Menu
Search
Menu
Close

Top Essential Kitchen Equipment

We've tested thousands of knives, pots, pans, and gadgets over the years. Here's a list of the items that we feel are essential in every kitchen.

How We Tested

Think you need a fancy mixer, top-of-the-line cookware, and expensive knives to cook at home? Think again. Our grandmothers did plenty of cooking in kitchens stocked with just a few essential items.

America’s Test Kitchen has put together a list of the Top Kitchen Essentials. And because we have tested thousands of knives, pots, pans, and gadgets over the years, we’ve found plenty of bargain models that offer superior performance at a reasonable price.

Here are the basic items you need in any kitchen. Best of all, you can buy all of them for less than $200. Perfect for a recent grad or new cook, or a seasoned cook looking for a fresh start.

1. CHEF’S KNIFE

Why You Need It: The most useful knife in any cook’s arsenal. A must for chopping and slicing vegetables, mincing garlic and herbs, and cutting meat.

What to Look For: A gently curved blade facilitates rocking motion necessary to mince or chop foods. Molded plastic handles are easier to keep clean and more comfortable. Avoid handles with ergonomic bumps or pebbled finishes—many of our testers found these innovations uncomfortable.

2. PARING KNIFE

Why You Need It: When you need more dexterity and precision than a chef’s knife can provide—such as when you're peeling and coring apples, coring tomatoes, deveining shrimp, or removing patches of fat from a roast.

What to Look For: The blade should be flexible enough to allow for easy maneuvering in tight spots (such as tomato cores) or for handling curves (when peeling apples).

3. CUTTING BOARD

Why You Need It: You can’t cut on your countertop!

What to Look For:We like plastic, because you can throw the dirty board in the dishwasher, which makes it easy to sanitize and remove odors, such as onion and garlic. You can pick up good boards almost anywhere; we really like the counter-gripping feet on a nonskid cutting board. Choose the largest board that will fit in your dishwasher—at least 11 by 14 inches.

4. LARGE SKILLET

Why You Need It: A must when cooking steaks, chops, and cutlets. Good for vegetables, too. The most important pan in your kitchen.

What to Look For: For maximum browning and maximum flavor, you want stainless steel with an aluminum core (known as a clad pan) or an aluminum disk—both improve heat distribution. Look for a pan with flared sides, which speed evaporation and keep food from steaming in its own juices. Should have a heavy bottom and a handle that can go under the broiler or in the oven.

5. SMALL CAST-IRON SKILLET

Why You Need It: For delicate jobs, like frying an egg or cooking fish, or small jobs, like searing a single steak.

What to Look For: You could buy a nonstick skillet and replace it every few years when the coating wears off, but a preseasoned cast-iron pan will last a lifetime. In the old days, you needed to season cast-iron pans yourself—a messy process that involves rubbing the pan with oil and heating and cooling it several times. Now many manufacturers are doing the seasoning for you.

6. SAUCEPAN

Why You Need It: It’s for more than just sauces and gravies. Use this pot to cook rice, boil vegetables, or make a small batch of soup.

What to Look For: We like easy-to-clean, nonreactive stainless steel and find that 3 to 4 quarts is the best size. Make sure to buy a pan with an aluminum core or disk (which improve heat distribution). Look for a pan with a long handle that allows you to lift the pot—even when it’s full.

7. LARGE SOUP/PASTA POT

Why You Need It: How else are you going to boil a pound of pasta, cook corn on the cob, or make a big batch of chili?

What to Look For: Stainless steel is easy to clean, and as long as the pot comes with aluminum core, it will distribute heat evenly. Make sure the handles tilt upward, so they sit well in your hands when you pour out the contents. And buy a pot with a lid—many soup pots are sold without one.

8. SHEET PAN

Why You Need It: This one pan can be used to roast potatoes or a whole chicken or bake a batch of cookies or biscuits.

What to Look For: A bigger pan (preferably one 18 by 13 inches in diameter and at least 1-inch deep) is more versatile. Avoid nonstick surfaces—they cause cookies to overbrown and can't be used with roasting racks. A heavy-gauge, light-colored aluminum pan is your best bet.

Try CooksCountry.com FREE for 14 Days

START YOUR 14-DAY FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP

Every Recipe, Every Rating, Every Video from Every Magazine & Every Episode!

  • 10+ years of Cook's Country Foolproof Recipes
  • Complete Cook's Country TV Video Library
  • 3,800+ Equipment Reviews and Ingredient Taste Tests
  • Step-by-Step Technique Photos
  • Save Favorites, Create Menus, Print Shopping Lists

Dear Home Cook,

If we were new to CooksCountry.com, we might think, “It’s easy to get free recipes on the Internet. What makes your recipes different?” Well, unlike recipes from blogs, message boards, and other recipe sites, our recipes are exhaustively tested by our team of full-time test cooks until they offer consistently great results. That means fried chicken with a crunchy coating and moist meat, a low-fat recipe makeover for macaroni and cheese that’s as creamy and cheesy as the full-fat version, and fork-tender slow cooker pot roast.

We’re obsessive in our quest to find and foolproof the best of American home cooking, from fuss-free weeknight dinners, to updated, simplified versions of regional specialties, to slow cooker and make ahead meals. CooksCountry.com is the only place you can find every foolproof recipe published in Cook’s Country magazine since 2005, plus objective ratings and test results from both Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated for cookware and supermarket ingredients.

Let us make a simple, no-nonsense offer. Try out our website FREE for a 14-Day, No-Hassle Trial Offer. We’re pretty confident that CooksCountry.com will quickly become an invaluable resource for everything from a quick Tuesday supper to your next get-together with family and friends.

Thanks for your consideration,

The Editors of Cook’s Country

The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.