10 utensils you really need to cook everything (and three you don't)

The kitchen is one place than seems to gather more unused items and pointless gadgets than most.
The kitchen is one place than seems to gather more unused items and pointless gadgets than most. Photo: Shutterstock

If you're throwing it all out and starting again, make sure you have these 10 essential utensils in your arsenal, says chef Andy Allen.

If, like us, you have become obsessed with Marie Kondo's viral Netflix show about "joyfully decluttering life", you have more than likely been throwing out everything in sight. Clothes, be gone. Noisy fan that gathers dust, goodbye. Strange clothing horse thing that never stayed up, see you later. Weird kitchen thingy-majiggy you received four Christmases back, bye-bye forever.

The kitchen is one place than seems to gather more unused items and pointless gadgets than most. Yet, however much you seek to cleanse your cupboards and drawers of superfluous items, there are specific utensils that will always serve you well. So, we asked chef and Three Blue Ducks co-owner Andy Allen for his list of necessary kitchen utensils.

Knives

Japanese sushi chefs hold their knives in such high regard they bury them when they have reached the end of their usefulness. In order to do anything in the kitchen, chances are you'll need a knife to do it. "Whether you're slicing, dicing, crushing, peeling or something in between, a good chef knife can, and should, last you years," Allen says.

There is a reason chefs carry their own from kitchen to kitchen. Investing in a decent set of knives from the offset will often save you money in the future. "Look for varying sizes in robust materials with even weights from handle to tip. I'd go for stainless steel as once you get a super sharp edge, it'll stay sharper, for longer."

However much you seek to cleanse your cupboards and drawers of superfluous items, there are specific utensils that will ...
However much you seek to cleanse your cupboards and drawers of superfluous items, there are specific utensils that will always serve you well.  Photo: Shutterstock

Cutting board

The debate over plastic versus wood will continue. Many favour wood for its aesthetics and sustainability while others prefer plastic for its lighter weight. Whatever your persuasion, "ensure that your cutting board is up to the task", says Allen who advises getting something that has some weight to it and doesn't slip on the counter.

"The board is your ground zero. It's the counterweight to your knife so make sure that it's sturdy enough to take the punishment. If you've been living under a chopping board your whole life, be sure to place a wet piece of paper towel, Chux, or tea towel under the board, which will keep it stable."

Mixing bowl

Ditch the plastic and glass for a stainless-steel mixing bowl, Allen says. "Most kitchens use stainless steel because of its robustness and versatility. They can be chilled and heated at a fast rate, which helps if you're into ice-creams, meringues and hot chocolate sauces." They'll also most likely last longer than you will.

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Measuring cups/spoons

You may think you can just "guess it" for most recipes and chances are, for the most part, you're probably right. But if you're looking to follow a new recipe or you're dealing with a variety of dry goods for a complex bake, you'll need measuring devices. Measuring cups and spoons are small, compact, inexpensive and can help with everything from baking a cake to portioning single serves of rice and pasta. "Even chefs overestimate the pasta thing," Allen says.

Can opener

There's nothing worse than needing to get into a can of coconut milk while your onions are over-browning and you discover you have no ring pull. Get an old-fashioned robust can opener. "Seriously, surely none of you out there have an electric can opener. Commercial kitchens are all about efficiency but practicality, and the good old manual can opener has stood the test of time."

Colander

Boiled potatoes, rice, pasta, vegies and salad: a colander does one job and one job well. It drains. There are many on the market to choose from starting with traditional metal ones through to colourful pliable and foldable designs.

The board is your ground zero. It's the counterweight to your knife so make sure that it's sturdy enough to take the punishment.

Andy Allen

"When choosing your colander, size does matter. Make sure you choose a vessel that won't leave you short when draining your next bowl of pasta," Allen says. You may live on your own but if you're planning to do good on a family roast sometime in the future, you don't want to be lacking on the roasties because your colander is the size of an orange. 

Wooden spoon

Forget chefs, ask a nonna and she'll tell you all you need to cook a decent meal is a wooden spoon and a big pot. Perhaps you need a little more than that, but show me a chef without a wooden spoon and I'll show you a fraud. Wooden spoons primarily prevent the scratching of your pans, which in turn stops your food from catching and your non-stick coating from disappearing into the washing-up bowl – or worse your food.

Pans

Stainless steel, ceramic or non-stick? When it comes to the pan debate the answer comes down to one simple thing – use. "Commercial kitchens by their nature cook a lot of food. Most have stainless steel pans because they can take the battering that is required of them, and the washing and scrubbing that comes after," Allen says.

Teflon pans have a non-stick coating but some have the potential to emit toxic substances into your food when heated to very high temperatures. By contrast, ceramic has a different make-up and doesn't have the toxicity. Cast iron is another non-stick option, but can be very heavy, although new wrought-iron pans on the market are significantly lighter. 

"Like a good knife, if you invest and spend the money on something decent, you'll be thanking me in years to come. You can't fake quality when it comes to a good set of pans, so save up and buy the goods." 

Thermometer

A thermometer is a fundamental piece of kit when cooking large joints of meat. Not only does it help you ascertain how rare the meat is, but it also enables you to check the safety of the core temperature. "Take the guessing out of it. You'll thank me once you buy a digital thermometer and download your cooking temp charts," Allen says.

Scales

Whether you're baking, stewing, brewing, sauteing or all three, there comes a time when you need to know how much something weighs. A great pair of scales is always a handy tool to have lying around. "How many times have you been forced to guess what 250 grams of flour looks like? Here's a thought – invest in a set of scales for $15 and there will be no more guessing." 

Three utensils you really, truly do not need

Any type of dedicated "slicer"

Kitchen real estate should come at a premium. This means anything that does not serve a variety of purposes should be gone faster than a toupee in a hurricane. A dedicated avocado slicer, tomato slicer, banana slicer, onion slicer, vegie dicer or a celery chopper should be forever removed from your cupboards. "A knife (and a mandolin) can complete all these jobs for you."

Egg poacher

You can be forgiven for wanting a perfectly good poached egg every time but "you really don't need an egg-poaching contraption to make this happen," Allen says. Not only do they turn your eggs into strange jellified overcooked pudding things, they also never quite fit in a dishwasher. 

Pizza baker

Unless you actually have an outdoor pizza oven, a pizza baker is just a table-top oven. Allen questions claims that smaller pizza bakers cook more evenly. "I have found them to rarely be small and the advantages of the oven you already own is that it cooks everything – including pizzas."