Here are the top ten used in my kitchen (I’m assuming you have a couple basics like hot pads and a metal spatula, regular cooking pots and big metal stirring spoon covered already). These are in order of importance / most used in my kitchen. I explain each one further down in the post.
- Good knife and cutting board, knife sharpener or honing steel
- Cast Iron skillet- I love cast iron, but anything oven safe is fine, like stainless steel. (Avoid the non-stick kind)
- Sheet pan with a lip… get two
- Food Processor
- Instant Pot or Slow Cooker (Crock Pot)
- Glass storage bowls… for prepped food, leftovers,
- Mason jars with lids, quart and pint sized… I like the plastic lids for storage
- Large stock pot
- Immersion blender (to puree soups straight in the pot, or blend a smoothie straight in the jar)
- Dutch oven (or get a lid for a deep cast iron skillet, but there are some things like a whole chicken that just won’t fit into the cast iron with a lid)
- Meat thermometer (if you’re in a meat CSA). I know this is a “top ten ” but I couldn’t leave out the meat thermometer!
Below are the items divided into categories, with a short explanation of each. Scroll to the end for a full checklist!
Good knife, cutting board and knife sharpener or honing steel- there is no understating the importance of a good knife when you’re in a CSA. You will need to chop vegetables. I good, sharp knife, vs a dull knife can reduce your chopping time by at least a half and save frustration (not to mention wrists!). So once you’ve selected your knife, get a knife sharpener, or a honing steel to keep it sharp. Every time you take out that knife… sharpen it! Every. Time. You’ll also need a cutting board to go with this sharp knife, unless you don’t care about your knives or countertops. A cutting board is also handy after you’ve chopped those veggies, to pick up and toss into the soup pan or skillet. I like a big wooden cutting board, a medium wood cutting board, a small wood cutting board (like for cheeses or snacks), and a plastic one for meats.
Cast Iron skillet- I’m sure you can get by with any kind of skillet, but since I’m talking about my kitchen… I absolutely LOVE cast iron. If you’re not going the cast-iron direction, try stainless steel. Anything oven safe is fine, but avoid the non-stick kind. Eventually that non-stick film will come off into your food and into your body. (Yuck!) If you’re investing in a cast-iron, you could get a deeper one with a lid, and save yourself some time before you invest in a Dutch oven. That lid does wonders for all sorts of things like sauces, keeping food warm before it’s served, fritattas, and so much more.
Utensils/uber basics: Big metal stirring spoon, wooden spoon, metal spatula, ladle, tongs (for the grill, oven, etc), Hot pads and/or oven mit. Do these need more explanation?
Sheet pan… it’s important this has a lip. You can do all sorts of things with a sheet pan. Cookies is basic, but we’re talking veggies here. So… sheet pan meals for one. Just google “sheet pan meals” and you’ll find a wealth of recipes. It’s basically a protein (like chicken), surrounded by chopped veggies and some spices. Your whole meal on one pan. Use parchment paper, and it’s a super easy clean up. You can also use these for freezing things like kale balls… blanch, squeeze out the water, freeze in balls on a sheet pan, then transfer to a freezer bag. Or strawberries (as if you didn’t eat them all up before you got home…), you can cut of the tops, place them on a sheet pan with space in between each so they freeze separately, then transfer to a freezer bag.
Food Processor*. This is probably my number one kitchen tool that I use so much, after the above-named basics. I use this for so many things. Pesto. All kinds of pesto with all kind of greens… nettle, kale, Swiss chard, and of course basil. Pretty much any green can be made into pesto. And you can freeze pesto! (see freezing items below). I make my own oat flour. Just grind up rolled oats till it’s a flour. No need to spend loads of money on Gluten Free flour when you can make it yourself. I use it for the base of chocolate kale muffins and other types of baked goods. I chop nuts. I shred cheese. I made pizza dough and biscuit dough. I make a carrot slaw, a cabbage slaw, shred mozzarella cheese for homemade pizza night and so much more.
Instant Pot*. Did I just say the food processor was my number one big ticket item? It’s a close race, they’re neck-in-neck. I use the instant pot as a slow cooker for roasts and stews. (You can brown the meat straight in the pot, instead of browning on the stove then transferring to a slow-cooker). I use it to cook dried beans quickly, then make into soups or hummus. I pressure cook meat and roasts if I forget to get it going in the slow cooker function early enough. I use it for bone broth. I think there’s even more I can do with it, I’m still experimenting. (and also, I do realize that an Instant Pot is not “essential.” I got by for many years with a slow cooker, a stock pot and and a skillet. But it’s pretty convenient.)
Glass storage bowls with lids. Like a pyrex, for example. So many ways to use these. The most important is leftovers, and leftovers are important!! For lunches, first and foremost, but also to recombine into your next meal. It’s fun to get creative with how to repurpose one meal to get the most from your food. You can also use these for prepped food. Like, if you want to go ahead and chop some veggies on a Sunday, or shred some cheese so it’s ready to go during the week for quick meals
Grater (or use the grater attachment of the food processor!). I have a stand-up grater with four different sides for different sizes of grating. I mainly use this for shredded cheese, or shredded carrots or beets to put on top of my salads. I also have a food processor with a grater attachment. (see above). I use this sooo much, when I need to grate in quantity.
Large stock pot. I use this for making… well… stock. Actually, these days I use the instant pot mostly for making stock, but occasionally I’ll still use my stock pot for this in the winter if I want to use it to get my kitchen warm and steamy and delicious-smelling. Veggie stock with leftover veggie scraps, chicken stock with the leftover chicken bones after a roasted chicken dinner, bone broth from beef soup bones… sooooo nourishing for your body, especially after childbirth! (But that’s another post). I also use it for making chili and butternut soup, or veggie stew. These are some of my favorite soups. Oh, and I also use it for boiling corn on the cob… one minute then done! And blanching greens I’m going to freeze.
Immersion blender. It’s actually a little surprising to me that the immersion blender is so far down on my “essentials” list. I use it to puree soups straight in the pot, like the butternut mentioned above, and to blend a smoothie straight in the jar (see below). I feel like I use it a lot, but these are two specific ways, and other tools seem to be more versatile, when I was creating the “essentials” list. But I use this A LOT.
Mason jars with lids, quart and pint sized… I like the plastic lids for storage in the fridge. These are so versatile. Oh, let me count the ways. Smoothies. Right in the jar. Storing soups, for the fridge or freezer. Storing salads for on the go. Make your own vinaigrette and store it. (Template: one third acid, like vinegar or lemon juice, two-thirds oil like olive or avocado, a Tablespoon of sweet like honey, maple or sorghum. Plain, or add some chopped herbs. Shake in a jar and you’re good to go for salad dressing for a week!) Finally, you can just use them as drinking cups. They’re good for kids because they don’t break as easily as actual glasses (case in point… we have one glass left from the set of glasses we got for our wedding that I loved so much… but lots of mason jars on our shelves now!)
Salad spinner. I do love my salad spinner, but you can also try this salad spinner hack, or wrap washed lettuce in a clean cloth towel and store in fridge.
Dutch oven* (or get a lid for a cast iron skillet, and you can use that for some things). I use the Dutch oven mainly for stewing or braising meats, but check out this recipe for braised greens. It’s amazing. I also use it without the lid for roasting chickens. And for soups. I tend to use this more in the winter because I don’t like to heat up my kitchen in the summer. I’m grateful I have it, but the other two big-ticket items are more important in my kitchen. If you don’t want to spring for one, you can get a deep cast-iron with a lid, and make most of the braising recipes using that.
Meat Thermometer. For the meat eaters out there. Essential, unless you’e pro-enough to eyeball to know when it’s done.
* Big-ticket item
Items for freezing
Even if you think, “freezing isn’t for me,” read on… you still might want to give it a whirl. You’ll be thankful come January when you can add some greens to your stews, and you just might find you need to get rid of that kale before the next batch arrives. You’ll need:
- Freezer bags
- Ice cube trays… if you want to freeze pesto or blanched greens… you can also squeeze into balls, freeze on a cookie sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag
- Sheet pan (already an essential above!)
Nonessential kitchen gadgets
I’ve seen the following items on other people’s “top ten” lists, but I either don’t have them to know how “essential” they are, or I simply don’t use mine.
microplane stick grater
Fermenting crocs (ok, not a “gadget” but a specific interest tool. You can also ferment in mason jars)
You can mark off what you have already, and star the ones you want to prioritize. If you have the funds to just get the rest, go for it! If you’re like me, I’d need to prioritize one per month that I’ll get, or save up for a couple months for some of the “big ticket items” or ask for them as a gift. The Instant Pot was a Christmas gift, and it keeps on giving!!
If I had to choose five things for my kitchen it would be… knife, cutting board, cast iron skillet, food processor, instant pot (this is assuming I have something to stir with)
Most essential basic tools- start here!
- Good knife
- Cutting board
- Knife sharpener or honing steel
- Skillet (cast-iron or stainless steel. Oven safe)
- Sheet pan with a lip
- Hot pads and/or oven mit
- Mixing bowls
- Big metal stirring spoon
- Wooden spoon
- Metal spatula
- Meat thermometer
Big Ticket Essential Items… in order of importance in my kitchen
- Food Processor
- Instant Pot or Slow Cooker
- Dutch oven (or lid for a cast iron skillet)
Kitchen tools needed after the essentials
- Glass storage bowls with lids
- Mason jars with lids, quart and pint sized
- Large stock pot
- Immersion blender
- Salad spinner
- Rubber spatula
Items for preserving: freezing, canning, dehydrating or fermenting
- Freezer bags
- Ice cube trays
- Fermenting crocs
- Canning supplies
Nonessential (in my view) kitchen gadgets that some people swear by
- Microplane stick grater
- Julienne peeler
- Citrus juicer