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Whether you're a first time cook or have some experience in the kitchen, knowing certain hacks for kitchen success can make cooking 100 times easier and more enjoyable.
In this blog post, we'll cover the essential tools everyone should have in their kitchen, as well as 15 actionable steps you can start implementing TODAY to help make cooking (healthy meals) a total breeze!
Helpful Tools and Equipment
Knives are easily one of the most important on the list, since almost all recipes require them. Having the right type for the job can make a huge difference.
A few basics to start with are a chef's knife and a paring knife. A curved boning knife and vegetable cleaver are also really great to have on hand for slicing meat, deboning a chicken and chopping veggies, of course!
2. Cutting Boards
A cutting board is a must to pair with a knife! These double-sided cutting boards are a great start and are super easy to clean.
It's also nice to have a wood cutting board available, although you'll want to avoid using it for cutting raw meat or pungent foods, like onion and garlic, since it is porous and will absorb juices, smells, and flavors.
3. Mixing Bowls
Mixing bowls are helpful to have in a variety of sizes and can be used for preparing baked goods, making homemade salad dressing, tossing food in seasoning, mixing marinades and sauces, and much more.
While there are many types of whisks out there, a standard stainless steel balloon whisk will work for most types of food prep, whether you're using it to whip up pancake batter, all your favorite baked goods, or homemade dressing.
5. Spatulas, Turners, and Tongs
These three tools are a must for cooking. A heat-resistant spatula allows you to scrape remnants from a bowl and mix food prior to cooking, but can also be used for mixing food in a skillet or pot.
Turners and tongs help flip and rotate food for even cooking and can be used to serve food, too.
6. Cooking and Serving Spoons
You have tons of options here that vary in shape, size, and material for both cooking and serving. For example, these wooden spoons are safe for non-stick cookware, which helps you keep them free of any nicks or scratches.
You can also find heat-resistant silicone spoons for cooking, or stainless steel spoons for serving, as additional options to have in your kitchen.
7. Strainers and Colanders
Strainers and colanders can often be overlooked, but are something you definitely need in the kitchen.
A colander is great for washing, rinsing, and draining produce and pasta. It's also nice to have a fine mesh strainer available to rinse smaller grains too.
8. Measuring Cups and Spoons
9. Vegetable Peeler
This simple tool will make peeling your veggies and fruits easier and safer!
10. Zester and Grater
This combination zester and grater helps zest citrus to elevate your recipes and can also grate cheese. The small size makes it easier to store compared to larger and bulkier graters.
One of the most versatile pieces of kitchen equipment, saucepans can hold larger volumes and are great for cooking food in boiling water, making soups and sauces, and so much more. It's nice to have a smaller and larger option, depending on the size of the recipe.
13. Baking Sheets and Cooling Rack
Sheet pans, like skillets and saucepans, are a necessity. They make cooking just about any food so easy from veggies, to proteins, and even cookies!
While a cooling rack isn't an absolute "must," it's great for cooling cookies quicker and can be used for roasting or cooking meats in the oven, too.
14. Food Storage Containers
When talking about hacks for kitchen success with essential supplies and equipment, you can't forget about food storage containers.
Whether you're using them for meal prepping for the week ahead, storing leftovers, or keeping dry goods in the pantry, they're absolutely something you should have on hand. At the least, having a set of glass containers is a great start.
You can even use mixing bowls that come with lids for food storage, too. And if you're ready to level it up, silicone reusable bags can make a wonderful addition to your kitchen as well, while also eliminating some waste.
15. Cake and Muffin Pans
Your need for these really depends on what you plan on making! If baking cakes aren't in your future, feel free to skip a cake pan. But if you love brownies, it may be nice to at least have a square cake pan on hand.
16. Additional Supplies and Equipment to Set Yourself Up for Success in the Kitchen
Listed below are a few additional useful pieces of equipment that can help set you up for success in the kitchen, yet are not a "must" to be able to cook.
If you're just getting started with cooking or have a limited budget, you can absolutely get by without them and save this list for future purchases.
However, If you already have the basics mentioned above and are looking to expand your kitchen tools and equipment, we absolutely recommend these:
15 Hacks for Kitchen Success
- Read the entire recipe first.
Before even beginning to cook, make sure you understand all the steps of the recipe first. Look at what should be prepped ahead of time. Are there vegetables to be chopped first?
Also, make sure you have all of the ingredients and equipment that are needed. Check to make sure the servings are appropriate for the amount of people you plan on serving. And, definitely look to make sure you have enough time to make the entire recipe.
Does the recipe meet your dietary needs? Are there any ingredients that need to be at room temperature before beginning? If so, remove them from the refrigerator well ahead of time.
Make sure to ask yourself these simple questions so no surprises arise once you get started!
- Set up mise en place.
Mise en place means "everything in its place". After you read the entire recipe to determine what needs to be prepped in advance, gather all of your ingredients and equipment.
Prep all ingredients and get them organized before you start cooking. Some steps move quickly, so it's best to have vegetables cut, spices measured out, tools and equipment on your counter, and everything else in its place before starting to cook.
- Chop veggies in advance.
Pick a day or two each week to prep some vegetables. Whether you choose to prepare greens and toppings for salads, chop root or cruciferous vegetables for roasting, or dice onions, carrots, and celery for soup, will depend on the recipes you plan to make throughout the week ahead.
Any prep you can do ahead will help you save time and eat more veggies throughout the week!
- Utilize some pre-packaged foods.
Frozen vegetables and fruits are just as nutritious as fresh. Plus, they can save you time during the busy week.
You can add them to your main dish, serve them as a side dish, use frozen fruit to top sweet dishes like pancakes and waffles, or to make sauces and smoothies. You can also purchase frozen chopped onions, bell peppers, and spinach to use as staples in most meals.
- Cook double the amount of dinner to have leftovers for lunch.
Look for recipes that are easy to double or even triple! Whether you're making soups, stews, casseroles, taco meat, salads, chicken, and so on, prepare extra so you can easily pack and reheat leftovers for lunch the next day.
- Keep staples on hand.
Keep things on hand that you use often and don't spoil easily, like pasta, rice, beans, tomatoes, and spices. Having everyday items on hand, means you don't have to run to the store as often, allowing you to quickly throw together a flavorful meal in no-time.
- Batch cook grains and roasted vegetables.
Use your Instant Pot or rice cooker to make a large batch of brown rice or quinoa to use in burrito bowls, casseroles, and other meals throughout the week.
You can also batch cook roasted vegetables to use as the base of a breakfast hash, as a side dish to pair with dinner, or to turn into a soup.
- Keep your knife sharp.
Not only is a dull knife dangerous, but it slows you down in the kitchen. Sharpen your knife regularly - as soon as it starts to feel dull, get that sharpener out!
I like to use a whetstone to sharpen my knife, then use a honer to straighten it before each use.
- Have acidic ingredients on hand.
Almost every dish should be finished with an acid to brighten it and bring out the flavor. Ingredients like vinegar and citrus (like lemon and lime) will help round out the flavors of the dish.
- Always taste your food as you cook it.
Taste your food as you cook. You can always add more salt throughout the cooking process, and its often necessary to do so if the food tastes bland. But you may also find that the dish needs other flavors, like acid, heat, creaminess, etc. It is easiest to add these in while the dish is still cooking.
The only way to become a better cook is by tasting your food, problem solving, and making changes until it tastes exactly how you want it to!
- Save vegetable scraps in a freezer bag.
As you chop vegetables and aromatics like onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and parsley, save the scraps and stems in a large Ziploc bag in the freezer. Once it's full, make a batch of vegetable or chicken stock.
- Keep your pantry, fridge, and freezer organized.
Things can get chaotic in the kitchen if your ingredients and equipment are unorganized and messy. Find a spot for each item you have so you can quickly grab things as you need them, then return them exactly where you found them. Keep the items you use regularly close to your prep and cooking stations so they are easier to grab and use.
- Use the broiler or skillet to reheat food.
The microwave is a quick and easy way to reheat food, but if you have a few extra minutes, use the broiler or a hot skillet instead. These two tools will heat the food more evenly and get it a bit more crisp than the microwave. Plus, the food won't dry out as easily or get rubbery like it may in the microwave.
- Aim for different combinations of textures and flavors in each dish.
A combination of textures and flavors makes food more appealing and exciting to eat.
Different flavors: sweet, savory, bitter/sour, acidic, spicy.
Different textures: crispy, creamy, crunchy, chewy, smooth.
- Practice, practice, practice!
As you spend more time prepping and making meals, you'll become faster and more efficient, which in turn, will make cooking much more enjoyable!
Related Resources and Recipes
- Simple Ways to Save Money on Groceries
- 14 Healthy Freezer-Friendly Recipes
- Easy Ways to Eat More Vegetables
- 25 Healthy School Lunch Ideas
- Healthy Recipes for Beginner Cooks
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