If you put me on a desert island with a primitive kitchen and tell me I can have 10 things to make my life easier, my first question would be, "can I have one more?" Who wrote the "Top 10" rule? Let's think out of the box, people, and start a Top 11 trend! That's because after setting up my kitchen with the basics (a knife set, cookware, phone number of the nearest take-out) there are 11 specialty items in my kitchen that not only increase efficiency, they are the magic tools that make a so-so meal into a knock-your-socks-off feast! See how many of these you already have in your kitchen; then go get the rest—and you won't be sorry.

Food Processor

Just in case you have any doubts about splurging on one of these darling little machines. Food processors are indispensable time savers for jobs like puréeing, mincing, or shredding almost anything.

Grill Pans

Great for everything from burgers and steaks to grilled fish, veggies, and panini, heavy-bottomed, ovenproof grill pans are worth the price. Look for the kind with wide ridges (5/16" or more) because they enable a larger area of caramelization, resulting in richer flavor. It's a good idea to go for aluminum rather than cast iron, unless you want to combine cooking dinner with your weight-lifting workout. The aluminum pans are not only lighter to handle, they also leave nicer grill marks on your food. Though grill pans can be somewhat costly, a couple of grill pans are cheaper than two outdoor grills, and you can use them all year round, regardless of the weather.


Once you get the hang of it, a mandoline saves time creating perfectly uniform vegetable and fruit slices and juliennes. I especially like to use it for apples, potatoes, cucumbers, and carrots. Because they have an adjustable blade, you can get varying thicknesses with much more speed and precision then you can with a knife. Be sure to follow instructions and use the supplied hand guard: mandoline blades are razor sharp.


These precision graters originated in the woodshop as rasps (a coarse file with sharp, raised points). When the Microplane tool company started getting orders from chefs, a new product was born. They are perfect for many things, including cheese, ginger or nutmeg and for zesting citrus fruits.

Ovenproof Skillets

One of the secret weapons used by restaurant chefs for turning out large quantities of food at the last minute is a good quality skillet that can withstand oven temperatures. Skillets should be heavy enough to conduct heat to the food evenly. You can use your skillet for excellent caramelization and crusting of your food on top of the stove and for cooking it through by finishing it in the oven.


Just the handiest pepper mill there is, and I wouldn't start cooking without it. I prefer this brand to your standard grinders because they're simple to refill, easy to work, and catch the ground pepper (or other spices) in a detachable cup. You can adjust the grind from fine to coarse, a valuable feature if you're picky like me. (Just between us, Paula Deen, Rachael Ray, and Ina Garten all say it's their fave, so you'll be in good company.)

Potato Masher

When a full-blown purée is not what you are after, and you don't want your potatoes to turn gummy from overwork, a potato masher is what you need. Mashers come in all shapes and sizes, but the most common version has a zigzag pattern. They're terrific for making other things too, such as applesauce, hummus, even bagelshop- style egg salad and tuna fish.

Reamer or Juicer

Fresh lemon and lime juice add spark and vitality to food. Whether for cooking or baking, having a reamer on hand makes short work of getting all the juice out of citrus. (BTW, I do use the bottled version in a pinch.)

Salad Spinner

Although pre-washed bag salad is one of G‑d's great gifts to those of us who are pressed for time, this simple device dries salad greens and herbs with almost no effort. Washing and drying your own salad is much more affordable than buying the pre-washed bags. Look for a spinner that has a nonslip bottom and one-handed operation.


Good pairs of scissors (yes, you'll probably need more than one pair) are indispensable in the kitchen for everything from trimming meat to snipping herbs and opening packages. Poultry shears make it especially easy to cut through chickens, and can be used for a variety of other foods as well.


Like an extension of your hand, tongs may be the most useful and versatile kitchen tool you will ever buy. I recommend having a drawer full of tongs in all shapes and sizes. They come in especially handy when dealing with raw meat or piping hot foods. Extra-long tongs are a must when grilling, and shorter tongs are practical for serving at the table.