Buy It Nice or Buy It Twice: Kitchen Tools and Cookware (Extended Edition)

rubber200 (Added some items.) When buying kitchen items, I am firmly in the “pay for quality” camp. Reader Chris sent in the following question (edited for clarity):

I read in your website about cast iron pans and KitchenAid mixers. I want to buy a small home and have nothing. What are some must-have kitchen items that will last a long time and be used most often? So they are an “investment”.

For me, it all started when filling out our wedding registry (now 13 years ago, ack!). Getting married meant I had to stop buying Hungry Man frozen dinners and really learn to cook at home. This led me to develop an appreciation for well-made kitchen items. When you “go cheap” on certain things, you not only have to replace it down the road, but you also feel a bit of annoyance and regret every time you use the inferior tool. In the words of Marie Kondo, owning high-quality tools “bring me joy”.

Here’s (an extended) list of high-quality items that are used weekly if not daily in my kitchen. I am not a professional chef, just someone who cooks at home often enough to suffer from cheap stuff. Some cost a few bucks. Some cost hundreds.

rubberpremier

Rubbermaid Premier Food Storage Containers
Cooking at home means lots of leftovers. One of the best decisions we made was to throw away the mishmash of cheap containers and lids to start fresh with these Rubbermaid Premier storage containers (not the other Rubbermaid types). They are thicker, sturdier, and have leakproof lids. They don’t stain or retain odors. They are a good example of designing something to be high-quality and reusable instead of cheap and disposable. They changed up the lid design recently but the grey lids are backward compatible with the original red lids. Warning: You might start out with a 30-piece set but it will include a lot of smaller containers. Add more of the larger ones specifically.

mmbcastiron0

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
With over 8,000 reviews (!) and a 4.5 out of 5 star average rating, I know I’m not the only fan of these heavy-duty beasts. Great for searing and pan-frying, oven-safe, no worrying about scratches or dings. They will outlive you. Got a rusty one? They are easy to resurrect; here’s a quick video on how to season your cast iron.

lecreusetblue

Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven
I cook multiple times a week with our Staub and Le Creuset enameled cast-iron dutch ovens. Cast iron isn’t a lot of maintenance, but you do have to keep it dry after each use to prevent rusting (and seasoning it again takes time). With enameling, you can just wash and leave it wet. The dutch oven shape also makes it perfect for braises, stews, and soups. (They also look nicer at dinner parties.) They do run $200-$300 but spread out over 30+ years of use it’s not that bad. But I’ll be honest, I don’t know how much better they are than this Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven which regularly runs under $80.

kitchenaid

KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer
We’ve used this machine regularly without any issues for over 10 years across multiple apartments, studios, and houses. We use it to beat eggs and knead dough for pizza, pasta, cookies, and bread. I don’t know what kind of motor is inside, but it is durable. The bowl has some small dings and there is a little rust on the exterior but nothing that prevents good operation. I notice a ton of different versions now, but I think the Artisan is the classic version. Pick a color you like because you’ll be stuck with it for a while…

allcladsaute

All-Clad Stainless Steel Fry or Saute Pan
I first heard about this brand when they kept winning comparisons by America’s Test Kitchen. However, they are quite expensive. Now, you don’t need All-Clad everything, but do I think a large stainless steel fry pan or saute pan from All-Clad is an important kitchen addition that will pretty much last you forever. (I’d skip the non-stick All-Clad and go with T-Fal for best non-stick value.) My advice is to keep your eyes open because they do rotate on sale. Right now the saute pan is on sale for $99, but at other times you can get the fry pans on sale.

nordicpan

Nordic Ware Aluminum Commercial Sheet Pan
It’s big, thick, and aluminum so it won’t rust. I must have roasted vegetables hundreds of times on this thing. Only about $10 and much better than whatever cheap, thin stuff is at sold at the grocery store. Buy 2 now so they stack and save space.

microplane

Microplane 40020 Classic Zester/Grater
The classic Microplane. I remember thinking it was expensive when I bought it over a decade ago, but I’ve never had to replace it since. Considering how many little thin holes this thing has, I have no idea how it hasn’t rusted away in over 10 years. This thing still works great to shave fine curls of parmesan and zest lemons and limes.

peelersingle

Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler
These may not last forever, but they have lasted a lot longer than my previous peelers and I’m still on my first one. (I also have a serrated version that I don’t use as often.) I bought these after seeing them recommended by America’s Test Kitchen and they peel much more easily and comfortably. Note: I see some Amazon reviews that say “I love my old Kuhn Rikon peeler but this one I just bought from Amazon is horrible.” My thought? Counterfeits. I would only buy these “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com”, even if it costs a few cents more. You’re still getting the best peeler out there for under 5 bucks.

wusthofclassic

Wusthof Classic Knifes
I remember wondering if Wusthof and Henckels were worth the price as I zapped them onto our wedding registry. Then someone actually bought us a set of Wusthof Classic knives and we proceeded to use them nearly every day for over a decade. They have been professionally sharpened a couple of times (less often than recommended), but they still work perfectly with no chips or rust spots. I bought a $40 Asian cleaver from a shop in Chinatown a couple years ago, and it only lasted a few months before large rust spots appeared. My mom told me I didn’t treat it right. Probably. I told her I’d rather spend $80 on a knife and have it last decades even after not treating it right. So I bought this one.

henckelssteak

J.A. Henckels Steak Knife Set
We also got a set of Henckels steak knives as a wedding gift. They’ve also lasted over a decade as our family’s only set of steak knives. They still cut great. Yes, they cost about double the price of the AmazonBasics steak knives set, but I wonder if I’ll ever have to buy steak knives again.

zyliss

ZYLISS Lock N’ Lift Can Opener
I’ve probably gone through 5 different can openers in the last 5 years. I guess I open a lot of cans? I’ve bought the cheap and popular one, but it rusted quite quickly. I’ve bought the battery-powered ones, but they got wet and stopped working. I liked the smooth edge opener, but two of them became dull and unusable after under 6 months. If I could go back, I would just buy this ZYLISS Lock N’ Lift Can Opener. Most of it is plastic, so it hasn’t shown rust yet. It’s got a good grip and is easy to use.

zeroll

Zeroll 1020 Original Ice Cream Scoop
Didn’t see this coming, huh? This is the best ice cream scoop, period. Once you try it, you will wonder why all the other ice cream scoops in the world are so bad in comparison. If you walk into an ice cream shop, this is probably the brand that they use. It has conductive fluid that makes it easier to get through rock-hard ice cream. It creates the perfect ball shape for placing on cones. The 2-ounce size makes a small/medium-sized ball, but other sizes are available. Why not own the best ice cream scoop in the world for about $15?

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. There are also many other items I on my wish list that I haven’t bought yet. What high-quality kitchen items would you consider a good “investment”?

Comments

  1. Linda Buchanan says:

    I’ve read the ice cream scoop is not dishwasher safe. That seems strange to me. Seems like I’d want to be able to throw it in the dishwasher.

    • Yes, the label says that it is not dishwasher safe. I believe the conductive fluid expands with heat and dishwasher can get really hot? Otherwise it’s a solid piece of aluminum alloy. My guess is that if you run your dishwasher without heat it should be fine (which some folks do to save energy anyway).

      The good part is that you’re just washing off ice cream so it is always easy to rinse off, it’s not baked-on food or grease. We just treat it like a good knife… hand-wash and rack-dry.

  2. 1. Crockpot- saves time. 2. Pressure cooker – saves time. 3. VitaMix – best blender ever, workhorse. Makes smoothies, blends soups, make homemade peanut butter, hummus and more. I bought a used one on eBay.

    • Thanks for your comment!

    • I would suggest a true food processor over a blender. With the exception of smoothies, it’s more specialized for making things like peanut butter, hummus, mayonnaise, strudels, chopped nuts, etc. For soups, we use an immersion blender – less mess and no transferring between containers.

  3. The Le Creuset is worth every dime. For soups, stews, meats, whatever … even cooking temperature, easy to clean and solidly durable.

    And, yes, never scrimp on knives. It will cost less in the long run. Keep your fingers, too.

  4. Vitamix and Blentec are awesome blenders. The vitamin customer service is great too if you have issues. Can get either one at Costco.

    I’m traveling more lately. So I want to replace my cheap carry-on luggage with something better, like Briggs & Riley. Does anybody have recommendation?

    • I’ve had a reliable Tumi roller bag that fits in overhead compartments for years. Also just got an Away roller bag that has a charging port, which is convenient when I can’t find an available outlet at the airport.

  5. Linda Buchanan says:

    I’d like to recommend Cutco knives. I’ve had my set for over 40 years and it’s still in great shape. They come with a lifetime guarantee. And they are made in America. I try to buy American, when I can.

  6. Things I’d recommend: An immersion blender, and stainless steel pots and pans (for when you don’t want to lift cast iron).

    Things that I would recommend avoiding: Single purpose electric gadgets, E.g. Ice cream maker, bread machine, electric citrus juicer.

  7. I find that medium tier non-stick pans are the best value. The coating fails over time regardless of the brand. Cheap ones fail quickly and I have not found higher end ones survive longer. I can usually find a restaurant style multi-pack at Costco that serves my needs.

    • That agrees with what I’ve heard that you should just go to a restaurant supply store and buy whatever non-stick they have and replace it as needed. My last couple of T-Fal non-sticks have been pretty good however, and I believe they have won few comparison tests at America’s Test Kitchen.

  8. I LOVE my Get It Right (GIR) utensils and highly recommend their Ultimate Spatula! Not only does it come in many different fun colors, they are great to use and are heat proof, dishwasher safe, BPA & BSP safe, phthalate free and offer a life time guarantee. They are made from one unibody design of silicone so there are no seams or holes making them super hygienic. They are flexible, yet strong due to their fiberglass core. Hands down, the best spatula I’ve every used! I really like their lids too. They cut down on the use of plastic wrap and are microwave, oven and stove proof. Plus they look pretty cool in the fridge! All their products come in various bright colors and are wonderful to use!

  9. From my experience as a Chef, I would say Staub is of better quality than Le Creuset. If you buy Le Creuset, make sure it is made in France. Some of their products are made in Thailand or China but the quality is not as high. I have had several bad experiences with these products unfortunately including a pot that split in two while cooking. If you don’t want to or can’t spend a lot of money for a Staub or a Le Creuset, consider also Fontignac. It is a good alternative. I believe Fontignac is part of the Staub company. Costco sells (or used to) sell Fontignac. Disclaimer: I am a French native so my review may not be totally objective 🙂

  10. I totally agree with this. I have two comments for those starting out. Shop Costco for its Kirkland pot/pan set. Comparable to Caphalon One but only about $150 for a 14 piece set. For storage, mixing bowls, cookie sheets, and utensils find a local restaurant supply store. You can get basic sturdy stuff for cheap. Smart and Final is good in CA or Resco/Cresco in midwest.

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