I emptied my utensil caddy and kitchen drawers to give you an idea of the tools I use in the kitchen. This post has the potential to be a long one but I thought it better to give you all the information at once instead of breaking it up. Prepare yourself.
I hate kitchen clutter. HATE it. For that reason, I avoid buying items that have a specific purpose. You’ll never find an apple slicer, a banana slicer, an avocado slicer, or an egg slicer in my kitchen. You could fill a whole drawer with various “slicers” but I don’t need them. I have good knives. I know it’s hard to slice eggs evenly but the more you use your knives, the better you’ll get at it and you won’t need a million different gadgets. Then you can sell all that garbage to other suckers in garage sales.
Before I get started, I’d like to go off on a bit of a tangent: don’t buy your kitchen supplies from Walmart. I won’t go into all the reasons why Walmart is bad for the U.S. economy here but I’ll tell you why it’s bad for your personal economy… poor quality. I’ve had so many bad experiences with Walmart brands (Great Value, Equate, Mainstays, Marketside, Hometrends, etc.) that I will never again buy anything they produce. From nail polish remover to frozen and canned spinach, and kitchen utensils to powdered sugar, it’s all bad. They take shortcuts that compromise quality to the point that I find it ethically shocking. 
You may think you’re saving money because the price tag is lower but in all honesty, you’re getting less of what you think you’re getting. Here are a few examples: compared to other brands, the powdered sugar contains more cornstarch and less sugar, the canned spinach has more water and about 1/3 of actual spinach, and the frozen spinach contains more stems and fewer leaves. That’s just a few examples. The same ethics continue to their products; their wooden spoons are thinner and made from lower quality wood so they split and snap, the heads pop off the rubber spatulas, the springs break in the tongs, etc. You may save some money up front but constantly replacing cheap items will cost you more in the long run. Save yourself money and frustration and buy better quality kitchen utensils. It doesn’t cost much more but will last you a lot longer.
That said, let’s get into what to buy. You don’t need everything that I have in my kitchen but I’ll list what I use and why so you can decide what you need. 

  • Utility Scoop – Great for creating uniform sizes. This is an occasionally used tool, I mostly use it for scooping cookie dough and fillings for chocolate truffles. I have a couple of these in various sizes so make sure you get the size you need. Restaurant supplies offer dozens of sizes.
  • Tongs – There are 3 types here: a pair with silicone coating, a standard pair, and a pair without teeth for delicate items. I have several of the standard pair and use them more frequently than any of the others.
  • Spider – This is a Chinese item but it comes in handy in any kitchen. It’s great for removing solid foods from a liquids, like french fries from hot oil or vegetables from water.
  • Peeler – These come in several shapes and sizes. They make some with the handle perpendicular to the blade, as opposed to parallel to the blade like mine, but I like the more common ones pictured above. Stick with what you like.
  • Turner – These are commonly called “spatulas” but since there is another item called a “spatula” these are referred to as “turners” in professional kitchens. To avoid confusion, I’ll follow suit. This one is a cheapie I bought from Ikea a million years ago. I have a few different sizes to accommodate my needs and I have a couple that are non-coated stainless steel… those are thinner and can slide under some items better than the coated ones. If you cook on teflon (which I will hopefully break you of later), stick with the coated ones. Stainless steel will damage your teflon faster than anything else.
  • Ice Cream Scoop – This one is an old school style ice cream scoop. It’s not great for ice cream but I like the wide spoon for stirring other items. I use a large spoon for scooping ice cream since I’m single and don’t find it necessary to use a bowl. Eating out of the carton saves cleanup time. [Bonus.]
  • Rubber Scraper or Spatula – I keep several around because they come in handy. I have a couple smaller ones that are nice for getting every ounce of product from small containers and I bought those at International Pantry (kind of like Williams-Sonoma, just a better local version that’s not so over-priced). When shopping from restaurant supplies, you’ll notice two different varieties: white handles and red handles (pictured above). The red handled spatulas won’t melt at high temps so you can use them in hot pans. I don’t even bother with white handles because they have limited use. Why do they offer two varieties? Simple… cost. The low temp ones are usually about half the price of high temps and most restaurant owners are cheap [true story]. 
  • Wooden Spoons – Wooden spoons are the only kind I use in cooking. We use mostly stainless steel in restaurants because they’re more versatile and hold up to the abuse of commercial kitchens but I don’t need that much versatility at home. Also, wooden spoons don’t get hot like metal. I once got a nasty burn across my palm and fingers from picking up a stainless steel spoon that was just removed from an open flame. The physical scars have healed but the emotional scars remain. [Too theatrical?]
Candy Thermometer – 100% necessary when you’re learning to make caramel or deep frying foods.
Digital Thermometer – 100% necessary always. If you eat meat, you should have one of these in your kitchen. Period.
Rolling Pin – This is the style I like best. Some like French pins (that don’t have handles) but I don’t get enough leverage with them when I’m rolling out tough laminated doughs like croissant and danish. You may call me weak but so be it. I like what I like.
Ladle – In restaurant supplies, they have a wall with a plethora of ladles. All different sizes. They’re measured by the fluid ounce which comes in handy. (Learn why in my post on weights and measurements.) I have several different sizes for different jobs, starting at 1 oz and going up to 6 oz.
Pizza Cutter – This may sound like it has a specific purpose but it’s more versatile than you think. I use it for pizza, of course, but also for cutting homemade marshmallows, slicing off large doughs, etc. I’ll refer to it several times as we move through our classes.
Microplane Grater – I LOVE this thing. If you zest fruit or grate hard cheeses (like Parmesan) and you don’t have one, this will change your life. One of my friends from culinary school, Bridgette (you’ll hear her name a lot), had one of these in her drawer that she never used. I went to her house one day after she used it for the first time and she couldn’t believe it took her so long to bust it out. It’s amazing. They also make them with handles but on those, the grater is more narrow. I’ve used both and I prefer this one. 
Pastry Brush – I have a couple of these. I have one more like a mop that I use for BBQ and this one I use for pastries. Honestly, sometimes I just dip my (clean) fingers in egg wash and spread it over pastries to coat but I use this thing, too. 
Melon Baller – This can serve the same purpose as a utility scoop but it’s slightly different. This sides of the melon baller are thinner and sharper so they cut through hard items better. The utility scoop is better for soft items like doughs and soft chocolates because the spring-action mechanism helps push soft items out of it. The melon baller is better for harder items, like melons, because it carves better.
Masher – Stop using your electric mixer for mashing potatoes. It’s just as easy with a masher and doesn’t require digging through your cupboard and drawers to find all the equipment, then strategically planning your position close to an outlet. 
Whisks and Whips – Retail stores refer to everything as whisks but that’s not entirely accurate. In restaurant supplies, you’ll see tons of different sizes of “whisks” in two varieties: French whisks and piano whips. The wires of whips are much thinner than of whisks. Restaurants use whisks more than whips because the average whip lasts an average of 6.3 hours (approximately) in a commercial kitchen before the wires get bent and tangled. I prefer whips because I often whip cream and eggs by hand (only because it’s often faster than setting up the electric mixer) and it’s almost impossible to do with a whisk. However, whisks will mix ingredients into sauces and marinades easier. If I’m buying just one, I’d buy a whip because they’re more versatile.
Digital Scale – This is probably the #1 favorite item in my kitchen. I use it even more than I imagined I would and words cannot describe the love I feel for it. (Clearly, I’m single.) I used to have a crappy analog scale I bought cheap (at Walmart, of course) but it’s an accurate and therefore useless. I finally shelled out the money at International Pantry for this gem and it changed my life. When we get into cooking, you’ll notice that I give both weight and volume measurements in my recipes. Measuring by weight is much more accurate and it saves you from using seventeen different measuring devices when whipping up a sauce. You’ll see what I mean. 
Measuring Spoons – Everyone has these. Mine either came from antique stores or Anthropologie because I like pretty things. Function trumps form in anything cooking related but why choose when you can have both?!
Dry Measuring Cups – Another fun Anthropologie set. Love them. Don’t use liquid measuring cups for measuring dry ingredients. Ever. 
Liquid Measuring Cups – Also, don’t use dry measuring cups for measuring liquids. Channel your sixth grade science teacher and you’ll remember why. Accurately measuring liquids means measuring at the liquid’s meniscus. You can’t do that with dry measuring cups. (Mr. Waldenville would be so proud.)
Random Measuring Cups – I saw these on Anthropologie online (back when the nearest Anthropologie to me was 3 1/2 hours away) and I had to have them. There are 4 different sized cups and when you stack them, they look like an old milk bottle. Turns out they’re terrible for measuring when I need to be accurate but they’re so dang cute, I keep them around. Looks like form won in this case. 
Ring Molds – There are a couple different sizes in the photo, although they’re hard to see because they’re stacked. I use them as biscuit cutters, cookie cutters, dough cutters when I’m making mini whatevers, etc. I even use them to make single serving cakes and cheesecakes. I got these at a restaurant supply.
Sieve – Not a strainer, a sieve. It has many practical kitchen uses and you should probably have a couple different sizes. This is my largest. I like a fine mesh sieve because I have colanders for straining larger items, when needed. 
Box Grater – So much easier than it’s handheld cousin when you’re grating food. Because this one stands up it gives you more leverage, which makes grating faster and easier.
Shears – Would you look at that? These things snuck into another post. I might call them Kardashians (since they’re clearly desperate for attention).
Cutting Boards – I have several of these. I like the wood board but I need a new one. I’ve had it for a long time and it gets the job done but it’s too small and it’s made from a soft wood, which shows knife marks and dulls my knife. When I get around to buying a new wood cutting board, I’ll get one made from the ends of wood. You know it’s made from the ends when it looks like a bunch of little squares. The ends are tougher and resist cutting better. Wood boards require a little more attention and care than plastic but when properly cared for, they last longer. I don’t like glass cutting boards because my knife slides around on them too much. 
I like plastic boards for several reasons but especially for raw meats and tomatoes. They’re not porous so they won’t retain harmful bacteria. We love the color coated ones you find in restaurant supplies for commercial kitchens. The colors represent specific types of food: blue = fish, yellow = chicken, red = red meats, green = vegetables, brown = cooked meats. When cooks go from cutting vegetables to cutting meat or from cutting fish to cutting chicken, they have to switch out boards. If I see a prep cook cutting vegetables on a yellow board, I know there’s a greater risk of cross-contamination and I know who to fire if someone gets sick. Kidding, I just publicly shame them then throw away the possibly contaminated food then dock their pay. Seriously though, everyone knows the rules and they police themselves pretty well. There’s always a “hall monitor” type in the back of the kitchen. And while the system isn’t perfect, it’s helpful.
When it comes to cutting boards, size is important. If your board is big enough, you can stockpile your cut foods while you finish prepping without dirtying a bunch of dishes. If it’s too big, you’ll have to clear space on your cabinet to use it and cleaning it is a nightmare. My plastic boards are the ideal size for me: 12×18″. 
I didn’t show you all the specialty stuff for baking because this post is long enough. We’ll look at all that down the road when we begin our baking classes.