Stocking your kitchen can be overwhelming. When once you may have been able to stock up on a pot, a pan, and a spoon and call it a day, now everywhere you look there are gadgets like air fryers or hyperspecific utensils like corn cob holders. You may think you should avoid any extraneous tools entirely when setting up your starter kitchen, but don’t count out these underappreciated items that just might change your life. We’re not talking about fun but ultimately useless kitchen tchotchkes (though those have their time and place). These are the things that we actually use, and you should too.
The humble potato masher
“When will I ever use that?” I asked my dad when he offered up a potato masher for my kitchen. “When making mashed potatoes” was the obvious answer, but that’s a dish I rarely make, and whenever I do, a fork serves me just fine. Still, I took it, never one to say no to free stuff. I eventually did use the masher to make some mashed potatoes, and I couldn’t believe I had ever lived without it.
The satisfying squish as I plunged through a pile of soft potatoes, the look of the squiggly tater bits seeping upward through the utensil’s zig-zagged prong. I mashed those potatoes better than I ever mashed them before, and grew to appreciate a certain type of ASMR in the process.
But that’s not all! Now I use my potato masher to mash all kinds of things. Defrosted ground beef still kind of in a brick shape? Mash it. Want more juice out of that lime? Give it a good mash. If having a potato masher is wrong, I don’t want to be right. —Brianna Wellen, associate editor
All my life, I saw the people in my family turn down lime squeezers in favor of doing it themselves with their hands. If they wanted lime on their tacos, they were going to handle that citrus without any sort of device. This led me to think, “Do I lack such upper body and grip strength that I can’t even squeeze half a lime?” I am not a fragile female. I am an independent woman who can squeeze her own limes. However, I am glad I finally set my pride aside and allowed this device to do all the squeezing for me.
Not only is it much easier to grip the handles of the juicer than grabbing the lime with my bare hands, but the squeezer gives way more control as to where the juice falls. A more controllable squirt of juice, if you will. And in the case of a lemon, the squeezer catches any seeds that otherwise would have ended up in my food. My limes and lemons are squeezed and there’s no going back. —Angela L. Pagán, staff writer
A quality flatware organizer
A year ago, I found myself staring into my flatware drawer with fear and loathing. For nine years, I’d toted the same crappy plastic flatware organizer from dorm room to student apartment to a grown-up apartment in a new city, and it was disgusting. The white plastic had yellowed, the edges were dented, and each flatware slot was filled with mysterious detritus from crackers gone by. Fed up, I sprang for a nice bamboo organizer from Crate & Barrel.
The new organizer couldn’t have cost me more than 30 bucks, but it’s changed my life in a surprising number of ways. Before, I’d hide my disorganized flatware stash from guests, lunging to grab them a butter knife before they could open the drawer. Now, I open my flatware drawer with pride, displaying my very adult organizer with a flourish. Bottom line: You shouldn’t hate anything in your kitchen. If it grosses you out or fills you with shame, get rid of it. —Lillian Stone, staff writer
My trustworthy kitchen tongs
I realize that kitchen tongs are probably already in your kitchen, but I have to say, I think they’re the most unsung utensil I own in terms of their usefulness. I’ve got this old-ass pair of OXO metal tongs that have served me well, and I use them for nearly every meal. Of course, there are the obvious uses, like flipping big pieces of meat on a hot pan or tray, but then there’s all the other stuff I use them for that makes them so damn versatile.
When I’ve got a frozen pizza ready to come out, I use the tongs to gently ease it onto a pizza tray. If I’ve accidentally shoved something too far back into the oven? Tongs. Too lazy to grab a strainer for pasta? You can use tongs to get, well, most of it! Got a cat that’s getting too close to the stove while you’re cooking? Clack the tongs loudly and they’ll run away. See? —Dennis Lee, staff writer