Pestle, Sieve, and Whisk: Useful Words for Cooking Tools

Whip your culinary vocabulary into shape with this list of words for kitchen essentials.

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definitions & notes only words
  1. brazier
    large metal container in which coal or charcoal is burned
    There was a brown mat directly in front of her, with a set of ceramic bowls to her left and a kettle on a brazier to her right.New York Times (Dec 6, 2019)
    Someone who works with brass is called a brazier, and so is a flat pan for burning charcoal. If you have one of those black kettle grills, that's similar to a brazier.
  2. cleave
    separate or cut with a tool, such as a sharp instrument
    The signs are coy at first, on the westbound 118 Freeway, cleaving through sandstone crags that are 70 million years old.Washington Post (Nov 3, 2019)
    To cleave something is to chop it in two. A cleaver is a large, heavy knife, often with a rectangular profile, frequently seen in butcher shops where they're used for hacking through bony joints of meat.
  3. colander
    bowl-shaped strainer used to wash or drain foods
    Pour mixture into a colander over a medium bowl to collect juices, and mix with the cornstarch.Washington Times (Dec 24, 2019)
  4. cutlery
    tableware implements for eating food
    Some of us also carry reusable straws and cutlery.Los Angeles Times (Mar 5, 2020)
    Old French for knife is coutel, and a knife-maker is a coutelier. In English, a cutler is a person who makes knives and other implements.
  5. funnel
    a conically shaped utensil with a narrow tube at one end
    Use the funnel to pour the liquid into the empty bottle.Fox News (Mar 3, 2020)
  6. grate
    reduce to shreds by rubbing against a perforated surface
    People grate it over oatmeal, swirl it into brownies, toss it atop sundaes and fold it into pastries.Washington Times (Mar 3, 2020)
    The Old French verb gratter, meaning "to scrape" or "to abrade," gives us this word. A grater is a metal sheet, cylinder, or box perforated with sharp-edged holes and used to cut vegetables, cheeses, and other foods into uniformly tiny pieces.
  7. kettle
    a metal pot with a lid for stewing or boiling
    Cut the lemon into thin slices and add to the kettle.New York Times (Mar 4, 2020)
  8. ladle
    a spoon-shaped vessel with a long handle
    They used communal ladles and tongs, and shared salt and pepper shakers on tables.New York Times (Feb 22, 2020)
    Though it's not common these days, the verb to lade means "to load up," and a ladle is used to fill a vessel with a liquid from a larger container. You'll still see the word laden referring to something weighed down with cargo, and if you sign for a shipment off a truck the paper listing the truck contents is called a bill of lading.
  9. mold
    the distinctive form in which a thing is made
    This durable case is molded from a durable polyethylene, which the company says was built to better fit golf bags of any size.Golf Digest (Mar 5, 2020)
  10. mortar
    a vessel in which substances can be ground with a pestle
    Good nam prik is made in a mortar, a little at a time, and though it’s often called a “dip” or “relish” in English, translation diminishes it.New York Times (Feb 11, 2020)
    Mortar comes from the Latin mortarium, meaning "a vessel for pounding or grinding." Every culture in the world has a version of this tool, and some of the oldest tools ever found by archaeologists are stone slabs or bowls used by prehistoric people to grind grain and other foods.
  11. pestle
    a hand tool for grinding and mixing substances in a mortar
    Pound garlic and chili with mortar and pestle.Seattle Times (Feb 11, 2020)
    Your mortar isn't much use without a pestle. Pestle comes from the Latin pistillum, which is also the root of pistil, the pollen-bearing stalk in the center of a flower.
  12. scale
    a measuring instrument for weighing
    In the meantime, and where your kids’ weight is concerned, trust not your eyes, but the scale.Scientific American (Mar 7, 2020)
  13. sieve
    a strainer for separating lumps from powdered material
    Strain the milk mixture through a sieve lined with a layer of cheesecloth, pressing on the chamomile flowers to extract as much cream as possible.Salon (Mar 1, 2020)
  14. skillet
    a pan used for frying foods
    In a skillet, Impossible meat browns, renders fat, breaks up under a wooden spoon and cooks just like ground beef.New York Times (Mar 3, 2020)
    Skillet's origins are unclear, though it's likely Anglo-Norman. Chances are there's an old cast-iron skillet in your family's kitchen; these heavy pans are prized for their naturally non-stick surfaces, their ability to hold heat, and their long lives. A good one can be passed down from generation to generation.
  15. spatula
    a hand tool with a thin flexible blade
    The pressure pushed down against the top of my bubble like a spatula trying to flatten a pancake.Monday's Not Coming
  16. trivet
    a stand, often with short feet, used under a hot dish
    Mr. Lewis went for a design with symmetry and contrast — the orange sweet potato and singed meringue in a black oval casserole against a geometric black trivet.New York Times (Nov 20, 2018)
    Trivet is likely an evolution of the Latin triped, meaning "three feet," which is also the origin of tripod.
  17. utensil
    an implement for practical use
    Like a big factory with everyone dressed in plastic aprons and gloves, we took our places in the assembly line, seasoning chicken, chopping vegetables, baking rolls, and napkin-wrapping utensils.Monday's Not Coming
    Utensilis is Latin for "useful," so a utensil is just that: a helpful tool, usually in the kitchen.
  18. whisk
    a mixer incorporating a coil of wires
    Pour in the polenta in a thin, steady stream, whisking as you do so, then keep whisking for another minute.The Guardian (Mar 7, 2020)
    Whisk is both a noun and a verb: the thing you use to beat eggs and the motion of doing so.
Created on February 22, 2020 (updated March 22, 2020)

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