Monday, March 23, 2009

Top six culinary tools

I posed this question on the Christian Chefs Forum last Friday:

If you can only carry six culinary tools, what would they be? I'm looking for hand-held tools, not pots, pans, skillets, etc.
My thought was to canvas chefs who customarily carry the tools that they can't work without. These are chefs who have a lot of experience walking into poorly-equipped kitchens.

Like a carpenter who brings his own tools to the jobsite, these chefs compensate by carrying carefully selected tools that make the job easier. It's frustrating to walk in a kitchen -- especially one that you'll only use for one or two meals -- and find out that there are no tongs anywhere.

I have a personal motive for asking the question. Last week, I accepted a job at a summer camp. Since camp will be covered in snow until April or May, I can't run up and check out the kitchen. Even though the camp is located close to my home, I may not be able to do so until the day I report.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the camp is located two miles from road's end. I have to be ready to carry the tools that I can't be without on my back.

Anything that I take must fit into a small boat (along with personal baggage, Bible and books, camera, etc.). I have to be ready to shuttle my gear into the camp over a two-mile long trail.

Here's my list:

  1. Knives--I never leave home without my knife roll; it includes French, slicer, bread and boning knives plus a steel
  2. Tongs--I use tongs for everything: pick up food, stir a saute or sweat or baste chicken breasts in a skillet
  3. Dough cutter--Outside of tongs, this is the best all-around tool; I use it for scraping, cutting dough, picking up chopped vegetables, etc.; it can use as a spat in a pinch
  4. Digital thermometer--A necessity; every chef should own one or more quality thermometers
  5. Scoops or dishers--I love dishers and keep a bunch in my utensil drawer at home; essential sizes include #8, 12, 16, 24 and 30; they're good for portioning out meatballs or cookies and can be used to measure ingredients in a pinch
  6. Whisk--I rarely find a decent whisks in kitchens
Three chefs responded to my inquiry. Ira and Tyrone both said he'd carry a chefs knife, steel, tongs, wooden spoon, thermometer and immersion blender. These are common items, many are on my list as well.

Bryguy's list was tailored to his cooking style. He included a French knife, vegetable peeler, pastry bag with star tip, spoon, whisk and food processor.

The immersion blender is a necessity if you make a lot of sauces and dishes with pureed ingredients. Even though I could consider it a nice-to-have tool, I probably won't need on this summer.

Tyrone suggested he'd carry a cutting board. That made sense because you want to protect your knives. What better way to do so than with a cutting board that fits your needs. For seven years I carried my heavy Boos block to FC Camp.

Since I drove and could back my truck to the kitchen weight wasn't an issue. I may not be able to take it this year. I suspect that the camp kitchen will have more than one cutting board.

What are your top six culinary tools? Please consider your list and report back by leaving a comment. I'd like to hear what others have to say.


  1. Steve, 6 tools I wouldn't leave home without and going to a strange kitchen would be:
    1. An eight ounce spoodle.
    2. Dough scraper
    3. a lighter
    4. silicon handled tongs
    5. My Old Hickory 8" butcher knife
    6. Digital thermometer

  2. Thanks, Stan. The lighter is a good idea. You never know when you're going to need it to light burners, charcoal, etc.

    I always figure I can live with whatever ladles and spoons are stocked in the kitchen, even if they're not standard food service sizes. But you're 8-ounce Spoodle is a good idea.

    And I think the dough cutter (or scraper as some call it) is the ultimate multi-tasker.