I am a beginner cook. Today I cooked boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a pan, and the amount of accomplishment I felt after doing so is normally reserved for people who invented something that contributes to society, like the HPV vaccine or cauliflower gnocchi. Most of my cooking happens on a sheet pan, or in the only pan that I own—the very same one I used to expertly (read: not set off my smoke detectors) pan-sear that chicken earlier.
But my palette has begun to get bored of a diet that can be described as “baked anything,” and not even copious amounts of Everything but the Bagel seasoning has been able to help. I wanted to know how I could upgrade my kitchen with a few accoutrements that would improve my healthy cooking without, you know, making it too difficult. So I enlisted Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, and Chef Luca Moriconi from Culina at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, to share the essential, must-have kitchen items every beginner cook needs for easy, healthy cooking.
1. Cutting board
As someone who has tried cutting various vegetables, cheeses, and even meats on a porcelain plate, I agree with the power of the cutting board. “A chopping board is the first thing that you need in the kitchen,” Moriconi says. “Make sure that you have a solid base that does not move around when cutting items and you can also use the board for transferring items and serving.”
Buy it: OXO Good Grips Utility Cutting Board ($14)
2. Salad spinner
I don’t want to say that washing and drying my greens are the bane of my kitchen existence (because that honor goes to washing the crisper drawers from my fridge), but it is definitely an annoying task. Glassman recommends picking up a salad spinner to streamline the process. “It takes the every-single-day task of washing greens take five minutes instead of 15,” she says. “Greens to me are a must-have, which is why a tool to have them prepped and ready is right there with it. The inner basket can even be used as a strainer for washing all types of produce.”
Buy it: Cuisinart CTG-OO-SAS Salad Spinner ($16)
3. Cast iron pan
Moriconi recommends a quality cast iron pan because you can use it to perfectly sear meat and seafood, bake vegetables and pasta, or cook frittatas and omelettes in the oven. This put me off at first because I’d always heard that cast iron pans are very expensive and fussy to clean. Turns out, not really. A high-end skillet can run you $100 and up, but you can also find affordable options, like Chrissy Teigen’s line for Target which has options under $40. While cleaning is a touch more involved than just soap and water, it’s actually not *that* complicated. If you’re looking for something truly low maintenance, buy a version that’s coated with enamel so that you can have the best of both worlds: a versatile pan that’s super easy to clean.
Buy it: Lodge L14SK3 15″ Cast Iron Skillet ($50)
4. Chef’s knife
I have cut myself in the kitchen on: a champagne bottle that I sabered, a cheese grater while making cauliflower rice, a can opener… but surprisingly, never with a knife. Even a big one, like a chef’s knife, which can look intimidating. “A chef’s knife is necessary for craftsmanship in the kitchen. It is needed to chop bigger items such as meats and starchy vegetables,” Moriconi says. You can also use it to chop pretty much anything, from chicken thighs to cloves of garlic, making a full-on knife set a bit unnecessary.
Buy it: Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8″ Chef’s Knife ($33)
“Clear pantry storage for dry goods like nuts, seeds, and grains is crucial for inspiring healthy cooking and eating,” Glassman says. All the clapping hands emojis, because sometimes you need the inspo so you don’t Postmate tacos for the third time this week. “I also use them as a tool for making healthy meals like overnight oats and shaking up salad dressings in a second,” Glassman says.
Buy it: Ball Regular Mouth 8″ Mason Jars with lids ($23 for 12)
Bonus: A high-speed blender
This is much more of an investment, but both experts say a quality blender is crucial for healthy chefs to take their game to the next level. “I use mine to make a smoothie almost every day, and think it definitely deserves a prioritized spot on the counter,” Glassman says. You can use it to make soups, smoothies, sauces, and even to chop nuts. Moriconi recommends a Vitamix, especially for beginners, because it is “extremely powerful” and “you can simply add all of your ingredients in at once and end up with a beautiful creation.” Sounds like my kind of machine.
Buy it: Vitamix 5200 Professional-Grade Blender ($390)
Ready to get a little more advanced with your tools? Two of our editors sound off on whether an air fryer or an instant pot is the superior tool. And these 11 pantry staples can be used to make approximately a million different meals.
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