So someone in your life has decided to make the foray into the wonderful world of cooking—good on ‘em! With so many products out there, it’s easy for a budding cook to get overwhelmed and not know where to begin with their culinary collection. Luckily, you can help them start them off on the right foot—we’re sure it’s a completely altruistic endeavor and has nothing to do with the possibility that you may benefit from their new hobby.
Whenever we shop for new cooks, we think back to our own starting mistakes. Why did we wait so long to buy an instant-read thermometer? Or a scale? Or a mortar and pestle? These essentials have helped us become better cooks and will help any budding cook with their first forays into the kitchen. In this vein, we’ve compiled a roundup of the kitchen tools and accessories we wish someone would have given us in our nascent cooking days.
While your budding cooking buddy may have a few family recipe cards (or perhaps you’ve even shared some of your favorite recipes), it can never hurt to have some professional tips and tricks on hand, too. Fortunately, we have a whole list of tried and true introductory cookbook recommendations. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman and The Essentials of Cooking by James Peterson, for instance, are two classic references for basics like how to roast a chicken and how to master the five French mother sauces.
A Nice Pan (or Three)
Different pans have different fans, but we’re of the opinion that they all have their place in the kitchen. Three in particular are on our starter-pack list: a cast iron skillet, a stainless steel skillet and a nonstick fry pan.
The first may need a little more TLC than its brethren, but the results are always well worth the extra steps. Hailed for its ability to last a lifetime and aptitude for handling multitude of dishes (pizza, fried chicken, seared steak, golden cornbread, you name it), every novice can learn a great deal from owning a cast iron pan.
The stainless steel skillet, meanwhile, is a bit lighter and better at conducting heat than its cast iron counterpart. It's the tool you turn to when you need to pan-roast a whole chicken or rapidly brown a bunch of veggies. Out of the 25 different brands and variations we tested, the Made-In 10-Inch Stainless Steel Skillet blew the competition out of the water. This no-nonsense skillet heats evenly, features a comfortable handle that makes tossing sautéed vegetables a breeze, and sears chicken breasts beautifully—all for a reasonable price.
Finally, it’s always a smart move to have a standard non-stick pan on hand (but keep it cheap; they never last too long) for stickier situations like omelets and pancakes.
A Super-Sharp Knife
With so many knives out there—serrated, petty, paring, cleaver, nakiri, you name it—it can be overwhelming when you’re first building out your cooking tool collection. But the one knife that everyone should have is a chef’s knife. Usually clocking in at 8-inches in blade length, this versatile knife can be used to break down chickens and prep vegetables and for a myriad of other cutting tasks.
Our go-to Japanese-style chef’s knife is the Misono UX10 Gyutou Knife, a lightweight Japanese chef’s knife with a nimble, razor-sharp blade. Unlike Western styles, Gyutou blades have a brittle, asymmetrical edge, and they require a little more skill to keep the blade nice and sharp (read: you might want to learn how to use a whetstone). But, while a little more work to maintain, any cook will be drawn to the task once they feel its smooth glide through an onion.
If you’re looking for a sturdier, Western-style knife with more of a curved blade, the Wusthof 8-inch Classic Chef’s Knife is, well, a classic. It’s bigger and heavier than the Misono, but still handles well and delivers a sharp, precise cut.
An Air Fryer (Trust Us!)
You might be surprised to know that here at Serious Eats, we actually quite like air fryers. These countertop-friendly appliances make it easy (and mess-free) to cook up all manner of crispy foods: french fries, chicken wings, crunchy Brussels sprouts, and even kale chips, if you're still into making those. And our favorite air fryer from Instant does all these things with ease. We love it's larger capacity, which ensures even browning and doneness, and it's easy-to-use digital interface. Trust us, the newbie cook in your life will be singing it's praises every time they see you and remember your gift.
Price at time of publish: $120Continue to 5 of 26 below.
Boards That Make the Cut
We can’t advocate for the purchase of a fantastic knife without also recommending a just-as-remarkable surface to use it on. But first, you have to pick your poison: wood or plastic. A wooden cutting board is a fine addition to every cook’s collection, known for being durable, easy on the knives, and easy on the eyes (we have you covered on how to season and maintain one here). The BoardSmith maple end-grain cutting board lives up to all three. Plastic cutting boards are another (inexpensive) option that, bonus, can be tossed in the dishwasher. We like the OXO cutting board set for its size(s), lightweight feel, and longevity. Still not sure which type to go for? See our full wood vs. plastic cutting board breakdown here.
A Couple of Sheet Pans
Sheet pans aren't just for cookies: these often unsung heroes of the cookware cabinet also take on the likes of roasted veggies, dry brined chicken, and sheet-pan dinners. Made from aluminized steel, we think the Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Commercial Baker’s Half Sheet Pan is a top contender thanks to its convenient and comfortable rolled edge and its resistance to warping.
Price at time of publish: $24
Working with a good pair of tongs is like having a second set of hands in the kitchen. They help with an array of tasks, including deftly flipping sheet pan veggies or wrangling noodles from a boiling pot—but all tongs are not equal.
The scalloped silicone ends on the OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Tongs are not only heat-safe up to 600°F, but also perform all of the above (and more) without scratching any sensitive cookware surfaces. And the non-slip handle features comfortable thumb rests perfect for marathon cooking days.
For a lighter pair that takes up less space in the drawer, the Cuisipro Stainless Steel Locking Tongs are the way to go. The set’s clever hinge design doubles as both a spring and a locking mechanism and the sturdy yet subtle head angle makes grabbing and going a cinch.
A Fast-Draining Colander
If you love pasta, a good colander is a must. Out of all the freestanding options, our pick is the RSVP International Endurance Stainless Steel Colander. The stainless steel model strikes the perfect balance between light and durable, while the perforations allow for quick drainage with no noodles lost and no dreaded backwash.
For an over the sink option, we like the one from U.S. Kitchen Supply. Its extendable handles span up to two feet and remain sturdy even under the weight of a pound of pasta.Continue to 9 of 26 below.
A Quick, Accurate Digital Thermometer
Instant-read thermometers are an absolute lifesaver in the kitchen—whether you’re preparing mom’s meatloaf or your first Thanksgiving turkey, this gadget will tell you when your food is properly cooked. Our favorite is the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE—it’s fast, accurate, and will last a long time before needing recalibration. If you’re looking for a smaller (and less expensive) option, we also recommend the ThermoWorks Thermopop, which would make an excellent stocking stuffer (so many colors!).
A Handy Kitchen Timer
You might think this gadget is superfluous, but think back to a time when you needed to keep an eye on a roast chicken, but your phone was busy displaying the recipe and playing music, your oven was already keeping track of the potatoes, and just who owns an analog clock nowadays, anyway? Trust us, any cook in your life will thank you for it, especially if you go with the (affordable, colorful) ThermoWorks TimeStick. Its count-down and count-up timers are incredibly easy to use and its pocket-size shape and attached lanyard make it easy to keep on hand.
Price at time of publish: $25
A Do-it-All Dutch Oven
While we do see the merits of a multi-cooker, a Dutch oven is the original kitchen multitasker, and, in our opinion, a kitchen essential. Its versatility can’t be matched—use it to make a variety of soups, stews, and braises, as well as deep-fried treats and even bread. Plus, a good Dutch oven will last a lifetime (consider it a family heirloom!). We recommend investing in either the Le Creuset 5.5-Quart Round Dutch Oven or the Staub 5.5-Quart Enameled Cast Iron Round Dutch Oven, both of which have proven track records and aced our tests.
One Powerful Stand Mixer
Does your chef-in-the-making also have their eye on baking? If so, a quality stand mixer is a must for most pastry and cake recipes. We have a clear-cut winner in this realm: the KitchenAid 6-Quart Professional Stand Mixer is the best of the best. It’s a powerful machine with a sleek design—an unbeatable combo. Plus, with so many attachments (like a pasta roller and meat grinder), it’s a one-stop-shop for making all kinds of fancy foods.
Price at time of publish: $506Continue to 13 of 26 below.
Tools for Measuring Success
While many seasoned chefs boast the ability to gauge ingredient amounts by eye or make dishes from memory, newbies should probably stick to the correct measuring tools to ensure the best results. A set of steel and glass measuring cups for dry and liquid ingredients, respectively, is a good place to start. Yet keep in mind that volume isn't the only (or best) way to measure out a recipe's ingredients. For accuracy and ease of use (especially with baking projects), a digital kitchen scale is hard to beat (our winner, the OXO 11-Pound Stainless Steel Food Scale is spot-on) and it makes for a great gift.
A Worthwhile Wooden Spoon
There’s a reason why every kitchen has one—this simple, inexpensive tool can do most everything (and we can prove it). While there are a number of spoon varieties to choose from and everyone has their preference in terms of feel and shape, we're partial to the Le Creuset Wooden Scraping Spoon for its wide head, flat scraping edge and ergonomic handle.
Price at time of publish: $36
A Clearly-Superior-Than-a-Swivel-Model Y-Peeler
Chances are, your chef-to-be has a peeler in their drawer. So, why should they swap it for a Y-peeler? We’ve made the case before and we’ll make it again: the Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler is unmatched. Its carbon steel blade cleanly and effortlessly peels all that's put before it, including root vegetables, fruits, hard cheese, and more. Its light, wide handle is also easy to hold for both righties and lefties alike.
Price at time of publish: $8
A Better Box Grater
Another must-have in the prep category is a box grater that can masterfully shred a block of cheese into ribbons (or itty bitty bits, if that's what the directions call for). In our (highly tested) opinion, the best all-around box grater is the Cuisipro Surface Glide Technology 4-Sided Boxed Grater. Each side is covered in satisfyingly sharp etched holes that always deliver the desired shred. Bonus: It’s surprisingly easy to clean.
Price at time of publish: $42Continue to 17 of 26 below.
A Warp-Resistant Wire Cooling Rack
All kitchens deserve to have a wire cooling rack. We’d even go as far as to call it an unsung hero of the cooking world, offering optimal circulation for brining, roasting, cooking, and even draining (seriously, it comes in handy for our oven-fried buffalo wings). Made of thick, strong wire that won’t warp, Mrs. Anderson’s Baking Half Sheet Baking and Cooling Rack is a first-class find. It nests comfortably inside our favorite half sheet baking pans and it’s easy to clean, which is always a win.
Price at time of publish: $16
An Instant Pot for Easy Pressure-Cooking
When someone says “multi-cooker,” there’s a very good possibility that your mind immediately goes to an Instant Pot. The brand has long dominated the multi-cooker game, and for good reason. They are as effective and dependable as they are recognizable. If you’re looking to spoil your giftee (in which case, you may just want to check out this list of splurge items, too), we recommend the Instant Pot Pro 10-in-1 Pressure Cooker. It’s the best model all-around, able to work quickly and saute and brown ingredients with ease. It also has a number of special features, including a steam release switch.
But, if you aren’t quite ready to commit to a $150-plus price tag, the Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-1 Programmable Electric Pressure Cooker is a respectable, less expensive option.
A Powerful Blender
For frozen cocktails, smoothies, purees, soups, and sauces, blenders are an invaluable asset for cooks, both fresh and seasoned. The best models are the ones that are intuitive to use, are easy to empty and clean, and that have common presets for blending, crushing ice, and so on. And while we love a Vitamix, we realize that, for a beginner cook, it might be too much. That’s why we also recommend the Cuisinart Hurricane Blender; it ticks off all of the above, plus a handsome design, a pragmatic sensor, and a penchant for producing the smoothest of smoothies.
Price at time of publish: $200
A-More-Than-Fine Fine Mesh Strainer
Strainers often fly under the radar when it comes to cooking utensils, but don’t count this multipurpose tool out. They’re essential for sifting flour, creating silky smooth sauces, dusting desserts with powdered sugar, and more. The Rösle Stainless Steel Round Handle Kitchen Strainer, 7.9-Inch is super sturdy and stable, with a mesh basket that catches even the tiniest of particles and a cushy ergonomic handle.
Price at time of publish: $56Continue to 21 of 26 below.
The One Roasting Pan We Actually Like
Normally, we raise a skeptical eyebrow at pricey roasting pans that oftentimes can be replaced with a solid sheet pan and wire rack (indeed, we have a very opinionated piece by Kenji on the matter). But senior culinary director Daniel Gritzer recently found a roasting pan that he liked so much, he wrote a love letter about it. The Misen roasting pan is actually worth buying, Gritzer argues, because of its high-enough sides (but not so high so as to steam your food), standard half sheet pan size (meaning you could fit a half-sheet pan sized wire rack inside it, if you so choose), and its sturdy, stainless steel clad aluminum construction. "All of this adds up to a roasting pan that delivers great browning and crisping of whatever is on it, with good enough heat conduction, durability, and volume for searing, pre-heating, deglazing, and holding moderate amounts of liquids," he writes. He's convinced us, and we think whoever the newbie cook in your life is will thank you when they volunteer to host Thanksgiving, and have this pan in their equipment arsenal.
Price at time of publish: $135
Stemmed or Stemless Wine Glasses
A nice bottle of wine is often the perfect accompaniment to a delicious meal, and so a cook should never go wanting for good glasses to serve it in. If you’re looking for a sommelier-approved universal stemmed option, we like the Riedel Vinum Grand Cru Riesling/Zinfandel Wine Glass; they’re great for reds, whites, pet nats, bubblies, and more. If you’re looking for something a little more casual (and clumsy-friendly), we love the Schott Zwiesel Tritan Forte Universal Tumbler; it's sturdy but elegant, and versatile enough to serve cocktails as well as wine.
(Reusable!) Swedish Dish Towels
As we all know, the best kitchen is a clean kitchen, so why not arm your new cooking buddy with the power of easy, effective, and eco-friendly sanitation? There’s a reason we have long sung the praises of the Wettex Swedish dishcloth. Made from a combination of cellulose and cotton (think: paper towel meets sponge), these pretty packaged imports are incredibly absorbent and long lasting. The brand that invented them, Wettex, even claims that a single one of their towels can replace up to 15 rolls of paper towels. Plus, you can’t beat the price: Just $13 for a pack of 10 on Amazon.
Price at time of publish: $13
Oven Mitts and Cut-Proof Gloves (for Safety!)
Okay, an addendum to the above recommendation: the best kitchen is a clean and safe kitchen. We don’t want any cooking adventures to end in trips to the emergency room!! A good oven mitt and/or pair of cut resistant gloves will keep fingers safe and burn/cut-free. The Gorilla Grip Heat Resistant Silicone Oven Mitts Set is a stand out amongst the hot-pot-holding competition thanks to the mitts’ flexibility, gripability and capacity to comfortably fit a variety of hand sizes. Meanwhile, the NoCry Cut Resistant Gloves are our other favorite safety measure. As promised, their highly durable material will ensure no tears will be shed if/when your novice cook has their first wayward chopping incident.Continue to 25 of 26 below.
A Truly Comfortable Apron
The Hedley & Bennett Crossback Apron is a favorite not only for its stylish look, but the way its crossback strap design alleviates neck pressure that other styles can pose. Plus, the various pockets and hip loop (for a towel!) will be much appreciated.
Price at time of publish: $95
Last but not least, there’s a reason why there are so many sayings that refer to the heat of the kitchen. All cooks, beginners and masters, should remember to stay hydrated throughout their recipe making (and beyond), and a good water bottle is an easy way to keep them on task. We’re talking a bottle that can hold a decent amount of (chilled!) H2O, has a straw for smooth sipping, and that can withstand the inevitable knock-overs during a hectic meal prep session.
First up we have the Owala Free Sip Vacuum Water Bottle. We love the fact that the bottle offers two water-to-mouth delivery options: a straw for casual sipping and a spout for chugging. It also wins points for being leakproof, sporting two strategically indents on the sides for easy gripping, and for fitting snugly in most standard cup holders.
The trendy-and-true Hydro Flask 24 oz Wide Mouth With Straw is a no frills bottle with a slim and sleek body ideal for those who are always on the go. The cap is another draw, featuring an unobtrusive handle just big enough to loop a finger through and a built-in straw that is easy to tuck away when not in use.
Okay, admittedly our third pick, the Contigo Courtland Chill, does not come with a straw, but it's worth noting that the mouth’s narrow opening does still provide a nice, fluid (sorry, we had to) sipping experience at a budget-friendly price.
What do you get someone who is just learning to cook?
For someone who's figuring out the basics, a helpful cookbook or two is sure to please. We have a list of our essential cookbooks here.
What do you buy a kid that likes to cook?
Well, it just so happens we have an entirely separate gift guide devoted to cooking gift for kids!