A top chef reveals his 30 kitchen essentials
The absolute best version of every tool this chef says you should have in your kitchen
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Let's be honest: The difference between you and award-winning chef Thomas Keller isn't stuff. You can't buy your way into seven Michelin stars, no matter how much you spend on a knife set. But when one of the undisputed masters of modern cooking is willing to spill a few secrets about his kitchen toolset, I'm all ears.
I recently reviewed Masterclass, the popular series of celebrity-taught online courses, and found the $180/year subscription quite reasonable if you have a life-long love of learning. I found myself hooked, "enrolling" in more and more classes to see what wisdom could be gleaned from the uber-successful. I'm no chef, but having been fortunate enough to once enjoy a memorable dinner at Bouchon, Thomas Keller's Masterclass jumped to the front of my queue.
Keller's very first lesson is a walkthrough of his "essential tools" for the kitchen: 30 items he deems necessary to get the job done. It's a great list, but perhaps in the interest of fairness (or wanting to avoid legal complications), no brand names are mentioned in his class. So Reviewed is here to help.
We've done the research and found the single best version of all Keller's recommendations.
1. Cutting board
A good cutting board combines the right material, size, weight, and a price that matches your budget. Keller prefers larger cutting boards made of wood, as they make more of a presentation when you show food off to guests. Reviewed's kitchen experts tested several cutting boards and preferred a simpler (and cheaper) bamboo cutting board from Totally Bamboo. But if you want something a little more substantial, we also really loved this teak option from Teakhaus. Just remember to avoid cutting on ceramic and metal surfaces, which can prematurely dull your knife.
2. Kitchen towel
Sometimes the simplest items are the most essential of all. A humble kitchen towel gets a lot of use from an active chef. In addition to using it as a hand wipe or something to clean up spills, a dry towel folded over a few times is really all you need for an oven mitt. Damp, a towel can go under the cutting board to keep it from slipping. When we tested kitchen towels, our favorite was an affordable option from Williams Sonoma.
3. Knife honer
A dull knife makes for slower, sloppier, and more dangerous work, which is why Keller recommends a good knife honer. No, it won't actually sharpen the blades—you need an actual sharpener to do that (which we have tested extensively). A honer is what you use in the in-between times. "Honing realligns the molecules in the blade so the sharpness is maintained," says Keller. Wusthof, one of the most respected knife brands, makes one that users love.
4. Slicing/carving knife
"This is so versatile," says Keller about his beloved 10.5-inch slicer. He uses it for filleting large fish like salmon and bass, as well as carving meat, and even some chopping. In his Masterclass, Keller is using his own specially-branded set of MAC knives. The slicer is $230 or can be purchased as a part of a 6-piece set for $900. If that's too rich for your blood, we found a highly-rated alternative from Mercer for a lot less.
5. Chef's knife
Most chefs would agree when Keller says that a chef's knife is "probably the most versatile knife we have." Fortunately, when our cooking team tested 14 of the leading chef's knives, we found that you don't have to pay hundreds of dollars for good quality. Our top pick overall is the Zwilling Pro 8-inch. But we also gave special commendation to Keller's pick—the MAC Professional Series 8-inch—for experienced home chefs.
6. Bread knife
A long, serrated knife is just the thing for slicing through bread, as well as tomatoes. In our testing of bread knives, we found the Shun DM0705 Classic 9-inch to have the ideal balance of cutting power, comfort, and balance. If you need to save some dough (but still cut through it), Mercer Culinary also makes a decent option at an extremely low price.
7. Utility knife
Some brands call them sandwich knives and some call them utility knives. Whatever the name, a mid-sized blade is great for lots of kitchen work where a chef's knife is too big and a paring knife is too small. As Keller says, "It has some flexibility in the blade, which I like when filleting fish." In my own home, we love our 6-inch Wusthoff Classic Ikon.
8. Paring knife
A high-quality, short-bladed knife is just the thing for smaller jobs. "I can use for turning vegetables, I can use it for cutting small vegetables. It really is supportive in so many different ways," says Keller. We tested 10 of the leading paring knives and picked the Wusthof Classic as our favorite.
9. Knife storage
What's the point of investing in good knives if you're just tossing them into a drawer to get dulled and nicked? A simple, affordable wooden organizer will ensure a long and healthy life for your cutting tools. The Noble Home & Chef Knife Bamboo Organizer has over 2,000 5-star reviews on Amazon.
10. Kitchen Shears
Sharp, strong kitchen shears can cut twine, herbs, and even small bones without losing their edge. It's not clear which specific shears Keller is using in his kitchen and he haven't tested them in the Reviewed labs (yet). But Serious Eats recommends the Moricai Kershaw Taskmaster Shears. They handle heavy duty tasks with ease and come apart at the hinge for easy cleaning.
Peelers typically come in two shapes: Y-shaped and swivel-shaped. While Keller prefers the latter, we tested a bunch of peelers and have recommendations for both types. Our best overall is the Kuhn Rikon 3-Set Original Swiss Peeler (only $9.99 on Amazon), but if you want to go the Keller route, we liked the Messermeister Pro Touch best among all the swivel peelers.
12. Palette knife
One of the most striking tips Thomas Keller shares in his Masterclass is how he uses a palette knife. "I use this as my spatula for moving food around in the sauté pan," he states. "It has a lot of flexibility and a good length to it." The Wusthoff that Keller appears to be using on-camera is no longer available, but Ateco makes a highly-rated alternative in several sizes.
13. This spatula/spoon thing
This is the one item in the Masterclass that I found truly unidentifiable, at least the specific item that he's using in his video. Broadly speaking, they're known as a spatula/spoon, or sometimes a spoonula. "I'll use this in any way I need to stir something will I'm cooking it," says Keller. "Risotto, for example." We found a suitable stand-in with the StarPack Basics Silicone Spoonula, which has over 1,000 positive reviews on Amazon.
They don't need to be anything special, but spoons are needed for everything from serving to tasting. Thomas Keller says to keep several of them handy, so we will.
Bain-marie is really just a fancy French word for a hot water bath. Keller recommends keeping your spoons (see above) in a bain-marie to keep them clean, so long as you change the water frequently. Bain-maries come a variety of styles, but for this purpose, you really just need a ceramic or metal bucket.
16. Kitchen scale
"In our restaurants," says Keller, "we've always been taught to weigh things." Volume measurements, like what you get from a measuring cup, are less accurate. Keller recommends ditching them entirely. We tested 13 of the most popular kitchen scales and our favorite is the My Weigh KD-8000. But if you need something a little cheaper, the AmazonBasics EK3211 is a fraction of the price and will do just fine for most people.
17. French whisk
Keller recommends having two separate whisks: a narrower French whisk—perfect for getting into corners—and a wider balloon whisk. Keller uses the former mainly to emulsify ingredients into sauces. America's Test Kitchen tested several French whisks and recommends the Best Manufacturers Standard French Whip.
18. Balloon whisk
A balloon whisk is wider than a French whisk, used to create volume in things like meringue, hollandaise, and mayonnaise. The OXO Good Grips 11-inch Balloon Whisk comes highly recommended from reviewers and owners.
19. Drum sieve (aka tamis)
A sieve is useful for sifting flour or for getting the larger solids out of a puree. Not every kitchen may have room for something this large, but if you do, you should notice an appreciable difference in the final product. You can find drum sieves in various sizes. While most have a metal frame, the Chef’n Sift ’n Sieve's colorful plastic frame has convenient handles that might prove useful.
20. Slotted spatula/fish spatula
Also known as a fish turner or sometimes a Peltex spatula, a splotted spatula is wide enough to get under a fish for flipping, and the slots prevent the juices from splattering when you do. When a palette knife isn't wide enough to do the job, this is what Keller turns to. We haven't tested these spatulas yet, but Serious Eats recommends the Victorinox 40415 Slotted Fish Turner.
Otherwise known as a rasp, a Microplane is a perfect tool for grating hard cheeses and zesting citrus fruits. Keller also shared a Microplane trick that he uses in his restaurants: "We'll sometimes freeze herbs in a really tight bundle and grate herbs over pasta."
22. Pastry brush
Pastry brushes vary in size and material. The silicone brushes are fine for basting meats and they're definitely easier to clean, but natural-fiber pastry brushes allow more precision and the bristles can hold more liquid in them. Keller appears to favor this one from Matfer Bourgeat.
23. Offset spatula
Keller uses his mainly for pastry. We haven't tested offset spatulas yet, but Eater recommends the affordable, durable Ateco 1385, which has a 4.5-inch blade.
Long derided as the tool of overly fussy chefs, a decent pair of kitchen tweezers is surprisingly useful. Serious Eats, for one, makes a good case. Keller uses his to pick up fragile ingredients and garnishes. If you've never seen kitchen tweezers, they're quite a bit larger than the ones in the your medicine cabinet and very much up to the task of heavy kitchen work. These tweezers from Adecco come in 8-, 10-, and 12-inch sizes and have earned a lot of high user reviews on Amazon.
25. Smaller kitchen shears
Frankly, this is the one item on the list that seems a little gratuitous, considering Keller already recommends slightly larger kitchen shears (see item #10). As far as we can tell, he's using the MAC Knife Kitchen Herb Snips, which are on Amazon for $35.95. But we found this highly-rated alternative for a fraction of the price.
26. Silpat mat
"Portable teflon" is how Keller describes his Silpat mat. If you're not familiar, a Silpat mat is a safe, reusable, oven-safe alternative to parchment paper. It's widely used in homes and professional kitchens. Keller uses it when making tuiles, cookies, genois, and other baked goods that tend to stick to the cooking surface.
Sometimes called a china cap or a bouillon strainer, a chinois has a finer mesh than a run-of-the-mill strainer. Keller recommends it to remove solids and impurities. "It gives us that silkiness in our vegetables and in our sauces that we love so much." Owners seem to love this particular chinois from Winco.
Mandolins have a scary reputation because, when used improperly, the razor-sharp blade may have some undesirable consequences. "We sometimes call these in our kitchen 'cripplers,'" says Keller, "because there have been times when we actually cut off the tip of our fingers and crippled ourselves." Don't panic. Our own kitchen experts tested the top-selling mandolines extensively and found the best models to be both effective and safe. Our top pick is the KitchenAid Adjustable Hand-Held V-Blade.
29. Kitchen timer
Even Keller admits that he uses his smartphone as a timer when he's cooking at home. But if you'd prefer a cheap, no-frills option, the Wrenwane kitchen timer has thousands of 5-star Amazon reviews.
30. Butcher's twine
Dead simple but easy to forget, butcher's twine is necessary when roasting irregularly shaped cuts of meat to prevent the extremeties from scorching. Just make sure it is, in fact, butcher's twine and not something with synthetic materials that will burn or melt into your food. Real butcher's twine is made from cotton and has no dyes.
Practice, practice, practice
These tools won't make you a great chef, but the right tools can always make your kitchen work better, safer, and more efficient. Keller also recommends avoiding "gadgets" that look cute or have overly-specific functionality. Most importantly, he states, "Practice, practice, practice. I can't express how much experience will improve your skill."
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.
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