The Essential Kitchen Equipment We Wish We'd Bought Sooner

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When you work at a food site, it usually goes without saying that you don't just like to eat great food—you like to make it, too. The latter is obviously true of our recipe developers and editors, but virtually every member of our 16-person team is passionate about getting their hands dirty in the kitchen. So, when we recently started recounting our lists of shame—those kitchen items we always knew we should own, but waited an embarrassingly long time to acquire—it's safe to say we all surprised one another with the gaps in our respective arsenals. Here's a look at the cooking equipment we love using and wish we'd bought a long time ago. May it serve you well.

An Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

I lasted many years without an enameled cast iron Dutch oven. They were years full of desire and longing, but I was a poorly paid line cook, and Le Creuset, one of the most respected manufacturers, ain't cheap. I had work-arounds—sometimes I'd borrow my sister's and not return it for months on end—but that only got me so far. I eventually splurged (then bought another on sale, in a smaller size), and I've never looked back. My Le Creusets are workhorses in my kitchen, constantly used for sauces, stews, braises, and more. Other than my hot-water kettle, these enameled Dutch ovens are also the only cookware with a permanent home on my stovetop; they're almost never out of rotation long enough to see the inside of a cabinet. I cannot imagine functioning without them. Daniel Gritzer, culinary director

A Squeeze-and-Pour Silicone Measuring Cup

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[Photograph: Courtesy of OXO]

I've been putting up with annoying measuring-cup drips for years, but recently, after some piping-hot chicken stock trickled down my arm while I was making risotto, I decided I'd had enough. I bought this flexible measuring cup and have found it a godsend for both sweet and savory projects. The textured pattern on the surface means it won't get slick or slippery when wet, and the thickness is enough to provide a temperature buffer if you're working with hot liquids. It's great for adding the milk to my vanilla butter cake, or for pouring cold ice cream base into the machine. It's such a ridiculously simple thing, but I wish I'd given up on my glass measuring cups long ago. Stella Parks, pastry wizard

A Mortar and Pestle

The mortar and pestle falls squarely into the category of "you don't know what you're missing" tools. If you are like I was a few years back and don't own one (preferably one of the large, granite Thai varieties), let me tell you something: You don't know what you're missing. I sure didn't. See, a mortar and pestle is the best tool for drawing out the flavors of aromatics and spices destined for curry pastes, marinades, sauces, dressings, pestos, salsas, guacamole, and anything that you might currently be making in the food processor. While a food processor shears between plant cells, a mortar and pestle crushes them, releasing more flavor into your food. Not only that, but the easy cleanup (a quick rinse is all you need) and the ability to work in small batches make it faster than a food processor or spice grinder for most of your day-to-day projects. Now that I have one, my food has never been tastier. It's also great for the soul: The opportunity to pound out your frustrations only makes dinner taste that much better. J. Kenji López-Alt, managing culinary director

A 3-Quart Saucier

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[Photograph: Courtesy of All-Clad]

I'm cheap, so I'll make do with some subpar tool for years before ponying up the cash for a significantly better replacement. For example, right now I use a stupidly dull swivel peeler instead of shelling out under $10 for three super-sharp Y-peelers that are guaranteed to make my life better—I'll probably wait a year before I do. I could think of any number of kitchen tools I waited far too long to buy, from a decent bread knife and a bench scraper to a half sheet pan.

But two tools I purchased recently left me in a slough of self-recrimination for longer than usual: my All-Clad three-quart saucier, which I actually requested as a Christmas gift from my wife (did I say I was cheap?), and my flexible slotted spatula. I used to use a beat-up nonstick (!) pot to make things like custards and sauces—even going so far as to buy a nonstick whisk for the stupid pot—and I worked (sort of) with a combination of a plastic spatula and a pair of chopsticks to turn my Spanish mackerel fillets or burgers. I can't recommend these two tools highly enough. Sho Spaeth, associate editor

Pasta-Rolling Attachments for a Stand Mixer

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Since I started working at Serious Eats, I've purchased a whole lot of cookware and gadgets, from super-sharp kitchen shears to a Thermapen, the latter of which has made me a much less paranoid cook (and eater). After a breakup, I even treated myself to a KitchenAid stand mixer—okay, it's just possible I have a shopping problem. But my absolute favorite addition has to be the pasta-rolling attachment for the above-mentioned stand mixer. Though I'd wanted to make my own pasta from scratch at home for a while, I'd never had the space to roll it out or the muscle mass to use a hand crank. Between Niki's primer on the science of the best fresh pasta and my handy roller, I've successfully made beautiful fettuccine and ricotta ravioli. I have two full recipes' worth of dough in my freezer right now, and I can't wait to roll them out and see what else I can do. Ariel Kanter, marketing director

An Oil Dispenser With a Steel Flip-Top Pourer

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

The oil dispensers I've historically used were never meant to be oil dispensers. My vegetable oil, for instance, lived in a syrup jar that would drip from the spout every time I used it, meaning I had to put it in a plastic tub; there, it sat in its own oily mess, which I felt compelled to hide inside the fridge (also a bad idea). Sometimes I was lazy and kept it in the original, branded bottle, which made pouring the right amount a hit-or-miss proposition, and looked ugly sitting on the counter.

When Kenji wrote a post tackling this very subject, I finally got around to purchasing a dedicated oil dispenser with a flip-top pourer, and it's made a huge difference. I throw together a lot of stir-fries, which means I need to work really fast and have plenty of oil at the ready. The steady flow from the spout lets me gauge correctly and prevents drips. It also looks sleek and makes my kitchen feel more put-together. —Vivian Kong, designer

Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls

I'm not sure how I survived so long without a small collection of stainless steel mixing bowls. They're cheap, they don't take up much space (because they nest!), and they're useful for a million different things. I spent years prepping ingredients on a cutting board, then carefully trying to shuttle the garlic around the peppers and onions without knocking anything into the pan prematurely. Now, I just slide each ingredient into an appropriately sized bowl. I use the small ones almost every time I cook, but the larger ones are perfect for tossing a salad or serving a giant pile of popcorn. —Paul Cline, VP of product

A Salad Spinner

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

A few years back, I took a rejected salad spinner from my mom's kitchen. It was large, cumbersome, and difficult to store in my tiny studio-apartment kitchen—no wonder she was trying to get rid of it. I used it regularly until, one day, it finally fell off the top shelf I was forced to store it on (it was the only shelf tall enough to fit its gigantic pump/crank), and the plastic bowl cracked open. I'd seen Daniel use our recommended Zyliss spinner hundreds of times during recipe testing, and at last I had an excuse to buy one! I actually ended up getting the smaller version, which is perfect for my small space and for washing modest amounts of greens or herbs. —Vicky Wasik, visual director

A Microplane

A box grater is no friend to an ardent fan of lemon zest, such as myself. Scraping that stuff out of a box grater was always my least favorite part of cooking. A Microplane grater is one of the first gadgets I bought when I started really learning how to cook, and it remains one of my most used and cherished kitchen tools. —Natalie Holt, video producer

A Cast Iron Skillet

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[Video: Vicky Wasik]

I've spent much of my adult life living in small spaces and, occasionally, on other continents—plus, I'm constitutionally frugal. As a result, I pride myself on maintaining a spare, low-maintenance collection of material goods, including kitchen equipment, so it was no small thing when I finally bit the bullet and bought a big, heavy, I-really-live-here-permanently-now Lodge cast iron skillet. Though I originally got it for cornbread—I don't think I could look my Southern mom in the eye if I tried to make cornbread in anything else—it's proved just as useful for setting the tops of frittatas, baking a pan of biscuits, and slapping together all manner of weeknight vegetable sautés, stir-fries, and pasta sauces. Sure, proper care requires a few extra steps, but it's worth it for the satisfaction of seeing that smooth, dark layer of seasoning develop over time. My lay cook's tip: Since cast iron skillets only get better with repeated use, keep yours on the stovetop if you have the space. It'll encourage you to cook with it more often, and you won't have to heave it in and out of a cabinet to do so. Miranda Kaplan, editor

A Peugeot Pepper Mill

Years ago, I bought a pair of Peugeot salt and pepper grinders for my parents, as a last-ditch, procrastination-type gift, and they remain in their home to this day, looking great on the ol' lazy Susan. They make it easy and fun to get the right grind for your dish, fit timelessly in any kitchen, and are built to last an eternity. Plus, you can drape a napkin over your arm and cure your dinner guests' pepperless woes with a few deft flicks of the wrist. —Tim Aikens, front-end developer

A Pressure Cooker

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I've been listening to my colleagues wax rhapsodic about pressure cookers for years now. But even after tasting some of the amazing fruits of their labor, like Daniel's Butternut Squash Risotto With Frizzled Sage and Brown Butter and Kenji's Green Chili With Chicken, I was still skeptical about adding one of these bulky instruments to my already-crammed kitchen. Not only do the electric ones take up a lot of space (we don't need to dive into my irrational fear of the stovetop variety), but I've always been a taste-as-I-go kind of cook—the idea of piling a bunch of ingredients into a pot and pressing a button just didn't sound fun.

But, in the handful of months since my father gave me an Instant Pot, I've learned about a whole new type of fun. The one where your kitchen is way less messy at the end of your meal, your food tastes incredible, and typically long-cooking dishes are finished in a fraction of the time.

Most exciting to me, perhaps, is that a pressure cooker allows you to undertake multiple cooking projects at the same time. So, when I had a big dinner party recently, I didn't have to structure my whole day around oven availability—I managed to make Ragù Bolognese in the pressure cooker, Stella's phenomenal cherry pie in the oven, sautéed asparagus on the stove, and a salad at the kitchen island. The entire undertaking took under three hours, and I was able to bring everything to the table at the right temperature, at the exact same time. Niki Achitoff-Gray, managing editor

A Digital Scale

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

My early baking forays were fraught with disappointments. For every successful baking project, there were three or four disasters—under-risen cakes, or super-dense and brick-like muffins. And I didn't know why.

Everything changed when I got a digital scale. It must have been after ditching yet another sad soufflé or decidedly un-spongy sponge cake that I decided to pay attention to weight measurements. Volume measurements, I learned, are inadequately accurate for baking—I'd been setting myself up for failure all along. As soon as I got a proper scale and began to precisely and consistently weigh out my ingredients, everything seemed to fall into place. Now, more often than not, my cakes rise, my shortbread crumbles, my popovers pop, and I feel truly emboldened in the kitchen. —Marissa Chen, office manager

A Fine-Mesh Strainer

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

I put off buying a set of mesh strainers for years, convinced they were a waste of space in my tiny college kitchen—what are they even good for, anyway, but dusting powdered sugar as a finishing touch on pastries, right? But when I moved to my apartment in Brooklyn and somehow found myself with more space, I invested in a few bits that I'd been putting off—a kitchen scale, a food processor, et cetera. The purchase I love most, though, is my set of mesh strainers. I use them for everything: rinsing beans, sifting flour, straining juices for homemade popsicles...and, yes, that iconic flurry of powdered sugar, too. —Kristina Bornholtz, social media editor

A Wire Rack for a Half Sheet Pan

I have French toast to thank for bringing a wire rack into my kitchen. For years, I loathed the soggy texture of the milk- and egg-laden bread our daughter asked for, and I made, on Sunday mornings. Looking for that all-important contrast between the crispy, griddled exterior and creamy, custardy center, I read a recipe that suggested cutting slices from a whole loaf to control the size, then toasting the bread before dipping it in the batter. So I bought a wire rack, loaded it up with a few slices, tossed it into the oven to dry out, and worked my way down the assembly line: dip, then set back onto the rack to rest and drain. That rack now allows me to prepare six slices to go onto the griddle at once; if I'm hosting brunch, it keeps cooked toast warm in the oven while I finish the first batch. The rack comes in equally handy for cooking massive amounts of pancakes and waffles, or resting a large roast—in short, it's endlessly useful if you're the designated cook in your family, or if you just love entertaining. —Sal Vaglica, equipment editor

A Charcoal Grill

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[Photograph: Courtesy of Weber]

When I'm on vacation in the summer, I grill nearly every day. I've even been known to grill thrice daily, if the spirit moves me. Two years ago, my wife gave me a Weber charcoal grill, and I couldn't be more thrilled with it. Using hardwood charcoal and any old chimney starter, I can get a fire ready to cook on in 20 minutes, and I use the plastic shelf all the time for platters and tools. This baby comes with an optional gas-ignition starter, but I must confess, I've never used it—chimneys just make it so easy to work with charcoal instead. Ed Levine, founder