If you want to know what kind of knife to buy for your home kitchen, talk to a butcher. Or talk to anyone who works with food all day, every day. One of the many benefits of working with food is firsthand knowledge of good kitchen gear. Walk into any kitchen gear or goods store and it can be hard to tell what to get. There’s obviously a lot for sale no one actually needs, or will break, all mixed up with actual essentials. To separate the great from the duds, we asked our staff to share their go-to kitchen gear. From meat tenderizers to vegetable peelers, they know their stuff. Here are some pretty basic tools that will really up your game in the kitchen. All make for a great gift, if you’re in the market.
CARBON STEEL PANS
Josh Applestone and Matt Unger, our Chief Product Officer, share a love of steel pans from the French company DeBuyer. Our Sanitation Department Manager, James Torreggiani, prefers carbon black steel pans from Matfer Bourgeat. “They last the test of time if taken care of. It’s my go-to pan,” says Torreggiani. Pans from either brand go seamlessly from stovetop to oven and are exactly what you need to master our perfect steak recipe.
A GOOD PEELER
It’s the simple things that can really streamline your kitchen prep — daily or when cooking for a crowd. A good vegetable peeler is a must — three of our staff members mentioned theirs with the kind of admiration you wouldn’t think a peeler would elicit. “The Y-shaped veggie peelers for sure,” says Robert Weickel, a member of our Production Crew (he also loves a good mesh strainer and a classic Gray Kunz spoon). “I got a squash-sized peeler recently that was a revelation,” says Samantha Gloffke, COO and Creative Director. Her peeler is made by Kuhn Rikon, while our Technical Operations Coordinator, Ramy Dahdal, bought this magic trio peeler set. “I’m never looking back,” he says, convincingly.
STAINLESS STEEL NESTING BOWLS
Our Chief Product Officer Matt Unger can’t say enough about his stainless steel nesting bowls. “I can bang them around with impunity; unlike glass they’re light even at bigger sizes,” he explains. Also: “They never crack if you heat them and cool them rapidly. Plus, they have little metal rings on the sides that make them easier to grab.” Bonus, stainless steel bowls can be used as double-boilers and they dissipate heat really well if you need to cool something off. It’s almost like there’s nothing they can’t do.
CHICKEN ROASTER GRILL RACK
When you want to cook a whole chicken on a the grill, you’re going to want to have a stainless steel beer-can chicken roaster rack. It sounds a little specific, but it beats a home rotisserie any day. Josh Applestone says those can dry your chicken out. Plus, they cost many hundreds of dollars more than this simple and inexpensive rack which will keep your bird moist, and its skin crisp.
Josh Applestone has talked a lot about knives over the years. He has his favorites, but when asked for general advice, he always suggests people choose something that matches the level of care they’re willing to give. High-carbon steel is easy to make super sharp, but it requires a lot of care. Stainless steel is more durable, but maybe won’t ever get as sharp. Know yourself and purchase accordingly. Then, you have to treat them right. Don’t put them in the dishwasher, make sure they’re dry after hand washing, and keep them sharp. For Gloffke, our COO and Creative Director, “Investing in a real kitchen knife was a big thing.” She bought a nice, not-too-expensive set for her husband’s birthday one year. “It changed our cooking experience. And he’s really good about keeping them sharp.”
Home cooks would do well to own an unridged, or flat, sharpening steel with a medium- or fine-grit surface. The grit can be made of different materials: ceramic, borosilicate (a type of glass), or diamond (our favorite). It’s time to truly sharpen knives when honing no longer brings an edge back to them. We have an explanation of how to hone a knife in our book, The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat (come check out our community copy at our Stone Ridge shop), or if you prefer a visual, watch this Epicurious video.
This is a no brainer. You need cutting boards in a kitchen. But not all are equal. Most of our staff says they prefer wood to plastic. Wood has antimicrobial properties, doesn’t dull knives, and lasts forever. Plastic is less durable, can be expensive, and it cannot always be recycled. You have to throw it out when it gets grooves, where bacteria can grow. At home, you can clean wood boards with hot soapy water, or try some hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, or white vinegar if you feel the need to disinfect.
Wood boards can also be cleaned and deodorized with abrasive coarse salt. You can even sand your board overnight to draw out moisture and impurities, a method that has been used for centuries. You don’t have to do this more than once a month, but we do suggest it after every time you cut chicken. Just dampen the board, sprinkle a fine layer of salt on it, let it sit overnight, and wipe it off in the morning. And, please, never ever put a wood cutting board in the dishwasher.
No one wants to use dental floss to tie a roast or chicken legs together. But it does happen. Keep a spool of untreated cotton butcher’s twine on hand so you won’t get in this pickle. If the twine is 30 ply, that means there are thirty strands in the thread. You don’t really need twine that thick, but the thicker it is, the less often it breaks. Applestone says if you know what you’re doing, you can get 22 ply, which is cheaper. And it lasts forever.
JACCARD MEAT TENDERIZER
If you bang meat with a mallet in an effort to tenderize it, all you’re really doing is flattening it. A Jaccard meat tenderizer does the actual deed for steaks like top round, flat iron, eye round, and sirloin top. It has forty-eight flat needlelike blades (round ones would puncture the flesh and make it bleed out). You press it down into the steak, sending those needles directly into the flesh. This shortens the muscles fibers, making the meat much more tender. It makes marinades work faster, as they can penetrate deep into the flesh.
The jaccard’s design also means it doesn’t mash up the meat. Josh Applestone cautions not to use one on skirts, flanks, hangers, or any money meats that don’t need its power. If you overdo it, your steak will basically taste like the sort of thing a mama bird feeds a baby bird. For a large 2 to 3 pound top round, Applestone says to do it ten to fifteen times all over the steak. For a small flat iron, try using it six times, changing patterns to shorten the fibers in different ways.
Unger, our Chief Product Officer, doesn’t use his immersion blender often, but when he needs it, he’s so happy to own one. “They are super expensive nowadays but it’s so much better than a dinky little hand blender. For any recipe that calls for pureeing things in batches in a blender, which sucks, it’s a godsend,” he says. If you’re up for a splurge, consider one.
The best way to test for doneness is a meat thermometer. It’s far superior to relying on cooking time. There are many different types to choose from: they range from the cheap kind that you insert into the meat when you take it out of the oven to more expensive probes that you leave in while cooking. Some even have timers that notify you when the meat has reached a certain temperature. A dial or a digital display is up to you (and your wallet).
The only ones we don’t suggest buying are the type that have the temperature readings for beef, pork, lamb, or poultry on the face of the thermometer itself; their standardized interior temperature ranges means you are destined to overcook your meat. For more on why everyone on our staff loves meat thermometers, especially our retail crew, head over to our blog.
We find ourselves falling in love with the most simple things if they perform really well. Take this Kuhn Rikon can opener. “It’s pretty basic, but I love it,” says Corinne McDonald, a member of our Production Crew. “I’ve had one for at least 10 years.” Josh Applestone agrees: “A can opener that leaves zero sharp edges is very handy. We have one as well. I would never use another kind.”
Will Van Carpels, our Construction Liaison, is a fan of something called a pigtail, which is marketed as “the weirdest, funkiest, most effective BBQ tool,” though he uses his indoors, when he’s cooking meat in a pan. “This little tool is a handy meat-flipper. It always seems to be in the to-be-washed pile, so I guess we use it a lot. They also make longer ones for grilling and such.”
QUARTER SHEET PANS
When you find yourself at a baking crossroads, ready to upgrade to the next level, Gloffke suggests quarter sheet pans. “I’ve started using them instead of the old cookie sheets I’ve been stealing from my mom for years. They’re super affordable and make for even baking.”
Rachel Firak, a member of our Production crew, refers to herself as “the lowest tech person I know.” She has some real wisdom when it comes to kitchen gear. “If I had to put a numeric value on everything I’ve learned about what makes a good meal, I’d say that high quality ingredients are maybe 85% of good cooking, 14.9% is experience/skill, and other characteristics of the cook like patience or intuition or a sense of things, and maybe the remaining .1% is the help provided by the tools you had on hand. The function of most kitchen tools, I find, is to take up space.”
Still, even she has to cook with something. Here’s what she uses weekly — all very in line with the rest of our above staff favorites: A nice set of knives (and a honing steel and sharpener), large cutting boards, a couple of antique cast iron pans, a grater, a strainer, a spatula, a set of tongs, a ladle, a wooden spoon, and a crock pot with hi – low – and keep warm settings. “That’s it,” she says.
Sounds about right.