The Essential Kitchen Utensils List For Every Cook

By Jennette Ross / December 18, 2014
kitchen utensils list

Every kitchen needs a basic set of utensils. Whether you’re setting up your very first cooking work space or simply filling the gaps in an existing utensil caddy, our kitchen utensils list will help.

Our guide includes the 14 most important hand-held kitchen utensils every kitchen drawer and recipe book begs for. 

Checking these items off  your list will absolutely set you on the perfect path for chopping, stirring, scooping, mashing, or performing whatever else your clever little head can whip up. ​

Silicone Or Rubber Spatula

Sturdy rubber or silicone spatulas will be your new best friend in the kitchen because of their versatility and function. Use spatulas to stir as any standard spoon, but their best feature is scraping. Rubber spatulas clean off liquid batters and sauces from the sides of bowls and hard to reach places inside jars.

Spatulas come in varying sizes and lengths depending on what and where you are scraping. Some even curve like a spoon to allow scooping firmer substances, like sour cream, out of the bowl faster. Silicone spatulas are heat resistant, protecting the edges from melting on a hot sauce pan.

Some are even made as one uniform piece, from handle to end, to protect food from getting trapped in the head. Two piece designs usually allow the head to remove for washing.

Not that I am sharing this information from personal experience after once discovering gross food particle remains in my spatulas head or anything... Trust me, hand washing removable head models is periodically a necessity. 

Metal Or Plastic Spatula

kitchen utensils list

While a rubber spatula is incredibly useful, you’ll also need a stiffer version for heavy-duty flipping. I have no clue why the cooking god's named two very different kitchen utensils with the same name. If you ask me its just confusing. The two spatulas couldn't differ further in purpose and function. 

I can't count the number of times I have asked one of my kids or my husband for a spatula and they hand me a silicone scraping spatula when I needed the metal flipping kind. I can't blame them, its the cooking fairies or whoever named them that way that are guilty as charged.  But regardless, cooks need both.

A metal or hard plastic spatula flips food so the item can cook on the other side. Firm spatulas also lift food from their cooking surfaces. Cooks need metal or plastic spatulas for flipping pancakes, turning over burgers, and lifting  cookies off the baking sheet.

Metal or plastic depends on your cooking surfaces. Some metal utensils, although pretty and easy to clean, can scratch non-stick pans and pots. Plastic spatulas, on the other hand, can melt if exposed to high temperatures.

If you can splurge, get both a metal and a plastic. Then, your covered no matter the task at hand. 

Kitchen Tongs

kitchen utensils list

You’ll probably find yourself using a pair of kitchen tongs more than you might of originally thought. They’re a great tool for flipping tricky foods, such as sausages, or for picking them up once they’re done cooking.

I love to use my tongs to stir sautéed or stir fried veggies. But they get the most use in warmer weather when my family is craving corn on the cob. Tongs work really well when I need to pull the cooked corn on the cob out of the boiling pot

Tongs are handy when you want to grab a hold of something and a need to flip the food. Some items will slide right off metal spatulas. My kids use kitchen tongs to pull bread out of the toaster oven. I grab my tongs when pulling baked potatoes out of the oven

Tongs are also perfect for barbecuing.  Chicken or similar meats can wobble too much or slip off a metal spatula, especially when they are slathered in barbecue sauce or a marinade. Tongs grab the saucy meat and provide you with the control needed to put the food where desired on the grill.   

Ideally, purchase a pair of locking tongs so they stay closed for easier storage in the kitchen drawer. There are metal or plastic options. Some metal models even have silicone ends to help with the grip and protect cookware from scratches. 

Slotted Spoon

kitchen utensils list

Slotted spoons make the kitchen utensils list because they stir food and do double duty with dishing up the food when finished cooking and ready to eat. Slots in the middle of the spoon allow water and other liquids to flow through while retaining larger items.

When cooks want to check and see if the meat or vegetables are perhaps finished cooking, but don't want to burn their tongue on hot broth or sauce, slotted spoons are the kitchen tool they grab.  

Slotted spoons also serve up pasta or ravioli, and dish boiled vegetables out of the pot, leaving the unwanted cooking water behind. Using a slotted spoon in this manner will require a curved handle rather than a straight design like the spoon pictured above.

The curve will allow the cook to maneuver around the pot and get the remaining items towards the bottom without tipping the pot and playing cookware gymnastics over a hot stove top. Models with teeth on the ends are ideal when using the spoons to strain pasta.

Slotted spoons come in wood, metal, or plastic models. I like having all three options depending on the job and cookware I am using. Which ever model you choose, make sure to pick a spoon with narrow slots, so small food doesn't slip through.

Soup Ladle

kitchen utensils list

Soup ladles of course serve up soup from the cooking pot, but they aren't limited to mere soup. A ladle is the ideal kitchen utensil for serving any kind of liquid. They are designed with an oversized spoon head superb for scooping larger portions of liquid, than a basic kitchen spoon can

The upright handle on ladles allows the cook to place the spoon down into the sauce easily without tipping the pot to scoop the liquids up. Regular spoon's tinier heads and straight handles make spooning soup or other liquids much more difficult.

Ladles spoon up gravy, spaghetti sauce, broth, or any liquid in a cooking pot. Ladles come in wood, plastic, silicone, and metal models. Which kind chosen boils down to taste, not function. All ladles work great, but you may want a pretty stainless steel model, in addition to the day to day wooden or plastic kind, for serving the soup or gravy  in front of dinner guests. 

Wire Hand Whisk

kitchen utensils list

Whisks are used for whipping. Anytime an ingredient needs air infused to create a light or fluffy texture, a whisk will come in handy. The procedure can be accomplished with the prongs of a fork, but will require a little more muscle power than a whisk.

However, don't think you've gotten off that easy. Hand whisks will tempt you to skip arm day at the gym because they too require what my dad calls, "a little elbow grease" or some oomph. Just not as much as the fork method.

If you want to bypass effort all together, then an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer is your best bet. But those are much more pricey than a wire hand whisk.

Whisks are most commonly used to beat eggs for recipes like scrambled eggs, omelets, quiche, or cookies. Whisking is also implemented in meringue, sauces, whipped cream, icing, and gravy.

This by no means is an exhaustive list, but you get the idea of why hand whisks are an important kitchen utensil to add to your kitchen caddy or drawer. 

Whisks come in stainless steel, plastic, and rubber or silicone covered options. As with many other kitchen tools already mentioned, depending on your cookware and the amount of heat you'll expose your whisk to, will greatly determine which kind of whisk you opt for. 

Chef's Knife

kitchen utensils list

Resist the temptation to spend all your money on the cute wooden block holders filled with an assortment of knives. The nice sets cost a pretty penny and the cheaper versions break. Your money would be better spent on one really good knife than a group of cruddy knives, despite their nice storage block.

Since most people setting up a kitchen for the first time don't have a lot of money to throw into an entire knife set, I again suggest buying one decent knife. The most important knife to any kitchen utensils list is the chef’s knife

While chef’s knives were originally made to slice large cuts of meat, today they are designed to handle a large variety of kitchen tasks. You can use a chef’s knife to slice, mince, and chop everything from vegetables to meat.

You’ll want to find a knife with a 7 to 9 inch blade and a decently long handle that feels comfortable in your hand. Select a knife with a handle and blade forged from the same steel  and made into one piece.  

Some models attach an outer portion of wood or a fiberglass blended plastic to the handle, and these models are acceptable as long as the pieces have rivets securing the wood or plastic to a steel shaft that is one piece with the blade.

Handles simply attached to the blade eventually break under the pressure exerted on them when chopping and slicing. A good chef knife can last for 30 years and given the amount most cooks use a chef's knife, it really is better to buy a nice model. 

If you have a bit more room in your budget, you may also want to get a paring knife and a bread knife. A paring knife has a small blade (usually 3 or 4 inches) and is ideal for cutting small fruits and vegetables. A bread knife has a serrated or jagged edge designed to slice through bread without tearing it.

Peeler

kitchen utensils list

A peeler scrapes off vegetable and fruit skin without digging in and removing any of the flesh from the food item. Cooks use peelers to peel the skins off a myriad of items, including apples, carrots, squash, and potatoes.

A peeler is the kitchen utensil cooks grab when making veggie soup, apple pies, mashed potatoes, veggie trays, and a large number of other dishes.

If you've ever tried peeling vegetables using a knife before, you know its time consuming and hard not to accidentally remove some of the flesh from the thing you are peeling. Using a vegetable peeler will prevent you from wasting food and save you time, effort, and probably a couple of cuts on your fingers.

Beginner cooks should look for a Y-shaped vegetable peeler, rather than one that has the blade in line with the handle. The Y-shape gives better control and allows new cooks to move the peeler around the curves of whatever tricky vegetable their attempting to peel (I’m talking about you, butternut squash).

Can Opener

kitchen utensils list

Most every kitchen needs a can opener at one time or another. Even if your goals as a cook are to mainly prepare home cooked meals, chances are you will still need the short cuts canned vegetables and sauces provide.

Grabbing a can of tomato paste for a favorite chili recipe or pre-chopped jalapeños for tortilla soup can really be a time saver for busy cooks, but a method to open the can is called for. Fortunately, there are various kinds of can openers to help out, and none of the options are expensive.

Manual can openers require finger strength to rotate a cutting wheel around the lip of the can top. They also ask the operator to grip and squeeze on the handles while the wheel works its way around the cans edge. This type of can opener is the most affordable, but also the most time consuming of the options.

Electric can openers are fast and do all the work for you. Some models sit on the counter and the operator holds them up into the cutting wheel. When the can is opened, the lid is held secure by a magnet and the can releases.

I have owned manual and electric openers over the years, and my favorite is the Hamilton Beach Smooth Touch Can Opener because of the ease of use. The can fits under the cutting mechanism without any tricky maneuvering, so even my kids can operate the opener. The blade opens the can on the outside edge of the can top. The lid is removed without sharp sides, making it safe for kids and grown up operators.

Cork Screw/Bottle Opener

kitchen utensils list

Part of the fun of cooking is cooking for others. A cork screw/bottle opener will come in handy when entertaining if wine or other adult beverages pair well with the meal or dessert. Of course there are wines that open with a twist top, but most wines either brought by a dinner guest or bought by you, the host, will need a corkscrew to open.

Even if you don’t drink or host many dinner meals, a corkscrew and bottle opener combination is still important enough to make our kitchen utensil list. Many recipes will call for cooking wine, and some will ask for bottled beer.

For cooks who do enjoy a glass of wine now and then, but don’t often finish off the bottle in one sitting, don’t throw out the unused portions. Left over wine can be saved and become a perfect cooking wine.

Potato Masher

kitchen utensils list

A hand held or stand mixer is the easiest way to prepare mashed potatoes, but if you don’t want to put the money into purchasing a small appliance, then a potato masher is an inexpensive solution.

Potato mashers smooth out cooked potatoes better than what a spoon can accomplish. By moving the masher up and down in the bowl like the early American settlers did when churning butter, a nice consistency of mash is achieved.

Potato mashers aren’t limited to potatoes however. The kitchen tool will mash any soft textured food. Throw cut up avocado in a bowl and use a potato masher to begin the process of making guacamole.

Potato mashers will mash bananas, stewed tomatoes, cooked carrots, or whatever the recipe calls for. The masher will mash faster and more effectively than the prongs of a fork when mashing large quantities.

Grater/Zester

kitchen utensils lists

As an avid cheese lover, I can hardly imagine a week going by where I wasn’t making something without shredded cheese. But if you don’t share my love for cheese, you probably will still need to shred a vegetable or two with a food grater. Graters are the tool for getting slivers and strings, in varying sizes, of cheeses, vegetables, and fruits.

Grater holes, although offering differences in size, are still not tiny enough to zest. In order to zest, cooks need super small holes to scrape the small pieces of fruit peel or spices that add flavoring to food or decoration in presentation. The most common fruits used to zest are limes, oranges, and lemons.

For tips and instructions on how to properly zest, check out this post by wikihow.com on three different methods. ​

Kitchen Scissors 

kitchen utensils list

From cutting open food storage bags, to cutting herbs, kitchen scissors are an important tool for the caddy. Kitchen scissors differ from regular house scissors in durability and heftiness.

To cut through meats, kitchen twine, bone, herb stems, or any other tough demands a recipe lists, a strong and sturdy pair of scissors help. Choose a pair with good gripping handles, sharp blades, and are dishwasher safe.

Measuring Cups

kitchen utensils lists

Unless you are completely winging it when you cook and making things up as you go, you inevitably are following a recipe. Recipes have measurements, so you will need some sort of tool to help you figure out the amounts. Measuring cups will do the trick.

Measuring cups come in glass, plastic, or metal options. For measuring liquids, a see through cup model with a spout works best. For solids, the cups with long handles are great for scooping. For gooey substances, tubes with push bottoms like Pampered Chef created make accuracy and clean up easy.

Conclusion: Kitchen Utensils List

kitchen utensils list

With all 14 of these utensils at your disposal, you will be well prepared for any cooking challenge and recipe you are wanting to tackle. Over time, nifty niche tools can be added to these basics, like garlic presses or mini-food processors. For now though, you will have every basic tool needed to start making delicious food. 

Did we leave off any "must haves" on your kitchen utensils list? Let us know in the comments below of any kitchen tools you can't live without and why. 

About the author

Jennette Ross

Mother of five and creator of Cooking Upgrades, Jennette enjoys helping people get the most out of their experience in the kitchen and at the dinner table.

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