The ZENB Guide to Culinary Tools, Part 2: Cookware and Utensils
At its roots, cooking isn’t very complicated. It just takes two things to make any recipe: good ingredients and the right tools.
*Cue It Takes Two by Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock*
Kitchen stores are packed to the ceiling with every possible gadget imaginable, but do you truly need a kale de-stemmer or a melon baller? We’re here to help you tune out the noise and focus on what’s essential to have in your kitchen — after all, buying more stuff won’t necessarily make you a better cook. What will empower you to tackle kitchen tasks large and small is a curated suite of quality, versatile culinary tools.
Be sure to check our Part 1 of our Guide to Culinary Tools, which covers knives and cutting boards. Here, we’ll look at cookware and utensils to add to your home-cooking toolkit.
Pots & Pans
Let’s start with the five kinds of pots and pans that you should invest in
Large skillet/frying pan, 12-18 inches
This is your ride-or-die. If you could only buy one piece of cookware, this is it. You can use a large skillet for everything, from stacks of pancakes to saucy shakshuka, and it can go from the stovetop to a hot oven (check manufacturers safety guidelines for any temperature limits), no problem-o. For materials, we suggest cast iron or natural nonstick.
Cast iron, if properly cared for, can last pretty much forever. Care tips include hand-washing, using soap rarely, if ever; wiping it dry after every wash; and seasoning it regularly (greasing the clean pan with a little bit of neutral oil). The downsides to cast iron is that they’re heavy, and some food can stick to its surface.
A natural nonstick skillet is great because it allows you to cook with less oil and notoriously sticky foods, like fried eggs and tofu, glide right off the surface like a dream. Help preserve your nonstick pans by never using metal utensils on them.
Smaller skillet/frying pan, 10 inches
A smaller skillet is nice to have on hand for things like making omelets, toasting seeds and nuts, and making quesadillas. If you’re cooking for one, this size cooks smaller amounts of food more evenly. Cast iron or natural nonstick are also the best options.
Small/medium saucepan, 1.5-3 quarts
Warming up soup? Making oatmeal? Cooking rice? Simmering pasta sauce? A saucepan is what you need. Buy one made from stainless steel or enamel-coated cast iron.
Stockpot, 6-8 quarts
For boiling pasta, making bone broth, or batch-cooking chili, soups, and other stews, a stockpot is the tool for the job. For easy cleaning and care, we prefer stainless steel.
Dutch oven, 5-7 quart
Usually made from enamel-coated cast iron, Dutch ovens are amazing for braising meats, steaming clams and mussels, and deep-frying falafel, dumplings, or anything else! These kitchen workhorses can go on the stovetop or in the oven (double check any manufacturers safety guidelines), meaning they’re also the perfect vessel for casseroles, like mac-and-cheese, roast chicken, or even homemade bread.
Here are the four utensils that every kitchen should have:
Great for whipping eggs or making any kind of batter, the shape of a whisk makes it unparalleled as a mixing tool. Whisks are also great for smoothing out sauces or emulsifying vinaigrettes. A metal whisk is the most durable, but plastic is a good alternative if you’re whisking on a nonstick pot or pan. Just be careful not to leave it in or let it get too hot!
Broad, round spatulas are perfect for stirring, scraping, folding, and spreading. Thinner, flatter spatulas are best used for flipping. Look for a full silicone spatula, or one with a silicone head and a wooden handle.
Tongs are like an extension of your hand. Use them for turning things, like shrimp and scallops, or for grabbing noodles from a pot, mixing salads, flipping chicken, and so much more! Shorter tongs are good for the stovetop, and longer tongs are ideal for grilling. Buy stainless steel tongs (the go-to in most restaurant kitchens), or tongs with nylon blades (best to use with nonstick pans).
When you’re as produce-obsessed as we are, a good peeler is a must. It also does double-duty, making thin curls of cheese and chocolate, or zesting citrus for cocktail garnishes! No need to get too spendy with this one; all you need is a Y-peeler with a stainless steel swivel blade, which should run you about $15.
For more kitchen hacks, tips, and tricks, check out the ZENB blog, then delve into our collection of 150+ plant-fueled recipes!