There are a few kitchen items I really couldn’t live without.

  1. A sharp, balanced chef’s knife doesn’t have to be expensive to work well.  Victorinox makes my favorite knife; I have more expensive knives that go unused because I prefer the light weight and easy handling of the Victorinox.  If you buy a cheap plastic cover for the knife, you can take your knife with you when you need to cook at someone else’s house, and you’ll never have to worry about having to use someone else’s dull knives.  This simple knife sharpener may look like a toy, but works beautifully.  
  2. A good oven thermometer is so crucial.  The oven in my current apartment runs cold by about 5 degrees.  By contrast, I grew up with an oven that, unbeknownst to me, would increase the set temperature by hundreds of degrees.   I would set the oven to 350 degrees and wonder why my cookies burned and roasts dried out.  (Answer: the oven didn’t listen and routinely shot up to 500 degrees.)  An accurate oven thermometer is so cheap and will ensure that all your careful preparation of food will not be ruined by inaccurate temperatures.  
  3. An accurate scale is also very useful.  A lot of food writers, especially those who work in pastry, will swear up and down that measurements based on weight are more accurate than measurements based on volume (e.g., 5 ounces of flour versus 1 cup of flour).   I’ve owned other food scales, but this OXO scale is my favorite because of its accuracy as well as the ability to pull out the display so your view of the display won’t be blocked by a big bowl sitting on top of the scale.  
  4. Tongs.  You’ll need them for all tasks in which you don’t want to subject a hand to perilously high heat.  I’ve found tongs indispensable for tasks as varied as: pulling out glass jam jars from a hot pot after I’ve sterilized them, sauteing greens and transferring them to a plate, and pulling out hot slices of bread from the toaster oven.  
  5. Silicone spatulas are, along with tongs and wooden spoons, a workhorse in the kitchen.  It’s even better if you have multiple spatulas, one that you can devote to savory items, and at least one devoted to sweet.  
  6. I don’t know what I did before I had a candy thermometer, and this one has served me well for years.  It’s useful even for tasks not related to making candy, such as deep-frying and Harold McGee’s genius method of keeping berries fresh using thermotherapy.

I’ll add more items as I think of them!  

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