Essential Kitchen Tools: Gadgets and Accessories

by TabithaY

Here is a suggested list of core, basic gadgets, utensils, and accessories when stocking your kitchen. Great for graduation gift ideas.


Whether shopping for yourself or for a gift, the variety of kitchen tools and gadgets available can be overwhelming (and tempting!). It's hard to narrow down the options to the truly essential. In the end, it depends a lot on how you cook - what sorts of food, size of household - but there are a number of items that every kitchen should have. These suggestions are perfect for anybody setting up their own household for the first time or looking for great graduation gift ideas.

Can Opener

It's hard to get more basic than the humble can opener! Purists might insist on a manual version, but others prefer the convenience of electric. The former requires some manual dexterity, but it will take up less space than the latter.

The OXO model below is a classic manual can opener with excellent reviews for both performance and comfort. It even includes a built-in bottle opener so you don't need a separate tool.

For those who prefer an electric model, the West Bend 77203 is very highly rated for functionality and appearance. It's compact, easily cleaned, available in several colors, and a strong performer. It, too, includes a bottle opener and also a knife sharpener in the back.

Recommended Can Openers

OXO Steel Can Opener

Like all the other pieces in the OXO SteeL line, this can opener is a thing of beauty, and for a can opener that's saying something! But a can opener that is all looks and no ...

$30.5  $27.21

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West Bend 77203 Electric Can Opener, Metallic

Electric Can Opener. Slim, extra tall design to open extra tall cans. Includes bottle opener and knife sharpener. The detachable chrome cutting accessory is dishwasher safe. ...

Only $119.99

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Spoons, Spatulas, and Tongs

Spoons, spatulas, and tongs are indispensable for any cooking endeavors. If you want the absolute minimum number of each, go for versions that are safe in non-stick cookware. Wood, plastic, silicone, and similar materials are all good choices, although they're more heat sensitive than metal and a bit more finicky in care. For a larger collection, add a metal spatula and a large metal mixing spoon. A ladle is another good addition as your collection grows.

Wood is a classic material for spoons that is comfortable in the hand, but it does stain a bit and shouldn't be left for long periods in things like a pot of soup. If you do get any wooden spoons, go for the nicer hardwood versions instead of the flimsy softwood: they will perform better and last longer. A less fussy alternative is the highly rated, inexpensive OXO plastic spoon below. It's even heat resistant to 400F.

The Norpro spatula below is an excellent performer. Some might find the flat portion a bit small, especially compared to larger utensils suitable for grilling, but it fits well in smaller pans and makes for nimble handling of food.

Consider also getting a silicone spatula set for scraping bowls - and getting that last bit of peanut butter out of the jar. Silicone can stand higher heat than the older rubber types and is resistant to stains and odor.

Tongs typically come in lengths from 9" to 16", but 12" is the most versatile for kitchen use. Avoid the type with open loops: they're almost useless when trying to handle food. The style with a larger, solid gripping area that you see in commercial kitchens will become an extension of your hand with a little practice. The OXO version below has nylon heads for use in non-stick cookware, unlike the more common all-steel construction, increasing their versatility.

Recommended Spoons, Spatulas, and Tongs

OXO Good Grips Nylon Spoon

The OXO Nylon Spoon is perfect for stirring soups, sauces, stews and chili. Sturdy nylon is safe for non-stick cookware and heat resistant to 400 degrees, soft handles provide ...

Only $8.99

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Norpro 906 Nylon Nonstick 13 Inch Slotted Spatula

Great cooking spatula for eggs, pancakes and omelets! High heat resistant nylon spatula to 410F/210C. Has non-skid handles with thumb grip. Compatible with all nonstick ...

$6.08  $5.99

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Wilton 570-1121 Easy Flex 3-Piece Silicone Spatula Set, Blue

Perfect for all your baking needs. This 3 piece silicone set includes the popular spoon, small and medium spatulas.

Only $8.98

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OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Locking Tongs with Nylon Heads

Finally, the perfect Tongs for use with nonstick cookware. These OXO GOOD GRIPS Tongs feature the sturdy stainless steel construction and soft grips you expect, with nylon ...

$14.99  $27.99

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Measuring Tools

You will need basic sets of measuring spoons and cups. A lot of people will just go to the plastic versions, but you're better off with stainless steel in the long run. It's not that much more expensive, will last longer, and is much easier to get clean. Try getting plastic free of grease after measuring oil for salad dressing, and you'll see why stainless is the better choice.

The Cuisipro measuring spoons recommended below are shaped to make it a bit easier to fit them in small spice and condiment jars. It has all the basic sizes from 1/8 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. The Amco measuring cup set has four sizes - 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, and 1 cup - and, like the spoons, is dishwasher safe. Both should last for years.

Recommended Measuring Tools

Cuisipro Stainless Steel Measuring Spoon Set

Manufactured of the toughest stainless steel, these superb nesting spoons are oval in shape to reach into the smallest spice jar. The gently curved handles curl under, so the ...

$11.5  $11.0

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Amco Basic Ingredients Stainless Steel Measuring Cups, Set of 4

Amco Houseworks, an award-winning brand, has been making cooking and cleaning easier since the 1970s. It's a commitment that's earned it the love and respect of professional ...

Only $15.22

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Mixing Bowls

Mixing bowls have a myriad of uses in the kitchen and some styles can even be used as serving dishes. Avoid plastic bowls for the same reason you should do the same for your measuring tools: it can be very hard to get thoroughly clean of grease and oil.

Pyrex glass is a classic, is inexpensive, and can easily transition from the microwave to the table. It's easy to clean but can be a bit heavy. And as tough as it can be, Pyrex can be chipped or broken.

Stainless steel is far more sturdy than glass and is lightweight but usually reserved only for prep work. The OXO set here is clad in white plastic to improve grip and heat retention. The cladding means you sacrifice the ability to put the bowls in the oven. If maximum versatility is important, go for a classic, unclad stainless steel set of bowls.

Recommended Mixing Bowls

OXO Good Grips 3-Piece Stainless-Steel Mixing Bowl Set

Mix dough, fold batters and whisk vinaigrettes with the OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls. Set includes: 1.5, 3 and 5 quart sizes. These Stainless Steel Bowls have a ...

$59.8  $51.88

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Pyrex Prepware 3-Piece Mixing Bowl Set, Clear

What's a kitchen without bowls? Designed for function and style these handy bowls are most economical by the set.

Only $25.16

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Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls - Set of 4

This stainless steel mixing bowl set is durable and versatile. Essential for your kitchen! Use them to cook, bake, mix, serve and much more. They are extremely sanitary and ...

Only $29.99

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Baking Dishes

Until you're roasting turkeys and rack of lamb on a regular basis, by far the most versatile baking pan is a simple 9" x 13" rectangle. It is perfect for a batch of brownies and works well for a roaster chicken.

Pyrex is very popular in this size but is better suited to casseroles than baking. The edges are more curved than in metal pans, reducing their versatility, but they are attractive, easy to clean, and are suitable for use as serving dishes. Oblong Pyrex pans are sold more by capacity than linear measurement: the 3 quart size works well for many applications.

Metal pans - generally steel - are the way to go if you plan on any sort of baking. Sturdy and lightweight, they are an excellent value. And if you're roasting that chicken, you can make the gravy right in the pan, getting every last bit of fond, something that you can't do with glass. But over time and with use metal tends to discolor and is not really suitable for serving at the table.

Recommended Baking Dishes

Pyrex Grip-Rite 2-Quart Oblong Baking Dish, Clear

Pyrex Grip Rite

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Wilton Recipe Right 13 x 9 Oblong Pan with Cover

Recipe Right Oblong Pan with Cover

$12.18  $10.66

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Bonus Items

These items are a good idea and can improve your cooking experience, but none are critical when just starting out. Add them as you build your collection of kitchen tools and as the need arises.

Instant Thermometer

A good digital thermometer comes in handy far more often than you might expect. Want to try your hand at baking bread? Make sure you don't overheat the water otherwise you'll kill the yeast. When reheating food that been frozen, test it to make sure it's reached a safe temperature. And a thermometer is really the only way to be sure how well-done that roast is. Taylor makes a number of solid and affordable models that run on watch batteries.

Salad Spinner

A spinner does one thing - remove water from greens and similar items - but it does that very well. If you prepare a lot of salads or eat a lot of fresh spinach it can be worth the storage space. Zyliss models get high marks and come in a variety of sizes.

Vegetable Peeler

A paring knife can do the same job, but a basic vegetable peeler is easier for a lot of people to use. It can also be safer than an knife. OXO makes a couple styles with comfortable handles that get good reviews.

Recommended Bonus Items

Taylor Digital Instant-Read Pocket Thermometer

Most professional chefs have a thermometer tucked in a jacket pocket, and if it works for them, perhaps you should try it too!

$8.28  $6.99

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Zyliss Easy Spin Salad Spinner, 2-3 Servings, Green

It's one pull to gourmet salad that's as easy as 1-2-3. Zyliss has engineered a high-performing innovative glidewheel motion that results in smooth operation and a consistent, ...

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OXO Good Grips Swivel Peeler

Stainless steel blade rotates to stay the course. Pointed tip removes potato eyes with ease. Soft-grip ergonomic handle offers comfort and non-slip control.

Only $11.54

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OXO Good Grips Pro Y-Peeler

OXO brings its new longer-lasting, longer-length, stainless steel blade to the favorite tool of European chefs. The OXO Good Grips i-Series Y Peeler has a non-slip, contoured ...

Only $20.74

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Building your kitchen collection can happen gradually over time. Resist the urge to get every specialized tool out there - buy that melon baller only when you plan on actually making poached pairs - and focus on getting quality tools that will last. And don't forget items such as towels, potholders, and dish cloths!

Also See

Kitchen Essentials: Knives
Knives are one of the most important tools you can have in your kitchen, but you don't need a huge collection of specialty pieces. Here are the basics for any kitchen.

Kitchen Essentials: Pots and Pans
Building a basic but functional collection of kitchen tools does not have to be very expensive or complicated. Here are suggestions for a core set of pots and pans.

Updated: 01/28/2012, TabithaY
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