What Was Your Milestone Kitchen Item?

Starting to cook can be tricky, especially if you don’t own half-decent gear. For a lot of us, there was one piece of simple cookware that helped us tremendously as we learned the basics. For others, it was a gadget that took our cooking to the next level, and now we can’t live without it. Here, every editor on the MyRecipes team shares the story of the one utensil/appliance/whatever that was a big milestone for their cooking.

Real spatulas that aren’t garbage

This is something you hear about a lot with knives, and I can certainly relate to that too, but what stands out as a real game-changer when I look back at the evolution of my kitchen equipment is the moment when I got rid of the multitude of crap-tastic plastic spatulas I’d accumulated in college. I’m talking the kind of cheapo plastic spatulas that came in cooking equipment multipacks and would start melting and and wearing away within a couple of uses… and really brittle “rubber” spatulas (like the quality of what came with your Easy Bake Oven, but larger) that were virtually useless when it came time to scrape batter from a bowl. I think everyone goes through a phase with such spatulas, but there came a point when I had my own kitchen for the first time that I realized I didn’t have to live with the frustrations of these spatulas. So, I went and bought a few—individually—that are actually functional. Most important being: silicone spatulas that are all one piece (which I like better than those with wooden handles and removable rubber heads because you tend to get nastiness where the handle connects into the head) and a quality fish spatula… which I use for basically everything.

*This same point can also be applied to whisks that aren’t garbage and prone to fall apart. My next phase of kitchen tool evolution will hopefully push me to securing a can opener that isn’t garbage as well as a corkscrew that isn’t garbage. 

—Darcy Lenz, Senior Editor

My Santoku knife

I am not a knife expert in the slightest. I love my Santoku, but I don’t have any professional insight into why I love it—it just cuts well and easily. I’m not the most skilled slicer or dicer ever, and it’s so much thinner, lighter, and easier to maneuver than other large knives. It does take a little getting used to since it’s so big and the end isn’t rounded. Instead of rocking back and forth, you have to just kind of chop in one blunt motion.  Most Santoku knives are pretty expensive ($100 or more), but there’s one from Chrissy Teigen’s Target line that’s amazing and only $15. I wrote about it when I got it a few months ago: “I actually purchased this knife myself this weekend and, you guys, HOLY COW. This knife could replace all my other knives without breaking a sweat. Its size does take a little getting used to, but you'll never look back once you get the hang of it. I honestly can't believe I only spent $15.”

—Corey Williams, Editorial Fellow

Salad spinner = adulthood

The salad spinner that I bought three weeks ago. It’s not necessarily a convenient piece of equipment to store because it’s large, bulky, and, for the most part, hollow. It was also more expensive than expected (up to $50 for stainless steel models). But I bought the single-purpose item as my first mature kitchen purchase instead of continuing to get by with a bowl and a strainer as I’d done before. Owning a salad spinner signifies that I am eating greens like an adult and that I am logical enough to wash said greens before eating. The salad spinner has made life easier, but I never thought I’d own one before becoming a mom. 

—Annie Campbell, Editorial Fellow

My dearly departed rice cooker

A rice cooker sounds like one of those one-use appliances that are forever being ripped apart for gathering dust in your cabinet and taking up space on your kitchen counter. But I bought a very cheap one in college—I remember it being in the $15-range at Kmart—and it’s maybe the only reason I survived my junior year is that I could reliably put rice and water in it, flip a switch, and otherwise forget about it. Rice turns out to be one of those things it is incredibly handy to have around, because adding it to otherwise sad college staples like bagged frozen vegetables, fried eggs, and cans of beans, turns them quickly into a proper meal. It’s the reason that I would cook rather than order in, and the habit continued once I got older. My rice cooker finally bit the dust last year, something like a decade after I bought it. I immediately bought another one.

—Margaret Eby, Senior Editor

The almighty Instant Pot

I put off learning to cook as long as I could because I was terrified at the idea of failing or making myself sick. If you’re a perfectionist or you’ve ever poisoned yourself with your own cooking, you know exactly what I mean. So getting a 3-quart Instant Pot a few years ago was more than giving in to a trend—knowing I had a tool that would yield perfect results every single time freed me from that anxiety and encouraged me to explore different types of food and express myself in the kitchen. Shedding that fear and having a foolproof vehicle for feeding myself genuinely delicious meals was worth every single penny. Plus, I use it all the time. 

—Sarra Sedghi, Assistant Editor

A small skillet for small foods

A long time ago, before I knew what’s what, I owned maybe three pieces of kitchen gear. One was a huge nonstick skillet. I had access to roommates’ smaller skillets, but I really only used this heavy XXL skillet. That’s all I really need, I thought. Why fill up the kitchen with skillets like a show-off? But the thing is, I was never making paella for five people. I would cook one or two fried eggs for myself, or a piece of tilapia or whatever—always not enough food for this large pan. Oil would pool to the side because the stovetop was slanted, making matters worse. Everything would cook so poorly because the heat was distributed unevenly. Then I bought a small nonstick pan and everything changed. Without this self-imposed obstacle, making food became so much easier. Something so elementary and obvious clicked into place—small food, small pan—and I got a little better at cooking. Like I said, this was a long time ago and since then I’ve had some decent kitchen epiphanies beyond “small food, small pan,” but at the time it was pretty revelatory.

—Ryan Grim, Editorial Director

My beloved pressure cooker

Long before the Instant Pot took off as a less-intimidating countertop alternative, I was already very familiar with the loud, jolting whistle of my mom’s Hawkins pressure cooker. Growing up eating home-cooked Indian food, the standard cook time for beans and lentils, a staple of everyday meals, was always 15 minutes or less. When I moved out for college and grew bored of the usual, shortcut cheap student meals (dining hall pizza, Lean Cuisines, and instant noodles), the persistent craving for those quick-cooking rice and lentils set in. After a trip home, my mom sent me back to college equipped with my own mini-Hawkins pressure cooker—and not going to lie, the start of our relationship was rocky at first. I would only use it when my roommates were out of the dorm, knowing the startling whistle (and the splatter of hot turmeric-water on our stove as I struggled with cooking ratios) would freak them out. But once I became more comfortable with it, it became my best friend when I needed a quick, cheap meal that reminded me of home. Not only can I make comforting Indian basics like kichidi in minutes, having a pressure cooker, whether it's an Instant Pot or otherwise, is a real game-changer, letting you comfortably slash the the cook time of any slow-simmering recipe by half or more. 

—Antara Sinha, Associate Social Media Editor

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