Cooking 101: Basic cooking tools

May 17, 2011 at 3:00 p.m. ET

Stock your kitchen with the basic cooking tools to help put your best pasta or pot roast forward.


Every craft has its tools. Cooking, whether you're new to it or you're an experienced chef, is no different. Check out the basic cooking tools you'll need to get the party (or just dinner) started!

1Cutting Boards

You can improvise with some cooking tools -- like using a drinking glass as a cookie cutter -- but a cutting surface is essential if you don't want to ruin your counter tops or slip while slicing. The solid surface of the cutting board provides stability when you're ready to chop, dice and slice. Cutting boards are made from a variety of materials, from woods to plastic to glass. No matter what type of cutting board you use consider the following:

  • Clean the board well with hot, soapy water after each use. Sanitize them often with straight white vinegar. To make it easy, use a spray bottle filled with white vinegar. Spray on and wipe off.
  • Don't use the same board for multiple foods without cleaning it, particularly when preparing raw food or meats. Consider stocking a few boards and use one for only meat, one for only fruits and vegetables, and one for only poultry.
  • Don't soak or put wooden boards in the dishwasher, as they'll be more likely to crack and dry out.
  • Some wooden cutting boards need to be seasoned with oil. Read the package instructions for proper seasoning.
  • Plastic boards are generally the most affordable, easiest to clean and sanitize, flexible, and come in a variety of thicknesses.


You won't get far in the kitchen without a few good knives. Consider quality when searching for cooking knives but keep in mind that some are very pricey. Look for quality, comfort and affordability when buying your knives.

  • Paring knife -- Used for small jobs like peeling or trimming small food items like fruits and veggies. Typically about 4 inches long.
  • Serrated knife -- Used to easily slice through bread, tomatoes and sometimes meats.
  • 8- or 10-inch chef's knife -- All-purpose knife used for chopping, cutting and dicing veggies and meats (and everything in between).

3Measuring Cups and Spoons

Have you ever asked someone for a recipe and gotten the response, "I don't use a recipe. I just use a little of this and a little of that." Sometimes true (especially with experienced cooks, your grandmother or maybe someone just not willing to share), but measuring ingredients is important, particularly when you're new to cooking or if you are baking.

Measuring cups come in a variety of shapes and sizes, typically in glass or plastic, and are used for either liquid or dry ingredients. Measuring cups for dry ingredients usually come in 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 3/4 and 1-cup increments. Scoop the dry ingredients into the cup until overflowing and level off at the top with a knife. Measuring cups for wet ingredients often come in 1-, 2- and 4-cup increments. A spouted measuring cup is great for liquids.

Measuring spoons can be metal or plastic and come in increments of 1/4 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, 1/2 tablespoon and 1 tablespoon. Measure dry ingredients in measuring spoons as you would in a dry-ingredient measuring cup.

When it comes to measurements, baking is less forgiving than cooking so it's best to follow a recipe's exact ingredients. After a bit of experience over the stove, experiment with the dash-of-this-pinch-of-that method.

4Pots & Pans

You'll often see sets of pots and pans sold together. Whether you buy yours as a set or one by one, make sure to include the following: 

  • 3-Quart sauce pan with lid -- Good for sauces, oatmeal, rice and for reheating foods
  • 3-Quart sauté pan with lid (or 12-inch skillet) -- Good for stir frying, searing foods, making sauces and grilled cheese sandwiches
  • 10-Quart stock pot with lid -- Good for boiling water to cook pasta, cook large stocks or sauces and for blanching vegetables

5Miscellaneous Items for Your Basic Cooking Needs

  • 9-inch pie pan -- Bake delicious desserts
  • 9 x 13-inch baking pan -- Bake a variety of things like cookie bars or casseroles
  • Baking sheets -- Bake a variety of things from cookies to bread rolls to biscuits
  • Wire whisk -- Thoroughly mix eggs, sauces and dressings as well as wet and dry ingredients together
  • Vegetable peeler -- Peel the skin off potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and more
  • Wooden spoons -- Stir soups, sauces, rice and veggie dishes, batters and more prior to and during cooking
  • Rubber spatulas -- Scrape excess ingredients (usually liquids or batters) from your mixing bowls or measuring cups into the main baking dish
  • Colander -- Drain wet items like cooked pasta or rinsed fruits and vegetables. Shaped like a bowl in plastic or metal, with holes to help items drain

When you have the tools you need, nothing can stop you from channeling your inner chef! Stock your kitchen with the essentials and start cooking today.

Put your kitchen tools to use

Chicken caesar saladSmooth & creamy tomato soup
Fresh sautéed tomato sauce with garlic
Roasted red pepper with couscous

Farfalle pasta with baby spinach and roasted red peppers
Crunchy potato chip cookies