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I was never someone who “always knew” I wanted to cook professionally; it started out as just a way to pay the bills. See, I started working in restaurants as a way to pay for college. As luck would have it, I fell in love with restaurant life and quickly realized I had stumbled onto my career. I’m eight years in and I’ve learned a lot — especially in terms of gear. I now know what tools make a professional kitchen run as smoothly as possible. And I swear by them for home use, too. These are the 10 tools I bought for my home kitchen after using them at work.
1. A Quality Chef’s Knife
The difference between a good chef’s knife and a great chef’s knife is night and day. And while some can run you hundreds of dollars, for home use you can get a great tool for a fraction of the cost. This knife was my very first knife at my very first kitchen job (and is the one I bought for my mom on Mother’s Day this year). After eight years it’s now my “home” knife and I have a different one for work, but after all that time of professional kitchen use — from countless butternut squash, the errant stubborn can, and one gut-wrenching fall from a prep table — it’s still kicking.
What I love about this knife is that, even though the handle is slightly on the heavier side, I always feel very in control of the blade because it’s so well-balanced. It’s low-maintenance; if you hone it regularly and clean it properly (absolutely NEVER put it in the dishwasher) you could easily go a few months between sharpening sessions.
Hear me out: Squeeze bottles are a totally necessary part of a home kitchen setup. When most people think of squeeze bottles, they probably think of fussy sauces and stuffy restaurant plating. While some restaurants do use them for that sort of stuff, I am here to tell you that squeeze bottles are the answer to all your oil woes. I keep squeeze bottles of EVOO and canola oil next to my stove at all times. And I have other squeeze bottles filled with chili oil, sesame oil, and balsamic in my pantry. A squeeze bottle gives you so much more control and precision that any large, bulky container can — so you don’t accidentally dump two cups of oil onto a salad (I am speaking from experience here). A squeeze bottle is perfect any time you want expert-level control of your oil, which, let’s be real, is pretty much always.
My salad spinner is the one thing that’s made the biggest impact on the way I cook. At work, we have a gigantic commercial spinner that takes up the entire sink and can dry off enough lettuce to make salads for the entire dinner service. For home use, I chose this smaller model because I’m usually cooking for just two people and I need to be judicious with the precious cupboard space in my tiny kitchen. Having a salad spinner makes it easy to have a salad each night. Before I bought one, I would wash my lettuce and then try (in vain) to carefully dry the leaves on a kitchen towel. This took forever and yielded a wet, clammy salad. The worst part being that oil-based salad dressings will never in a million years cling to lettuce coated in water. This is also the perfect size for herbs, which are often too delicate to wash and dry aggressively.
One thing I love about working in professional kitchens is the giant cutting boards they all seem to have. Once I got a taste for them at work, the teeny tiny cutting boards I had been using at home just didn’t cut it anymore. It seems like such an insignificant thing, but having lots more room on the board makes prepping a lot easier, not to mention the amount of dishes it can save when you don’t have to put everything aside into separate bowls.
When I got my first chef’s knife, I had no idea how to take care of it. I didn’t even know that I needed to. Thankfully, one of the sous chefs at my then-job swooped in and showed me what to do. Aside from a honing steel that you should use daily, a sharpener is an important tool in your arsenal to extend the life of your knife and make prepping a breeze. Many professional chefs prefer to use a whetstone to sharpen their knives — and while I have one and use it for my work knives, in my opinion it’s unnecessary for home use and far easier to use a little handheld sharpener. It’s quick, easy, and will give you a super-sharp blade.
Carbon steel pans offer the best of cast iron and stainless steel. They can develop a nonstick surface that surpasses a cast iron, but heat up quickly like a stainless pan. Plus, carbon steel pans are much lighter than cast iron, which makes sautéing and flipping a really big pancake a total breeze. They still require care and seasoning, but are, in my opinion, much easier to maintain and significantly more versatile. Because of their smoother surface, most pans only require one layer of oil to become fully seasoned.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and wondered how they got every single slice of potato so thin and even in a gratin? Or how those radish matchsticks in your salad got so perfect? The secret is not hours of precise chopping — it’s a mandoline. Every professional kitchen has one and every home kitchen should. Honestly, when I’m coming off 10- and 12-hour shifts from my restaurant job, I reach for my mandoline to bang out all my knife work.
Like a lot of people, my pantry used to just be a black hole of dried beans, open bags of flour, and spilled rice. Once I started working in restaurants, I noticed that the dry storage and pantries were immaculately organized with nary a forgotten bean in sight. A big part of that is obviously putting in the work to organize and maintain it, but that task is made infinitely more manageable by one thing: Cambro containers.
Cambros are the go-to for all professional kitchens. They are plastic storage containers that come in a million different sizes (like 1 quart and even a 5-gallon bucket). They’re great because there are a few lid sizes and almost all the containers are scaled by height to accommodate one of the sizes of lids. At home, I generally use the 1-quart, 2-quart, and 4-quart models, all of which fit the standard green lids. Every dry good in my pantry now gets stacked in Cambros — and labeled with a piece of masking tape. Nothing gets forgotten or spilled, and everything is easy to find.
The most liberating day of my life was the day I threw out all my old food storage containers. I used to have a drawer of shame with a seemingly infinite supply of mismatched lids and containers, but then I discovered deli containers. These are the small storage containers of choice in restaurants for ingredients at a cook’s station or to hold prepped stuff for another day. They’re clear plastic cylindrical containers that usually come in cup, pint, and quart sizes.
At work, I keep all my small prepped ingredients in them (like cut herbs or salad dressings). Where a Cambro is usually for a big amount of something, deli containers are the counterpart for smaller amounts of things. At home, they make perfect containers for leftovers. They easily stack in my fridge and, when not in use, nest in my cabinet. There’s only one size of lid that fits all container sizes, so having only these in my cabinet eliminates the dreaded hunt for the matching lid.
This may sound like a weird one, but masking tape is the one thing I use the most at work. Whenever I prep anything that’s going into a container (any container!), I immediately write on some masking tape with what’s in the container and the date. Why? Because the walk-in refrigerator at work is a sea of deli containers and Cambros and, this way, I know exactly what’s what and when they were made, which is crucial for food safety.
Before I started doing this at home, I would have leftovers or containers of sour cream or half-used boxes of stock with seriously questionable remaining shelf lives. Now, every time I pack some leftover pasta into a deli container or open some lunch meat, I make a quick label with the name and date to keep myself organized. This has really cut down on my food waste — now that everything has a label it’s easier to remember to eat leftovers promptly and use up things that I’ve opened.
How many things on this list do you have at home? Let us know in the comments below.