Along with the speed racks, the walk-in fridge, and the carefully labeled Cambros of stocks and purees hanging out on wire Metro shelving units, one of the stalwart elements of any professional restaurant kitchen is the stainless steel prep table. While not as rustic-chic as the butcher block kitchen island, steel prep tables—or work tables, as they’re often called—are the unsung heroes of the home kitchen. I first purchased mine brand new on eBay for $80, and it’s been a cornerstone of each of my three New York City apartment kitchens, extending my meager-to-nonexistent counter space by three invaluable feet. Everyone should afford themselves this luxury.
There’s a reason you’ll see steel work tables in nearly every professional kitchen: they’re extremely durable and easy to clean, and you can pretty much place any kind of scorching-hot pot or pan directly onto the surface without damaging it, which is ideal in a fast-paced professional kitchen—but also in your own kitchen, particularly when you can’t seem to locate your trivet.
If you’re buying for an actual restaurant, these tables can get pretty pricey: You can find them in the $400-$500 range if you buy online through restaurant supply stores. These are made with super-durable 14-gauge steel, meaning they can stand up to “repeated heavy blows of a cleaver or meat tenderizer without denting,” according to the product description.
I’m assuming you don’t run a butcher shop out of your home kitchen, though, so you should probably stick with the more budget-friendly 18-gauge variety. My table is 24x36", which will typically run you around $150 or less, and provides the perfect amount of counter-height prep space. Some also come with a sink or a backsplash, which, again, you probably don’t need.
If your kitchen is low on storage space (hi, yes), you can look for prep tables that have built-in shelving or cabinets underneath. These tend to be adjustable: if you’re purchasing the table disassembled, a la IKEA furniture, you can install the shelf as high or as low to the ground as you want. I use mine to house almost my entire spice collection, my Dutch oven, and everything else I couldn’t fit in the 2.5 cabinets I share with two roommates.
Aside from being both durable and useful, these tables somehow manage to blend in with your kitchen or dining room and add a bit of edge to your decor, no matter what your aesthetic might be. Stainless steel kitchens are apparently experiencing a comeback right now, according to Architectural Digest: more people are choosing stainless steel appliances, countertops, and even cabinetry for their home kitchens.
In 2019, however, as a freshly minted Brooklyn transplant on a barista’s salary, the closest I could get to an industrial minimalist look was this lone 24x36 table. And I’d even repurchase it if I had to; it makes me feel just a little bit more professional every time I use it, even if I’m just plucking herbs or tossing a salad. Technically, we could also call it seating in a pinch. I haven’t recreated that famous still from The Bear yet, but hand me a chambray apron and I may just have to plop my butt down on my prep table like an exhausted Carmy Berzatto.
There’s a wealth of listings for stainless steel prep tables on Amazon, from Home Depot, and from restaurant supply websites like WebstaurantStore. The particular table I bought on eBay back in 2019 is no longer listed, but there are plenty of others on the site. Alternatively, you can check your local Buy Nothing groups for one of these tables, though if those people are anything like me, it’s possible no one is willing to part with theirs.