When it comes to kitchen tools, bigger isn’t always better—at least when you live in a home with a tiny kitchen. If you have limited real estate, every inch of a countertop, drawer, and shelf is precious, which is why you don’t want to fill it up with tools that get little use. This dilemma has, of course, led brands to spin up a host of space-saving alternatives, some of which are truly useful and others that are more fit for the junk drawer.
Rather than buying something that’s purely marketed as space-saving or compact, we recommend looking for the best-but-smaller version of a tool. There are plenty of compact-but-mighty kitchen tools from our extensive reviews that are worth investing in, and that we promise will get plenty of use.
There are plenty of times when a full-sized whisk is essential: to mix thick batters, reach deep into the corners of a pot, or properly aerate cream, for example. But there’s nothing more exasperating than having to break out a giant whisk and a matching-sized bowl for everyday tasks like whisking a single egg or mixing together a quick dipping sauce or spice blend. This is where the mini whisk comes in. Clocking in at under six-and-a-half inches, these whisks are compact, but still long enough to hold comfortably. The best ones will have loops that are thin enough to avoid splattering in smaller bowls, yet still strong enough to thoroughly mix and blend.
Not only is Kuhn Rikon’s original Swiss peeler hands down our favorite peeler, but it’s also one of the most compact options. Measuring just four inches tall and two-and-a-half inches wide, the pint-sized peeler is far more versatile than it looks. In addition to taking the skin off an array of fruits and vegetables, the trusty Y-peeler easily—and cleanly—takes the rind off of citrus, shaves Parmesan, and scoops out blemishes from potatoes. Another space-saving bonus for those in multi-handed households: unlike a swivel peeler, a Y-peeler works for both righties and lefties, so you’ll only need one.
Mini Measuring Cup
The very best compact tools are not only good at saving space, but also find a way to do the jobs of multiple products. Mini measuring cups are a prime example of such a tool. This one from OXO measures (of course), serving as a neater, less drip-prone replacement to spoons, while also taking the place of a full-sized cup for little amounts of liquids. It can double as a jigger or as a cup for espresso pulls. We also like to use them as prep bowls for spices and herbs.
If you’re a baker, then there’s probably already an offset spatula in your drawer. They come in several sizes and can go as long as 12 inches, but Ateco makes a mini 4.5-inch version that’s very versatile. We’ve already pulled together an exhaustive list of all the ways an offset spatula comes in handy when it comes to baking, but it can go far beyond frosting cake and lifting cookies—its unique angled shape is also great for spreading things on toast, smoothing sauces on top of casseroles, flipping burgers or small pieces of fish, and creating swirls in dips. (In a pinch, you can even use it as a cheese knife.)
Eighth Sheet Pans
For food prep (toasting nuts, mise en place, salting meat, reheating food in a toaster oven), you’ll be glad to have a stack of eighth-sheet pans around. They’re so compact, you’ll hardly know they’re there! Except when you need them, of course, which will be all of the time.
Single-Serve Coffee Maker
When you live alone or you’re the single coffee drinker in your household, getting a full-size coffee maker may feel like a commitment, both in terms of space and the amount of coffee it makes. And though they’re convenient, machines like the Keurig cost a lot and still take up a chunk of the kitchen counter (plus, they make mediocre coffee). A single-serve coffee maker like the Kalita Wave and Aeropress, on the other hand, can be tucked away when not in use, are easy to clean, and brew great coffee. For something a little larger, opt for a French press, which is still compact and easy to tuck away (although our favorite from Fellow is so stylish and sleek, you probably won’t want to hide it).
Handheld Coffee Grinder
If you don’t have the countertop space for a burr grinder, a handheld coffee grinder’s a good move. We wouldn’t necessarily want to grind a full pot of coffee with one every morning, but for single-serve coffee makers or pourovers, it works great. After testing 11 of them, we recommend the 1Zpresso JX Manual. It’s “easy to grind with and simple to adjust,” as we said in our review.
Also known as a utility knife (but not to be confused with a utility box cutter), petty knives fall between a paring knife and chef’s knife. While both of those are essential to any knife collection, there’s also a place for a petty knife, especially if you’re short on space. With blades measuring somewhere between five-and-a-half and six inches long, you’ll find that these short, yet nimble knives can handle a host of kitchen tasks—including mincing aromatics, chopping vegetables, and even breaking down chickens.
For a tool that can do a ton, there’s the bench scraper. Its wide, rectangular, semi-sharp blade can easily handle transferring piles of ingredients from the cutting board to a prep bowl, clearing off countertops, and portioning doughs. After testing eight of them, we recommend the OXO Bench Scraper. It has a soft, grippy handle and even features measurements on the end of its blade.
Magnetic Knife Strip
Instead of a bulky knife block or even a cork drawer insert, a magnetic knife strip goes right on the wall, using space that wouldn’t be of much utility anyways. After testing, we like this one from Jonathan Alden. It has strong magnets and a handsome design.
Mini Stainless Steel Bowl
There are certain tools that we recommend having two (or more) of and stainless steel prep bowls are one of them. Having an assortment of sizes on hand is absolutely essential, especially small ones like these 5-inch Blanda Blank bowls from Ikea. They’re the perfect size for mise en place work, tiny enough to hold minced garlic and herbs, but also big enough for a chopped shallot or an egg or two. They’re easy to wash and stack up neatly, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself reaching for them frequently.
Small Fine Mesh Strainer
Perhaps one of the most underrated kitchen tools, a small fine mesh strainer will come in handy more often than you’d imagine. If you make double-strained cocktails or tea frequently, it’s probably already part of your kitchen arsenal—if not, here are a few reasons to consider picking one up: to sift small amounts of flour, catch pulp and seeds when quickly squeezing a lemon, strain out bits from rendered fat, dust powdered sugar over baked goods, drain olives and other things packed in oil…you get the idea.
For cocktail enthusiasts, there’s no doubt that a Julep strainer is an essential tool. The sturdy, usually stainless steel, disc boasts perforated holes that help strain out muddled ingredients and ice, while allowing the drink itself to flow through smoothly. Outside of cocktail making, a Julep strainer can be used to scoop ice and strain poached eggs out of boiling water.
Small Rolling Pin
When it comes to a good rolling pin, length matters. We’ve found that the best option is both long and light, especially for rolling out pie crust. But there are times when pulling out a 17-inch rolling pin seems excessive and a smaller one actually offers more control. I discovered the versatility of a shorter, thinner Chinese rolling pin (also called a dumpling rolling pin) while watching my father-in-law roll out scallion pancakes and bought one for myself. It’s now my go-to for less hefty tasks such as flattening homemade dumpling skins and bao dough or rolling out crusts for hand pies and smaller personal-sized pizzas.
What’s the best gear for a small kitchen?
The best kitchen gear is the things you’ll use often, and that applies no matter the size of your kitchen. But when it comes to smaller spaces, you may want to consider downsizing to more compact versions of certain essentials—say, a 4-quart Dutch oven instead of a 7-quart one, a single-serve coffee maker vs. a full-sized machine—or looking for tools that can do multiple jobs.
What’s the best way to store kitchen gadgets?
Here at Serious Eats, we’re big fans of metro racks, which are strong enough to hold your heaviest kitchen equipment but can also keep smaller appliances and tools organized. They’re especially great at bringing additional storage space to tiny kitchens that don’t typically have a ton of shelving or cabinetry to begin with.
If storage space is lacking, also consider optimizing your walls. For example, put up a magnetic knife strip for cutlery. Not only is it space efficient, but it also offers the most flexibility. Strips are sold at various lengths and, unlike an unwieldy knife block, you never have to worry that a knife won’t fit the slots. You can also opt for a hanging pot rack, which gives you easy access to cookware and saves you time from rummaging around looking for the right pot or pan.