As the Serious Eats Commerce Editor, I'm inclined to say that all of the gear we've tested and recommend is absolutely fantastic. And by inclined, I mean I'm right.
But even for the SE team, there are some items we've written about that end up sticking out to us more than we initially realized. Here you'll find an absolutely non-exhaustive list of that vein of equipment; not the items we consider to be essentials, but instead the less-obvious gear that makes us better cooks. You won't find, say, a cast iron skillet or food processor (which, again, we of course think are well-worth having), but things like a pan for saucing pasta, a small angled measuring cup, and a Japanese poultry knife.
And if you see something on the list below and think, "Hey, I already have X and it's not really that great," consider whether you have the right version of that product. Because our recommendations are specifically tailored to the items we linked—the ones we've found to be tried and true.
The Perfect Pan for Pasta
This pan is large and deep enough to hold several servings of pasta and sauce and still leaves enough space for vigorous stirring and tossing. As Daniel Gritzer, Senior Culinary Director, explains here: "My cacio e pepe, made the traditional way with nothing more than cheese, pepper, and pasta water, is now foolproof, all thanks to the pan's capacity and excellent heat conduction. If you've had trouble with that pasta sauce before, this pan will get you one step closer to perfecting it."
An Incredibly Agile Bread Knife
I'm not sure a more nimble serrated knife exists than the Tojiro Bread Slicer (aka our overall serrated bread knife top pick). Its flexible, thin blade cuts through bread with ease, thinly slices tomatoes without tearing, and deftly peels butternut squash. Plus, it's about $20. And if you already have a bread knife, I can almost guarantee it's not nearly as dextrous.
Basic (But, Also, The Best) Y-Peelers
These Y-peelers are sharp, cheap, and, as Daniel says, "CATEGORICALLY SUPERIOR" to swivel peelers. You can use them with either hand and they have a wide handle and an even wider blade. They peel better and more efficiently and are undoubtedly worth their $5-a-pop price tag. If you still are using a swivel peeler, we cannot recommend switching enough.
A Small Japanese Poultry Knife
For butchering poultry, Senior Editor Sho Spaeth reaches for a honesuki or Japanese poultry knife, which has a short, sharp, triangular, and most-likely single-beveled blade. As Sho writes, "While unitaskers get a bad rap because they can only do one thing, there's something to be said for a tool whose sole purpose is to execute a single task better than any other. And the honesuki truly excels at taking apart birds! Something about the knife's design makes it entirely intuitive to use; you're able to make precise cuts from a variety of angles, due to its small size, and it comes to feel as if it's a natural extension of your hand."
A Super Quick, Super Accurate Instant-Read Thermometer
I'm not going to go into why every (that's right, every) cook should invest in a great instant-read thermometer (however, you can read Sho's article devoted to exactly that here). But if you bake, roast, poach, deep-fry, or grill, having an instant-read thermometer on hand helps to ensure you don't overcook—or, heck, undercook—things. After extensive testing, the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE is our top pick. If $100 for a thermometer is a no-go, our budget-friendly choice is the ThermoPop. And if you're wondering if that cheap, $15 thermometer you got off Amazon will do the trick, the answer is that it's probably incredibly slow and not worth using.
Smaller Sheet Pans
Obviously, half sheet pans are functional and worth buying. But don't overlook their smaller siblings: the quarter and eighth sheet pans. You can use them for cooking small portions of protein (like 1- to 2-pound roasts), mise en place, cooling grains, holding washed, dried greens and herbs, defrosting small amounts of shrimp, and "torching things, like sliced chashu for ramen or small fish," Sho says. He also employs them as a caddy for cooking utensils.
An Tiny, Angled Measuring Cup
For measuring small amounts of liquid (four tablespoons or 1/4 cup or less), the little OXO angled measuring cup is it. Instead of having to measure out two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, olive oil, etc. and pour it into a separate small, bowl you can do it all in the OXO. It also makes a great jigger. I own about four of them (and a couple of these stainless steel ones, for those wary of plastic).
A Great Pair of Kitchen Shears
While you might already have kitchen shears, are they really that great? Do they struggle to snip herbs? Do you find they simply cannot spatchcock a chicken? If you're curious, you can read all about kitchen shears handiness here, divided by obvious use cases and fun ones you probably haven't thought about. You won't regret upgrading to one of our favorite pairs of kitchen shears that are linked above.
A Powerful Immersion Blender
I replaced my very old, very cheap immersion blender with our top pick from All-Clad and, oh my, is it powerful. If you don't already own an immersion blender you should—it's easily storable and can blend, emulsify, and purée. Smoothies, soups, mayonnaise, sauces, dips, and a whole bunch of miscellaneous tasks: an immersion blender can do all of these and more. And, yes, it's worth having both an immersion blender and a blender-blender.
If you haven't heard of a Chef's Press before, head here to read our in-depth explainer on why a Chef's Press is helpful for achieving ideal browning. But what size Chef's Press do you get? "I have two lighter ones and a heavier one, and only ever use the heavier one," Sho says. Although Daniel adds that, "I ended up buying a couple heavier ones too, but the lighter ones are fine for smaller things and do a good job when stacked." So, hey, if you get a couple of each, you'll be in good company.
A More-than-Fine Fine-Mesh Strainer
Another upgrade I made recently was getting our top recommended fine-mesh strainer from Rösle. And I can't say enough good things about it. Instead of a flat handle, it features a rounded one that's especially ergonomic and easy to grip onto, when, say, you're draining a hearty portion of pasta for one. My old strainer had a squat, solid piece of metal on the rim opposite the handle...and wouldn't rest of a bowl stably. The Rösle has a large bowl hook, which will make straining all sorts of this (pastry creams, sauces, etc.) that much easier. And, yes, it's $50, but I'll also have it for a very long time, so I don't mind making the investment.
A Chinese Cleaver
You can read more about why we recommend the all-purpose Chinese cleaver here, but here's an excerpt: "You wouldn't want to use one of these to hack through even the smallest bones; the blade is large, but it's thin and delicate. Instead, it should be used for the types of tasks you might reach for a Western chef's knife or Japanese santoku to do: dice, mince, and julienne vegetables; chop herbs; and slice boneless fish and meats, both raw and cooked." It can also double as a bench scraper (see below).
A Multi-Use Bench Knife
For transferring ingredients from the cutting board to a prep bowl, folding, dividing, and transferring portions of dough, and even gently dropping gnocchi into boiling water, a bench scraper (or bench knife) is mighty helpful to have on hand.
Plenty of Cooling Racks
We've already written about why cooling racks belong in every kitchen, but it's worth stating again. "I mostly use mine for draining fried foods, cooling any hot foods, dry-brining meat, and when I'm glazing or pouring ganache over quick breads and cakes," Kristina Razon, Associate Editor, says. While you may already own a cooling rack, do you have the kind with six little feet that are ultra-stable and actually fit in your sheet pan? No? Well, it's probably time to upgrade.
Plastic Shoe Boxes
Several staffers voiced their love for these plastic shoe boxes, which are like storage wunderkinds for both the fridge and pantry. You can stash produce (like washed and dried greens) and really most dry goods, like bags of grains, dried beans, pasta, and more in them.
Reusable Food Wrap and Bags
Lastly, while we haven't reviewed either of these items, we thought they were worth mentioning for those who are trying to tackle their single-use plastic usage (like myself). "Two other life-changing things in my kitchen have been a collection of those beeswax wrappers to largely replace plastic wrap, and silicone Stasher bags to largely replace disposable ziplock bags," Daniel says. "Huge, huge difference in how much plastic waste I'm generating ever since investing in that stuff."