What the Pros Use

What the Pros Use

Home-chef kitchen tools for under $10

By Nick Czap

When you think about outfitting your kitchen with professional tools, you might imagine a commercial-grade oven that spits out half a million BTUs or a $2,000 set of knives hand-forged by alpine elves. Ask chefs, and they’ll probably tell you that many of the tools they can’t do without are small and can be picked up for under $10 apiece.

1. Luminarc Stackable Bowls ($1.49 to $3.49 each). Mise en place is French for setting in place. It’s the practice of organizing everything you’ll need before you start cooking. Putting all of your prepped ingredients in bowls like these means you won’t be hunting around for the diced tomato while your garlic burns to a crisp. This technique will look familiar from TV cooking shows, but it’s used in restaurant kitchens as well.

2. Skimmer ($4.95). Ever tried to get a whole bunch of tortellini or dumplings out of a pot with a puny slotted spoon? A skimmer grabs a whole plateful in one go.

3. Pastry Brush ($8.30). If you buy it at a cooking store, it’s called a pastry brush. If you buy it at a hardware store, it’s called a paintbrush. Either way, choose one with natural bristles, such as boar—it will look nicer, and comes from a renewable resource. Use it for glazing pastries, slathering on barbecue sauce, and brushing phyllo dough with melted butter.

4. Commercial-Grade Stainless Steel Scouring Pads ($4.19 for 12). In restaurants, people who wash dishes don’t go Mickey Mousing around with sponges or nylon brushes. Pick up a few industrial-grade scouring pads—they’re big and abrasive, and they shift stuck-on food quicker than a regular sponge does.

5. Lemon Reamer ($4). For simplicity and efficiency, few kitchen tools come close to the hand-held lemon reamer. It’s small (for easy storage), simple to handle, and cleans up quickly. It also puts your lemon juice exactly where you want it with a twist of the wrist.

6. Clear Squeeze Bottles ($7.99 for 3). Tired of fiddling with the lids on a multitude of condiment bottles while you cook? Pour your vinegar, olive oil, or sauces into these transparent plastic squeeze bottles, line them all up in your mise en place, and be done with it. Need a dash of balsamic? Grab and squeeze. Bit more oil in the pan? Squirt. And it doesn’t hurt to label the bottles either; masking tape will do fine. No one wants a stir-fry full of balsamic vinegar instead of soy sauce.

7. Dough Scraper ($8.95). Dried-up goop does not relinquish itself willingly from your kitchen table. Enter the dough scraper: a flat, rigid steel blade mated to a rugged, ergonomic handle. Not only does it divide dough, it also makes cleanup supereasy. It’s kind of like those window scrapers that remove snow and gunk from a car, except it does the same on your counter.

8. Thermohauser Pastry Bag ($3.09) and Ateco Pastry Tube ($2.25). You can use a pastry bag and a tube to ice a cake, but you can also use these to quickly squeeze perfect blobs of cookie dough onto a baking sheet, top bruschetta with tapenade, and lay down dabs of ravioli filling in record time.

9. Taylor Classic Instant-Read Digital Pocket Thermometer ($4.97). Instead of cutting into your steak and letting all the juices run out, use a meat thermometer. You’ll end up with a properly cooked, juicy steak.

10. Dredge Shaker ($2.95). It sounds like something you might use for digging a canal, but a dredge (essentially an oversized salt shaker) comes in handy for dusting confections with powdered sugar, making cinnamon toast, or storing your custom spice mixes and rubs.

Nick Czap lives in San Francisco and writes for a number of publications, including Men's Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle. He has also worked in several restaurants, including Cena Luna in Healdsburg, California.