When you love food—both eating it and preparing it—it's easy to accidentally spend your whole paycheck on cooking gear. It's true that some of the basic equipment that every kitchen needs isn't cheap, especially if you want high-quality versions that'll last—a good chef's knife, Dutch oven, or saucier is always going to be something of an investment. But many inherently cheap kitchen tools are nearly as indispensable as those costlier items. I'm talking equipment that'll make your cooking easier and your food better, and their price tag won't force you into panhandling on the street with your Mauviel copper pot. Here's a whole list of the inexpensive kitchen tools (all under $20!) that we consider to be most essential.
A Vegetable Peeler
Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler, 3-Piece Set
When I was working in a kitchen, aside from a sharp knife and a Sharpie for labeling, a Y-peeler was the most important tool I carried around. You've read why we think the Y-peeler is the best: It works for both lefties and righties, and the wider handle makes for a more comfortable grip. The Y-peelers from Kuhn Rikon, which are our our top pick after testing 14 different models, have carbon steel blades, so they stay sharper for longer, and come in a pack of three for roughly $15.
Sur La Table Spice Measuring Spoons
Precise measurements are essential in many, if not most, recipes. While we often suggest using a scale to get accurate weight measurements, you'll still need measuring spoons for small doses of leavening and seasonings—most scales aren't accurate enough for those. This set from Sur La Table are especially useful because the rectangular design can easily fit into most spice jars. They also won our top recommendation after thoroughly testing 12 different sets of measuring spoons.
A Paring Knife
Victorinox 3.25-Inch Paring Knife
In the kitchen, bigger isn't always better. Sometimes a small knife is just what you need—when you're peeling onions or garlic, say, or mincing shallots. (It's also useful when you need to take a sneaky sample of fresh-from-the-oven brownies.) We thoroughly tested six models to find the best paring knife, and this one came out on top. It's nice and sharp, has a comfortable grip, and should fit any budget. We don't recommend you lick it after you test those brownies, but what happens in your kitchen stays in your kitchen.
A Fine-Mesh Strainer
Yummy Kitchenware 9-Inch Fine Mesh Strainer
A fine-mesh strainer has a multitude of uses, from removing the aromatics in creamy soups to poaching eggs and getting pesky seeds out of freshly squeezed fruit juice. A really good strainer will also be rust-resistant and dishwasher-safe, and have hooks on its rim so that it nests snugly over bowls and pots. We like this one from Yummy Kitchenware, which was our favorite budget fine-mesh strainer after testing eight different models. It also has a heat-safe handle—no need to worry about scorching your hands as you drain spaghetti.
Kitchenatics Half Sheet Stainless Steel Roasting and Cooling Rack
Growing up, I assumed that wire racks were used exclusively for cooling just-baked chocolate chip cookies (and, in the process, slowly torturing me). It turns out that they're good for much more than that. First, they're ideal for resting meats, especially when placed over a half sheet pan to catch any drippings. If your goal is shatteringly crunchy baked chicken wings, resting the meat on a wire rack before you cook will provide even air circulation and help to dry out the skin, ensuring it crisps up nicely in the oven. This set from Kitchenatics, which was our alternative top pick when we tested wire racks, is durable and fits great inside any half-sheet pan. Note: the price of these wire racks has gone up since this piece was written, but we still think it's worth spending the extra money to get a quality set of two.
Rimmed Baking Sheets
Nordic Ware Naturals Baker's Half Sheet
Aluminum sheet pans, often called rimmed baking sheets, are the MVP of restaurant kitchens, and our tested top pick from Nordic Ware will be the MVP of your kitchen, too. Use them for a variety of sweet and savory cooking projects, from baking cookies and roasting veggies to cooking a whole chicken. Half sheet pans are most common, but you can also find them in quarter sizes, which are great for holding modest quantities of ingredients, or baking a smaller batch of cookies (just kidding—no one wants that).
A Slotted Fish Spatula
Winco Fish Spatula
Despite the name, fish spatulas aren't just used for flipping delicate pieces of fish. We tested and reviewed 12 different models, and the Winco Fish Spatula was our favorite budget pick (that performed almost as well as our pricier overall pick). It's lightweight and easy to grip, flexible enough to turn fragile foods, but strong enough to serve up a hefty burger patty.
A Heat-Resistant Nonstick Spatula
OXO Good Grips Silicone Flexible Turner
A fish spatula won't work for everything—for one, the thin metal flipper on it will do a number on your nonstick pans. If you're using a nonstick skillet to make airy pancakes or Crispy Fried Eggs, we suggest you turn to our favorite nonstick turner, preferably one with a flipper coated in heat-resistant silicone. In our rigorous testing, this one from OXO came out on top.
A Bench Scraper
OXO Bench Scraper
Bench scrapers aren't just for pastry. Sure, they may have been intended for portioning dough, but you can also use them to coax big piles of vegetables into a bowl, or clear scraps from a messy cutting board into the trash. Your bench scraper will be an unbelievably valuable tool for the little money you spend on it, especially if you like to keep things tidy in the kitchen, and this model from OXO was our favorite overall pick after testing eight different models.
A Pie Plate
Norpro Stainless Steel Pie Pan
There might be fancier-looking pie plates out there, but we've found in our testing that the Norpro Stainless Steel Pie Pan browned crusts more consistently than any competitor. It may be humble, but this pan knocks it out of the park for performance and affordability.
A Rolling Pin
J.K. Adams Maple Wood French Dowel Rolling Pin
Speaking of making perfectly flaky pie crust, or festive sugar cookies, a rolling pin is a necessity for either project. A wine bottle may work in a pinch, but a tapered rolling pin will yield much better results (plus, it's way easier to clean). We love this model from J.K. Adams which stood out during testing for how even it was able to roll out pie dough without cracking. Save the wine for drinking, and use the rolling pin for its intended purpose.
A Honing Steel
Winware by Winco 12-Inch Sharpening Steel
There are many different honing steels out there, but before you even decide to invest in one, you should learn what it's actually for—i.e., not sharpening. They're actually for realigning your blade, so that the knife cuts through your food with less resistance. This stainless steel honing steel will do the job at a reasonable price. You can hone your knives as often as you like, especially if you cook a lot, but if you start to feel like honing isn't helping, then it's time to break out the whetstone and give them a real edge.
Oxo Good Grips Adjustable Hand-Held Mandoline Slicer
We did some testing to find the best cheap mandoline slicers, and the great news is that one of our favorites made the sub-$20 list. So what's all the fuss about a mandoline? It's key to getting slices of restaurant-level thinness and uniformity at home. Use it for making super-crisp potato chips or thinly shaved radishes for a salad. If you want to make a ratatouille like the one from the movie (technically a tian), a mandoline is essential for that, too.
Microplane Premium Classic Series Zester/Grater
For grating small shreds of hard cheese or citrus zest, a Microplane should be your tool of choice, and it won out over all the other rasp-style graters in our testing. It creates a fine shower of Parmesan cheese that'll melt right into a sauce, it can easily take the most delicate shavings off a lemon rind, and it'll turn garlic into a purée in no time. Just be careful to avoid shredding your skin while you use it. This can happen, and it hurts as much as you'd expect.
Ultra-Deep Cake Pans
Fat Daddio's 8x3-Inch Anodized Aluminum Round Cake Pan
When Stella says that her favorite cake pan is this one from Fat Daddio's, we listen. It's the brand she worked with at restaurants, and it continues to be her preferred model today. Why, you ask? For one thing, the anodized aluminum it's made from ensures that the cake pan itself is nonreactive, meaning you won't get weird flavors when using it with acidic batters. Second: the depth. Extra-tall sides act as a shield for your cake in the oven, so it rises nice and pale, with a delicate crust.
A Citrus Juicer
Chef'n FreshForce Citrus Juicer
Zak Designs Handheld Citrus Melamine Reamer
If you rely on freshly squeezed OJ in the morning, having an electric juicer at home can help you crank out a ton of juice at once. But if you need only a little bit for a recipe, why dirty up the whole contraption when you can use a quick-to-clean manual juicer instead? Our testing found the Chef'n FreshForce Citrus Juicer was a great juicer for lemons and limes. We also liked the Zak Designs Handheld Citrus Reamer, if you're interested in that style.