Food, I’ve mentioned before, is one of the most fundamental ways we interact with the planet. Eating sustainably, then, remains our easiest and most direct way of making a powerful impact on our food system and the environments and communities it impacts.
The problem is, not everybody likes cooking – this in spite of an internet full of recipes, magazines, cookbooks, and apps. An inbox of good recipes and some basic cooking techniques are important, but not the whole story, or else everyone would be cooking already.
Less recognized is that a major part of why people don’t cook at home is that they don’t have good tools. There’s no shortage of equipment in our kitchens, but it tends to be a lot of clutter – a mix of gadgets, basics, and multiples of items we don’t need four of (um, soup ladle, anyone?).
Why does this matter for sustainability? Because like I mentioned in my first post, sustainable actions aren’t any good if we can’t sustain the behaviors themselves.
These are six absolutely essential tools to my kitchen – ones I use every day that changed the way I cook, so that my wife and I (both working full time) can still eat 95% of our meals from scratch and have them be amazing. I recommend going for the highest quality you can afford. It’s worth the upfront investment to have high performance tools that last forever.
I never knew how dull all my old knives were until I started using my Shun. Handy enough to chop veggies, sharp and strong enough to quarter a chicken, and precise enough to fillet a whole fish in a pinch. Pro tip: to keep the blade’s edge intact, invest in an assisted sharpener kit or bring your knife to the hardware store once a month.
Food prep is miserable on plastic and silicone cutting boards and even worse when it’s a small cutting area. Opt for a proper, big surface (16” width, preferably greater than 20”) to prep your food. Go for one that’s made of sustainably harvested wood.
I still use the OXO cutting board I bought 5 years ago and recommend it, but prefer thicker wood boards (at least 1” thick) because they hold up to cutting action and don’t slide on the counter as much.
InstantPots are the darlings of all the food bloggers, and while I’m not much one for trendy gadgets, this thing is a little miracle machine. An InstantPot pressure cooks, slow cooks, and more, meaning you can come home from work, literally throw stuff in there, walk away, and have dinner be done in 30.
There’s nothing better than throwing a frozen pork shoulder, veggies, and sauce (normally 10 hours in the slow cooker) into the InstantPot and have it be pull-apart tender in 35 minutes. Dinner hero. It’s ridiculously easy to use and is a huge reason why we’re able to both work full time and still eat home cooked dinners every night. Go get one.
A cast-iron skillet is perfect for cooking literally just about everything, from searing a steak to roasted herb-potatoes to pan pizza. You can beat the crap out of it without ruining it, put it in the oven upwards of 500 degrees, or take it car-camping for cooking over coals.
5. Dutch oven
A dutch oven is the partner in crime to your cast-iron skillet. I use this every day to saute greens, brown up some onions and garlic, or make soups and stews, but most of all, to make the easiest and most perfect roast chicken.
The rumors are true: you can and will blend up your sneaker just to enjoy how awesome this blender is. What makes it different than a normal blender? Basically the Vitamix is more powerful and durable – you can make smoothies, but you can also make soup (handles hot liquids fine), nut butter, and almond milk too. Gets used every single day in our house because I typically am never hungry for breakfast and compromise by making smoothies to take with me in the car/bike.
You could certainly get plenty of more, but it’s amazing how much you can do with a literal handful of items. These and a couple baking trays and some parchment paper are all you need to cook 95% of the things you’re likely to cook on an average weeknight at home. So take a look at your kitchen, invest in a couple solid tools, and get cooking with some beautiful ingredients.