Mastering Your Kitchen: A Beginner’s Guide

Find yourself getting caught up with the latest kitchen tools? Well, you might want to hold off on restocking your entire kitchen. Instead, take a look at these great tips that are sure to help you get the most out of your culinary tools and equipment.

Ignore Kitchen Tool Hoopla

A lot of manufacturers of kitchen gadgets, as well as the stores that sell them, would have you think you simply can’t cook without this or that gizmo. What you never hear is that one cook’s cool tool is another cook’s clutter. There are fine cooks who don’t have a food processor, a microwave, a blender, a slow cooker, a mandoline, a mango splitter, a gas grill, a ricer, a food mill, a toaster oven, a bread maker, a juicer, or even a coffee maker. (While you’re at it, check out 12 Things You Should Really Never Microwave.)

There are other cooks who swear by any one of those items, and a whole lot more. There are cooks—good ones—who still prefer an old-fashioned, hand-cranked eggbeater to a wire whisk. When it comes to equipment, you must find your own way.

Take Your Time

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on equipment until you know what you really like, look for yard sales that advertise kitchen equipment among their wares. You can buy things for very little money, see how you like them, and either keep them or put them into your own sale.

Wood vs. Plastic

Which side are you on, wood or plastic? The war over which type of cutting board is safest has entered a new phase: It’s a draw. The battle went back and forth for more than a decade. Everyone assumed plastic could be cleaned more thoroughly, and was therefore better than wood, until some research in 1994 showed that wood retained less bacteria than plastic.

More research followed, and it further confused the issue. Finally, researchers at Cook’s Illustrated threw up their hands and declared: There isn’t much difference. Just wash them with hot, soapy water, because bacteria persist on both for a long time.

Discover the Double Boiler

Here’s a tool that’s so old it never gets any hype, so it might as well be new and unknown. Cookbook author Virginia Bentley swore by a good old-fashioned double boiler. Several of them, actually, in big and small sizes. She loved them because they’re guaranteed not to scorch, and they’re great for keeping food warm. She liked to serve directly from them when she was entertaining. You can improvise a simple double boiler by placing a heatproof bowl (Pyrex is perfect) over a saucepan of simmering water. The bowl should sit over the water, not in it.

In With The New, But Hang On To The Old

Product makers will label their new-and-improved gadgets as “breakthroughs,” new and better replacements for the old version that’s sitting in your kitchen drawer. If you succumb to temptation and buy, don’t throw out your old tool just yet.

Take graters, for instance. The old-fashioned four-sided box grater, with different sizes of grating teeth, is still the best for grating tomatoes and cheeses such as cheddar. It also has small teeth that do a decent job on hard cheeses such as Parmesan. But a newer kind of grater, the rasp grater, does an even better job on hard stuff, like Parmesan cheese, garlic, nutmeg, and chocolate. But it does a lousy job with the softer things, so hang on to that old one.

With these helpful tips in mind, you’ll be ready to take charge of your kitchen, and make it work for you.

Be sure to read 7 Cooking Mistakes Everybody Makes (and How to Fix Them).

Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada