Kitchen gear: getting the most out of less


This is just a funny picture that I've been waiting for a reason to use in a post. Knives! This time of year we're doing a lot of cooking and a lot of gift giving and come January our kitchens can feel overwhelmed with stuff we didn't plan to own. As much as the holidays are about giving and abundance, they can also be a time to think about simplifying our lives and possessions, and clearing out space to make room for things that really matter.

Using, sharing and gifting good quality kitchen tools can help to make your culinary adventures a lot more successful without all the clutter. Adapted from the Preparing Local Vegetables Workshop, here are some tips for choosing and using kitchen tools.

1. Stick with the basics. You don't need a million different kitchen gadgets to make delicious food. Stock your kitchen with the essentials that you'll use often and before getting something new, really consider whether it is necessary or will be that much better than something you already have. Think the same way when you gift kitchen gear and consider whether what you're giving is good quality, useful and will still be appreciated a year from now.

2. Kitchen gear swap; everyone doesn't need to own everything. Many community gardens have set up communal tool sheds where gardeners share shovels, wheel barrows, buckets, etc. Why can't that work in kitchens too? Go in on purchasing big ticket items with friends and share them, or better yet connect with a community kitchen to start a lending program. If you only need a bundt pan or giant turkey roaster once a year, then maybe it makes more sense to borrow them rather than filling your cupboards year round.

3. Choose recipes that call for the tools you have. Certainly you can improvise, like using a whisk instead of an electric mixer, but expect that the timing and results may vary from the original recipe. With the huge variety of recipes available to us, be choosy and find ones that call for the tools you're comfortable with. If you don't have a lot of gadgets, seek out heritage recipes that don't require them. When picking up a new cookbook, check the first chapter to see if there is a recommended supplies list and pass on the book if the recipes require a lot of new equipment that otherwise you won't need.

4. Look for kitchen tools made with high quality, durable materials. Products with lifetime guarantees are worthwhile investments. Spend some time doing research on products and reading reviews from people who have used them.

5. Read manufacturer’s instructions for care of equipment. Sometimes you can look up the company's website and read instructions there if you don't have them. Keep equipment out of the dishwasher or microwave if that is advised. Maintain tools over time, like learning to sharpen knives and scissors, marinate a cast iron pan or clean tarnish off metal. Think of kitchen gear as being a lifetime investment because if you care for them properly good tools can last that long.

6. There's no need to buy everything new. Save money by searching out good quality tools second hand at thrift shops, garage sales, at auctions and estate sales or on kijiji or freecycle. Ask people if they have extras to give away; many longtime cooks have double and triplicate of common tools that they would be happy to clear out. Upcycle gently used equipment by doing things like sharpening dull knives, cleaning tarnished metals, and painting boring ceramics.  Don't be afraid to gift gently used items either. Think about it- would you rather receive a brand new frying pan that is low quality and won't last long, or a second hand high-quality pan that you could probably pass on to your grandkids?

Over time, consider stocking your kitchen with high quality versions of these tools as a good foundation for most recipes. You won't need all of these at once; it can take years to build up a collection.

  • set of knives and sharpening tool or stone
  • metal measuring cups
  • metal measuring spoons
  • cutting boards- ideally two, to keep meat separate from non-meat ingredients
  • grater with several sizes of holes
  • set of stainless steel bowls in a few sizes
  • baking sheets that are solid and durable
  • saucepan with tight fitting lid
  • large pot with tight fitting lid
  • frying pan
  • deep wok or skillet
  • high-edged glass baking dishes or bread pans in a few sizes
  • cutlery
  • serving dishes
  • mixing spoon
  • ladle
  • slotted spatula
  • whisk
  • colander (strainer)
  • salad spinner
  • steaming basket
  • food thermometer, if cooking fish or meat
  • vegetable peeler with a comfortable handle
  • sharp scissors
  • a few mason jars with lids
  • durable plastic or glass food storage containers
  • blender

What's your favourite thing to use in the kitchen? Share your kitchen tips and recommendations for good quality gear in the comments below!