My Top 10 Tiny Kitchen Upgrades
These are my must-have small kitchen tools. I’m the person my friends go to when they’re looking to buy something and want to know which option to get. It sounds super nerdy, but I love reading comparison tests, pouring over reviews, and finding the best version of everyday items. All of my kitchen tool recommendations bring way more joy to your kitchen than their meager prices suggest, and none of them take up much space in your drawer.
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1. The Best Peeler 削皮刀
Although you can peel potatoes with a paring knife, a good peeler is one of those kitchen tools that will 100% make your kitchen life better. Not an exaggeration, between my parents and me we’ve handed out a dozen of these Kuhn-Rikon vegetable peelers. Fortunately they come in a very cheap set of 3!
This is a Y-peeler aka Swiss peeler, which is a different shape than the straight-swivel variety you may be familiar with. There’s a small learning curve, but I find that I can peel a carrot or potato way faster with this shape.
This Kuhn Rikon peeler is great because it’s sharp (carbon steel blade), cheap, comfortable to grip, and economical with your produce (it only removes the bare minimum). In theory, carbon steel requires slightly more maintenance than stainless because it could rust, but all I do is give it a quick rinse and air dry right after using it.
If you just can’t get behind the Y-peeler:
Messermeister Pro-Touch Fine Edge Swivel Peeler
There are some items, like apples, that are easier with a straight-swivel peeler. I’ve tried at least 5 different brands over the years, and this model is hands-down the best. Similar to the Kuhn Rikon Y-peeler, it takes off much less than most, stays sharp, and is comfortable to grip.
This model also comes in a set of 3, but I would only buy the regular peeler. The julienne peeler in the set can be used to make “zoodles” (zucchini noodles) as well as shredded vegetables like my Sichuan Hot & Sour Julienned Potatoes, but I don’t recommend it. I think a good chef knife or mandoline are much more reliable.
2. Spider Skimmer 漏勺
A spider — aka strainer or skimmer — is useful tool for scooping anything out of hot liquid. 6″ is a good size for home use. I use it for:
- blanching vegetables, like green beans in my Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans and tofu in my Sichuan Mapo Tofu
- fishing dumplings out of the cooking water
- deep frying — after the oil is cooled, you can then filter it through a coffee filter or fine mesh strainer and reuse it
- discarding the large pieces from homemade stock before pouring the rest through a fine mesh strainer
- scooping pasta out of the cooking water and straight into the sauce to finish it — this leaves behind the salty, starchy pasta water that you’ll need to tighten up the sauce
I got mine for $2 at the restaurant supply store. This Winco skimmer from Amazon checks all the boxes from a reliable restaurant-grade brand. I like to put mine in the dishwasher, so I recommend stainless steel over bamboo.
3. The Best Corkscrew 瓶塞钻
Most corkscrews are terrible, and a lot of “better” corkscrews resort to crazy over-engineering. There’s a reason that every restaurant uses waiter’s corkscrews. They’re compact, efficient, and inexpensive — all good things for apartment living as well.
The most efficient ones are double-hinged. My favorite is the Patrick (Italy) / Franmara (same brand in US) Murano. They are the corkscrew maker for both the Burgundy and Bordeaux wine boards. I got my first one as a souvenir in Burgundy and have been using it for close to 10 years.
A more widely available option is the TrueTap. We have a couple of these as well, picked up from various wineries. They are a solid choice if the Italian-made Murano isn’t available, but my vote goes to the Murano.
4. Dish Drying Mat 干碗垫
When we buy a house, a second dishwasher is my first renovation wish. I try to use as much dishwasher-safe kitchen equipment as possible, but there are still some items that should never go in the dishwasher:
- knives, esp. non-serrated like your chef knives
- any pots and pans except stainless steel, esp. cast iron and carbon steel
- wood/bamboo spatulas
- wood cutting boards (really anything wood)
- aluminum sheet pans.
For the items that can’t go or don’t fit in the dishwasher, I recommend a dish drying mat. These are basically like bath mats for your dishes; they absorb water without getting smelly. Every now and then, throw yours in the laundry. You can also put a wire dish rack on one and save yourself the gross task of cleaning mildew off the drainer tray.
I like the Ikea Nyskoljd (about $2, get several!), which folds up for storage, but every thick microfiber drying mat I’ve tried has worked fine.
5. Oil Cruet 油瓶
We usually buy avocado and canola oil in bulk from Costco and decant it into an oil cruet or oil dispenser for ease of use. A good cruet keeps light out (ceramic or stainless), prevents leaks (snug top), and prevents anything from getting into the bottle (flip-top lid).
We have Rachael Ray cruets in marine blue and white. They check all those boxes AND are good-looking. As someone who has had to clean up the huge mess when a cruet top came flying off a bargain bin cruet, this is one item where not all are created equal.
6. Splatter Screen 防溅网
A splatter screen is a mesh lid for your pots and pans. When you’re pan frying or searing, put it over the top of your pan. Steam goes out, so everything still browns nicely, but the oil splatter is held in.
This Ikea Stabil is particularly well-designed because the lid folds flat against the screen. Next time you’re at Ikea, do not leave without picking up one of these splatter screens. It will save you SO much cleaning, especially if you have an anemic microwave/range hood combo like I have.
If you don’t want to go to Ikea, this OXO option looks promising. Pick one where the handle doesn’t stick out when collapsed so it can go in the dishwasher! I’d recommend at least 13″ diameter so it can fit over a 12″ pan; you can always use a larger screen with a smaller plan, so save some space and money and skip the set.
7. Salt Cellar 盐皿
I’ve discussed this in my essential ingredients series as well. We buy 3 lb boxes of kosher salt and store small quantities in a salt cellar, aka salt box or salt pig. This is just a fancy name for a box that you can fit your hand in for storing salt.
We have this bamboo salt box with a lid that swings open. I also used the sugar bowl that came with my dish set for many years. A wide mouth mason jar would also work.
8. Garbage bowl
A garbage bowl isn’t so much a kitchen tool as an efficiency measure. It’s just a small bowl for the countertop to throw scraps in while you’re cooking. You can then transfer them to your compost bin or into the trash can. I keep mine right next to the cutting board, which means only one trip per meal to the garbage can.
You can really use anything you have on hand for this purpose, but I recommend one that can go in the dishwasher. This 8″ stainless steel Ikea Blanda Blanck is the one we have; it’s a perfect size for small kitchens. I also use empty plastic tofu boxes.
9. Bench scraper 刮板工具
A bench scraper or dough scraper is a roughly 4″ x 6″ sheet of metal or plastic with a handle. It’s a useful kitchen tool for transferring food from the cutting board, brushing scraps into the garbage bowl, and scraping sticky dough off a work surface. I am partial to the stainless kind (dishwasher safe!), but many excellent chefs also like plastic. Of the several we have, this all-stainless-steel one from Sur La Table is my favorite. The Oxo version is also good. I recommend buying at least 2 so you can alternate while the other is in the dishwasher.
10. Handle for Cast Iron Skillet
If you have a cast iron skillet (you should!), you need to get a silicone handle. Most of the time cast iron is used at very high temps (e.g. searing steaks) or oven-to-stove, so it’s important to protect yourself from burns. We have Lodge cast iron skillets in the 10″ and 12″ sizes, and each one has one of these Lodge silicone handles. The silicone is heat-safe in the oven up to 230C/450F, so ours live on our skillets except under the broiler.
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