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Cooking is a labor of love. Food can bring people together, and home-cooked meals may give you a warm fuzzy feeling that locks in core memories and joy all around. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of cooking for yourself if you’re able and to show your appreciation for friends or family members who cook for you.
Like many people, I got into cooking and baking during the worst of the COVID lockdowns, which made clear that I was lacking some important tools and supplies. Since I live in a New York City apartment with a New York City apartment–sized kitchen, I was strategic about what I bought to remedy that problem. Size and versatility were key factors.
Not all home chefs have these spatial restrictions. However, you probably want to avoid clutter and have only functional, worthwhile products, no matter the size of your kitchen. I turned to a pair of TikTok cooking experts to find out what tools every home cook needs and which options are worth buying.
Kirsten Deneka, an impressive home cook with over 700,000 followers on TikTok, recommended a good preseasoned cast-iron skillet — a classic kitchen essential that delivers a steady, high-temperature heat perfect for cooking food evenly.
“I used cast-iron pans for everything,” Deneka said. She cooks eggs, sears meat, and even puts her skillet on the barbecue. It’s worth it to get a good one since you can do so much with one and it lasts forever if you care for it correctly — it’s not uncommon for cast iron to be handed down generation to generation. Deneka suggested finding one that’s preseasoned because most people won’t want to season one themselves. (Seasoning a cast-iron skillet is essentially adding a protective layer of oil that gives the pan some nonstick properties and prevents it from rusting.)
Promising review: “I received this skillet for Christmas. It has become our most used item in the kitchen. We have used it almost every day, with outstanding results. We’ve made eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, cakes, steaks, roasted vegetables, chicken...you get the idea.” —CoastalLady via Williams Sonoma
You can buy a Lodge seasoned cast-iron skillet from Williams Sonoma starting around $15.
Stainless Steel Pan
A stainless steel pan is also an essential item, said Justine Doiron, a recipe developer who touts her creations on TikTok.
“I think we’ve really forgotten the magic of the stainless steel pan that is like up to 850 degrees safe, so you can throw it in the oven. You can sear things on it. You can do eggs on it if you use enough fat.”
In her experience, nonstick materials can be volatile and degrade over time, so she swears by her handy Made-In stainless steel pan instead.
Promising review: “I feel like a real chef working with this pan. It is perfectly designed to hold and work with ergonomically. It perfectly distributes the heat evenly yielding consistent results.” —Brett G. via Made-In
You can buy the Made-In stainless steel pan from Made-In Cookware starting at around $89.
Both experts agreed on several kitchen items that they couldn’t live without, one of them being a microplane.
Deneka said she hates chopping garlic, and I have to agree since I can’t get the garlic smell off my fingers for what feels like days. A microplane is an effective way to grate foods like garlic or Parmesan cheese, or to create zest from citrus fruit.
“I think every cook needs a microplane — home cook, professional cook, whatever,” said Doiron. She even uses hers to grate hard vegetables like beets. “It's the most versatile item in my kitchen.”
While Doiron loves her “cute” Williams Sonoma microplane, she said that any old Amazon option will likely do. One option by Dulcicasa is affordable, well reviewed, and comes with a safety case and a little brush for cleaning.
Promising review: “Easy to use, nice grip. Handy brush to help get peels out and to clean. Item is very sharp so be careful using product. Also after cleaning put protector back on while drying to avoid accidents.” —IAM4USC
You can buy a Dulcicasa microplane from Amazon for around $7.
Another option that comes in handy if you have an aversion to garlic fingers is a garlic press. It’s an affordable gift that the garlic lover in your life will surely put to good use.
Promising review: “We’ve used it at least twice a week since purchasing a couple of weeks ago and have been super impressed. I was in a hurry to make dinner the other day and was able to press 2 cloves at a time. This is way easier to clean than our old garlic press and there is little to no waste.” —FrequentShopper403
You can buy a Zulay garlic press from Amazon for around $11.
I’m also an advocate for a citrus press. I’m an avid watcher of Doiron’s cooking videos and admire her method of squeezing citrus into her hand, using a bowl to catch the seeds while the juice drains through her fingers. However, I have never been able to do it successfully.
For me, seeds always fall through, or I want to use both hands to really get all the juice out of my lemons. Since I use citrus juice in almost every recipe I make, a citrus press was worth it. They’re cheap and fairly easy to stash in a utensil drawer, so if you know a home chef who’s tired of squeezing, it makes for a great gift.
Promising review: “How have I gone this long without having this in my kitchen? This is so easy to use for cooking and drinks. I love this tool.” —TamD
You can buy a citrus press from Amazon for around $10.
If you’ve ever tried to prepare food with a dull, crappy knife, you know how life-changing a good knife can be. Deneka said it’s important to have at least one high-quality knife, especially if your cooking requires a lot of prep.
One of her favorites is a Japanese brand called Korin, but most of their knives are currently sold out on their website. The other is a German company called Zwilling, which makes a ton of quality cooking tools. Zwilling’s 8-inch stainless steel chef’s knife might just blow your mind if you’ve never had a really good one.
Promising review: “Using as my everyday go to knife. Used the same knife for over twenty years and so happy they still make the same one. It’s a winner!” —N. Hyde
You can buy a Zwilling chef’s knife from Amazon for around $98.
Another item that both Deneka and Doiron agree is a must-have in the kitchen is a Dutch oven. Deneka uses hers for stews, sauces, and more and loves that you can pop it right into the oven.
For a small kitchen, Doiron recommended the Le Creuset medium-sized Dutch oven. Le Creuset is an iconic culinary brand for good reason: Their classic enamel cookware not only looks amazing for serving or on display but also functions beautifully. Doiron appreciates that the brand’s medium Dutch oven is easier to handle than the large size and still allows you to prepare good-size meals.
Promising review: “Always wanted one of these and finally treated myself and bought one and have now used it twice and it has far exceeded my expectations. From the quality of the pan, to the outstanding ease of searing, cooking and clean-up, this pan does it all and more. Yes, it is heavy so keep that in mind when you think about who you are buying it for, but just know it is the most outstanding pan you will ever own.” —MikenDallas via Williams Sonoma
You can buy a Le Creuset Dutch oven from Williams Sonoma starting around $280.
Baking your own bread was a huge trend early in the pandemic, and now that more people know it’s doable, I’m sure many have continued to knead and proof and whip up lovely loaves. Deneka said that a KitchenAid mixer makes mixing dough much easier, whether that dough is for bread, cookies, or any other baked goods.
If you or your favorite home chef already has a stand mixer, she recommends investing in a new (and sturdier) bowl. She got a better bowl at the same time she bought her mixer and has never used the one it came with.
Another fun addition is the pasta attachment for those who may be interested in experimenting with fresh homemade pasta.
Promising review: “It was absolutely worth the price. Gets the job done.” —Kathy
You can buy the KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer from Bed, Bath & Beyond for around $450.
Mini Food Processor
I’ve encountered a surprising number of recipes that call for a food processor, and as hard as I try to make it work with a blender, it really doesn’t do the trick. A food processor is a larger appliance that can be expensive and annoying to store, which is why Deneka recommends getting a mini version.
“The big food processors take up a lot of space in your cupboard,” she said. “I find that the mini ones can still hold plenty. I use mine for pesto, salsa, hummus, pie dough, et cetera. It’s really versatile.”
Promising review: “I love this little machine. It's my salsa and sauce goto. It works so well, I think up meals that give me an excuse to use it. Also it’s adorable to behold.” —Shane M. Cook
You can buy the Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus food processor from Amazon for around $40.
Speaking of blenders, Deneka said that an immersion blender is a good substitute for a traditional blender. “They’re pretty affordable, blend sauces and soups, and make homemade mayo, which is pretty fun.”
I have one that came with a bunch of attachments, including a little 2-cup food processor and whisk, which makes it even more useful. Many models from Braun have all of those attachments as well.
Promising review: “I believe in Braun products, I’ve been using this mixer for a while now and I like having the attachments. I like the adjustable speed, and the attachments are easy to change from one to another.” —Allen
You can buy a Braun immersion blender from Amazon for around $100.
Stainless Steel Scraper
I had seen professional chefs and home cooks use a square tool to scoop their chopped veggies into a dish or pan, but I never knew what it was called. Turns out it’s simply a type of scraper.
At first glance, this may seem like one of those things that you don’t really need since you can do the same job with your hands or silverware. However, having one makes a huge difference.
I regularly struggle to scoop up every last bit of garlic or onion to transfer it to my stove, often having to make multiple trips to the cutting board. Having a scraper makes that task a breeze, plus you can use it to chop butter or section off dough.
Deneka uses hers nearly every time she cooks, and it just looks cool to handle, so it’ll make you or your gift recipient feel like a real chef.
Promising review: “I’ve only used one but love it. I love to cook and try new things and these sure come in handy for chopping and picking up things. I love this item.” —Linda S. More
You can buy a set of two OXO stainless steel scrapers from Amazon for around $26.
Pizza Stone and Peel Paddle
For the home chef who already has most of the essentials, a pizza stone can be a fun addition that encourages them to try something new. Deneka makes a lot of pizza and uses her peel to get her pie off the counter and into the oven and the stone to cook it on.
Promising review: “After having two round pizza stones crack, we did more research about how to avoid that issue and landed on this product to try next. Our first two oven pizzas were fabulous! The crust cooked perfectly both times. We’ve never used a paddle before and it made the transfer process SO MUCH EASIER! As others have noted, a slightly larger paddle would be even better, but this one got the job done. The stone does get discolored after use, but that did not affect its effectiveness on the next pizza.” —M. Harrison
You can buy an Augosta pizza stone and peel from Amazon for around $33. ●