Avocado slicers, fancy can openers, intricate pasta strainers… there are countless kitchen gadgets, tools, and appliances out there; but which ones are truly worth the buy?
As a culinary dietitian, I am quite picky about how I stock my kitchen. How do I define something that is “essential”? Well if it gets used every day; if it’s durable; and if it’s made with high-quality, non-toxic materials… it qualifies as essential for me. Like with most things I purchase, I am a true believer in a quality-over-quantity philosophy — yet keep in mind that high-quality does not always equate to high-cost!
Here is a list of 10 essential budget friendly kitchen items that I could not live without:
I am not sure what I would do without a well-seasoned Cast Iron Skillet. I literally use this every single day of my life. It distributes heat perfectly, creates an unparalleled browning on meat and vegetables, and is remarkably versatile. From roasting vegetable medleys to homemade pizza to making the perfect oven-finished fillet… this is the ultimate piece of cookware, making it a must-have item for anyone who enjoys cooking.
Just remember to take the few extra minutes to re-season after each use to keep that beautiful rust-resistant non-stick surface. If you take care of your Cast Iron Skillet, it will literally last you a lifetime — not a bad investment if you ask me.
I used to look at these and think they were pointless. How hard is it to slice a lemon and squeeze it by hand???
Well let me tell you that this is another item I almost use every day, and for good reason. First off, it ensures a full extraction of juice. Second, it prevents lemon seeds from getting into your food.
Third, once you learn the importance of adding “acid” to your dishes to make them more complete — you will be grabbing this simple devices ALL THE TIME. I recommend the Oxo Good Grips Citrus Squeezer because it is made of ceramic which works better and lasts longer; and not to mention it is more sustainable than plastic.
While I will admit a traditional stovetop tea kettle has a nostalgic feel, it is simply not has efficient or practical as an electric kettle. There are tons of these on the market now; however I would recommend the Brightown option on Amazon because of the glass material, ability to set temperatures, and affordable cost. Unless you are a coffee connoisseur who takes their pour-over game very seriously, there’s no need to spend more than $50 on a kettle.
If you are still using single-use plastic bags and plastic wrap, please consider making a change. These silicone storage bags are perfect for leftovers or packing your lunch. They are also super simple to clean.
Are any of you a daily tea drinker like me? If so, please consider purchasing this bottle.
You simply put your loose leaf tea inside followed by hot water. The built-in strainer at the top is quite effective. Plus — the glass in this bottle is durable and non-toxic, so you can be confident that the only thing going in your body is the medicinal goodness extracted from your tea leaves.
If I could choose one more essential piece of cookware after the cast iron skillet, it would be a carbon steel wok. For those of you who are new to woks, let me enlighten you… this highly functional super pan is a must-have for anyone who enjoys drunken noodles, pad Thai, stir-fry, fried rice, paella, chicken lo mein, lettuce wraps, Mongolian beef, yakisoba, or curry!
A carbon steel wok’s ability to conduct heat is unmatched, and if you like the idea of quick authentic Asian cuisine being in your regular rotation of homemade meals, then please consider this affordable piece of cookware that will last you a very long time.
Cutting boards should NOT be overlooked! If you care about your knives, you should care about the surface you cut on.
This premium, but affordable, board is made of a special soft Japanese wood called hinoki, which “gives” as you cut. This ensures that your beautiful knife edges will be preserved.
8. Mason Jars
This is probably the simplest item on the list, but so essential.
There are 3 very common ways I use the classic glass mason jars: 1) Storing dry goods, such as beans, grains, nuts, and seeds; 2) Containers for homemade sauces, dressings, condiments, and overnight oats; 3) Glasses/cups for everyday beverages.
Plus — I personally think they just look cool, especially when you display large 32-oz jars of quinoa, pistachios, or even loose-leaf tea on your counter top.
Yes, I’ll admit I’m bit of a coffee snob. If you have something every day, it only makes sense to pursue high-quality, efficient options. Now this is just my personal opinion — but I do believe that a well-made pour over yields the best cup of coffee, and the good news is that it costs very little to invest in your setup. I recommend the Hario V60 ceramic dripper because this material retains heat and prevents any kind of plastic taste that you may get from overusing different drippers.
The last item I’ll recommend benefits Mother Earth!
Perhaps the simplest change each of us can make on a day-to-day basis that yields the biggest return on investment when it comes to sustainability is COMPOSTING. Please consider purchasing a compost bin for your countertop at home and you will be amazed at how quickly this fills up with food scraps — food scraps that will contribute to regenerative agriculture as opposed to the production of harmful methane gas. Plus — this bamboo compost box is actually quite aesthetically pleasing.
As you could probably tell, there were 3 main things that I prioritized with this list — functionality, cost, and material. I use every one of these items on a daily basis, which makes them all essential! You don’t need fancy gadgets or expensive appliances that only serve one purpose… if you buy smart, you will save money without sacrificing quality. So, if you spend as much time in your kitchen as I do, I can almost guarantee you will not regret getting any item on this list.
Jack O’Connor, MS, RD
Lead Performance Dietitian