Essential Kitchen Tools

Cast iron skillet and pot - essential kitchen items.
Cast iron skillet and pot - essential kitchen items.

Essential Kitchen Tools

Basic Kitchen Tool Philosophy

Let’s get something out of the way quickly: you don’t need a fancy kitchen or hundreds of kitchen tools and gadgets to produce superb Italian food at home.  There I’ve made a food claim that I categorically stand behind and encourage you to adopt when preparing food at home.  My bold claim stems from the countless women I’ve seen prepare outstanding meals (both in the United States and Italy) with modest kitchens and kitchen tools.

Second, and in the immortal words of the FoodTV personality Alton Brown, you shouldn’t own any kitchen gadget that doesn’t have more than one use.  So, for example, you’re not allowed to purchase or keep a pizza stone (please don’t yell at me), filled pancake pan from William Sonoma, fondue pot, stainless steel cream whipper, or a classic fish filet knife.

A fancy saute pan will not yield better results than a standard non stick fry pan and a $250.00 copper  pot will not make better risotto than a restaurant supply stainless steel pot.  However, there are some basic tools that any good home chef and love of Italian food should possess in his or her own home kitchen:

8 inch Chef’s Knife

A good knife is essential in any kitchen and it will quickly turn into your go-to tool when preparing any meal.  A decent knife will be easy to handle, feel good after both short term and long term use, and have nice balance in terms of weight.  A good chef’s knife will dice and mince and also be able to slice through butternut squash and carve a freshly roasted chicken.  There are tons of brands on the market from Wusthof, Senelli, and Kershaw.  Personally, I’ve owned a Henckel’s Four Star 8 inch Chef’s knife for well over 7 years and it’s performed beautifully (with constant sharpening of course, my preferred sharpener is the Chef’s Choice 110)

A fry pan is essential to any kitchen - skip the non stick and opt for a highly quality stainless steel model.
A fry pan is essential to any kitchen - skip the non stick and opt for a highly quality stainless steel model.

Pots and Pans

When it comes to a set of pots and pans you should not skimp.  All-Clad makes some wonderful 3 ply bonded stainless steel equipment and every home cook would benefit from owning a:

  • 12 inch fry pan for frying chicken cutlets, making a quick stir fry, etc.
  • 6 quart sauté’ pan for cooking swiss chard, steaming beans, etc.
  • 4 quart sauce pan for making risotto, tomato sauce, boiling water, etc.
  • 12 inch round grill pan for grilling chicken, pork chops, eggplant, etc.
  • 4 quart casserole for making soups, braises, etc.

You can find All-Cald sets at Bed Bath and Beyond and with one of their standard 20 percent coupons you can often purchase a set with the some of above items at a decent price.  I can tell you that All-Clad equipment will last a lifetime and you’ll be seriously impressed by the construction and performance.   You’ll also want at least one non stick pan but you don’t need to purchase an All-Clad pan, simply look for a restaurant quality pan (with non stick coating) that has a metal handle so you can pop the pan in the oven for finishing off a veal chop or a frittata.

Unless you’re a 70 year old Italian grandmother who can mince, cut meat, and pulverize garlic in one hand with a little plastic handle knife, you’ll want to get two sturdy/large cutting boards.  One should be dedicated to cutting fish, poultry, and meat (I use a standard plastic, anti-bacteria board) and one should be reserved for everything else (I don’t own a Boos Board ,which looks to be made of good material, but you could look for something similar – and make sure the board have anti-slip legs which prevent the board from moving around on the countertop).  Oh, if you don’t have stone countertops then you may want to find a third board for rolling out dough (preferably one made out of marble).

Tongs, Wooden and Metal Spoons (slotted and solid), Thin Spatula, Mixing Bowls (glass and metal)

A good stainless steel tong is essential for tossing salad, mixing and turning foods while sautéing or frying, etc.  The rest of items are no brainers, but make sure you buy enough of each so you’re prepared for large dinner parties and multi-course meals.

See Part II of this series, “More Essential Kitchen Tools“>>


  1. Wow. These posts have been really great lately. Excellent job, Vin. I will have to say however that my pizza stone doubles as a great paper weight.

  2. Thanks, Evan! Find one more use for your pizza stone and then you can keep it! ; – )

  3. Nice post. I like Alton Brown a lot, he keeps Food Network real. I appreciate your tips. I am also all for multi-purpose use/function of kitchen items. However, I love the pizza stone, you can bake cookies (they don’t stick) and other rising dough goodies (like pillsbury crescent rolls filled with spinach and artichokes). You can also bake a breaded chicken breast (instead of frying)! Cheers.

  4. Evan, I’d like to take full credit for Scordo turning his blog around. It was torture before. I told him to keep it real. Great job Vin.

  5. Hi Selvi,
    Didn’t realize pizza stones have so many uses, I may revised my comment! I’m trying to stay away from frying, but if fry well (that is with a real good exterior layer) no oil should penetrate and you’ll actually get a minimal amount of oil in your end product! Cheers.

  6. Indeed, Vin did tell me to keep it real and I did: turning to practical entries instead of philosophical waning on economic issues and the mind/body problem. Three, BeerFest, Cheers to Vin R.!

  7. I have a pizza stone. And besides pizza, calzones, strombolis and the afformentioned uses, I use it for bread. It makes nice crusty bread! Especially if you spritz inside the oven with water at the beginning and in the middle of baking to create steam (just don’t spritz the bread). Sprinkle the stone with cornmeal before placing the dough on and you don’t have to worry about it sticking. I can’t believe that someone would think that a pizza stone has only one use! HA!

  8. It seems like you really use your pizza stone lots!
    I like to buy kitchen tools that I use often and to tell you the truth while me make pizza at least once a month, I don’t think it’s enough for us in terms of storing the stone and making room for it. Also, beyond baking some sort of bread product, it really only has one use.
    However, if you bake often (like once a week) a pizza stone is essential! Enjoy the pizza and watch the carbs ; – )

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  16. Good quality stainless steel and other equipments in your kitchen will prove to be beneficial.

  17. Pizza stone is fine. Just keep it in the oven and bake everything on it. It evens out the oven temperature.

  18. A filet knife is very useful in the kitchen. Seeding mangoes for example.

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