You've probably heard cooks or food people (and maybe we are guilty of this here at Serious Eats) lament the use of unitaskers, e.g., things with one very specific purpose, like avocado slicers, bagel cutters, or meat claws.
But what about the tools that are so useful and necessary that you need more than one? Have you ever started boiling pasta only to discover that your one and only strainer is in the dishwasher—and then abruptly stopped the dishwasher mid-cycle because you have nothing else to strain with? I sure have. Have you had to repeatedly wash and rewash a tool as you prep a recipe, stretching out what was supposed to be a 30-minute meal into a much longer affair? Yup, that's been me on a hurried weeknight.
Here's a list of items we find highly useful to have multiples of. Note: we didn't include cookware (that's a whole separate list!) or knives.
Two strainers (or more, of varying sizes)
Rösle Stainless Steel Round Handle Kitchen Strainer, 7.9-Inch
Yummy Kitchenware 9-Inch Fine Mesh Strainer
RSVP International Endurance Stainless Steel Colander
If you're going to have one strainer, it should be a fine-mesh strainer, capable of so much more than just straining pasta and other things we rinse or boil in water. But strainers are one of those items that can't really be substituted for anything else—at least not well or comfortably. We've all—or maybe this is just me—tried to strain pasta water out of a pot by holding the lid and carefully pouring out the water, only to a) have lots of pasta water still leftover in the pot or b) splash yourself with hot starchy water. Simple tasks can become unnecessarily cumbersome if your only strainer is out of commission for any reason (i.e., running merrily through the dishwasher, as we mentioned before).
Along with my pair of fine-mesh strainers, I also have a colander with larger holes, which isn't quite as much of a workhorse, but can handle larger batches of pasta and strain large pieces out of stock. I also have a small mesh strainer perfect for double-straining cocktails and tea drinks, along with straining out oil and water solutions for things like olives and pickles.
A handful of quarter and half sheet trays
Nordic Ware Naturals Aluminum Quarter Sheet
Nordic Ware Naturals Baker's Half Sheet
Quarter-sheet pans are my go-to for dry-brining meat. As you can probably guess, they're half the size of half-sheet pans.
Half-sheet pans are great for cooking and roasting, but I find quarter-sheet plans ideal for prep work and storage. I've gotten a little creative with my quarter-sheet pans (I have three), using them instead of half-sheet pans when I can, mostly because quarter-sheet pans fit in the toaster oven, which cooks food quicker for meals when I’m just feeding myself or one other person. But I also use quarter-sheet pans to wrap up leftovers I know are destined to be thrown in the oven (I'll cover the top with reusable beeswax covers or, in a pinch, aluminum foil).
Multiple sets of measuring spoons and cups
Amco Round Measuring Spoon Set
Norpro Stainless Steel Measuring Cups (Set of 5)
Oxo Good Grips 3-Piece Angled Measuring Cup Set
It is quite annoying to be going through a recipe and realize the measuring spoon you need is, say, slick with oil and not suitable for measuring spices until it's washed. It's worth having at least two (maybe three!) sets of measuring spoons. The same can be said for dry and liquid measuring cups. Having multiples around will save you a whole lot of time when prepping.
100-plus mini measuring cups
OXO Mini Angled Measuring Cup
Ok, maybe not 100, but I have at least 10 of these small measuring cups by OXO. Having multiple measuring cups makes recipe prep a breeze: you don't have to wash out your measuring cups as you set up ingredients, which can be particularly annoying if you measure out something liquid or viscous, like olive oil, and then realize you need the measuring cup or spoon for dried spices.
I like the OXO mini measuring cups, which hold about 1/4 cup of liquid; the cups also display measurements in milliliters, ounces, and tablespoons, so you can use them to measure almost anything. They have a flat bottom and can serve as vessels for your prepped ingredients.Continue to 5 of 14 below.
A few cutting boards
The BoardSmith Maple End-Grain Cutting Board
OXO Good Grips Carving and Cutting Board
OXO 2-Piece Cutting Board Set
For cutting boards, you need at least one large wooden one, one large plastic one, and one small plastic one. No arguments! After that, a very large wooden one is nice to have as well, as it can also act as a serving board. Having multiple cutting boards is great for keeping food prep safe, e.g. cutting meats on one board and saving vegetables for another to avoid cross-contamination.
Two-plus pairs of tongs
OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Tongs
OXO 12-Inch Silicone Tongs
How many pairs of tongs do I have? Don't ask. I have no idea, but it's more than two. Tongs can stir, scatter, and mix. Tongs can also pick stuff up and flip it, like a giant, dry-aged porterhouse steak. I've found myself in situations where I've used two tongs to flip over particularly large items, using the second set of tongs almost like a lever.
JB Prince Sauce Spoon
This is actually a pick from senior culinary director Daniel Gritzer: "I own one long-handled serving spoon, but I often find it annoying, since with home cooking I rarely need a metal spoon with such a long handle given the smaller pot size. It's nice to have one on occasion and for the table, but that's about it. Otherwise, sauce spoons that restaurant cooks use, both regular and slotted/perforated, are the way to go. They're less clunky thanks to their shorter handles, and make an easier transition between kitchen and dining table since they can be used in both places. And given how much use one gets out of this kind of spoon both in the kitchen and on the table, having a couple of each, or at least a couple of the solid (non-slotted) ones is very useful."
Tovolo Flex-Core All Silicone Spatula Turner
GIR: Get It Right Premium Silicone Spatula
I used to think silicone spatulas were only useful for baking—and I was wrong. Now silicone spatulas are what I'll use to scrape clean any plate, bowl, or dish. Why have just one!? Why have just two!?Continue to 9 of 14 below.
Microplane Premium Classic Series Zester/Grater
Microplane Classic Series Stainless Steel Zester
Microplanes can be challenging to clean, so I have two. One I use for things like garlic, ginger, and citrus. The second I use for cheese, mostly to prevent cross-contamination with the items listed above, which get stuck easily in a microplane. Cheese is also something I might just grate a small amount from a larger block, so I try to keep anything that’s touched strongly-scented or flavored things away from them. How you categorize your microplanes is up to you: if you bake a lot, you might want one for whole spices like nutmeg, for example.
A couple of vegetable peelers
Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler
Our favorite super-affordable vegetable peelers are well worth having a few stashed in your drawer. Maybe you're peeling two different things, maybe you want to enlist a peeling partner, maybe you're a fan of different colors! Don't even ask about swivel peelers—Y-peelers are way better.
FAAY Teak Cooking Spoon
You probably already have more than one wooden spoon, but if you don't get on it! They can be used for scrapping, stirring, and scooping—all things helpful. Plus, if you care for them (i.e. hand wash-only), they'll last a very long time. We have a few wooden spoons we recommend here.
Stainless steel prep bowls, of all sizes
FineDine Premium Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls
This doesn't need a lot of explanation: you need a ton of prep bowls. We like stainless steel ones. You can get a set like the one above or just go to a restaurant supply store (if you go the latter route, we recommend getting a lot of small ones).Continue to 13 of 14 below.
Two pepper mills
Fletchers' Mill Federal Pepper Mill
If we're getting really granular, having two pepper mills on hand is a very nice thing—one for black and one for white pepper.
Multiple ice cream scoops
Homure H Portion Scoops, Set of 3
For portioning out cookies, cupcakes, and muffins and scooping ice cream, it's helpful to have a few of these scoops on hand. You can also just go to a restaurant supply store to get these, but, either way, they shouldn't cost you a lot.
What essential kitchen gear do I need?
The list above comprises a lot of essentials (like tongs, spatulas, measuring spoons, etc.). However, we have guides to essential cookware and general essentials (including knives, cookware, cutting boards, and more).
Should I buy a kitchen utensil set?
We don't recommend buying a utensil set because, likely, you're getting some tools you don't actually need and that aren't the absolute best quality. Instead, we recommend buying things piece-by-piece. That way, you can also easily double up on tools you find you use the most.