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28 Essential Kitchen Tools and Appliances to Buy in 2021

A man cooking in the kitchen.

Visualize this: You just moved into your new home or very first apartment and you’re finally prepared to stock up on all of the essentials to have an operational kitchen like a functioning adult. More likely than not, your current tools have been with you since you bought them back in college. Unfortunately, the kitchen is one of the toughest and most overwhelming rooms to stock, as there are hundreds of different kitchen gadgets that could be considered essential (depending on what kind of cook you are).

To make this daunting task easier for you, we’ve carefully picked items for the ultimate essential kitchen list. This list includes essentials — from utensils to appliances — that are absolute must-haves for a fully operational kitchen. Pick up all these items from our list of essential kitchen tools and appliances and get the most out of your new goods.

Utensils

Let’s start with the basic kitchen utensils. While plastic utensils come in handy when you don’t have any of the necessary cooking utensils yet, you definitely want to invest in a good set of forks, spoons, knives, and more. Here are some of the best one-item and sets of kitchen essential utensils to buy for your home.

Knife Set

Knife set that includes four knives, a scissor, and a wood block.

When choosing a knife, you could get away with one large chef knife, but you’ll thank yourself later if you go ahead and spring for a set. One that comes in a knife block is even better since storing it on the counter is safer and will save you drawer space. Find a set that includes a large chef’s knife, a paring knife, a serrated knife, and honing steel. Prices vary widely, but you’ll want to invest in a high-quality set that will last you a long time. If you only want to get one knife, invest in a quality Japanese chef knife.

Large Spoon

A large spoon on top of a spaghetti sauce-filled pot.

Another super versatile tool, a large spoon can be used to stir, scoop, and serve most things you’ll whip up in your new kitchen. There are lots of options, from wood to plastic to metal, but we like a nice nylon version since it’s highly heat-resistant, easy to clean, and doesn’t pick up stains from your food.

Measuring Spoons

A set of measuring spoons filled with different condiments.

Unless you have the nimble fingers of a Michelin-star chef and can pinch up a perfect ¼ teaspoon with ease, you’ll need a set of measuring spoons. Find one with easy-to-read measurement labels and a ring that you can clip open for individual use and easier cleaning.

Measuring Cup

A large measuring cup filled with sugar.

Yes, you should get both measuring spoons and a measuring cup. Why? Well, for starters, the classic Pyrex measuring cup (you know, the one that seems to be in literally everyone’s kitchen) can measure larger quantities. It’s also microwaveable and has a pour spout, so you can use it to melt things like butter or chocolate and pour them right into other ingredients.

Flatware

Flatware which consists of two forks, two spoons, and a knife.

You don’t have to go super fancy with your flatware, but if you plan on having guests over it should be a large enough set for at least four people to avoid a “community fork” situation. Plus, if you get a set that includes larger spoons and forks, you’ve got extra serving utensils on hand. While you’re at it, treat yourself to a silverware organizer to slide into one of your drawers — it makes getting out and putting away silverware a lot easier.

Spatula

A variety of blue spatulas lined up.

You don’t need us to list all the uses for a spatula to know you’re definitely going to need one. Your spatula is going to be a heavy-hitter in your kitchen, so get one that’s sturdy and durable. We also suggest picking up a pack of spatulas, which usually come in a variety of sizes — perfect for the myriad ways you’re going to use spatulas.

Can Opener

A can being opened with a can opener.

Chances are you’ll need to open a can of something or other at some point, so be sure to stash a can opener in your utensil drawer, too. We really dig one that doesn’t cause hand cramps and won’t leave jagged edges at the top of the can. Though an electric can opener is easier to use if you’re someone who cooks with store-bought canned soups.

Vegetable Peeler

Two vegetable peelers with peeled vegetable skin on the chopping board.

You don’t have to go too crazy and get an electric vegetable peeler (though they do make us feel fancy). This vegetable peeler is great for peeling fruits and vegetables in nice long strips without getting clogged.

Cookware

Now for the essential cookware kitchen items. Skillets, pots, pans, and trays are the most used items in the kitchen. Here are some of the best ones for your kitchen or if you’re looking to give the best kitchen gifts to the cooking enthusiast in your life.

Cookware Set

4-piece ceramic cookware set by Caraway in a cream color.

Keep your home-cooked meals toxic-free with this 4-piece ceramic-coated cookware set. Buying a set is also more convenient since you already get a frying pan, saucepan, saute pan, and dutch oven on a single purchase. Aside from being functional, this particular set is an aesthetically pleasing addition to any modern kitchen.

Skillet

A skillet containing cut potatoes and a large cooked meat.

Every kitchen needs a skillet. From fried eggs to toasted sandwiches to ground beef and veggies, you’ll be using this baby for nearly every stovetop meal you make in your new kitchen. We recommend at least a 12-inch skillet, preferably made of stainless steel with a non-stick interior. We also suggest looking for one that comes with a lid, which can be great for simmering and steaming. You can also look into getting one of the best cast-iron skillets for extra flavor, though they come with the additional labor of seasoning cast iron before you use it. If you’re in a studio-type apartment, don’t worry about saving space as there are versatile electric skillets available in the market you can choose from.

Stock Pot

A large blue green stock pot.

A stockpot is built for making soups or stews, boiling potatoes, and cooking spaghetti sauce. The best are thick and sturdy, with multi-layered designs that help hold in heat. Opt for one that’s at least 8 quarts, and make sure it has a lid as well.

Saucepan

A silver saucepan place on top of stove.

For times when you don’t need something as big as a stockpot, it’s helpful to have a medium-size saucepan on hand. You can use it to cook up canned soups and veggies, or just to make smaller portions of the recipes you might otherwise use your stock pot for. Get one with a lid and a coated handle that stays cool to the touch.

Sheet Tray

A sheet tray filled with various vegetables.

If you can cook it in the oven, you will probably want to cook it on a sheet tray. If you plan to make anything from cookies to pizzas to finger foods to bacon, a high-quality sheet tray is endlessly useful. Plus, you can slide it under deeper dishes like roasting trays as a fail-safe for errant dripping. Look for the kind that’s made for restaurant use — they’re large, durable, and long-lasting.

Strainer

Three different sized mesh strainers lined up on a white backdrop.

A strainer is an item you hate to not think of until the exact moment you really need it, like when you’re struggling to drain spaghetti noodles by squeezing the lid to the top of your pot while hot pasta steam burns your corneas. We like the fine mesh versions since the smaller openings give them a wider range of uses.

Casserole Dishes

Casserole dishes filled with various food.

There are some (extremely delicious) foods that just can’t be replicated without the use of a casserole dish — lasagna and brownies, for starters. For these occasions, it’s nice to have a casserole dish stashed in the cabinet. They often come in sets, but even if you buy them individually we recommend getting both a 9 by 13-inch and 8 by 8-inch, as these are the most common sizes you’ll see referenced in recipes. Get some with matching lids and they make great servings. If you’re bringing food over to watch the game these make great travel dishes, too.

Appliances

Appliances can be pricey, but they will make all the difference when preparing meals. Whether you’re looking to find appliances for meal prep or kitchen gadgets we found the best ones for you.

Slow Cooker

A slow cooker surrounded by other kitchen tools.

If you’re only going to invest in one countertop appliance for your kitchen, purchase the best slow cooker. They’re so insanely versatile and they make cooking hearty, fulfilling meals so simple it’s basically lazy. You can use a slow cooker to make everything from pot roast to chicken wings, and all you have to do is chuck your ingredients in and wait a few hours. If you’re in charge of making the chili this year, a slow cooker is going to make it so easy for you. Though you may want to consider buying an Instant Pot instead.

Read more: Best Slow Cookers

Toaster

A silver toaster with toasted bagels in them.

For anyone who’s into bread, bagels, English muffins, or Pop Tarts, a kitchen feels all-too-bare without a toaster. We recommend getting a versatile model with wide slots so you can cook thicker pieces of bread and bagels when it strikes your fancy.

Microwave

A silver and black microwave on a white backdrop.

It’s likely your new home or apartment will already have a microwave, but it’s usually worth an upgrade if it’s an old model — and it’s definitely a must-buy if there isn’t one.

Dishes

Your dishes are used every day and will probably stay with you for years down the road. When shopping for dishes make sure to check the right size for your cupboards and a fitting style for your kitchen.

Dinnerware

A set of dinnerware on a large woven tray.

Just as with your silverware, you should have enough dinnerware on hand for at least four people. We recommend having both large and small plates as well as bowls. Look for sets that are sturdy, microwave-safe, and dishwasher-safe. To make things easier, look for a dinnerware set that comes with mugs or cups as well such as this Pfaltzgraff set. If you have enough cups and mugs then a simple set such as the one pictured above will work perfectly.

Mixing Bowls

Mixing bowls filled with various baking ingredients such as eggs and butter.

Grab a set of two or three larger bowls that can be used for mixing ingredients. Find a set with lids included and they’re also handy for storage. If you get the triple-threat combo and find a set with lids that also looks nice, you can use them as serving bowls, too.

Cups

Two cups filled with garnished tea.

Again, keep enough cups or glasses around for at least four people. We also recommend getting a few mugs to enjoy coffee and tea (if they don’t come with your dinnerware set). If you’re a wine drinker, you might also want to add a set of handsome wine glasses to the mix.

Serving Platter

Serving platters being used in table setting.

Sometimes you might have a beautiful hunk of meat or charcuterie plate you want to serve up for guests, in which case you’ll be glad you have a serving platter on hand. This is likely to be used mostly for company, so spring for one that will look great sitting on your table.

Plastic Storage Containers

Several plastic storage containers being filled with vegetables one by one.

Something akin to Tupperware is essential for storing leftovers, sending food home with visitors, or meal prepping. Get a set with locking lids for much-less-messy cabinets.

Read more: Best Meal Prep Containers

Other Items

Oven Mitts and Pot Holders

A man wearing a pot holder while cooking.

Keep your surfaces clean and your hands burn- and wound-free by picking up a decent set of oven mitts and potholders. Silicone’s high heat resistance makes it a great material for these items, too.

Cutting Board Set

Set of three Bamboo Cutting Boards on a white backdrop.

Prepping veggies and other foods without cutting boards can dull your knives and ruin your countertops (not to mention lower the chances of getting your security deposit back). Have a couple of cutting boards handy for when you need to cut up various items so that you do not end up cross-contaminating anything.

Read more: Best Cutting Boards

Cutting Board

Walnut cutting board with kitchen knife and sliced papaya and kiwi placed on it.

If you’re still hesitant about getting a set or want an additional one, you can get this walnut cutting board that will last. This cutting board is a no-fuss, mess-free board where you can slice and dice your ingredients to your heart’s content. The walnut wood finish also helps keep your knives sharp and useful. Aside from being a cutting board, this stunning chunk of wood can also double as a serving tray (picture a charcuterie board).

Towels

Kitchen towel being used on a wooden surface to wipe out spilled milk.

No kitchen is complete without a set of reliable kitchen towels. Use them for cleaning up messes, drying dishes, and even as makeshift potholders in a pinch. We recommend a set of at least four so you always have a fresh one even when the others are in the wash.

Read more: Best Kitchen Towels

Dish Drying Rack

A dish drying rack filled with tableware.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher, you should still keep a drying rack (and a brush and soap for cleaning the things you’re about to put in the drying rack) around for rinsing dishes or times when you don’t have enough dirty dishes to make up a full load.

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