By Jason Frye | Photography courtesy of Middleton Made Knives
It’s no secret that gals love guys who cook. Make sure your kitchen is date-night ready with these tools and gadgets that make the preparation as enjoyable as the meal itself.
My undergraduate years were the time of cold pizza for six consecutive meals, but in my life as an actual adult I’ve become serious about cooking. Gone are the days of having a mishmash of cast-off pans and hand-me-down knives, my kitchen has quality cookware, sharp blades, and tools to tackle almost any culinary situation that may arise.
To keep you from wasting time with sub-par pots and pans, dull knives, and all the things that make cooking harder, I spoke with chefs and food writers about their go-to kitchen tools. Here’s a list their favorites and why you need to go out and buy them today.
You can get a cheap knife that will never hold an edge, will rust if you don’t dry it, and will cause you more trouble than it’s worth. With an inadequate knife, cooking prep ceases to be enjoyable. Invest in a knife you’ll love to use. William Sonoma carries good blades, but look beyond the mall and try something from South Carolina’s Middleton Made Knives (www.middletonmadeknives.com) or BootHill Blades (www.boothillblades.com) from Tennessee, a favorite of Matthew Register, owner and pitmaster of Southern Smoke Barbecue, in Garland, North Carolina.
A Honing Steel and Knife Sharpener
On the topic of knives, you must keep them sharp, so invest in a better (read: not the cheapest one you can find) honing steel and knife sharpener. Honing steels keep the blade keen between sharpenings by trueing the edge where sharpeners help you re-establish the edge and restore old blades. Many chefs and fellow food writers advised me to say “avoid electric knife sharpeners,” but I love my Chef’s Choice three-stage sharpener. As long as you sharpen occasionally but steel your knife frequently, it’s all good.
Counters are not made to be cutting surfaces, so get a cutting board… two, to be exact. You’ll want a solid wood one (bamboo works as well), like a Boos Block (www.johnboos.com), and a synthetic one. Why? Because you want to cut meat, anything that might promote bacterial growth, and odiferous items like garlic or onions on the synthetic one (easier to clean and sanitize), and chop vegetables and herbs on the wooden board. Once the meat is cooked, your wooden cutting board can become a slicing or serving tray if you buy the right style, giving you a two-for-one kitchen device.
These cut everything from bags to tags to herbs. Everyone I asked agreed: buy a pair that comes apart as they’re easier to clean. Wüsthof and Shun are excellent choices, and both are available from Williams-Sonoma (www.williams-sonoma.com).
Cast iron skillets, particularly 8-inch and 12-inch skillets, are essential in a serious kitchen. They retain heat, cook evenly, can go from stove-to-oven and back, and are easy to clean. Lodge, the famed manufacturer from Tennessee, is an option everyone knows, but barbecue wizard Matthew Register says they use only Smithey Ironware (www.smitheyironware.com) at Southern Smoke Barbecue. Chef Jesse Roque of Never Blue in Hendersonville, North Carolina, recommends a 12-inch cast iron skillet that is at least 4-inch deep so you can fry, roast, and braise with ease.
These deep cookers are often large enough to roast a chicken, braise a pork shank, make a mess of butterbeans, or cook a soup or stew. Start on the stovetop and move to the oven, then serve right from the pot — they are versatile. Le Creuset’s dutch oven is a cast iron workhorse that looks beautiful, while Emile Henry’s ceramic cooker is a great option. You can also stay loyal with Lodge and let cast iron be cast iron.
Salt? On a list of essentials? Yes. Sea salt bring a greater—and different—salinity to your cooking. It can be a great finishing salt on the right dish, and shows you’re serious about your craft. Sea Love Sea Salt (www.sealoveseasalt.com) and Outer Banks Sea Salt (www.obxseasalt.com), both from North Carolina, are favorites of many chefs, whereas chefs in Charleston, South Carolina, use the hometown favorite, Bulls Bay Saltworks (www.bullsbaysaltworks.com).
Chef Bud Taylor of The Bistro at Topsail, in Surf City, North Carolina, has a few words about his choice of kitchen essentials. He says every kitchen needs 12-to-14-inch stainless steel tongs (“good for the grill and the kitchen”), an immersion blender, a Microplane grater, and a commercial blender (“VitaMix, BlendTech, just anything that will make soup, crush ice, and blend or mix anything you want”). And his last word: “avoid any kitchen gadget that does only one thing.”