I’VE BEEN COOKING PROFESSIONALLY for eight years now, but it was my last gig as a line cook at a restaurant called Island Creek Oyster Bar that taught me how to be light on my feet in the kitchen. If you’re familiar with the Boston area, you know that Island Creek Oyster Bar is located down the road from Fenway Park. The location of the restaurant itself meant that we were normally busy, but when the Red Sox were in town we were extra busy; oftentimes slammed with 300 plus guests. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.
When you have the right equipment on hand you’re able to do what most people would consider impossible. As a line cook, my job depended on efficiency. To my sister who thinks I magically sprout additional hands when I cook at home—and whoever else is reading this—I want you to know that my kitchen skills are due to practice, but the rest of it is attributed to the kitchen tools I always keep in my corner. Keep browsing this article to see what cooking gear I used as a line cook and continue to use as a home-and-test cook.
1. Cutting Board
I’ll be honest, Proteak’s products weren’t in my budget as a line cook, but having a large cutting board, in general, was a must-have. If it’s within your price range, the Proteak Edge Grain Teak Cutting Board is the perfect size; working on smaller cutting boards confines you too much (especially when you have uncleared waste/scraps on the board). In my experience, a cutting board that’s too small can lead to frustration, inefficiency, and unsafe cutting. When purchasing a cutting board, the smallest you should go is 14.5 x 21 inches. I recommend the OXO Good Grips Carving & Cutting Board if you’re looking for something with those exact measurements or that’s more budget-friendly.
TIP: Do yourself a favor and throw out any warped boards hiding in your cupboards. There’s nothing worse than having to cut on a board that spins; it makes knife work more stressful than it has to be.
TAKEAWAY: Don’t feel cramped when using a knife, give yourself space with our recommended Proteak Edge Grain Teak Cutting Board.
2. Gripper Mat
If you decide to go ahead and get the more budget-friendly cutting board, it doesn’t hurt to add an Architec Gripper Smart Mat to your purchase. A gripping mat ensures that your board or knife won’t slide in the wrong direction while you’re chopping or slicing. In the restaurant business, these were such gold they were often taken before you had a chance to grab one.
TIP: If worse comes to worst and you forgot to add our winning gripper mat to your order, go ahead and take a wet damp paper towel and place it underneath your cutting board, slightly scrunched, to provide a decent amount of stability, as shown in the image above.
TAKEAWAY: Stability is key (in addition to a roomy workspace). For lightweight cutting boards, you’ll want to make sure to place our winning Architec Gripper Smart Mat underneath it for extra support.
3. Bench Scraper
As I’ve touched on before, a roomy workspace helps you keep a focus on what you’re cutting, but you should know that taking the time to clear scraps off your board is just as important. (The extra space isn’t there for you to create more mess!) To effortlessly clear scraps off your cutting board use our winning bench scraper. This kitchen tool allows you to easily and cleanly push scraps out of the way. Plus, the flat metal acts as a scoop to help you pick up food that needs to be discarded.
TAKEAWAY: If your environment is a mess, your brain will be too. To keep focus, clean up your space constantly with the Dexter-Russell 6" Dough Cutter/Scraper—Sani-Safe Series, our winning bench scraper.
4. Knife Guard
As a line cook, you're likely to get a bit beat up with a cut here or burn there, so if there were ways to prevent them we would. Many cooks use knife guards on knives that they keep in their portable knife rolls to safeguard the blades when they're not in use. Blades that are stored should always be protected; this especially applies to home cooks who may run out of space in their knife block.
TAKEAWAY: Keep your extra knives in plastic protectors like our winning Victorinox (formerly Victorinox Forschner) BladeSafe Knife Guard.
5. Rasp-Style Grater
This tool has revolutionized grating cheese, garlic, ginger, or zesting citrus. It makes life so much easier by making the task at hand so much quicker to accomplish, which is why (especially in my line cook days) I love using this tool. Unlike bulky box graters that require a lot of force to grate food, our winning rasp grater’s plane has a lot of extra fine, razor-sharp teeth—requiring less effort to grate.
TAKEAWAY: Get yourself our winning Microplane Premium Classic Zester/Grater to prevent more time from being added to your prep time while cooking.
6. Dish Towels
There was nothing worse to me as a line cook than trying to clean up and go home after a long shift, only to realize that the dish towel you’re using doesn’t actually absorb water but instead smears it all over your station, leaving dirty streaks. It felt like we were cleaning the same area for hours. Absorbent, durable dish towels are something you’ll never realize how much you need till you have them!
TAKEAWAY: No one likes adding time to their clean-up after dinner. Our winning Williams-Sonoma Striped Towels only grow more absorbent the more you use and wash them.
7. Vegetable Peeler
You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to use this tool compared to the straight peelers most home cooks are accustomed to using. Straight peelers can be cumbersome and when you push the blade away from you it can dig into the food making the job harder; whereas with this Y-style peeler’s blade, you pull it down food so it’s a smoother, easier process. Out of all the restaurant equipment here, it definitely gives you the most bang for your buck: I balked at how inexpensive it was when I purchased it.
TAKEAWAY: Sometimes using traditional tools doesn’t get the job done adequately. Instead of using your usual straight peeler, try out the Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler which is able to tackle any peeling job.
8. Chef’s Knife
You can spend a lot of money on a knife but you don’t have to. The Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8” Chef’s Knife is a really good quality knife for the best price around. It's sturdy, provides plenty of knuckle clearance, and feels very comfortable to wield. With great edge-retention, this knife will keep a sharp edge for weeks before needing to be sharpened.
TIP: Make sure to sharpen your knives as often as you go to the dentist. There’s nothing worse than working with a dull knife.
TAKEAWAY: A good knife—like the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8” Chef’s Knife—makes prep work easier.
9. Serrated Knife
While you can use your chef knife for nearly everything, you’ll have to fight to get it through crusty bread. I used to have to make a lot of croutons as a line cook and quickly learned that a solid, sturdy bread knife was the only way I could zip through the crustiest bread. Unlike a straight blade, the teeth in serrated blades bite into foods that are too hard (or squishy). The points of this knife sink into the food while the scooped-out gullies between them reduce the blade's friction as it moves through the food. Less friction makes it easier to saw back and forth and cut through food cleanly.
TAKEAWAY: If you're cutting hard food items (such as bread) or squishy items (such as tomatoes) you'll want to have the Mercer Culinary Millennia 10" Wide Bread Knife close by.
10. 9-Inch Tongs
Tongs are an extension of your hand and as a line cook, I relied on them constantly to get the job done. They help you do everything that is too hot to handle: stir, flip, pick up, and transport/plate food. For more precision, I actually prefer our “recommended with reservations” tongs. The no-frills Edlund Heavy Duty Locking Tong are ubiquitous in restaurant kitchens since they have indented pincers that give you a better grip on foods. (I've personally never had trouble with the locking mechanism . . . likely because my tongs were well worn-in).
What kitchen tools do you rely on to make cooking at home easier? Let us know in the comments! And if you're looking for more equipment recommendations check out our equipment reviews.