are always too slippery!
I use mesh strainers almost everyday too. I use big ones for sifting coconut flour, small ones for straining lemon juice, straining sauces, draining olives…. you get the idea. A Conical Strainer is also pretty awesome if you want to strain stock or sauces directly into mason jars.
10. Half Sheet Trays (i.e. rimmed baking sheets)
I have a set of 5 of these. Chef’s call them sheet trays, grandmothers call them cookie sheets, and most places label them as rimmed baking sheets. Either way, I use these almost every day too. You can roast veggies on them, roast wings, bake cookies, cook bacon, make grain-free granola, and countless other things. I might be a little excessive with 5, but at least 2 will serve you well.
This is one of my big ticket items that I invested some hard earned money into. I bought the big, mac daddy, 14 cup Cuisinart Food Processor. Nothing gets my baby down. I can make a TON of homemade almond butter at a time, and I use it to make huge batches of my Toasted (not) PB&J Katybars. I also have an inexpensive Kitchen-Aid Mini Food Processor that is awesome for small chop jobs.
If you are an avid baker, the Kitchen Aid Mixer is just a must. It’s classic, super popular, and for good reason – its a solid, quality machine.
I finally got one of these Grinder Attachments because of Matt and Stacy. They convinced me that grinding up my fatback was the best way to start when rendering lard, and they are so right. (Full method in Beyond Bacon) I have also used it to grind up bacon for 50/50 burgers, and I have used it to grind up chicken and pork for making my own sausage. Why did I wait so long to get this?!
I don’t often recommend a bunch of specialized gadgets to crowd up your kitchen drawers, but I do love my Cherry Pitter. During Cherry season, it gets quite a workout, and the rest of the year I use it regularly to pit olives.
15. Mason Jars
I mean, do I really need to tell you why I love mason jars? I use the small ones to store homemade dressing and sauces, and I even have some of the really big, 1/2 Gallon Jars for storing homemade stock.
16. Splatter Screen
As I mentioned, I use my cast iron pans and saute pan almost every day, and so a good splatter screen is essential! In my opinion, you don’t need a bunch in different sizes to match the pans you have – just get one really big one, like this 13 inch, and you will be set.
I use my blender to make mayo, smoothies, and blend sauces. Right now, I have a Waring Pro, which is a good quality blender for a moderately priced blender. For my next big kitchen purchase, I am going to upgrade to a Blendtec, per Matt and Stacy’s recommendation!
18. Crock Pot
My mom recently got me a Crock Pot. I have been cooking braised dishes in my dutch oven for years, but she told me I really needed a Crock Pot for those days when I need to braise dinner all day, but I also need to leave my apartment to run errands. Yup, as always, my mom was right. Although I still prefer a dutch oven, I’ve come to really appreciate my slow cooker.
19. Stock Pot
Even before I was Paleo, and knew that homemade stock was incredibly nutrient dense, I made stock often because I had been convinced in culinary school of its superior taste to the yucky boxed kind. I have two large restaurant grade 20 qt Stock Pots. In my opinion, if you are going to make stock, you might as well make as much as possible!
I wouldn’t say I use this absolutely everyday, but I use it more than twice a week! I love fresh grated nutmeg and lemon zest, but honestly I use it to grate clove after clove of fresh garlic. I love the grated texture of garlic, and my husband is a garlic addict, so even though it might seem unlikely, I can’t live long without my Microplane!