Breville Smart Oven (Amazon) - Cool story: When I bought this at Williams Sonoma, the salesperson asked me several times, "Are you a professional?" I answered honestly the first few times: "No..., no..., wait, I'm confused." Eventually, my obtuse brain got to the correct answer: "Yes!" Then, I got 10% off. Sorry for spilling our little secret, Williams Sonoma!
Rice cooker (Amazon) - Any rice cooker will do, but I like that the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker plays music when it starts and stops cooking. Zojirushis make the best rice (especially sushi rice), but it's not worlds apart from a dirt cheap rice cooker either. I don't regret the purchase since it's a sunk cost and I'm good at rationalizing, but I would have been fine with a $20 rice cooker from Chinatown.
Kitchen-Aid stand mixer (Amazon) - For making whipped cream, frosting, and bread.
Kitchen-Aid hand mixer (Amazon) - For making cookies or cakes without having to whip out the heavy stand mixer.
Cuisinart immersion blender (Amazon) - This is essential for me because I am currently addicted to tomato bisque. Use it to puree soups and even make fresh mayonnaise.
Breville Juicer (Amazon) - Definitely not an essential, but every month or so, I decide to go on a juice fast. On average, the fast lasts 1.5 meals, which means I use the juicer 18 times a year. Not bad. If you're serious about juicing, buy a higher-end model that won't leave too much juice behind with the pulp. For this model, I still use a fine-mesh strainer (see below) or a nut milk bag to extract more liquid.
Lodge 10-inch cast iron skillet (Amazon) - Anything larger might break your wrist. I use the skillet for frying eggs, sauteing vegetables, and searing meat. Even with a sous vide, I find that the best steaks are cooked by searing all sides on the cast iron skillet and then putting the entire skillet in the oven to evenly cook the inside.
TWO Cook's Standard 1.5-quart sauce pans (Amazon) - I have two of these, and some days I wish I had three. The thick bottom makes this great for cooking any type of grain like oatmeal, lentils, and mung beans. I also use mine to make caramel because the light-colored steel makes it easy to see when sugar turns amber.
All-Clad French skillets (Williams Sonoma) - You can get a great deal on these fancy skillets. I use them for browning meat and then making sauce from the caramelization. I also love to make duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms, garlic, onions, and herbs) in these skillets for pasta sauce.
Giada De Laurentiis 6-quart stainless-steel stock pot (Amazon) - This was an inexpensive pot my sister and I bought when setting up our first kitchen. Five years later, I still use it for cooking pasta.
Le Creuset cast-iron chef's oven (Williams Sonoma) - For anything that needs to be cooked slowly. I'm comfortable braising meat in this chef's oven for four hours or more just because I've burned food to a crisp in my Mom's Le Creuset (sorry, Mom), but was still able to salvage the pot with a lot of Bar Keeper's Friend (see below for another essential). I use the chef's oven for large pots of mapo tofu, chicken soup, beef noodle soup, and braised soy-sauce pork shoulder or pork belly.
Japanese clay pot (Amazon) - Perfect for dinners for two featuring miso soup, "fancy" ramen from a package, or hot pot. Don't forget to soak the entire clay pot in water for a few hours before using it.
Sur La Table tri-ply nonstick 10-inch skillet (Sur La Table) - I use this for scrambled eggs and pancakes only, but it's worth it. In my opinion, anything besides scrambled eggs and pancakes would taste better cooked in any other pan/pot listed above. I've found that my nonstick skillets always have a problem with warping, so if you want to spend more, you should get a nonstick skillet with a stainless steel exterior. All-Clad has one at a hefty price, but the nonstick surface barely lasted a year for me and I had to throw it out. Let me know if you find one that's better.
Splatter screen – Not a pot or pan, but I use a splatter screen on my pots and pans when things splatter. Any brand will do.
Goldtouch nonstick 6-piece bakeware set (Williams Sonoma) - If you're a baker, invest in the good stuff. No warping, scratch-resistant, even heat distribution, and always nonstick. Wait for the 20% off sales at Williams Sonoma, which happens around once a quarter.
Goldtouch nonstick quarter sheet pans (Williams Sonoma) - If you have the Breville Smart Oven, you must own these! Again, no warping! They're also super easy to clean. If you accidentally burn food directly on the pans and soap & water aren't doing the trick, just use Bar Keeper's Friend.
Bamboo steamer(s) - For steaming fish, eggs, buns, vegetables, etc.
I spent my first three years of financial independence accumulating kitchen tools & appliances. It's impossible to run out of gadgets to buy, but I'm 100% satisfied with my current kitchen toolkit.
Obviously, a list of 349 items (exaggerating here) cannot be essential, so read the descriptions of how I use each item and decide for yourself. This is a list of essentials if you cook six days a week, bake at least once a week, and enjoy the exact same foods that I do. What I'm trying to say is, everyone's essentials are different, but I hope this list is helpful to you anyway.
High-quality santoku or chef's knife (Amazon) - Global is my preferred brand and even their most popular knives are deeply discounted at Sur La Table at least twice a year. Go to Sur La Table or Williams Sonoma to hold different brands and types of knives. The way the knives are weighted make a big difference and it's a matter of preference.
High-quality paring knife (Amazon) - For cutting fruit, cold butter, and anything small.
High-quality serrated bread knife (Amazon) - This is only an essential if you love crusty bread or make your own bread.
Stainless steel 9-inch fish turner (Sur La Table)– Not strictly for fish, as the name implies. I use this turner for flipping eggs (I hate sunny-side up!) and sauteeing vegetables on the cast iron skillet. I also recently discovered that this turner is the perfect lasagna all-in-one device. It's sharp enough to cut through lasagna in the pan and flexible enough to scoop individual pieces out of the pan.
Muji resin turner - Unfortunately, Muji discontinued this turner! Probably because it melts on high heat. I learned the hard way and that's why I now I have two: one with a hard bubbly blob on the handle where I left it propped up on a hot-as-F skillet and another in pristine shape because I will never be able to replace it now that the turner is discontinued! I have not found an acceptable replacement on Amazon. The turner is tapered and very flexible like a fish turner. The turners that are not tapered are pretty useless, in my opinion. The fact that most turners in the market are short, thick, stiff, and symmetrical irritates me way more than any kitchen utensil ever should.
A set of bamboo utensils - Any brand will do. I wouldn't spend more than $7 on a set; they're really inexpensive and last quite a long time. I use the bamboo utensils when the above utensils are in the dishwasher.
A set of three fine mesh strainers - The big one is for draining water from noodles or blanched vegetables. The small one is for dusting powdered sugar on chocolate-y desserts. The medium one is for washing berries that come in 6 oz. containers, or for times when the big and small strainers are in the dishwasher.
Stainless steel skimmer (Muji) - If you've ever made chicken soup from a whole chicken or bone broth in general, you can relate. Sometimes it looks like gutter water with all the gunk floating around. Use a skimmer to remove impurities and create clear, professional-looking soups, stocks, and broths.
Microplane (Amazon) - Please don't buy any other brand. This is the absolute best. I LOVE my microplane for zesting citrus, and grating nutmeg and hard cheeses.
Digital thermometer (ThermoPop) - Made by the same company that produces Thermapens, ThermoPops are a much cheaper alternative to the industry's best thermometer. ThermaPops take a few more seconds to register the correct temperature, but I'm not willing to pay an extra $75 for a few seconds. I use my canary yellow ThermoPop to check the temperature of meat, bread, and even water used to make the bread.
Digital scale - For best results in baking and calorie counting.
Measuring cups and spoons - Buy ones that look sturdy and professional. I fact-checked a cutesy set I received for Christmas one year and the measurements were way off. Never trust any cutesy measuring utensils.
Metal mixing bowls - The only reason I own glass mixing bowls is to show the ingredients clearly in my YouTube videos. Otherwise, they are a pain to wash and store because they're so heavy. Metal mixing bowls, especially those that are more wide than deep, are the way to go. Use them to toss salads and mix ingredients.
Whisk (Amazon) - There is no alternative to a whisk. I use it nearly every time I bake.
Silicone spatula - I haven't found a brand that has lasted more than a year, but along with the whisk, the spatula is my baking buddy.
Silicone tongs - For grabbing stuff too big for chopsticks.
Peeler (Amazon) - It's a ring and a peeler! Might not work if you have big knuckles though.
Bench scrapers - I have one plastic and one metal bench scraper. The plastic scraper is flexible, so I use it to coax sticky bread dough out of the bowl and onto a floured surface. The metal bench scraper is for cutting/dividing dough and cleaning up my workstation. Dried dough on a kitchen surface is a pain to clean without a metal bench scraper.
Bar Keeper's Friend (Amazon) - I have mistakenly called this "Bar Stool Keeper's Best Friend" on many occasions. Not sure where the "stool" came from, but "best friend" in terms of cleaning my kitchen makes sense. It would be impossible to keep my stainless steel pots and pans looking new without this "best friend." Just be sure to wear gloves when you're using this. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure it's so strong you might accidentally rub your fingernails off.