As a food writer, my kitchen is stocked with a variety of big-ticket pieces of equipment, whether that be my beloved stand mixer or colorful enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens. But as any cook will tell you, some of the best, most functional tools are the ones that cost a fraction of the price.
I do get a thrill out of kitchen gadgets whose usefulness is inversely proportional to the amount of money I spent on them. Makes you feel like you’ve outsmarted the system, you know?
In that vein, here’s a roundup of some of The Washington Post food team’s favorite inexpensive tools, which we’ve capped at $15.
Serrated paring knife. I used my Victorinox serrated paring knife so much that I bought a second one — and it’s still not enough. This little blade slices with ease through almost anything you can throw at it. I use it most for prepping fruit for my son. It’s also perfect for slicing tomatoes and dividing sandwiches in half. ($7)
Magnetic whiteboard. A while back, I decided I need to bring a little order and awareness about everything going on in my kitchen. I bought a whiteboard sheet to stick to the side of the fridge, where we can jot down ingredients we need to buy as soon as we realize we’re out (and before I forget). It’s also handy for keeping track of what’s in the freezer. Or use it to share the week’s menu, assign chores, anything you want. (Prices vary, generally $15 or less)
Glass prep bowls. We have a whole shelf of these in our Food Lab, and my colleague Aaron Hutcherson reminded me I should really have them at home, too. Prep bowls (sometimes called pinch or finger bowls) come in a variety of sizes and are great for prepping ingredients. We especially like to have them filled for quick-cooking recipes such as stir-fries when you want all your items — spices, garlic, ginger, etc. — ready as soon as you need them. I also like to portion salt and pepper into them when dealing with raw meat to avoid cross-contamination in the larger containers. (Individual bowls from $1 to $2, with sets around $10 and up.)
Deli containers. You may not need to buy this favorite of assistant recipe editor Olga Massov if you get takeout, especially soup, with any regularity. They’re clear, lightweight and stackable. Pint and half-pint sizes are helpful. You can store just about anything you want in them. Many bakers like them for sourdough starters or discard, as long as you puncture the lid with a few holes to allow the container to ventilate — and prevent it from exploding. I use mine to freeze batches of cooked beans or soup. Just be sure to leave a little head space to allow for expansion. (Free if you re-use what you have, or multi-packs start around $6.)
Ceramic ginger grater. Food editor Joe Yonan has for years sung the praises of this tool from Kyocera. If you’re consistently frustrated by grating ginger on a rasp-style grater (i.e. Microplane), or cleaning said grater afterwards, you may appreciate the ceramic grater. It helps you get the parts of the root you want and not the fibers you don’t. (About $15.)
Funnel sets. Decanting can be a messy business, whether it’s for dry or wet ingredients. A narrow-mouth funnel is ideal for filling spice or other small bottles. Yonan, who is an avid fan of Mason jars, also recommends metal canning funnels that can be used to fill regular- and wide-mouth jars. When you have a neat pantry of jars filled with rice, beans and other dry goods, you’ll appreciate their utility. (Starting at about $13.)
Y peeler. Massov has a specific favorite among this style of vegetable peelers: the Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler. She sings the praises of its finger divots, which, combined with the fairly slim handle, make it comfortable to hold for even those with smaller hands. She notes that the carbon steel blade stays sharper longer. One of her biggest reasons for going with a Y peeler as opposed to the swivel style is the wider strips of food you can remove with the blade. ($5.)
Squeeze bottles. They’re not just for ketchup and mustard! Ann Maloney likes to stash salad dressing in hers. Or take a page from the many chefs who keep cooking oil in squeeze bottles for quick, easy and neat transfer to a hot skillet. They come in various sizes, and smaller ones are ideal for drizzling melted chocolate or piping thin icing onto cookies. (From about $2.)