It's no question that a chef's job is a challenging one, and when it comes to executing dishes efficiently and precisely having the right tools on hand is essential. Even if you're a home chef, knowing which tools you should have in your arsenal can be helpful.
To guide you, INSIDER asked chefs from around the US to share their must-have tools. Here's what they had to say.
This chef uses a Chinese cleaver for a variety of applications.
Scott Campbell, executive chef of Butcher & Banker (a subterranean steakhouse in NYC), describes his favorite tool, a Chinese cleaver, as "the most utilitarian knife."
"You can go from chopping herbs to tenderizing meat for the perfect veal cutlet," Campbell told INSIDER. "Due to its weight, it can become a hammer [and used] to crack things open using the non-sharp side of the blade."
For this chef, a big mixing bowl is a must-have to avoid messes.
Whether you're tossing a salad, making a dough, or coating vegetables in oil before roasting, "one thing everyone needs in their kitchen is a big mixing bowl," Daniel Sharp, executive chef of The Meatball Shop (a meatball-centric restaurant with multiple locations in NYC plus one in DC), told INSIDER.
"Tossing anything in a bowl requires that the bowl is at least twice the volume of what you're tossing if you plan to keep most of it in the bowl ... If there is potential that something could splash, the bigger the bowl the better."
This chef uses a mortar and pestle on a daily basis.
Daniel Holzman, co-founder and chef of The Meatball Shop, told INSIDER that his favorite kitchen tool is a mortar and pestle.
"It's a great way to release flavor from herbs, grind spices, and blend flavors without the need to set up and clean a blender or food processor," Holzman said. "Whether you're smashing, grinding, blending, or mixing your mortar and pestle will do the trick!"
This chef uses a cake tester for more than just cake.
Matthew Accarrino, executive chef of SPQR (a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant in San Francisco), shared that his favorite tool is a cake tester.
"You can test vegetables with it: if it stays in, it's not cooked," Accarrino told INSIDER. "With meat or fish, just stick [the cake tester] in and wait a few seconds. If it's warm or hot you will have an idea of how cooked your steak or salmon is. I also use it to prick out air bubbles when casing sausage or wrapping things in plastic wrap."
This chef can’t live without his favorite chef's knife.
"The one knife I couldn't live without is my 8" Wüsthof," Andrew Ehrmantraut, executive chef of City Works Frisco (an American restaurant and sports bar in Frisco), told INSIDER. "It's not the best knife I own, it's certainly not the fanciest, but it's my workhorse. Give me my chef knife and a couple of clean towels and I can do about 90% of the things I need to do in the kitchen."
This chef uses an immersion blender when cooking and baking.
Gracie Bensimon, owner of Gracie Baked (a Brooklyn-based baked goods company with a pop-up at North 3rd Street Market), told INSIDER that her favorite kitchen tool is an immersion blender with a food processor attachment.
"I originally bought this as a treat for myself, thinking I would use it when attempting fancy dishes," Bensimon said. "Turns out I use it almost every day, for anything and everything … I love using it to perfectly blend soups and make salad dressings, aiolis, and sauces such as chimichurri and pesto."
When it comes to baking, Bensimon uses the food processor attachment to make her own flours that she mixes into cookie dough.
This chef says a KitchenAid stand mixer is well worth the investment.
Laurence Edelman, chef and co-owner of Left Bank (a New American restaurant in NYC), uses a KitchenAid stand mixer to make fresh pasta, emulsify aioli, whip egg whites, mix cookie dough, and more.
"Even with all that I'm sure I'm only scratching the surface of what it can do," Edelman told INSIDER. "It's well built, well designed, and totally worth the investment. I love the fact that it has changed so little over the course of decades on the market."
This chef’s go-to tool is a well-seasoned cast iron pan.
For Tatiana Rosana, executive chef at Outlook Kitchen (a modern American restaurant at The Envoy Hotel in Boston), it doesn't get much better than a cast iron pan, particularly one that's been "passed down through the years."
"Nothing beats the slick surface of a well-seasoned cast iron pan!" Rosana told INSIDER. "I use mine at home for everything including eggs, steaks, and cakes. The pan heats up evenly and holds the heat for a long time. There is no better pan for getting the perfect salty crust on a nice thick ribeye steak."
This chef’s must-have tool is a spoon – but not just any spoon.
When he's working on the line, Matt Leverty, executive chef of the Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis, uses a spoon to baste items in a pan, taste his food, plate a sauce, handle a delicate protein, and more.
"A good spoon is like gold in a kitchen, which is why I've scrawled my initials in the back of my spoons, as they tend to 'disappear' from your station from time to time. Any good cook will tell you a good spoon is one of the most valued things a chef can have. I use a 9" Gray Kunz spoon; it's the best $12 you'll ever spend."
This chef uses tongs of different sizes for a variety of tasks.
Rick Ortiz, chef and owner of Antique Taco (a taqueria with locations in Chicago), uses different sized tongs depending on the task.
"I use small tongs for garnishing, medium tongs for serving vegetables and proteins, and long tongs for cooking over high heat," Ortiz told INSIDER. "If you have a hot pot with handles and one side towel you can use your tongs to hold the other handle. You can [also] use tongs to spread out hot charcoal and wood."
This chef keeps a spray bottle filled with water on hand while grilling.
"A simple spray bottle with water is a helpful tool when grilling, especially delicate fish, and something I always keep on hand," Jason Hall, executive chef of Legasea Seafood Brasserie at Moxy Times Square in NYC, told INSIDER.
"When your grill flares or flames up it can cause the protein to take on a petrol or gasoline flavor, so if you are cooking a piece of salmon or a steak with a higher fat content and getting a lot of flare up, just give the grill a little spray next to the protein to keep the flames under control," Hall said.
This chef makes sure to keep his knives sharp.
"I can't stand working with a dull knife," Jeff McInnis, co-chef and owner of Root & Bone (an elevated Southern restaurant in NYC), told INSIDER. "Nothing will slow you down and interrupt your cooking performance like a dull knife."
He swears by a knife sharpening stone and diamond steel. "I keep a 2-sided stone in the kitchen handy (medium grit on one side and coarse on the other), as well a fine diamond steel to keep my knives edges sharp."
This chef uses a microplane to quickly elevate her dishes.
While some people may be intimidated by a microplane, Eden Grinshpan, chef and co-founder of Dez (a fast-casual Middle Eastern restaurant in NYC), insists that it's an essential kitchen tool, especially when it comes to cooking shortcuts.
"Microplanes allow you to immediately elevate a dish with a fine zest of citrus, freshly grated cheese, and quickly getting a fine mince on vegetables that are otherwise a pain to chop like garlic, ginger, and turmeric," Grinshpan told INSIDER.