My kitchen must-haves

It’s that time of year where I find myself spending more time in the kitchen. There’s soup to throw on the stove regularly and roasts to put in the oven. There’s all manner of holiday baking and of course we’re making batch after batch of addictive spiced nuts.

I’m grateful for the tools that help me create great meals that don’t take all day and for the ones that are a part of our morning rhythms. All this baking and cooking had me thinking about what other people consider to be their kitchen must-haves and I thought you might be curious about mine.

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Cuisinart immersion blender.

I use mine all the time because it’s easy to get out, easy to clean, and easy to put away. They come in stainless steel and all kinds of pretty colors. I use mine to purée soups and sauces, make homemade mayo, whip cream, blend hummus, mix pancake batter, and more.

Le Creuset dutch oven.

These heirloom-quality pots are gorgeous, versatile, and really freaking expensive. I resisted getting one—even on someone else’s dime; mine was a generous gift—because of that, but I use it five days a week in the winter. Friends swear by Lodge, if you’re looking for something less expensive.

My kitchen must-haves

Preserved lemons.

I know I go on and on about these but they truly are amazing. I use the recipe from from Vivian Howard’s cookbook, This Will Make It Taste Good, and follow her method EXACTLY. They’re inexpensive to make (though pricey at the store), wonderful to have on hand, and make a great gift.

Instant Pot.

This was a Black Friday impulse buy a few years ago and I’ve never looked back. It makes it so darn easy to make chicken stock, braised vegetables, hard-boiled eggs (that I can actually peel!), pots of beans, and cauliflower soup without me having to babysit the stove. It also helps me put healthy meals on the table, faster.

Fresh herbs.

From year to year, I forget how magical it is to have big planters filled with fresh parsley, thyme, rosemary, and basil just out my kitchen door.

My kitchen must-haves

Great cookbooks.

I have my cherished go-to cookbooks, of course. I’ve also been working my way through Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Vivian Howard’s This Will Make It Taste Good: A New Path to Simple Cooking.

Casserole dish.

This HIC Lasagna Pan has served me well for years. We have two and use them constantly.

Parchment paper.

I used to only use this to line my pans for baked goods, while sticking to foil for roasting meats and veggies. But I stopped reaching for foil altogether a while back because I like the parchment results better. (We get ours from Grove; this is my referral link and it gets new customers a free gift set and free shipping on their first order.)

A reader alerted me to the existence of parchment paper baking sheets, which make it even easier!

Chipotle peppers in adobo.

I love just a dash of these for adding smoke and heat to countless recipes. We buy them canned; then keep them in the freezer for easy access. The frozen peppers are a cinch to chop.

A great chef’s knife.

A good knife will transform your relationship with cooking. This was a Cooks Illustrated recommendation years ago, and (bonus!) it costs just half what other top-rated brands do.

Pretty salad bowls.

In the summer, I tend to eat some kind of salad for lunch everyday. A salad is better in the right bowl, and I’m so glad a kind friend gave me these pretty and functional salad bowls. My kids love them, too.

Louisville Stoneware serving bowls.

When it comes to serving those salads, I use ones from local company Louisville Stoneware. They have the perfect options.

Better Than Bouillon.

I first learned about this from a chef friend; it is MAGIC. I used to be a homemade chicken stock purist, but I became a convert a couple of years ago when I was halfway through making a big batch of lentil soup and realized we were out of stock and I didn’t have time to make more. I subbed in Better Than Bouillon, and the results were so good I’ve never looked back.

I get mine at Costco but more flavors are available online.

Kitchen scale.

This is a trick because I don’t love my current scale, even though I brew my daily coffee by weight and vastly prefer weighing to measuring when baking. If you have one you LOVE, please tell me about it in the comments?

Dip bowls.

I use these small bowls from Target for meal prep, snacks, dips, condiments, and even the occasional art project.

Coffee maker.

After making coffee with the pour-over method for years, Will and I bought a very nice coffee maker as a pandemic gift to ourselves. We love our Moccamaster! Trusted sources told us it brewed pour-over quality coffee in three mostly hands-off minutes. They were right.

Programmable Kettle.

I program this to heat automatically a few minutes before I wake up. It’s such a little thing, but it makes it so much easier to get out of bed on cold, dark mornings. It heats the water fast, and then it keeps it hot for a full hour. We’re basically always ready to pour a cup of tea.

Cumin Seeds.

I love discovering new spices and seasonings—they give new life and interest to familiar dishes. These are the latest fun and inexpensive addition to our culinary repertoire.

Keep Cup.

Will and I stumbled upon this unusual travel “mug” at a Southern coffee shop and instantly fell in love. The Keep Cup is glass, which makes it easy to wash, and it doesn’t retain that coffee smell or taste. I’ve had mine for years now and it’s still working great.

I also love my Drink Tank. I started using it for cinnamon tea (I love Harney & Sons hot cinnamon spice), and now it smells so strongly of cinnamon that I don’t use it for anything else. But that’s okay, because in cold weather I am more than happy with the cinnamon.

What are your kitchen must-haves? Please share which items you can’t cook or bake without in the comments.


Leave A Comment
  1. Thea says:

    You mentioned your love of Hot Cinnamon Spice tea a couple of years ago and it’s an autumnal must have for me now.
    I’ve used the parchment paper sheets from King Arthur for years. They are bigger than the ones you’ve linked to and fit well on my favorite, indispensable, eternally loved 13×18 Nordic Ware half sheet pans.

    • Sarah Williams says:

      My sister lives 5 minutes from the King Arthur store in Norwich, VT. It is a baker’s dream store. I like their parchment paper, and they have a great selection of Nordic Ware pans and sheets. If anyone ever gets a chance to travel to VT, it is a great place to visit (partnered with the Norwich Farmers’ Market – just down the road every Saturday during the seasonable months.)

  2. I can’t live without my Holiday aprons!!
    In years past I have given personalized monogrammed aprons to all the females in our family. Hemmed up a couple of them for the under 5 yr olds Lil girls, but they loved them too.
    Great hit!

  3. Emily says:

    Highly recommend the Amazon Basics kitchen scale! I liked my mom’s so much that I knew it was the one I wanted to put on my wedding registry.

  4. Stacy’s mom says:

    I need to ditto your knife choice. I bought this knife for each of my adult children and myself one year after reading the CI review and we all love them and so affordable.

  5. Nancy says:

    Love this post…as I do all of them. Can someone please talk about their favorite pans…is it worth it to buy stainless steel All Clad (not interested in non stick pans)? I am in mid 60s and do some cooking but not alot. Need new pans so deciding if I should buy one or two All Clad or go for a nice but less costly brand and if so, which one? Thanks.

    • Aubree says:

      I love my All Clad! My Dad actually bought me a rather large set as a gift once but I think I could easily get by with just 2 or 3. My favorite is the 4 quart sauté/frying pan. I also use the 4 quart sauce pan a lot and the big 8 quart on for soup.

    • Deb says:

      I would say get one or two Al Clad and at least one Cast Iron. I bought one “set “ when I was younger. Now that I am in my 50’s I buy pots and pans one at a time. It may cost a little more but it’s worth it in the long run. Also, leCruset is totally worth it!

  6. cheryl says:

    Le Creuset Dutch oven is truly an heirloom item. We are using the one my mother purchased over 50 years ago. She used it weekly for Sunday roasts, we use it for Lamb Tangine, artisinal breads, and one pot suppers. Love it.

  7. Karen J says:

    I so agree with you on Better than Bouillon and Costco has the best price!
    My three favorite kitchen items that I use daily…
    1. 8 cup Pyrex measuring bowl fish spatula-I use cast iron a lot and this spatula is the best for everything, including fish
    3. a set of four Victorinox classic paring knives from Amazon. These come in happy colors and keep their sharpness. I like them so much my daughter and daughter in law are getting them for Christmas this year.
    And a bonus can’t live without. Trader Joe Everything Bagel Seasoning

  8. L. Allen says:

    I have a 1/2 dozen old wooden bowls that have been used through the ages by other great cooks. Walnut, maple, and cherry wood. They are handmade and beautiful. They inspire me everyday. I couldn’t live without them. They are like my books…old friends.

  9. Wendy Barker says:

    I purchased a battery-free kitchen scale this year and I love it. I’m in Canada so I don’t know if this link will allow US sales but give it a try:
    I also recommended these reusable parchment-like baking sheets last year:

    Both of these products work well and are so much better for the environment.

  10. Erin says:

    I love my Global G-2 chef’s knife (recommended by Anthony Bourdain). A good bench scraper. Fish spatula. A Japanese mandoline. Well-seasoned cast iron pans. Tomato paste in a tube – cuts down so much waste! And I fully concur re. Better Than Bouillon; if I don’t have homemade stock in the freezer, that’s what I turn to. No more box stock!

  11. Molly Pisula says:

    Totally agree with so many of your items! My microplane is another tool I can’t live without. And, two sets of measuring spoons, off their ring. I keep them in a little rectangular container in a drawer (like those containers you use for cutlery, etc.), and I love that I can just grab what I need. And there is always an extra 1/2 teaspoon measure for when I need it! I also love a fine mesh strainer for straining stock or for sprinkling powdered sugar or cocoa on holiday treats. I also can’t live without my lemon/lime squeezer. Oh, and I have a small fairly stiff rubber whisk that I adore–it’s so good to have a rubber option when you need to whisk something in a pan or a skillet.

  12. Rita says:

    Thanks for the nuts recipe again. I used it last year and love the nuts. I also have the CI chefs knife as do my daughters and many nieces. It’s a great gift. Thanks for the glass travel mug idea. Thank it will be a Christmas gift!

  13. Sarah Williams says:

    I see so many things I have and use in these comments. I love using the following items:
    * a 4 cup liquid measure cup – so useful when making soups and stews.
    * King Arthur pizza flour – simplest recipe for dough on the back.
    * OXO kitchen tongs
    * Lodge cast iron fry pans – I have both old ones that belonged to my mom and new ones. I constantly use them.

  14. Donna vallee says:

    I have a lemon tree. Last year it produced 58 lbs of lemons! I won’t get that this year but preserved lemons sound amazing!

  15. Ellen says:

    My Dexter oyster shucking knife.
    It has a little curve at the tip so it’s easy to separate the oyster from the top and bottom shells and is strong enough to keep the liquor from spilling out.

  16. Elaine says:

    I’ve recently discovered “Bursting Balls”–they are little flavored balls (similar to the tapioca balls that go into bubble tea but fruit flavored). I’ve worked my way through a huge container of mango flavored ones–they add a wonderful, easy burst of flavor to salads (both lettuce-based and pasta)and room temperature dishes such as satu’li (bowls of grilled protein, room temp noodles, and slaw, all dressed with a sumac and cardamon flavored dressing). It’s become my “secret” ingredient, one that never fails to get rave reviews from guests.

  17. Kimberly Fox says:

    I can not live without my microplane and my handheld juicer. Today I made Key Lime cookies, and had to zest about 12 key limes and juice them. Both of those came in handy. My favorite cookbook right now is Milkstreet Cookish by Christopher Kimball. Love this cookbook!! Another Dutch Oven that we use instead of the Le Creuset is the Cuinsinart one. We have had ours for a couple of years and it works great. It was recommended by America’s Test Kitchen as an alternative to the Le Creuset.

    I have to ditto Vivian Howard’s cookbook! The Little Green Dress and the Preserves lemons are amazing. Also ditto on the Victorinox knives, the Better Than Bullion, and the Instant Pot. All of those get used in my house weekly.

  18. Indiana Gigi says:

    A pizza stone and a pizza peel are two of my most used kitchen items. Homemade pizza takes less than 30 minutes start to finish and is so much better than delivery or frozen (not to mention cheaper!) I also use an inexpensive old fashioned grater to grate my cheese because the pre-shredded stuff is garbage. It’s worth the extra few minutes to grate your own cheese.

  19. Carey Hall says:

    We swear by our air fryer. It’s fast and convenient and easy to clean up. We cook bacon, heat up leftovers, cook veggie sides, and even cooked a steak in there a few times. It does a great job and they’re fairly inexpensive.

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