A self-sufficient kitchen can be made more efficient with a few essential kitchen tools. Here’s some of the most basic, yet effective tools you should have to conquer simple cooking, baking, preserving & organizing like a boss. Whether you’re new to the kitchen or just taking stock of your kitchen arsenal – this is a great place to start.
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This post covers 3 main areas of kitchen activities so it can run the gamut of things you may encounter along your journey. Now let’s talk about what you need for basic cooking, food preservation & kitchen organization.
If you’re just starting out or helping a friend bring her self-sustaining kitchen to life,
aim to have 1 of each basic tool before scaling up to multiples.
If selecting a second or third option, choose a different variety, style or size for maximum productivity. There’s really no easier way to build your self-sufficient kitchen than by starting with the right tools.
The Top 10 Essential Kitchen Tools for Basic Cooking
1. Chef’s Knife
In this video clip, I’m practicing how to grip and use a chef’s knife, but you might also be interested in learning some basic chef chopping techniques too. Like squaring off your food to make it flat-sided all around first.
Hands down, a must. Invest in a good-quality chef’s knife for chopping, slicing, and dicing. Here’s another chef’s knife I’ve been enjoying too. Whether it’s decorative or plain, this tool is the workhorse of the kitchen.
And while you’re thrifting/shopping for one of these, be sure to pick up a steel rod or stone for sharpening this beast. Nothing is more dangerous than improper technique and using a dull knife.
Need some guidance on how to use a chef’s knife? Check out this essential knife skills tutorial by Joshua Weissman.
PRO TIP: Record yourself working from different angles when you’re practicing how to use a chef’s knife in the kitchen. Then use your footage to study your grip, posture, cutting strokes & motion and your results. It might be awkward at first, but practice makes progress!
2. Cutting Board
This basic kitchen tool is the obvious counterpart to the chef’s knife. If you’re going to be cutting anything, it should be on a board. Protect your countertops and keep things organized with a reliable cutting board.
Choose one that’s sturdy, easy to clean, and large enough for all your chopping adventures.
If possible, have at least 2 for this tool – one for meats, and one for nots. This is the exception. But if not, dedicate one side for each. When using it, keep a dish towel or silicone drying mat underneath to keep it from sliding around! There’s even some versions that have locking mechanisms to anchor them in place; pretty nifty.
After use, thoroughly clean the cutting board. Especially if you don’t have a separate one for meats & nots. You can use dish soap and elbow grease with hot water. Or you can make a paste using hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and soap – my personal favorite.
Either way, be sure to rinse and repeat on both sides then let air dry. If you have a wooden cutting board like I do, you’ll also want to make sure you keep it moisturized by oiling it periodically. The better care you give your tools, the better care they’ll give you.
3. Mixing Bowls
Now I love my clear glass mixing bowls. They each hold 4-qt which is convenient but they’re also easily my top favorite tools in the kitchen. After all the jars of course!
You can mix it up with style here & choose patterned or solids. Or you can go for a classic pair – one small, one large from your favorite kitchen supply or thrift store. And if you manage to spot a stainless steel one, grab it! Mine is 7-qt and handles EVERYTHING with ease.
A set of mixing bowls in various sizes is perfect for everything from tossing salads to whisking up pancake batter to *eventually* bread-making!
PRO TIP: Choose stainless steel or glass for durability.
4. Cast Iron Skillet
For those quick and easy meals, a non-stick pan is a game-changer. But did you know that in order to be non-stick, they are coated in plastic? And that’s leaching into your food, especially if you scrape the surface by using metal utensils.
There’s several options you can explore including ceramic or clay cooking pots. I recommend cooking with cast-iron because they last forever & are incredibly easy to find compared to these other types.
Iron will be released into the food using cast iron cookware, but unless you cook a ton or have an iron condition, it is generally safe to use. A 10-inch or 12-inch skillet will do you right to start.
Cast-iron skillets are as solid in legacy as they are in weight. Such an old-fashioned form of cooking but they do require proper seasoning and care for the best results. I spent the past year taking my time learning this unique skill. And if you’re curious to know more here’s everything you need to know about using a cast-iron skillet.
From eggs to stir-fries, this kitchen essential will have you cooking without the hassle of stubborn food sticking. And whatever you do, DON’T USE SOAP or let it soak overnight. That eats away at the coating.
The sauce is what takes a meal from “ok” to “wow” in less than 5 seconds. So get a saucepan that can be your go-to for soups, boiling veggies & of course – making unforgettable sauces. Look for one with a lid and pour spout or measuring lines inside for added versatility.
I created my first cookware set from stainless steel pots & a stainless steel saucepan purchased from IKEA almost 10 years ago. They’re still going strong. Except that my toddler broke one of the lids, but….that’s another story.
When you’re just beginning to cook in the kitchen regularly, a 7-10 cup saucepan will work for the majority of your needs.
6. Baking Sheet
A baking sheet is not just for cookies – use it for roasting veggies, baking chicken, or making a batch of perfectly crispy fries. This is definitely a must have.
Plus, when you start batch-cooking meals, you can lay things on a baking sheet in the fridge or freezer to keep them flat. Just another kitchen freezer organization tip for ya.
7. Wooden Spoon & Silicon spatula
The trusty wooden spoon. Perfect for sautéing, stirring sauces, mixing batters & more. And the nice thing is it won’t scratch your cast-iron (or other non-stick) pans.
Neither will a silicone spatula which is much more pliable. This means every last drop of marinade & every kernel of perfectly fluffed cilantro-lime rice will make it to the final plating dish.
If you can only go for one utensil, I recommend a silicon spatula for it’s bendiness.
And make sure you keep your wooden utensils spic and span clean!
You could go with an old-fashioned knife, but unless you know what you’re doing, it could be safer to use a peeler.
But don’t toss those skins! Store them in the freezer to use for broths & soups. You can even oven-crisp some, like potato skins for a nice snack. Alternatively, you can compost them too (or keep them in the fridge/freezer until you’re ready to drop off at a market).
A peeler is a kitchen essential for prepping potatoes, carrots, and all your favorite peel-worthy produce.
9. Measuring Cups and Spoons
Get those measurements just right when it matters with a set of measuring cups and spoons. Whether you’re baking or cooking, accuracy is a real thing sometimes. But as you build your skills and boost your kitchen confidence, you’ll be a natural!
PRO TIP: Look for a 2- or 4-cup glass measuring cup so you can skip all the tiny little ones. They also make great silicone measuring cup versions which are great space-savers. Plus, in any variety you can do all your mixing and measuring in one container!
10. Can Opener
Canned goods are kitchen lifesavers! And in the beginning, you may be stocking your pantry with lots of them. So, make sure you have a reliable can opener for those moments when convenience is key.
If you choose a tool that doubles as a wine opener, whether your enjoy wine or mead you’ll also be in for a treat every now and again.
Although, if you use a silicone drying mat, it can double as your heat-trivet AND can opener in a pinch!
Essential Kitchen Tools for Food Preservation
Alright, let’s shift gears just a bit and talk about what you need to preserve food at home. Whether you’re preserving home-grown, locally sourced or stocking from a grocery store you need the right kitchen tools to do it properly.
1. Mason Jars
Glass jars are versatile for canning, storing leftovers and even serving foods too. They can be warmed over the stove (or microwave if you use one) and are portable for on-the-go. You’ll need a variety of sizes from half-pints or smaller (8oz to 4oz) to quarts or even gallon!
Whether wide-mouth (my favorites!) or regular, these jars will be a massive financial investment in your future. That’s because either they’ll be expensive to buy brand new or because they’ll save you money in the long run as you reuse them. So be sure to always keep your eyes peeled for them.
As your collection grows with your needs, you can start buying the jars without rings & lids. And that’s fine! Most guidance suggests only using a lid for canning once, but you can reuse rings an infinite amount of times. My personal favorite canning lids brand is ForJars. I’ve used them nearly exclusively now for two years with no fails!
PRO TIP: Jars don’t lose their value like other tools. However, I personally recommend thrifting them whenever possible & trying to buy them for $1.50 or less.
That’s hard sometimes but personally, I rarely spend more than $1.30 per jar.
2. Reusable Food Storage Containers
Keep it fresh! Invest in a variety of food storage containers for leftovers, meal prep, and keeping food organized or ready for last-minute trips. When you source reusable varieties, you’re also creating a more sustainable kitchen. Plus, helping the environment too.
Currently, I use a standard Pyrex glass storage container system with plastic lids. Since we don’t use a microwave or dishwasher, the lids keep really well. But I will eventually swap that style for a glass lid or better airlock tight lid.
For the fridge and freezer, we use reusable silicone food storage bags. They come in convenient sizes and have held up well even after 6 months of constant use. These bags help me reduce food waste in my home too which is important to me!
3. Large Stock Pot
This is an essential kitchen tool for preparing brines, syrups, or blanching fruits and veggies before preservation.
BUT….it’s also what you need to water bath can foods.
So, if you’re looking to maximize your dollars, invest in this tool that will help you create shelf-stable food you’ll love.
4. Colander, Cheesecloth and/or Flour Sack Towels
You most definitely will need to strain things.
A colander is essential for draining pasta, washing veggies, and ensuring your ingredients are ready for action.
Cheesecloth is useful for making jellies or straining out seeds and pulp from fruits.
And flour sack towels are helpful for all the above, plus butter-making! So, I’m solely using these for now. And I love them because they can be washed and reused like your other kitchen linens. They don’t degrade as quickly as cheesecloth & take up less space than the colander. Unless you happen to have a collapsible colander that is!
5. Canning Accessories
My husband bought me a kit that included this:
- Canning Funnel: Fill jars with hot liquids without making a mess. (I prefer wide-mouth funnels.)
- Lid Lifter: Safely lift hot lids in and out of boiling water without burning your fingers.
- Jar Lifter: A must-have for transferring hot jars in and out of the canner without risking burns.
- Bubble Remover Tool: Ensures there are no trapped air bubbles in your preserves, which could affect the seal. You can just as easily use a butter knife or chopstick too though.
- Kitchen timer: This is used because canning recipes depend on holding the steam/pressure for a certain amount of time based on what you can. However, your stove, microwave and phone likely have a timer you can set. You may not think it necessary, but as you multi-task in your self-sufficient kitchen, you’ll need a few timers to keep you on task!
Essential Kitchen Tools for Kitchen, Cold Storage & Pantry Organization
Great! You’ve made some food, preserved some food and now let’s talk about organizing it all efficiently. These essential kitchen tools make accessing things so easy.
1. Clear Storage Containers
These containers allow you to see the contents easily, helping you stay organized and keep track of your pantry items. After all, if it’s out of sight…you know the rest.
Not seeing what you have increases the likelihood that things will slip from your knowledge leading to more food waste. You can use a few simple kitchen inventory management worksheets to keep that from happening though.
With airtight storage containers you can store dry goods like pasta, rice, flour, and snacks. They maintain freshness and create a neat, uniform look when everything is out of it’s original packaging.
2. Lazy Susan Turntable
Perfect for both the pantry and the refrigerator! A turntable allows for easy access to items in the back without having to move everything around.
Use one in the pantry for spices, condiments, or canned goods. In the refrigerator, it’s great for jars, sauces, or small containers.
Again, if you keep things in sight you’ll be more likely to use it before losing it.
3. Expandable Shelf Organizers Or Shelving Units
Expandable shelf organizers are like the backbone of essential kitchen tools. They’re useful for creating additional shelf space in cabinets or the pantry where you didn’t think you had any. Adjusting them to fit your cabinet or pantry height means you’re maximizing vertical space. This is key for small spaces especially. So, get ready to organize canned goods, plates, or even kitchen appliances.
When it comes to shelving, stainless steel units will be some of the most durable. As you begin expanding what your self-sufficient kitchen is capable of, you’ll need something that handles weight easily.
Not only will your preserved or stocked items have weight, but the tools and appliances you amass over time will be heavy too. Investing in a solid shelving system early on will alleviate replacing cheaper options in the future. You may be interested in using wheels (or casters) for easy rearranging time-to-time.
4. Hanging / Under-cabinet Storage Baskets or Bins
When life doesn’t allow for stainless steel shelving units, make use of the under-cabinet space by using baskets and hanging bins. You could also use them for cold storage and the pantry too.
Hang these baskets in the pantry for storing potatoes, onions, or other produce. In the refrigerator, they can be used to organize small items like yogurt cups or condiments.
You could even just install some hooks to hang utensils, small pots or mugs too.
5. Labeling System
Having clear labeling is the most essential kitchen tool for a self-sufficient, working kitchen.
Label your clear storage containers or bins with pantry labels to easily identify and locate ingredients. Label your handmade goods like pancake or brownie mixes, spices or teas. This helps maintain order and makes it simple to keep track of your inventory.
You could use a label maker, or you can be the label maker by breaking out a permanent marker and using some Avery labels. Or sticky-notes taped to your containers. I’ve done both.
As long as you can clearly identify what an item is and a best-buy/expiry date, you’re good to go. In the case of homemade items, label your container with the month and year at a minimum. Any other details should be captured in your kitchen journal or logbook.
Sourcing Your Kitchen Tools
Equipping your kitchen comes with a price tag, but it doesn’t have to rock the boat. Here are a few places to find your next treasure.
- Family & Friends – Ask around! You never know who has the same tool in multiple variations they just may let you have if you ask.
- Thrift – Check thrift shops, local FB marketplace & neighborhood Buy Nothing Groups or estate/yard/barn sales.
- Wish List – Create a wish list (almost like a registry) of the brands & items you need. Keep this current & at the ready so whenever someone is feeling generous, you can point them to it!
- Buy New – Sometimes there’s no other option than to buy new. If that’s the case, shop local kitchen stores or hardware stores first. Then look at larger chains or online.
Stocked with the most essential kitchen tools, you’re ready to excel!
So, there you have it! These must-have essential kitchen tools set the stage for your kitchen to become the center of self-sufficiency. This is how you reject dependence and reactive-heavy systems in favor of proactive freedom!
And remember, as you gain experience, you might explore more specialized tools for your kitchen. But these basics will give you a solid start in your sustainable kitchen and on your home food preservation journey.
You’ve got this, lovely.
🌱 Start Small. Start Now. Start where you are with what you have. The rest will follow.🌱
Is being more self-sufficient is something you’re interested in but you’re not sure where to begin?
Then check out the Self-Sufficient Living Roadmap!
I designed it to help you eliminate some of the overwhelm of starting an incredibly massive journey.