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Cooking.  People either love to do it or they order out - a lot.  As someone who has enjoyed cooking his whole life, I often get asked by friends and colleagues for kitchen tips and advice.  And while I can offer suggestions and recipes all day long, I truly believe that the ability to cook well starts with good equipment.  Too often folks stock their kitchen cupboards and drawers with inferior equipment or they concentrate heavily on gadgets.  I always offer that with the proper set of good-quality basics, you can cook just about anything.

So what do I suggest for a proper kitchen set-up?  First, buy the best you can.  Just like garage tools, cheap kitchen equipment won't do the proper job - and - you'll end up spending more in the long run replacing it when it breaks.  Second, try to look past trendy gadgets and "one-use" appliances;  one good basic kitchen tool can do the job of two or three gadgets - and take up less space.

Here are the items that I would offer should be in every kitchen.


 

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Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer

Sometimes brand names matter.  While there are probably cheaper mixer options out there, consider a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer purchase a buy-it-once necessity.  These appliances get rave reviews for a reason.

Not only are Kitchen Aid Stand Mixers vital to baking, they also perform a variety of other mixing duties in the kitchen.  Did you know that with the paddle attachment, you can shred meat?  There are also a variety of other attachments (pasta maker, grinder, ice cream maker, juicer) that truly make a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer a multi-use workhorse.

One word of advice:  I know that many choose the tilt-head model over the bowl-lift model due to price.  While it's true that the tilt-head models cost less, they also come with smaller motors and their bowl capacities are usually lower.  Additionally, if you choose the bowl-lift model, I find it fits easily on the kitchen counter underneath your cupboards, and you don't have to move it out to use it.

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Half Sheet Pans

Check out any professional kitchen and you'll quickly notice that they use sheet pans for just about everything.  They bake on them.  They cut and prep ingredients on them.  Sometimes in a pinch they're used as a cover for a pot or pan.  You can also use them to transport items.

For home use, some people buy so-called cookie sheets and think that they're getting the same thing.  You're not.  Here's an example why:  Sheet pans don't buckle under high heat in the oven and they also have a raised lip around the edge - consumer grade cookie sheets don't.  You can roast meat on a sheet pan or cook bacon in the oven; try that with a cookie sheet and you'll end up with a grease fire when the pan buckles.

Pro kitchens have larger ovens, so they use sheet pans.  A home kitchen oven is smaller, so you're looking for what are termed Half Sheet Pans.

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Silpat Silicone Baking Sheets

Half-sheet pans are the ultimate baking tool.  But to get the most out of them, you really need to use them with a silicone baking sheet.  With a silicone baking sheet, nothing sticks to the surface; your cookies come right off, sugary or sticky items lift away, and clean up is easier.

There are many brands of silicone baking sheets out there.  The original - and the best - are Silpat, made by Demarle.  Made in France, these kitchen "musts" will last a long time - making the purchase price a worthwhile investment.

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Stainless Steel Nesting Mixing Bowls

Every kitchen needs utility bowls - for mixing or holding ingredients.  Many are made from glass - and they have their place.  Others are made from plastic - and I wouldn't recommend  them; plastic absorbs odors and stains and is just plain flimsy.  My recommendation for your kitchen is stainless steel. A good set of stainless steel mixing bowls will get lots of use in your kitchen.  Buy them to "nest" and you'll save on storage space.

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Swing-Away Can Opener

There are many different varieties of can openers - both automatic and manual.  Let me just say one thing about automatic can openers - like those that mount under a cupboard or stand up on a counter:  How are you going to clean it? I've seen one-too-many cans of pet food be opened by an automatic can opener - followed by a can of something that I'm supposed to eat.  All can openers end up with traces of the item in the can.  Need I say more?

So we can agree that you need a manual can opener.  However, too many of these are cheaply made and don't hold up to use.  My pick is the Swing-Away Can Opener.  These are built for heavy use, they crank easily, they're completely washable, and they last forever.  How long do they last?  I own a couple of these and one of them dates back to the 1970's.

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Digital Kitchen Thermometer

I mentioned above that I get food-related questions a lot.  One of the most common is "how do you know when it's done"?  That answer is usually - temperature.  An instant-read, digital thermometer is an absolute necessity in the kitchen.  Meat should be cooked to a certain temperature - both for safety and for preference (i.e. rare, medium, or well).  But, temperature is also vital to know when a casserole is done or if those re-heated vegetables will be cold at their center.

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Digital Probe Thermometer

Used in tandem with a digital kitchen thermometer, a digital probe thermometer serves a vital purpose; when you're roasting meat in an oven or on a grill, this tool lets you check the temperature (and it's level of "done0ness") without having to open the door, letting the heat out.  Just simply insert the probe into the item you're cooking when you initially put it into the oven or grill, thread the heat-safe wire to the outside, and then you can watch the temperature rise (or fall) knowingly accurately how your food is progressing.

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Knife Sharpener

Here's where my sage advice about not buying something cheap takes a slight detour.  In my personal kitchen at home, I have three different knife sharpener systems - two of which were pricey and include a variety of different stones, angles, and settings.  The other is a model similar to this one - which costed considerably less.  My advice for which knife sharpener to buy is simply this:  "buy the one you'll use most".  A sharp knife is a safe knife.

These pull-through models are very easy to use and they do a reasonably-good job.  The other systems I have collect dust.

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Honing Steel

Many people are confused by what these kitchen tools do.  A lot of people mistakenly believe that they sharpen knives. They don't.

Knives are sharpened by gliding it along a hard surface.  Every time you use it after they're sharpened "dulls" the knife by flattening the edge over.  A honing steel is used to straighten that edge back.  You'll use a knife sharpener only when needed but you should use a honing steel every time you put your knife to work.

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