I love restaurant supply stores. Anytime I wander the aisles, I feel like a kid in a candy store and inevitably end up walking out with something to add to my ever-expanding pile of kitchen tools. (No, I do not want to talk about the wire storage shelf in my bedroom that houses the overflow from my kitchen cabinets.)
Even if you aren’t quite the cooking fanatic that I am, there are many perks to checking out your local restaurant supply store.
First things first: Yes, it is called a “restaurant supply store,” but you don’t necessarily need to work in the restaurant industry to shop at one. (While some do require you to be part of an actual food business to shop, many are open to home cooks as well.) A simple Google search can help you find if there are any in your area — just make sure they are open to the public before visiting — and a number of them let you shop online, such as WebstaurantStore, which touts itself as the largest online restaurant supply store.
What sets these stores apart from your standard home goods retailer? The selection. They can carry just about any piece of kitchen equipment you can think of, such as pots and pans in all sorts of sizes and shapes, pizza peels, mini fluted quiche pans, food mills, giant party-sized ramekins, dishware and serving platters for your next soiree, and more. Whether for ordinary or special use, you’re likely to find whatever you’re looking for at one of these vendors.
The price and quality are often hard to beat, too. Items sold at restaurant supply stores are meant to withstand the wear and tear of professional kitchens. If they can survive hundreds of busy restaurant shifts (depending on the item), they should be able to handle whatever you throw at them while making meals for your household. On top of that, they’re often available at the fraction of the price of what you can find elsewhere since restaurant supply stores act primarily as wholesalers to businesses buying in bulk.
Your first restaurant-supply shopping experience can be intimidating, whether in person or online. Larger stores have so much to offer that they can feel overwhelming, and if you’re after the prettiest kitchen supplies out there, you should look elsewhere (unless you’re really into the industrial-chic aesthetic). But the price, selection and durability of the cookware you’ll find is well worth it in the end.
Here are some of the items you should pick up on your next trip, along with a couple to avoid.
Sheet pans and wire racks
These are workhorses in my kitchen. I use them to bake cookies, roast meats and vegetables, cook sheet-pan meals, drain fried foods and more. They come in a range of sizes, and while you might think you should buy the “full” size, those are actually too large for standard residential ovens. Go with “half” (13-by-18-inches) or smaller pans and accompanying wire racks. I’ve become particularly fond of quarter sheet pans when cooking meals for one. WebstaurantStore sells individual sheet pans for just over $5 each, whereas other places online list them for double that amount or more.
One of the benefits of the containers found at restaurant supply stores is that they are designed to nest, meaning that they are easier to organize and will take up less space in your cupboards. If you’re like me, you already have a collection of the pint- and quart-sized deli containers you get from takeout, which are great for storing and freezing sauces, soups and stocks.
If you’re looking for something more sturdy, the plastic containers from Cambro are the standard in many restaurant kitchens. They can be either square or round and come in sizes ranging from 1 to 22 quarts, with the larger sizes being particularly useful for storing dry goods such as flour, sugar, rice and beans. Some people also love the rectangular metal containers meant to be used as steam table inserts.
Stainless-steel mixing bowls
They’re cheap, lightweight and durable and are offered in an array of sizes that are great for holding your mise en place or tossing a large salad for your next dinner party. The cherry on top is that they are sold individually, allowing you to buy only what you need versus being beholden to an entire set of bowls as at some retail home stores.
Pots and pans
You can find an array of cheap, heavy-bottomed stainless-steel cookware, carbon-steel pans and woks for all of your high-heat cooking needs and affordable-yet-egg-cooking-worthy nonstick pans. As Daniel Gritzer wrote in Serious Eats, “Just like toothbrushes and underwear, you should approach nonstick cookware with the intention of replacing it often.”
This is where things can go off the rails. There are whisks of all sizes — from tiny ones that look like they’re meant for toddlers to gigantic ones fit to stir a cauldron. You can find all manner of knives, but I’d recommend paring and serrated knives the most as they are best replaced once they’ve gone dull. You can easily find large, thick, sturdy cutting boards that aren’t prone to warping.
One of my personal favorites are dishers, a.k.a. scoops, which I use often for portioning cookie dough and dropping batter into muffin tins. They’re much sturdier than other cookie scoops I’ve tried. Some other items worth your consideration include vegetable peelers, tongs, spiders, nut crackers, squeeze bottles and thermometers.
What to avoid
Restaurant supply stores are great for many things, but not for home appliances. Restaurant stoves aren’t as well insulated as those meant for residential use, and installing one may void your home-insurance policy. And though an industrial refrigerator might sound like a great idea, be warned that they can be extremely noisy.