From dumbbells to squat racks to suspension bands, your gym has all the tools necessary to help grow your muscles and melt your fat. Your kitchen also has tools that can help you achieve those goals, although that half-off fondue set you scored at Target probably wasn’t the wisest investment. Outfitting your kitchen with the right gear not only can make you a better cook (if not another Eric Ripert), but it also can go a long way toward improving your diet with the healthiest grub possible. After all, you’ll be keener to get down and dirty in the kitchen if you’ve got tools that bring out the best of the ingredients you’re using. And studies show that home cooking is critical when it comes to winning the battle of the bulge. So craigslist that dusty pasta maker to clear space for this must-have kitchen artillery.
Housewares stores are packed with space-hogging kitchen gizmos, but a humble zester proves that awesome things come in small packages. Its tiny razor-edged holes make hundreds of fine cuts on foods. The fine shreds of citrus like lime, lemon or orange can add a burst of bright flavor to everything from yogurt to oatmeal to pancakes to soups for virtually zero caloric cost. Also, use it for grating Parmesan cheese over pasta, dark chocolate over desserts and yogurt, whole nutmeg over oatmeal, or even garlic and ginger for use in sauces and salad dressings.
Need to know: The best way to zest citrus is to drag the zester across the rind, following the natural curve of the fruit. The zest will collect nicely on the underside for measuring.
Our pick: Microplane Classic Series Zester/Grater ($13; us.microplane.com)
Make this:Lemony Blueberry Sauce
• Zest 1 lemon and add to a saucepan along with 2 cups blueberries, ⅓ cup water, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and ½ teaspoon ginger powder.
• Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
• In a small bowl, stir 2 teaspoons cornstarch into 1 tablespoon water until dissolved; stir cornstarch and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract into blueberry mixture and heat one minute more, or until slightly thickened.
• Use over yogurt, oatmeal and pancakes.
The gym shouldn’t be the only place where you lift some iron. When it comes to versatility in the kitchen, a ye olde cast-iron skillet KOs the competition. With its high heat capacity, cast iron is ideally suited to searing meats and fish to perfection. You also can use it for scrambled eggs and perfectly browned pancakes. And because it holds heat so well and can go from stove-top to oven, it’s the perfect skillet for frittatas, roasting vegetables and whole chickens, and even making pizza or cornbread. Seasoned right, cast iron is essentially nonstick minus the sketchy chemicals or hefty price tag. With proper care, a cast-iron skillet only gets better with age and can last generations.
Need to know: The handles can become very hot, so keep oven mitts nearby. Most store-bought cast-iron skillets now come pre-seasoned, but if you notice any eroded finish or rust on yours, it will need re-seasoning. To season a cast-iron pan, rub it with a thin layer of vegetable oil inside and out, and place in the oven upside down at 300 degrees for an hour. (Place a sheet of aluminium foil on a rack below the skillet to catch any dripping oil.) Turn off heat and let pan cool in oven. Never put cast iron in the dishwasher. Simply rinse it under hot water and dry immediately with a cloth to prevent rust spots. To wash off stubborn food bits, use a folded kitchen towel to scour the pan with some coarse salt. Rinse the pan and dry immediately with a clean towel or by placing the skillet over medium heat to evaporate the moisture. Finish by rubbing in a light coating of oil and gently heat to help the oil soak in.
Our pick:Lodge 10¼-inch Skillet ($25; lodgemfg.com)
Make this: Deep-Dish Mediterranean Chicken Pizza
• Roll out ½ pound store-bought pizza dough and place in a cast-iron skillet, press the dough with your fingers up the sides of the skillet and then roll down the sides about ¼ inch to form a ridge.
• Spread tomato sauce over bottom of dough and top with crumbled goat cheese, sliced cooked chicken, chopped olives, sliced red bell pepper and sliced marinated artichoke hearts.
• Heat pizza over high heat on the stove-top for three minutes, then move it to a 450-degree oven and cook until the edge of the crust has browned and the cheese melted.
• Top with a scattering of arugula.
ν If you’re still whizzing up postworkout shakes with the decade-old Oster you got at a garage sale, it’s time to upgrade. A blender with serious horsepower can quickly pulverize fruits, vegetables, nuts and frozen items like subzero bananas into a perfectly smooth muscle-building drink. Beyond postworkout protein shakes, however, a blender with notable wattage can be used to make homemade nut butters, dips, spreads, cocktails, soups and a host of physique-friendly desserts. Some can even be called on to grind DIY flours from items like whole oats and brown rice.
Need to know: To quickly clean a blender container, fill it halfway with hot water and a touch of dish soap and blend on high for 30 seconds.
Our pick: Nutri Ninja Ninja Blender Duo with Auto-iQ ($199; ninjakitchen.com)
Make this:Chocolate-Banana “Ice Cream”
• Blend ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, 1 frozen chopped banana, 1 tablespoon almond butter, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon until creamy.
• Top with granola, if desired.
ν Unlike boiling, which can leach nutrients (and flavor) from foods, steaming helps preserve them as well as their distinct textures. No more mushy broccoli. What’s more, steamed lean meats and fish — like chicken breast and tilapia — retain moisture because they’re not exposed to direct dry heat. And becuase it doesn’t require cooking oils, steaming can shave off some calories from your meals. Inexpensive and durable, an old-school bamboo steamer is a great option because the slotted stackable trays allow for multiple parts of a meal to steam at the same time (place a salmon fillet on the bottom tray and broccoli on the top), streamlining meal prep and cleanup.
Need to know: To use a bamboo steamer, fill a pot large enough so that the bottom tray sits above a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Place the bamboo trays on top of the pot, secure the lid and reduce heat to maintain a strong simmer. To reduce sticking and the risk of flavors penetrating into the bamboo, place items like fish on a layer of parchment paper or even on top of greens like Napa cabbage.
Our pick: Joyce Chen 10-inch Bamboo Steamer Set ($22; amazon.com)
Make this:Steamed Salmon With Yogurt-Dill Sauce
• Season salmon fillets with salt and pepper, place them on a parchment-paper-lined steamer tray and steam until cooked through, about eight minutes.
• Stir together 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, 1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest and 2 teaspoons drained capers.
• Serve salmon topped with yogurt sauce.
Sure, you could use a vegetable peeler to, well, just peel vegetables, but you’d be selling this useful tool short. Packed with an arsenal of body-friendly antioxidants, raw vegetables should be a daily part of a diet geared toward bolstering health and getting lean. But taking a hunk out of a raw beet isn’t so appetizing. So use the blade of a vegetable peeler to make tender paper-thin strips of raw zucchini, asparagus, carrots, parsnips, celery root and even butternut squash for use in salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes. Or use a peeler with a julienne blade to make strips of raw beets, carrots, cucumber, radishes and/or zucchini for use in tacos, salads and slaws. Strips of zucchini make a great low-carb alternative to spaghetti.
Need to know: Forgot to defrost the butter in the fridge for your morning toast? Use a vegetable peeler to shave off thin slices of cold, hard butter and they’ll soften by the time you’ve brewed your coffee. Also, shave hard cheeses like Parmesan to add restaurant-worthy presentation to pasta, soups and salads.
Our pick:Crisp Straight or Julienne Peeler ($9; crispcooking.com)
Make this: Asparagus Ribbon Salad
• Working with 1 raw asparagus spear at a time, use a straight-edge vegetable peeler to shave 1 bunch of spears into long, thin shavings.
• Whisk together juice of ½ orange, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 grated garlic clove, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.
• Toss dressing with asparagus and garnish with sunflower seeds.
That flimsy pot you found in the sale bin at Wal-Mart isn’t going to cut it for making delicious chili, soups and stews. When it comes to protein-rich batch cooking, the Dutch oven is the workhorse of the kitchen. This is essentially a solidly built pot that can be used on the stove-top and in the oven. Think pulled pork and braised chicken thighs. The best pots will have thicker bottoms to prevent scorching and distribute heat evenly, making them useful for searing and simmering. Reasonably priced and durable, stainless-steel pots don’t react with acidic foods like tomatoes, are corrosion resistant, tend to be easy to clean and resist scratching, pitting or denting.
Need to know: If you plan on using a pot in the oven, remember the golden rule: No plastic handles! And perform a lift test before buying. A good-quality pot will have some heft to it.
Our pick:Calphalon Contemporary Stainless Steel 8-quart Dutch Oven ($99; bedbathand beyond.com)
Make this:Pork and Rice Stew
• Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven and sear 1 pound sliced pork tenderloin until browned.
• Remove pork from pan and cook 1 large diced onion until softened, add 2 minced garlic cloves and heat one minute, then pour in 1 cup dry red wine and simmer five minutes.
• Add one 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, 1 cup water, 1 cup brown rice, 1 diced green bell pepper, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon dried oregano and ¼ teaspoon each cayenne, salt and pepper.
• Simmer until rice is tender, about 30 minutes.
Once you’ve outfitted your kitchen with the essential gear here, consider investing in any of these worthwhile tools.
Mastrad Oil Mister
Fill this non-aerosol mister with neutral-tasting oil like grapeseed and use to lightly grease skillets, baking pans or even meats before sending them to the grill to keep calories under better control. A built-in filter can be stuffed with items like garlic and herbs if you want to infuse oils with punchy flavor.
Forget the hassle of plastic wrap. Made with earth-friendly hemp, organic cotton and beeswax, these forward-thinking food wraps are the ideal way to extend the fresh life of everything from cut fruits to herbs to salad greens to cooked meats. They’re flexible and slightly adhesive as well as being reusable and anti-bacterial.
Hydration is essential for optimal fitness gains, so use this overachieving water filter to remove virtually all dissolved solids like lead to be confident you’re guzzling the safest and best-tasting aqua possible. You’ll never waste money again on bottled water (and will save Mother Nature in the process).
Hydro Flask 32-oz
This insulated bottle is designed to keep your make-and-take protein shakes frosty from morning to night. Also, use it to transport hot meals like chili to the office so you can bypass the break room microwave line.
ThermoWorks Thermapen Instant Read Digital Thermometer
This lightning-fast and accurate thermometer eliminates the guesswork of whether you’ve body-slammed dangerous bacteria without overcooking your meats into shoe leather.
Nutrition System($330; omegajuicers.com)
Not just for the granola crowd, a juicer is a great way to saturate your diet with vegetables and fruits along with the antioxidant payload they deliver. This one is much easier to clean than yesteryear versions, extracts the maximum amount of juice from ingredients and also can be used to make nut butters and nut milks.
Cookina Barbecue Cooking Sheet
Slap this reusable sheet straight onto your grill and never worry about your food sticking or losing vegetables to the flames below. Now it’s even possible to make your Sunday pancakes on the grill.