18 Things Professional Chefs Say You Must Have in Your Kitchen

Discover the kitchen essentials that chefs swear by.
Discover the kitchen essentials that chefs swear by. / Kristina Vianello, Moment Collection, Getty Images
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It’s time to take stock of what’s in your kitchen. If you’re still using a hand-me-down cutting board and those cheap knives you found on sale at Bed Bath & Beyond when you graduated from college, you’re probably due for some upgrades.

To help, we spoke with two professional chefs—Lance Nitahara, an assistant professor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America, and Sabrina Sexton, the former lead culinary instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education—about the kitchen essentials that they think are must-haves for home cooks, regardless of skill level.

1. Three Knives; From $75

WÜSTHOF Knives on a white background.
WÜSTHOF Knives / WÜSTHOF / Amazon

Both Nitahara and Sexton agree you can skip the full knife set (you know, the one that comes in a fancy woodblock) and instead invest in a few essentials. According to them, all you need are a chef’s knife, a serrated bread knife, and a paring knife. “To me, these three knives would cover basically anything you would need to cut,” Sexton says. “And if I was stuck on a desert island, and I could still cook, these three knives would be what I would need.”

Sexton also recommends going with forged knives over stamped knives because they are higher in quality and will last longer.

Buy them: WÜSTHOF Gourmet 8-Inch Serrated Bread Knife; WÜSTHOF Classic 2-Piece Prep Knife Set

2. Knife Sharpener; $25

WÜSTHOF 2-Stage Hand-Held Sharpener on a table top next to a cutting board, knife, and hunk of meat.
WÜSTHOF 2-Stage Hand-Held Sharpener / WÜSTHOF / Amazon

The best way to increase your knives’ longevity, however, is to keep them sharp. Precisely how much sharpening this will require depends on your use frequency and menu. “I would say sharpen your knives when they get dull,” Nitahara says. “If you’re using your chef’s knife on a daily basis, I would say [sharpen it] once every week to once every two weeks, depending on what you’re cutting, as well.”

While experienced chefs have mastered the art of the sharpening stone, Sexton says that a chantry knife sharpener—one of those gadgets you stand up on your counter and slide your knife through—is easier for beginners and gets the job done.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Cutting Board; $35

Utopia Kitchen Extra Large Bamboo Cutting Board with Juice Groove next to chopped veggies and a knife block with knives in it
Utopia Kitchen Extra Large Bamboo Cutting Board with Juice Groove / Utopia Kitchen / Amazon

While glass or stone cutting boards can be pretty, Sexton says wood or plastic is your best bet. “I have a very pretty little marble board that sits out on my kitchen counter, but it’s more for show. Those are going to dull your knives, so I wouldn't recommend doing heavy-duty chopping on glass or stone,” she says. “I think the main thing is that you want something that’s hard enough that you don’t wear it out and get grooves in it all the time.” The grooves can lead to a buildup of bacteria—which is why, Sexton says, you should replace your cutting board every couple years, too.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Nonstick Pan; From $26

Tramontina Professional Fry Pan on a stovetop.
Tramontina Professional Fry Pan / Tramontina / Amazon

“I wouldn’t recommend getting an entire set of nonstick pans,” Nitahara says. But “one nonstick pan might be good if you do a lot of egg cookery.”

While there are countless nonstick pans on the market that could be a worthwhile investment (like the popular Always Pan or professional-grade All-Clad pieces), Tramontina is a budget-friendly brand that specializes in heavy-duty, nonstick cookware. You can find their top-rated fry pans starting at just $26 in a range of sizes, plus they’re PFOA-free, safe to clean through a dishwasher, and compatible with gas, electric, and ceramic glass cooktops.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Cast-Iron Pan; $30

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet with Red Silicone Hot Handle Holder, 12-inch on
Lodge 12-Inch Cast Iron Skillet with Red Silicone Hot Handle Holder / Lodge / Amazon

In addition to your one non-stick pan, you’ll want to get a cast-iron pan. “Cast iron is an inexpensive way to get a pan that really conducts the heat really well, so it’s really good if you want to cook a steak or get a nice kind of sear on a chicken breast or something like that,” Sexton says. “If you’re trying to caramelize the surface of something, which really develops flavor in something like a piece of red meat or poultry, [a cast-iron pan is] the best sort of go-to thing.”

“They’re a little more work, but they last forever,” Sexton says. That work is a process called seasoning your pan—or adding a lubricant so your food doesn’t stick to it.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Stainless Steel Pots And Pans; $130

Cuisinart 11-Piece Set Chef's Classic Stainless Cookware Collection against white background.
Cuisinart 11-Piece Set Chef's Classic Stainless Cookware Collection / Cuisinart / Amazon

But for most of your cookware, Sexton and Nitahara agree that stainless steel is best. “For the most part, when we’re talking about pots and pans, you want to get something that is a heavier-gauge stainless steel pan,” Nitahara says. “They’re a little harder to wash, a little heavier, but they’re going to last longer. They have better conduction if they are stainless steel.”

Buy it: Amazon

7. Rondeau Pan Or Dutch Oven; From $38

Amazon Basics Enameled Cast Iron Covered Dutch Oven on a stovetop with stew cooking in it.
Amazon Basics Enameled Cast Iron Covered Dutch Oven / Amazon

“A rondeau is kind of like what a lot of people refer to as a stew pot,” Sexton says. “It has a fairly wide surface area, but also reasonably high sides—somewhere between 4 to 6 inches high. It’s good if you want to do any braises or stews.”

Because a rondeau is similar to a Dutch oven, you can actually find plenty of affordable options online. One of the most popular is from Amazon Basics, as it's available in three sizes and up to 12 different colors. Made from cast iron with an enameled finish, this Dutch oven is safe in high temperatures (up to 400°F) and comes with a fitted lid, too.

Buy it: Amazon

8. A Professional-Quality Blender; $290

Vitamix E310 48-Ounce Explorian Blender on a white background.
Vitamix E310 48-Ounce Explorian Blender / Vitamix / Amazon

For making soups and purées, Nitahara says a blender is a must. When choosing a blender, he says, it’s worth saving up and shelling out a bit more for something higher quality. “The cheaper you go on blenders and food processors, you get what you pay for,” he says. “If you try to get it on a budget you might be buying [a new] one sooner than you think.”

And when it comes to good blenders, Vitamix is definitely a brand to check out. The E310 Explorian model in particular offers up to 10 different speeds and has a pulse feature, which makes chopping up dense vegetables and other thick food matter almost seamless. It also boasts a self-cleaning functionality, so maintaining it over time is a breeze.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Immersion Blender; $25

Mueller Pro Series 500-Watt Immersion Blender on white background.
Mueller Pro Series 500-Watt Immersion Blender / Mueller / Amazon

For making smoothies, frothing up drinks, or chopping onions and garlic, Sexton says she relies on an immersion blender (also known as a handheld blender). “It’s a good jumping-off point for a blender because it doesn’t take up any particular space; it doesn't have to sit on your counter. It’s pretty versatile, pretty inexpensive, so I just think that’s a good go-to tool for things.”

Buy it: Amazon

10. Food Processor; $55

Hamilton Beach 10-Cup Food Processor & Vegetable Chopper on white background.
Hamilton Beach 10-Cup Food Processor & Vegetable Chopper / Hamilton Beach / Amazon

When asked if he recommends having a blender or a food processor, Nitahara tells us you should invest in both. “If I had a choice, I don’t know which one I would choose because they both are essential,” he says.

While a blender is great for smooth purées, a food processor allows you to chop things coarsely. Hamilton Beach offers a 10-cup model that’s affordable and comes with accessories, including a scraper attachment that could be ideal for getting everything out of the bowl without needing to bust out a spatula. It also has two speeds (including a pulse functionality) and a chute on the top lid, which is large enough to fit bigger foods (like cheese blocks) with ease.

Buy it: Amazon

11. Pressure Cooker; From $84

Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker on tabletop behind a bowl and plate of food.
Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker / Instant Brands / Amazon

Top Chef fans know that a pressure cooker can be a chef’s best friend when they’re strapped for time (or their worst enemy, if they don’t know how to use one!). “It can be a little intimidating, but once you learn how to use them they’re so great,” Nitahara says of the appliance. “I make wild rice in 20 minutes, whereas if you make wild rice in a pot you’re looking at cooking it for over an hour.”

Buy it: Amazon

12. Digital Thermometer; From $19

ThermoPro TP-16 Digital Thermometer with Stainless Steel Probe against white background.
ThermoPro TP-16 Digital Thermometer with Stainless Steel Probe / ThermoPro, Amazon

For novice cooks, Nitahara and Sexton recommend a digital thermometer. “If you want to roast a chicken or you want to cook meat to a certain done-ness or whatever, an instant-read is great,” Sexton says.

“A lot of digital thermometers you don’t have to calibrate,” Nitahara adds. “I love digital thermometers that have a probe with a cable so that if I’m roasting something, I put that thermometer into the roast, throw that in the oven, and keep my thermometer outside the oven and set the alarm to go off when I have a target temperature that’s reached. That way it’s brainless and I don’t have to worry about it.”

Buy it: Amazon

13. Microplane Grater; $22

Microplane Professional Series Grater next to several limes on a tabletop.
Microplane Professional Series Grater / Microplane / Amazon

“Microplanes are awesome,” Nitahara says. “They’re really great if you want to grate things really finely, parmesan cheese and things like that. It was originally designed for woodworking.”

This microplane in particular is available in a few different varieties—including fine, coarse, and extra coarse—and has a non-slip foot at the base of the frame for easier handling. You’ll also get a protective cover, which should come in handy considering the blades are made from ultra-sharp stainless steel.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Wooden Spoon; From $5

Helen's Asian Kitchen Stir Fry Spatula, Natural Bamboo, 15-Inch on table next to a stir fry on a plate.
Helen's Asian Kitchen Stir Fry Spatula-Spoon / Helen's Asian Kitchen / Amazon

As plastic can melt and metal will heat up, Sexton says you’re best off using a wooden spoon when stirring something over a hot stove. Nitahara recommends purchasing a wooden spoon with one flat side (like this one), which will make it easier to scrape the bottom of your pan or bowl.

Buy it: Amazon

15. Whisk; $12

OXO Good Grips 11-Inch Balloon Whisk used by woman as she bakes.
OXO Good Grips 11-Inch Balloon Whisk / OXO / Amazon

When choosing your whisk, Nitahara recommends looking for thin wires (like you’ll see in the OXO model included here). “If you’re going to be making emulsions like vinaigrettes, hollandaise sauce, and a few others, if you get your wires too big and thick … you’re not going to be able to emulsify liquids like that as well,” he says.

Buy it: Amazon

16. Rubber Spatulas; $25

Di Oro 3-Piece Silicone Spatula Set  in red against white background.
Di Oro 3-Piece Silicone Spatula Set / Di Oro, Amazon

Heat-resistance is the name of the game when it comes to shopping for a quality spatula, according to Nitahara. He recommends shopping for one that can “stand temperatures upward of 375, 400 degrees [Fahrenheit] so that you’re not melting your spatula in the pan.” These nonstick silicone spatulas from Di Oro fit the bill, as they are safe to use in temperatures up to 600°F and each one features an internal stainless steel handle, which adds to their overall durability.

Buy it: Amazon

17. Salad Spinner; $30

OXO Good Grips Large Salad Spinner against white background, with a woman's hand pressing down on it.
OXO Good Grips Large Salad Spinner / OXO / Amazon

Despite its name, a salad spinner can do a lot more than dry your lettuce. Nitahara also uses his after washing herbs, and “whenever I wash mushrooms I always put them in the salad spinner as well,” he says. “They soak up a lot of water.”

Buy it: Amazon

18. Vegetable Peeler; $9

KitchenAid Classic Y Peeler on a tabletop next to cheese blocks.
KitchenAid Classic Y Peeler / KitchenAid / Amazon

For a better grip, Sexton says she prefers Y-shaped peelers to more traditional straight ones. This model from KitchenAid features a rust-resistant, 420 stainless steel blade and comes with a protective cover. It’s also dishwasher-safe and ergonomically designed with comfort in mind.

Buy it: Amazon

A version of this article first ran in 2017. It has been updated for 2023.