- Basting bulb/Bulb baster/Turkey baster
- Can opener/Tin opener
- Chopping board/Cutting board
- Cooking fork
- Cooking spoon
- Fine mesh bowl strainer/Sieve
- Oven gloves/Mitts
- Measuring spoons
- Measuring cup
- Mixing bowl
- Perforated spoon
- Rolling pin
- Salad spinner
- Spatula/Slotted turner/Turner/Offset spatula
- Splatter screen
- Steamer basket
- Thermometer, meat
- Thermometer, oven
- Wine opener/Corkscrew
- Wine caps/Wine stoppers
- Wire rack
Basting bulb/Bulb baster/Turkey baster (Siringa per ungere la carne)
Best for: Basting meat or poultry while it is roasting.
How to buy: Basters have a tapered tube with a rubber bulb on the thick end. Buy a durable bulb that won’t crack. Some come with different tips that can be screwed into the end and a long handled brush for cleaning the inside of the barrel. The tube may be metal or plastic; metal ones are more expensive but they can be used in a hot pan without fear of melting.
Why buy one? It is easier than using a metal cooking spoon because you don’t have to worry about the angle and spilling the liquid when trying to reach into a hot oven.
How to use: The bulb is squeezed, the tip is placed in the liquid, the bulb is released to draw the liquid into the tube, the baster is transported to the meat, and the bulb is squeezed again to release the liquid over the roasting meat.
Best for: Spreading egg wash, glazes, jam, melted butter, marinades or oil.
How to buy: These can come with natural, nylon or silicone bristles and can have plastic, metal, wooden, or silicone-coated handles.
Why buy one? You can use bunched up cling film to spread a thin layer of liquid but if the food is hot, you risk burning your hand.
How to use: Just dip the brush into the liquid and brush over the food.
Can opener/Tin opener (Apriscatola)
Best for: Opening cans.
How to buy: There are two principal hand-held types of opener: the traditional kind which cuts the lid from the top with two gear-driven wheels and leaves sharp edges, or the safety can opener that cuts the entire lid off from the side and leaves a dull edge. I think both are fine but I am used to the traditional type. The handles can be made from plastic, metal, or nylon. They have a rotating blade, two handles, and a knob to turn the gears. Look for one that cuts easily and is comfortable to hold and operate.
Why buy one? It’s very hard to open a tin without one.
How to use: Attach the can opener to the lip of the tin, squeeze the handles shut, and start turning.
Chinois (Chinois/Colabrodo/Passasalsa/Colino Cinese)
Best for: Straining sauces, puréeing, etc.
How to buy: Chinois are made from stainless steel and have a conical mesh or perforations through which the liquid drips. Often they have a metal bar ring around the mesh, and a long handle. Look for a chinois with few seams or welds; as much as possible should be formed from one piece of metal. Some come with stands, or have clips attached to hold them in place over a pan. Some come with a cone-shaped pestle to assist in forcing food through the mesh. Look for chinois that are durable, have a large capacity (about 18-20 cm deep) and are stable (with pot clips or stand).
Why buy one? These are optional. You can also use a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. I don’t use mine very often and find it awkward to store.
How to use: Place the chinois into the stand or over the top of a bowl, place the food inside, and use the pestle to push the food through the fine mesh.
Chopping board/Cutting board (Tagliere)
Best for: Cutting meat, vegetables, fruit, and cheese
How to buy: Chopping boards come in plastic and wood. There are many varieties: some fold into a funnel or a scoop, some straddle the sink, some come with interchangeable surfaces for different foods, some are colour coded. Wooden boards are usually made from two or more woods that have been glued together; generally speaking, the fewer pieces, the more durable the board will be. Look for wooden boards that are 4-6 cm thick and won’t splinter or crack with use or washing. Cracks and other forms of damage trap bacteria. With plastic boards, soft but durable polypropylene is the best option: contact with it will not damage your knives, and the blade will not slide along the surface as it sometime does with harder plastic boards. The knife should be able to move easily along the board.
I prefer wooden boards to plastic although this is subjective. I feel my knife and the food slip around plastic boards, and the boards slip around the countertop. Wood is considered by some people to be less hygienic because it is porous and tends to crack more than plastic. Some people buy teak which is cut with the grain parallel to the board to solve the warping issue. I have many boards of differing sizes as I cut my meat on one board, strong-flavoured aromatics like garlic and onions on a different board, and bread and fruit on a third board. I wash and dry my boards immediately and replace them if there is any sign of splitting.
Why buy one? An essential item of equipment. It will save your counter top and your knives.
How to use: Place the board on the countertop, place the food on it and start cutting. Do not soak wooden boards in water or put near heat. You can clean them with lemon and salt to inhibit bacteria.
Best for: Separating food from liquid, e.g. draining cooked pasta, rice, or greens, washing vegetables and fruit, draining the liquid from soaked grains.
How to buy: This is a perforated bowl made from plastic, stainless steel, anodized aluminium, wire mesh, or enamelled steel. Look for one that is light but well-made and has a solid base with either three firmly connected feet or a ring. They come in a variety of sizes, but a large colander is really all you need. Most have two looped handles for easy lifting. The feet or ring should be tall enough to keep the food away from standing water in the sink. Ensure that the holes or mesh are fairly small – if they are too large, small foods (such as rice or peas) can slip through.
Why buy one? It is tricky to drain all the water quickly from pasta, etc. without one unless you have a pasta-cooking pentola. You can use a large strainer or wire basket on a handle but it is more difficult to remove all the water.
How to use: To separate food from water, place the colander in the sink and pour the contents of the pan into the colander, shake the colander and use the food as per the recipe. To wash vegetables and fruit, place them in the colander in the sink under running cold water and rub the vegetables and fruit to clean them. Shake to remove excess water.
Cooking fork (Forchettone)
Best for: Transferring and turning large pieces of meat, swirling pasta, etc.
How to buy: Long, two-pronged forks come in metal, heat-resistant plastic and wood. The fork needs to be well constructed with long tines to hold the meat firmly.
Why buy one? This is a useful tool but you can get away with using tongs.
How to use: Prick the meat with the fork where the meat is thickest. Lift. If twirling long pasta, dip the fork into the pasta and spin until the pasta has wound around the tines.
Cooking spoon (Cucchiaione)
Best for: Transferring food and folding whipped egg whites and cream.
How to buy: Look for a metal spoon with a handle long and comfortable enough to keep your hands cool. The spoon head should be big enough to hold large pieces of potato, meat, etc.
Why buy one? A wooden spoon cannot transfer large pieces of food as quickly as a cooking spoon. A cooking spoon is also thinner, with a wide head that is perfect for folding whipped eggs and cream into batters.
How to use: Scoop the food into the head of the spoon before transferring it. To fold: take a large spoonful of the whipped egg white or cream and add it to the mixture you want to combine it with. Cut through the food horizontally, scoop some of it up and flip in on top; repeat until well mixed.
Fine mesh bowl strainer/Sieve (Colino/Passino)
Best for: Sifting, sieving, puréeing, or straining food.
How to buy: These are rounded bowls with fine mesh held in place by a metal ring, sometimes with a long handle. They range in size from 6 to 35 cm in diameter and can be made from stainless steel, nylon, or tinned steel. Stainless steel is preferable because it does not react with acidic foods and is the most durable. A fine mesh strainer should last forever if it is well made.
Why buy one? This piece of equipment is versatile and relatively inexpensive. I have several different sizes and use them very often.
How to use: To sift, fill the bowl part way with dry ingredients such as flour and tap the side of the sieve. To sieve, use the back of a spoon to press the moist contents through the mesh. To clean, soak in hot, soapy water and finish cleaning by hand or in the dishwasher.
Best for: Transferring liquids, jams, small dried goods, and oil into containers with a long, relatively narrow neck.
How to buy: These are cylindrical cups with a nozzle at the bottom made from stainless steel, glass, nylon, porcelain, plastic or silicone. Silicone funnels that collapse allow for easy storage. Look for nozzles which are wide enough (at least 1 cm) that the food doesn’t get clogged, but are thin enough to fit into bottle necks. Funnels should have a decent cup capacity so thicker liquids don’t overflow and an indentation in the nozzle to allow the air out as the container is filled.
Why buy one? Useful if you want to transfer liquids or refill small containers. For dry goods, you can also fold kitchen paper into a cone, snip off the tip with scissors, tape or fold into place, and use instead of a funnel.
Oven gloves/Mitts (Guanti da forno)
Best for: Handling hot pots, pans, and utensils and transferring anything into or out of the oven.
How to buy: Their main function is to prevent you from getting burned so look for gloves which are heat resistant and won’t melt or scorch if they touch the heating element. You should look for gloves that are form fitting, as thin as possible to fit inside loop handles, have some grip, are comfortable, and washable. Gloves can be made from cotton, leather, silicon, neoprene, Nomex, or Kevlar. Neoprene cannot be washed and both cotton and neoprene are flammable. The best option is a Nomex-Kevlar mix.
Why buy one? You need gloves to safely handle hot pots and pans, particularly when they are heavy. Dish towels are not stable, are too thin, and do not completely cover your hand.
How to use: Place them over your hands before touching hot objects in the kitchen.
Best for: Transferring and serving soup, stew, and drinks, and spooning batter into the pan.
How to buy: Ladles come in stainless steel or plastic but I prefer stainless steel as the plastic can sometimes melt. Look for a ladle whose handle fits comfortably in your hand, and of a length that you find comfortable to use. If it is too short it will get lost in your pot. Ladles with a hook for attaching to the edge of the pot are a good choice. Some ladles have a lip for easy pouring or rolled edges which inhibit drips. The handle may be straight or offset; some cooks find offset handles easier to work with. Some ladles have a perforated divider for pouring off the liquid without the solids. The size of the bowl varies too, with several sizes available; fit the size to the job at hand.
I prefer straight, stainless steel ladles with rolled edges. I have them in small and large but would choose large if I could just have one.
Why buy one? Ladles are useful for many jobs, from making soup to pancakes.
How to use: Dip the ladle into the liquid, remove any drips against the side of the pan or bowl, and transfer your liquid to the new container.
Measuring spoons (Cucchiaio/Misurino)
Best for: Measuring spices, salt, herbs, baking ingredients, etc.
How to buy: These come in metal or plastic. They are made in precise sizes, usually from 5 ml to 25 ml, or in officially sized teaspoons and tablespoons. They can be a single spoon with a moving barrier to change size; a ring with spoons of different sizes; or separate, unattached spoons of differing sizes. The ring connecting multiple spoons should be easy to open and close. The spoons should be durable, non-porous, impervious to rust, lightweight, and accurate. Make sure the handle is level with the edge of the bowl so you can level the contents with the flat back of a knife. I prefer nesting stainless steel measuring spoons with several sizes on a ring. Some foods, like dried herbs and saffron, may cling to plastic.
Why buy one? These are absolutely vital for having exact measurements in baking. It’s also a good idea, when trying a new recipe, to measure the ingredients exactly so you can understand how the dish is supposed to taste.
How to use: Dip the required spoon into the ingredient and level off with a flat knife if necessary.
Measuring cup (Misurino/Dosatore)
Best for: Accurately measuring ingredients. This is essential in baking.
How to buy: Measuring cups come in plastic, glass, and metal. I prefer glass because it’s easy to see the contents, you can use them in the microwave, they’re heat resistant (unlike plastic which can warp or metal which can get too hot), and they don’t cloud with time (as some plastic does). Make sure that the plastic is the safe type for food or putting hot food in it otherwise may be potentially toxic. These are made as scoops (some with an adjustable barrier), cups of different sizes, cones, and other shapes and sizes. I find the cone doesn’t gives you a good sense of volume. The main measuring cup should be accurate, hold at least 500 ml, and have markings for both millilitres and cups. (Some measuring cups come in nesting sizes). The markings should be easy to read and durable so they don’t rub off with time. The handles should be comfortable and stay cool even when the cup contains hot liquid. The cup should be wide enough to accommodate a spatula and ideally have a rounded bottom; this makes it easier to scrape the contents out. It should be easy to clean and stick resistant so that syrups don’t attach (plastic and silicone are better for this). I like my Pyrex glass measuring cup best.
Why buy one? These are necessary if you want to follow a recipe accurately.
How to use: Pour in the ingredient and check it is level with the measurement you need.
Mixing bowl (Bacinella bombata/Bastardella)
Best for: Mixing ingredients, marinating meat, stirring batters and dough, soaking vegetables, beating, cooking, and reducing cream, making mayonnaise, beating eggs, and using as a bain-marie.
How to buy: Bowls come in glass, ceramic, plastic, copper, stainless steel, and wood. There are also bowls with a silicone coating on the bottom to provide stability. They vary greatly in size. Buy several different sizes that nest inside each other for easy storage. Ideally, mixing bowls should be heatproof, ovenproof and deep; they should have two handles, and be semi-spherical and non-porous so they don’t absorb stains and odours. They should be unbreakable (thin glass bowls will break more easily), easy to scrape, and stable, so they don’t move around the countertop. If you own a microwave oven, it’s useful to have non-metal bowls. Metal bowls should conduct heat so that you can use them for food which needs to be heated or cooled over water. I have a large collection of bowls in different sizes.
Why buy one? Mixing ingredients in your pots is difficult as they don’t have a rounded bottom. You can also use bowls on top of pots to form a bain-marie.
How to use: As per the recipe. If you want to keep a bowl from moving on the work surface, dampen a tea towel and twist it into a circle to form a nest for the bowl.
Perforated spoon (Schiumarola/Cucchiaio forato)
Best for: Removing food from liquid.
How to buy: These can be plastic, metal, wood or nylon. Look for models with long, comfortable handles that are heat-resistant so you don’t burn your hands. They should be light and have deep bowls. Small perforations or slots are better to keep you from losing small pieces of food while draining the liquid quickly.
Why buy one? You can also use a wire basket spoon unless the food is too small and slips through.
How to use: Dip the spoon in the liquid and fish out the food.
Rolling pin (Mattarello/Matterello)
Baton with handles carved in
Best for: Rolling out pasta (if you are strong), dough, and pastry.
How to buy: Rolling pins come in several varieties: a solid straight baton, a solid baton that tapers, a baton with handles carved into it, and a pin and barrel – a barrel around a metal stick with handles that stay fixed as the barrel rolls separately. Rolling pins can be made from plastic, silicone, metal, wood or marble. Some can be filled with ice for rolling out pastry with a lot of butter. Thicker rolling pins are better for pastry while thin ones are good for long pasta such as tagliatelle. I use a solid straight baton because there are no edges which can crease the dough. The dough is rolled evenly unlike with the tapered baton, and you can adjust the pressure more easily than with the pin rolling pin. I like a hard, tight-grained wood with a smooth finish as the wood holds the flour better, preventing the dough from sticking. Make sure yours is long enough to roll a wide pastry but also fits in the drawer. Mine is about 45 cm long. For hand-rolling pasta you will need a straight rolling pin 90 cms long.
Why buy one? It is very difficult to make pastry and dough without a rolling pin. I had to use a wine bottle with the labels removed while on holiday once. It worked, not well or easily, but it worked.
How to use: Place your dough or pastry on the work surface and flatten with the palm of your hand, place the rolling pin on top, and start rolling. Some people never wash their wooden rolling pins, they just wipe them with a dry cloth before storing. I wash mine with the view that I may have to replace it if it splits or doesn’t clean properly.
Salad spinner (Centrifuga per insalata/Scola verdura)
How to buy: Salad spinners are normally plastic and come with a hand crank, a hand pump, a lever, or a string to pull. They have a perforated bowl which sits inside a solid bottom bowl and a lid with a handle. Look for models that stay firmly in place on the countertop and spin the inner bowl fast for efficient removal of water. Look for a spinner whose bottom bowl is not perforated as it can be useful for washing the leaves in before spinning.
Why buy one? For drying leaves and making good salads (the dryer the leaves, the more the dressing will cling to them) . The spinner is quick, efficient and economical. You can also place the wet greens in a towel, gather the edges and swing your arm in a circle to remove the water by centrifuge. Salad spinners can be economical and you can get them at Ikea among other retailers. The best are the string-pulling centrifuge type like the Zyliss brand.
How to use: Place the greens in the perforated bowl inside the bottom bowl and fill with cold water. Rinse the leaves well, lifting the perforated bowl out of the bottom bowl so the dirt or sand remains in the bottom bowl. Replace the water and repeat until the water is clear. Shake the perforated bowl to remove as much excess water as possible, place the bowl inside the bottom bowl, fix the lid firmly, and centrifuge to remove any excess water. Open the lid slightly, pour out any water and repeat.
Best for: Accurately weighing food.
How to buy: Scales come in three types: digital, spring, and balance beam. Digital scales are preferable as they are fuss-free and highly accurate. Look for one which is light and compact but has a large enough surface to fit most bowls. It should be easy to clean, easy to use and easy to read, and have buttons that are easy to use. I like scales where the surface is raised from the screen so that I can put pans on top and still read the screen. Look for scales that can weigh up to a minimum of 3 kilos and can switch between metric and imperial measurements.
Why buy one? If you want to bake, scales are essential. If you are learning how to cook or are cooking something new, it is best to use scales to ensure you get the correct ratios.
How to use: Place the bowl on the scale and zero it out. Select metric or imperial and then start to add your contents until it reaches the desired weight as dictated by your recipe.
Best for: Threading meat and vegetables to grill, bake or broil.
How to buy: Skewers can be made of wood or metal. The wooden ones tend to burn on the grill so I prefer the metal ones (they are also reusable). They can be round or flat in section; the flat ones are better because they help the food stay in place. Look for skewers that are not flimsy but are also not so thick that they split delicate food. They can be long or short, as you prefer. Look for skewers with a loop on the end; they handle more easily.
Why buy one? If you want to grill small pieces of food you will need skewers or a grill basket or they may fall through the grill. Children love food served on skewers. It’s the only way I can get my three-year-old son to eat meat.
How to use: Thread the food through the skewer ensuring the last piece added is firmly in place to prevent the rest from sliding off.
Best for: Removing the foam and fat from the top of soups or stocks; removing fried fragments from a deep-fryer; and removing impurities when cooking.
How to buy: Look for a flattish, lightweight mesh basket on a long handle, ideally of stainless steel, of sturdy construction and whose mesh won’t easily come loose from the basket’s frame. The basket size ranges from 8-24 cm in diameter.
Why buy one? It makes it easy to skim off impurities, foam, fat, and pieces of food without removing a lot of the oil, soup, stock or sauce.
How to use: Tip the skimmer’s edge along the surface of the liquid and let the basket gather the impurities while the liquid filters through the mesh back into the cooking pot. Tip the basket to release the impurities into a bowl and repeat.
Spatula/Slotted turner/Turner/Offset spatula (Palettina)
Best for: Turning or transferring foods like cookies, meat, eggs, baked pasta, and patties.
How to buy: A spatula is a flat blade attached to a handle. There are many different types made from wood, metal, plastic and coated metal. They can be round, square, or rectangular; offset or straight; wide or narrow; flexible or stiff; and slotted or solid. The blade can vary in length from 12.5-25 cm and in width from 7.5-10 cm. In most cases I prefer a wide slotted spatula as the slots allow excess fat to drain. The metal ones are excellent as they are thin and easily slide under food. Note: metal spatulas damage Teflon and other non-stick pans (although with this coating the food is also less likely to stick in the first place). Wood is better on non-stick coated pans. I have several: metal, coated metal and wood. The front edge of the spatula should be as thin as possible. Look for a sturdy spatula with a comfortable handle of a length you are happy with: too short and you burn your hand, too long and it becomes cumbersome to transfer heavy food. They range from 9-35 cm but the ideal length is around 26 cm. Look for a heat-resistant handle that doesn’t melt. It needs to be flexible enough to slide under the food without damaging it but firm enough to support the food to turn it.
Why buy one? This is an essential piece of equipment for frying, sautéing, and serving. It is also good for deglazing pans for making sauces.
How to use: You can use the edge of the blade to cut and then run the tip of the blade under the food, scraping as you go along, and lift out the food or turn it.
Spatula/Scraper (Spatola di gomma)
Best for: Scraping bowls, making omelettes, and folding whipped egg whites or cream.
How to buy: The heads are made from rounded rubber, silicone, or plastic; the handles from wood, plastic or metal. They come in various widths and lengths and the heads are sometimes slightly cupped. Look for spatulas that are durable, non-porous and heat resistant. They should be flexible enough to clean a bowl well but also stiff enough to scrape a pan. I have several in different widths, lengths, and shapes. I prefer silicone as they don’t melt or break.
Why buy one? It is impossible to perfectly scrape a bowl clean without one. They are cheap and will be your best friends in the kitchen.
How to use: Slide along the edge of a bowl to scrape it clean.
Splatter screen (Schermo splatter)
Best for: Frying or cooking sauces.
How to buy: The splatter screen fits over the frying or sauté pan and keeps the fat or sauce from flying all over the kitchen. Look for models with a well-made screen that will not become detached from its frame. The handle should be comfortable in your hand and not get hot. The screen should have a fine mesh to contain the oil or sauce. It should be large enough to fit over your pan, and be stable. Some have hooks on the frame which secure it to the rim of the pan so that it doesn’t slip off. Some also have handles which fold so that they balance better on the pan.
Why buy one? It keeps your kitchen and clothes clean. If you use an ordinary pan lid, steam will be trapped in the pan. A splatter screen allows the pan to breathe and liquid to evaporate.
How to use: Place the screen over your pan, line the handle up with your pan handle, and enjoy.
Steamer basket (Cestello per cottura a vapore)
Best for: Steaming food.
How to buy: These can be metal, bamboo, or silicone and come in the shape of a solid basket or a fanning basket that opens and closes.
Why buy one? If you have large-sized food or a lot of food to be steamed at the same time, you will need one of these to put in the bottom of a large pan.
How to use: Place the steamer in the bottom of a large pan and pour water into the pan until it almost touches the bottom of steamer. Put the food into the steamer, cover well, and heat. Check that the water has not all evaporated as it boils, adding more as necessary.
Thermometer, meat (Termometro)
Best for: Cooking meat, particularly large joints or whole poultry.
How to buy: Look for an accurate thermometer.
Traditional: The traditional thermometer has a metal prong with a glass dial. Most are designed to remain in the meat throughout cooking.
Digital: The digital thermometer has a metal prong on a wire which leads to a digital display. In ‘instant-read’ thermometers, the prong is inserted in the meat during cooking to let you know whether it’s done. In other models, the display is connected to a stiff metal prong by a flexible wire which lets it stay outside the oven for continuous temperature monitoring. This type of thermometer has the benefit of allowing you to see the meat’s current temperature without opening and closing the oven, which will temporarily lower the oven’s temperature. It also typically has a timer which goes off when the appropriate temperature is reached. Look for digital thermometers with easy-to-use buttons, easy-to-read displays, the ability to measure in both Fahrenheit and Celsius , and the ability to set the temperature you require (do not rely on factory settings for different meat or the meat will be overcooked).
The digital thermometer is more convenient than traditional models but also more expensive. Both work fine. There are also infrared/laser thermometers which some people like but are considered to be inaccurate as they measure only the surface temperature.
Why buy one? Highly useful to avoid overcooking or undercooking meat (with its risk of food poisoning). I use both digital and traditional thermometers. The digital thermometer keeps me up to date about how quickly the meat is cooking, and the traditional thermometer checks the temperature as I find it is often more precise.
Thermometer, oven (Termometro da forno)
Best for: Measuring the accuracy of your oven.
How to Buy: An oven thermometer sits or hangs on one of the oven’s racks and measures the oven’s temperature.
Why buy one? Over time, you will figure out if your oven is too hot or too cold. This thermometer will ensure you don’t need to guess and will save you from culinary disasters.
How to use: Set the oven to 200˚C and place the thermometer in the oven. If the thermometer displays a different temperature, adjust your oven accordingly. For example, if the oven is set to 200˚C and the thermometer registers 210˚C you’ll need to deduct 10˚C from the temperature when setting the oven. If the oven is set to 200˚C and the thermometer measures 190˚C you’ll need to add 10˚C to the temperature when setting the oven.
Best for: This type of thermometer can go to very high temperatures and can accurately tell you when your sugar or fat is ready. There are many types: glass, metal-encased thermometers, digital, and laser.
How to buy: Buy one that is easy to use, easy to read, and is accurate.
Glass: This is the traditional type. I like thermometers that are encased in metal and can clip to the side of the pan so they don’t slide around. Buy one with prominent markings for the temperature that also highlights temperatures for candy and chocolate making. See what the highest temperature the thermometer can register. This is typically 200-290˚C (400-550˚F). Check the length of the thermometer (usually 20-30 cm) and see (A) how it fits with the pan you would use for sugar-making/deep-frying and (B) how the clip would fit with that pan. If the thermometer casing reaches below the thermometer tip, check the distance from the bottom of the thermometer casing to the tip of the thermometer. If you are making a small batch of something, it will be difficult to get the tip into the sugar while the casing touches the bottom of the pan.
Digital: There are now digital candy/deep-fryer thermometers that beep when the desired temperature is achieved.
Laser: These are unreliable.
Why buy one? For heating sugar, this thermometer is essential as sugar passes through various stages of crystallisation relatively quickly and the thermometer will indicate those exact stages. (Note that the exact temperature for each stage will vary according to altitude.) For deep-frying, the optimal temperature is 190˚C/375˚F. At this point the food seals properly, keeping the juices in and preventing the oil from being absorbed by the food. Thermometers are excellent for saving time: if you get the temperature wrong you could be starting all over again. Even worse, you could start a fire.
How to use: Test your thermometer in boiling water to see if it registers 100˚C/212˚F. If it is above or below 100˚C, then register the difference and add or subtract this number when using the thermometer. (If it says water boils at 110˚C and you want to achieve 190˚C, use 200˚C instead (110˚-100˚)+190˚.) Warm glass thermometers in hot water before adding to the sugar or fat to prevent cracking. Keep the rounded tip submerged in the sugar or fat but ensure that it is not touching the bottom of the pan as you want the temperature of the contents not the pan. Watch the mercury line to see what temperature it has reached.
Care: Use carefully as glass is fragile. The mercury inside the thermometer is poisonous so discard any contaminated food if the thermometer breaks. Be careful washing the thermometer as it can break if the water is too hot. To dissolve any sugar attached to the thermometer after use, soak it in warm water before washing. For digital thermometers, only wash the probe.
Best for: Timing the cooking of food (particularly in the oven). Timers are good for roasting nuts or seeds, baking cakes or pastries, boiling eggs, and grilling or roasting vegetables or meats.
How to buy: There are sand timers, mechanical timers, and digital timers. For reasons listed below, I prefer the digital timer. Make sure you buy one that you can set to the minute. Check the maximum amount of time you can set, and buy one with an alarm to alert you when the time is up.
The sand timer: The sand timer is in theory also a mechanical timer. It tends to be hourglass-shaped and have plastic or glass encasing the sand.
Pros: The only benefit is that it doesn’t require batteries so it won’t slow down over time or stop working.
Cons: You can’t see accurately how much time has passed or how much time is left. You also can’t set it to a specific time and there is no alarm to alert you that time has run out.
Mechanical timer: These traditionally were mechanical with an adjustable dial used primarily for boiling eggs. Nowadays digital egg timers exist which can accurately calculate the time required to boil an egg depending on the temperature of the water (thereby adjusting for altitude).
Pros: Mechanical timers are good because they don’t require batteries and have a visible dial so you can see how much time is left. There is an alarm to alert you that the time is up.
Cons: Typically these timers cannot be set for more than one hour.
Pros: Digital timers allow you to set them for multiple hours and exact minutes. They can show you how much time has elapsed and how much time is left. They have alarms to alert you when the time is up.
Cons: They require batteries and can slow down or stop over time. They are slightly more expensive than mechanical timers.
Why buy one? When you are cooking multiple dishes or dishes that take a long time, it is easy to forget and overcook food. When you are cooking something in batches, like cookies, it is easiest to bake them uniformly if you use a timer.
How to use: Set the timer for the desired time and wait for the time to elapse.
Best for: Transferring or turning hot or small food, or fishing food out of hot oil or liquid.
How to buy: Tongs can be made of plastic, nylon, cast iron, wood, steel, stainless steel, and silicone coated metal. The tips can be straight, scalloped, or serrated. I prefer metal tongs about 35 cm long with wide, concave, scalloped tips and a comfortable heat-proof handle with a lock (for more convenient storage).
Why buy one? Tongs are my favourite utensil in the kitchen. Chopsticks are great for small pieces of food but only tongs are good enough when it comes to moving big pieces of meat or twirling pasta.
How to use: Place the scalloped tips around the food, squeeze shut the tongs, move the food, and release.
Whisk (Frusta/Frusta da cucina)
Best for: Whipping eggs, beating cream, and blending sauces. Whisks are used to beat air into food – as when you’re whipping egg whites – or to emulsify ingredients such as mayonnaise.
How to buy: Look for whisks that are sturdy and well-balanced, and have comfortable handles. They are also made from metal coated with silicone to protect non-stick pans but look for whisks that are lightly coated so the wires are not too thick. Whisks come in a several varieties but there are three main types.
Balloon whisk: Has loops of stainless steel wire with a handle. It is better for foams. This is my personal favourite.
Rotary whisk/egg beaters: Have two egg beaters churned together by a hand crank called ‘frullino a mano’ in Italian.
Flat coil whisk: has a ”U” shaped wire with a coil around it. It is better for sauces and is also useful for removing lumps.
Why buy one? This is an essential piece of kitchen equipment for baking and making sauces.
How to use: Place the whisk in the food and start quickly making an ‘8’ pattern.
Wine opener/Corkscrew (Cavatappi/Stappabottiglie/Cavaturaccioli)
Handheld corkscrew/Waiters’ friend/Barman’s friend
Best for: Opening bottles with corks in them.
How to buy: There are many different types: levered, screw-topped, hand-held screw, and pronged openers. They can be made out of metal, plastic, or wood. Look for a corkscrew that has a handle that fits comfortably in your hand and where the handle is well connected to the corkscrew. The screw should be long enough to thread through the whole cork, and be well constructed so that the corkscrew does not bend out of shape, moves fluidly, and works well on all types of cork. (I have never used a pronged opener so I won’t comment on it.) I like the hand-held corkscrew called a waiter’s friend: it takes up less room in the drawer, rarely breaks, and has a handy knife on it for cutting through the plastic or metal ‘capsule’ covering the cork and neck of the bottle. Some of the levered corkscrews come with separate cutters but these always get lost in the depths of the drawer, never in sight when you need them. The levered ones are much easier to use however, requiring less strength to operate (particularly with synthetic corks). (I don’t understand the screw topped corkscrew so I won’t comment on that either!)
Why buy one? It is really difficult to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. (I did have a friend at university who could remove a cork which had fallen into the bottle with a shoelace….but he would end up with wine on the ceiling..!)
How to use: Depends on the model, for screw tops, place the corkscrew over the bottle top, screw the cork down, and then pull up to remove the cork. For levered, clamp the handles over the top of the bottle or the barrel of the corkscrew over the top of the bottle, lower the middle lever, and pull it back up to remove the cork. For a waiter’s friend, use the knife to cut away the foil, place the corkscrew in the middle of the cork, turn to thread the corkscrew through the cork, place the metal ledge on the tip of the bottle, and pull the handle up to remove the cork.
Wine caps/Wine stoppers (Chiusure per bottiglie)
How to buy: These can be made from plastic, rubber, cork or metal. They can be any shape. Generally look for one that creates a really tight seal on the bottle as the point is to keep air out. There is a variation for champagne bottles with two clamps that come down over the lip on top of the bottle to keep the bubbles from escaping. Some, like the rubber Vacu Vin stoppers, enable you to extract any air in the top of the bottle so the wine does not oxidise.
Why buy one? They are cheap and they keep the wine in good condition (for a day or two) if you can’t finish the bottle.
How to use: Just place the stopper over the bottle opening, press down, and place in the refrigerator.
Wire rack (Griglia/ Graticola)
Best for: Cooking meat and vegetables above the surface of the pan and cooking liquid.
How to buy: Wire racks are made from metal. Look for one whose wires that are not too widely spaced and whose feet lift it from the pan’s surface. It should fit on your baking sheet without overhang.
Why buy one? If you roast meat, it is very useful to have one. You can cut lengths of carrot and leek and place them under the roast to lift the meat from the pan, but this is not as effective as using a rack.
How to use: Just place in a roasting tin and follow the recipe.
Wooden spoon (Cucchiaio di legno)
Best for: Everything. But in particular for making sauces, stirring polenta or semolina, making custard, beating batters, mixing ingredients, etc.
How to buy: The wood should be close grained for durability. The handle should be longer than your pot is tall, fit comfortably in your hand, and have a thin but large bowl to stir effectively and reach the corners of the pot.
Why buy one? Wooden spoons have a coarser surface texture than metal or plastic which is an advantage for some sauces and making polenta. In making custards it is vital to see if the custard coats the spoon. Wood does not conduct heat so your hands will not burn. Wood also doesn’t scrape or damage non-stick pans. They are good for mashing soft food and they are cheap. The only potential problems with them are that they are porous and therefore absorb flavours and can burn.
How to use: Put in the pot and stir.