When learning a new skill, it’s always important to start with the basics. And as you work on improving your techniques in the kitchen and expanding your recipe repertoire, you also want to make sure to understand the first steps.
Let’s start with the most common cooking utensils and go into what each of them is used for and why each is necessary to have in your kitchen. Most of these can be purchased in either metal or nylon plastic. You need to determine which is better for your kitchen based on the type of pots and pans you use. For example, we have all nonstick pans and metal would destroy the lining on them. If you have stainless steel pans, then the metal utensils will work better. I don’t know about cast iron from experience (yet) but have heard that either is acceptable for those pans.
The stirring spoon is your basic spoon. There is nothing fancy about it, but this seems like the most common and most versatile utensil in the kitchen. The spoon is my go-to for most dishes unless I know I need one of the others for a specific reason. Use the stirring spoon for soup, chili, sauce, gravy, and almost anything else that needs to be given a quick stir. It’s hard to describe why this is so versatile since it’s just a spoon, but trust me, you can’t go wrong with one of these in the kitchen!
A slotted spoon is usually the same size as a stirring spoon only, you guessed it, it has slots in it. I use the slotted spoon in a variety of ways, but most commonly use it when I need to scoop something out of boiling water such as boiled pierogi or scooping vegetables as well and getting just a piece of pasta out to test for doneness.
The name gives this utensil away, it’s perfect for serving pasta (hence pasta spoon). The tines help scoop the pasta out of either a pot of boiling water (since it’s also slotted) or from a serving bowl. I also use this when I am cooking pasta to stir it in the pot. Plus, similar to the slotted spoon, you can use this to pull items out of boiling water. For me, this is perfect to get hard-boiled eggs out of the boiling water since the size helps to cradle the eggs.
I’ve seen this called both a turner and a flat spatula. I end up calling it a spatula often, even though I know it’s not the technical term, that’s just what we called it growing up and it’s a habit. The turner is what you would typically use for flipping foods such as pancakes or a grilled cheese sandwich since it’s flat and can easily get underneath the food. There are different sizes of turners available depending on what you are trying to flip. I only have a medium-sized one and it does pretty well for me.
Also known as that rubbery thing used to scrape everything out of a bowl. Or at least that’s what I used to call it before I knew this is the real meaning of a spatula. Typically a spatula is slightly flexible, and sometimes angled, and designed to get the last bits of foods from a container. I mostly use it when pouring a batter from a bowl into a pan, or trying to use up all of the mayonnaise in a jar. The spatula is probably the only utensil in this list that I don’t use in an actual pan.
I have both a metal and a nylon whisk in the utensil drawer. The nylon whisk is reserved for use in a pan, such as when I whisk the gravy for country fried steak since I have nonstick pans. The metal whisk works great for mixing up sauces in a regular bowl that will be poured over something or for getting those scrambled eggs ready to cook. A whisk works well for anything mostly liquid that needs to be combined well, and for getting out lumps when you add something powdery to a liquid. Use a whisk by holding it at an angle and stirring quickly to get air into the mixture.
A good set of tongs is perfect for when you need to flip a large bit of meat in a pan, for example when making salisbury steak. I like the tongs because you can get a firm grip on the food you are flipping, but can also control it as you are flipping. When I am doing pancakes, they aren’t being flipped into anything. But when I am flipping the chicken for feta-topped chicken, if I were to use a spatula the marinade it is cooking in would splash everywhere. I also like tongs because they are great for reaching in the oven and flipping something over quickly without having to take the entire pan out.
The cooking fork is probably my least-used utensil, but it’s perfect for the few times I need it. Most of the time, this is used when I am making myself scrambled eggs because I like them to be stirred up and broken up a lot, so the turner or spoon just won’t get the job done. Justin also likes to use this when he is cooking bacon, even though I keep telling him that the tongs would be easier. The fork can also be used for holding onto the meat as you are checking the doneness inside or need to cut into it for any reason.
Last but not least, having a ladle in the kitchen is the perfect tool to use when serving anything not fully solid that you want to make sure some of the liquid comes with it. I use this when serving up chicken noodle soup, chili, gnocchi soup, or anything else similar to this consistency. I also like that it gets a decent amount in one scoop, and I know that typically two scoops is just the right amount of anything for me.
My kitchen is stocked with OXO brand utensils. When Justin and I were making our wedding registry, I looked at and held a few different brands, and decided that I liked the grip and the weight of these utensils. We have had them for over 5 years now and haven’t had any issues with them. As I mentioned, we have almost all nylon utensils, but you can purchase them in both nylon and metal, depending on which ones you personally need.