Maybe you're starting out cooking, or maybe you've been cooking for a while and are just looking for ideas of cooking tools to add to your collection. Whatever the reason, I'm here to help you decide which of these tools you have been missing all your life.
I taught myself to cook when I was between 17 and 19 years old, and have loved cooking ever since. There is just something so fun about being able to create whatever you want and nourishing yourself and/or those you love. The first meal I ever made was hard-shelled tacos with ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and sour cream. Pretty simple for me to make now, but I was so proud of myself for making an entire meal for the first time. Be proud of yourself no matter what level you are at. Don't compare yourself to others, even the most experienced chefs in the world are so different from each other; the differences are what make us amazing!
Depending on what type of food you like to cook, there are several tools that will most likely make your life a lot easier if you have them in your cooking arsenal. All the tools are multi-purpose and are relatively inexpensive. You can find most on Amazon, but there are a lot available at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and some at World Market. I've seen Vollrath cooking tools at restaurant supply stores if you go to those.
In no particular order, here is a list I have compiled for you:
Meat Thermometer: Will you be cooking chicken, ground beef, lamb, pork, venison (deer), rabbit, duck, or something else? I've found that an instant read internal temperature thermometer is the best way to check the internal temperature of your meat. The one I have has a digital readout which can be switched from Celsius to Fahrenheit, and can be switched on and off with a button. My thermometer was $20, but you can find them on Amazon for $15. You can get a thermometer that has a probe only, or one that has a probe and a cord so you can put the probe in the meat in the oven, and the readout is outside of the oven. It depends what kind of meat you cook. A meat like a pot roast that has to be cooked for a long time might need a probe with a cord so you don't have to open the oven. However, if you are mostly going to just cook meat that takes less than half an hour to cook, I think a thermometer with just a probe is better. I have both, but I've noticed that I use the one with just the probe a lot more often.
Nylon & Silicone Head Tongs: There are several tools you can use to pick up the meat when it is cooking and has finished cooking. The first tool is stainless-steel tongs with either nylon or silicone heads. Nylon will resist heat up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, while Silicone will resist heat up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. I use OXO tongs, and have had them for years without any damage to either the tongs nor the pans I use. I find them easy to use, and easy to clean. I've never gotten burned while using the tongs, and the tongs make cooking a lot safer for me; they grip the meat well while turning, and create a safe distance from popping grease or sauce. I have a 12" pair of OXO tongs, and a 9" pair. I use the 12" pair for grilling steak, hot dogs, and turning over potstickers if frying those, and use the 9" pair for turning over baked chicken, vegetables, and many other hot foods without the risk of burning myself.
Fish Turner: Another tool I use for meat if I wish to turn over hamburgers, fish, or anything that is a weird shape that is difficult to turn over, I use a fish turner. I use the OXO Good Grips fish turner (I'm partial to OXO products, but you can use whatever you'd like). I find that the longer the spatula, the easier control I have over it, and it prevents me from getting burned by grease splatter. I use this when using the tongs isn't possible, and find that it is easier to use than a regular turner or slotted spatula; I have more control, and more room for the food because the sides aren't raised up. The only thing about this spatula that I've noticed is that you have to clean it right away. It's very difficult to clean off residue if you don't clean it quickly, and I usually dry it on its side because I've noticed that it leaves big water marks if you don't.
Spider Strainer: One of the best tools I've found for getting vegetables out of boiling or hot water is a spider strainer. The spider strainer skips the step of draining the vegetables in a colander, so you can take your vegetables out faster and wash less dishes as well.
The spider strainer has another use as getting fried foods into and out of a fryer safely and easily. You can also use it to serve dumplings in soup, and anything else that you need to get out of a liquid by straining. I find it to be a cross between a ladle and a colander, and very useful. The spider strainer I use and really like is called Helen Chen's Asian Kitchen Stainless Steel Spider Strainer. It's about $6 on Amazon. I like it because I always feel I have a firm grip on the handle, and never worry about getting burned. The handle is bamboo, is smooth, and has a nice grip. It never feels hot and never gets stained by grease or hot water. The strainer is easy to clean, and I haven't had any problems with rust, staining, or quality issues.
Balloon Whisk & Flat Wire Whisk: One of the best tools you can have to make a roux is a whisk. I have a balloon whisk and a flat whisk. A balloon whisk works great if you are working your roux in a flat pan, but I've found that a flat whisk works really well if you are working in a pot. A flat whisk will allow you to get to the sides of the pan, while a balloon whisk restricts you.
The whisks I like (not surprisingly) are from OXO Good Grips. They are fairly inexpensive, and are good quality. I use both for foods such as sauces, roux, blending flour and yeast, blending flour and cocoa, making scrambled eggs, and making scones. There are so many uses for these, so I consider this one of the most used tools in my kitchen.
Ice Cream Scoop: Yeah, I know, you're like, what? An ice cream scoop? Yep, I use this thing all the time. Ice cream scoops are of course, great for ice cream, but you know what else they are good for? Meatballs, cookies, and pretty much anything that you'd like to form into a ball and bake, fry, or grill. They allow you to make sure anything you are making is uniform in size, so you will also be able to make sure that your food is cooked evenly. The best ice cream scoops I've found are by the company named Vollrath. The size I bought is in the size 20, is bright yellow with a metal head, and is 1 and 5/8 oz stainless steel disher. I bought it off of Amazon for about $13. I always wash it by hand, and have never had any problems with rust, discoloration, or quality. The scoop continues to scoop cleanly, and the release lever pushes all of the food out without anything being left behind.
Spreader Knife and Sandwich Cutter: I admit, I never used a spreader knife until a couple of years ago. I just used butter knives, and let me tell you, spreader knives are awesome. They are so awesome that it is rare that I will use a butter knife. Basically, I will use a butter knife to spread peanut butter onto a sandwich or onto crackers, but that's it. The spreader knife has taken over! You know, as is its rightful place in the kitchen as it's proved its superiority.
So what makes it so great? Well, the surface area is wider than a butter knife, so if you are spreading mayonnaise, cream cheese, jam, curds, avocado, etc., you are going to be able to load more on the knife, spread a more even, thicker layer, as well as be able to cut your sandwich, bagel, pita, etc., after you are done. You don't have to spend a lot either. I get spreader knives at World Market for $1, but you can get them anywhere you like. I just find that the World Market ones are inexpensive, and are good quality. They do have a problem with rust spots, so what I do is wash them by hand and put them up against something like a cup so the blade is vertical instead of horizontal. This way the water drips right down off of the knife instead of laying on the blade flat. I could also dry them by hand, but sometimes I don't have time.
These are the items I couldn't live without in my kitchen. I hope this list has helped you.