Thai cookware covers 90% of what you would need for cooking any Asian cuisine because Thai food is greatly influenced the cuisines of the countries close by.
Nearly the same tools are needed to cook most Asian cuisines so you will be able to cook not just Thai food but Chinese, Vietnamese, dishes too.
Just for clarity Thai cookware is a term that embraces Thai cooking tools and small kitchen appliances whereas Thai kitchenware is a slightly broader term that covers tools as well as equipment.
Browse through the each stage of cooking and see what extra kitchenware, tools and equipment you need to cook Thai food in addition to the necessary ingredients you need.
Thai Cookware by Operation
Thai society is quite split between the very poor, the poor and the rich and mega rich. As a result families can have almost nothing in their kitchen, though most have a fridge, something to cook on and a sink at least.
Most kitchens are very basic except for the rich who have Western style kitchens.
Even with few storage cupboards, one thing almost every Thai cook will own is a rice box. Rice is the main staple of Thai cuisine but without proper storage it will quickly get infested by insects or become damp and spoil.
If you are going to be cooking Asian and Thai food then you’ll need a rice box to keep your rice reasonably dry and free from pests.
The size of your rice box will depend on how often you have rice with your meal, how many you are cooking for, and how many types of rice you want on hand.
Jasmine rice and sticky rice maybe obvious but you might also want to keep brown and black rice too and maybe other types such as sushi, risotto and paella rices depending on the range of cooking styles you do.
You will have an idea of the size you need but bear in mind that several different rices can be stored together in their separate bags after opening if kept in a rice container.
A lot of Thais buy ready cooked meals served in plastic bags by the street food vendor or at the local market. These are either eaten on the go or taken home to eat, with leftovers stored in the fridge often in the bags they were purchased in.
For most Westerners this arrangement is not going to work and so you will need a selection of storage containers for the fridge as well as spice containers and boxes for dry ingredients as well as places to put them.
We particularly like clear rectangular containers as they save space, can be stacked and you can see what is in them which reduces the need to label everything.
Cutting & Slicing Utensils
Whatever you are cooking, and even if you eat only raw food, you will need something to cut with, and something to cut on.
Whilst you can accomplish most cutting and slicing with a chef’s knife and basic cutting board the realities are that you will need several knives for different purposes, a properly sized cutting board, and some specialist cutting and slicing tools.
There is much more to this subject than meets the eye but for cooking Thai food we suggest that you at least equip yourself with a sharp knife made for cutting vegetables if your budget allows, some form of shredder and a peeler.
Knives made for cutting vegetables have a sculpted blade surface or even perforated blade which reduces suction that has the vegetable sticking to the blade as you cut it.
Even better ones also have a slight protrusion across the length of the blade to encourage the sliced vegetable off the knife blade.
As for chopping and cutting boards wooden ones are lovely but to be honest the plastic boards are easier to clean and are more resistant to odor retention as well as being lighter and cheaper. Get a few sizes!
If cooking for many or making a lot of dehydrated foods like our mango sweets, then more specialist tools like a mandoline become worth the investment.
Mixing and Grinding Tools
Mixing and grinding tools are the second most important utensils after knives.
You will need a set of bowls for mixing (glass or stainless), a spatula, whisk, hand mixer and immersion blender but most of these items you will likely already have.
The tool most people do not have is a mortar and pestle set, and this really is essential if you want to make the best Thai food.
Remember the basic maxim for Thai cooking is fresh ingredients, taste, and what the dish looks and smells like.
There are many different types of mortar and pestle on the market and for Thai cooking we recommend that you at least equip yourself with a granite medium sized mortar and pestle.
This tool will allow you to muddle pastes, grind spices, crush and break up fresh herbs and set your cooking apart from the pack of wannabes. Get one that is taller with a heavy style pestle.
If you want to make papaya salad, and you should, then you really need to invest in a larger earthenware mortar and pestle which has the capacity you need to get all the ingredients in there together to mix.
It does not need a great heavy pestle though as the idea is to bruise and crush rather than nuke the other ingredients with pounding.
Other General Preparation Tools
Food preparation is everthing that happens between taking the ingredients out of storage and either cooking them or allowing them to set or placing them in the case of cold dishes.
One thing often missing from our kitchens is a bench scraper – which is really a handy tool for scooping up chopped ingredients which feature a lot in Thai cooking. A really handy tool.
A good quantity of small containers to hold chopped ingredients is also handy where they will be added at different times during the cooking process.
Grab yourself some muslin or cheesecloth – a versatile piece of kit especially if you don’t intend to buy a dedicated rice steamer and prefer to use a general use steamer instead.
A citrus juicer and garlic mincer are two other tools you’ll be using often.
Pots & Pans
Most people already have a selection of pots and pans in their kitchens so do you need anything more for cooking Thai food?
The answer is probably yes!
If you don’t have a wok then our suggestion is to get one. Whilst you CAN stir fry in a skillet, it is just not very efficient or easy.
A wok makes it easy to toss your ingredients in the pan as they cook quickly and the curved sides add a wider surface area for cooking, hotter in the center and gradually dissipating up the sides.
Stainless steel woks are the easiest to handle and clean and the better quality ones look good enough to put on the table (but sit it on a protective surface).
Carbon steel woks are the best but need seasoning after each use – most people don’t bother and the wok ends up rusty and too much work to use.
Round bottom woks are really the best but are a real pain if you are not using it constantly because it needs a ring to stabilise it – great for street food vendors but not so good for most home cooks.
You DO need a wok with a lid for braising and a second handle to help lift it as the leverage otherwise makes it heavy to lift off the stove.
If you have an electric range or stovetop then you will need to grab a wok with a flat section in the bottom – check if induction capable should you be using an induction cooker.
The next thing you will need is a steamer.
You can either get a stovetop version or a standalone multi-tiered version.
Our recommendation specifically for Thai cooking is the standalone version as these are normally oval shaped which allow you the chance to steam whole fish, and are multi-tiered meaning you can cook vegetables at the same time.
They are also quite inexpensive and free up your stovetop for other cooking.
The stovetop versions are great too but choose one where the steamer insert sits well above the bottom of the pan underneath to give enough room for a decent quantity of steaming liquid. If steaming fish you’ll be limited to fish fillets because of the size though.
Another great option is a collapsible steaming basket which can fit several sizes of pots.
A rice cooker is nice but you can easily cook rice with your cheesecloth and steamer so that is an appliance to pick up when funds allow.
In this section we take a look at other tools used in the cooking process.
Again a lot of the tools you need for Asian and Thai cooking will be the same as you use for your regular cooking.
Some of the things you might not have are a spider – a sort of slotted sieve – for scooping out noodles from the water or dipping cooked noodles in and out to heat.
Another super useful tool is a fish turner slice which is useful for turning all manner of things in whatever you are cooking it in.
A wok spatula – which is a long handled tool for turning and removing cooked food from the wok is pretty much a must too.
And last but not least a decent set of tongs of various sizes to get things out of the cooking environment and onto the serving dish.
Most Thais are not great bakers although there are a lot of baked items for sale in the shops. The main reason for this is that the stove or cooker is not the most used appliance for most Thai cooks.
In fact most will not even have an oven.
Those that do use silicone baking mats and molds as we do in the West.
One thing that is used are earthenware pots that sit on charcoal fires to sort of bake and braise. These are used a lot out of the cities and produce a lovely meal.
We do not suggest you rush out and buy one but the image below shows what they look like at least.
Tableware for Thai food does have a few extras that you probably won’t have in your kitchen cupboards.
Kruengprueng is a set of condiment jars that accompany quite a few Thai dishes and especially soups. These little pots hold chili in vinegar, sugar, chili flakes and other condiments that best work with the dish.
Chopsticks are an obvious addition which Thais use to eat noodles along with wide Thai style spoons to scoop up the soup broth.
Thais also eat steamed fish fairly frequently which is served on a fish shaped platter over a heater which is another item that would provoke interest at the dinner table.
In a similar manner Thai soups are often served in a type of heated soup terrine which keeps the soup hot so dinners can dip in through the meal.
Remember that at more formal meals Thais tend to eat many dishes at once that are served for everyone at the table rather than dishes served individually.
Rice is usually served in a large bowl for those at the table to spoon out for themselves unless it is sticky rice served with a savory dish.
Sticky rice is often served in a krathip often lined with a plastic bag inside containing the rice although the plastic bag is optional. Check out this interesting article about sticky rice containers and Thai woven utensils.
Typical Thai Kitchen Appliances
Thais that are cooks will have some basic kitchen appliances.
Almost everyone will have a rice cooker because rice is eaten daily. Although you can easily steam rice in a steamer, a rice cooker is more convenient as it can keep rice warm once cooked and does not occupy either the stovetop or your steamer.
If you cook Thai food often, as I hope you will if you try out my recipes, then buying a dedicated rice cooker is well worth it.
If you only cook Thai food less than once every couple of weeks then you’ll have to weigh up the cost versus convenience.
Buy a decent model though, sized according to your needs and volume of rice according to your family size.
Most well to do households have electric hand whisks as well as immersion blenders and upright blenders for making smoothies – big in Thailand thanks to the constant hot weather.
You may find a stand alone cooker appliance much like a giant toaster in some houses – especially condominiums – as built in ovens are less common. Air fryers are also gaining in popularity.
If you are contemplating something similar you may consider an air fryer – toaster oven combination though which may be more versatile – we have not seen these in Thailand yet.
Microwaves are also common as are electric steamers for cooking dumplings, fish as well as vegetables.
For heat sources in less well equipped kitchens, gas hobs that sit on the worktop are used or induction hotplates as well as personal infrared devices.
Kitchen Furniture in Thailand
Built in kitchen units are to be found inside upmarket properties and a few basic kitchen units will be found in condos but otherwise families will have concrete compartments built which are tiled.
These provide a space for a sink and some limited storage which is augmented by freestanding shelving.
Magnetic and stainless steel hangers for knives, pots and pans are quite usual too.
Thais hate being in the sun as dark skin is seen as low class, but they love being outdoors.
BBQ parties are everywhere but the BBQ is more likely to be an oil barrel cut in half with a few welded bits to make a makeshift BBQ than any fancy factory production.
Camping is quite a popular activity and portable gas cooking hobs are the norm for cooking outdoors.
We hope this taster of Thai kitchenware and cookware has been interesting and given a little insight into the Thai way of life as well as the tools used for cooking Thai food.
Do let us know if you think there is something we missed. Happy Thai cooking!