African Cooking Utensils

Traditional African cooking utensils include large cast-iron pots, wooden mortars and pestles, stone and wooden grinders, wooden and metal spoons and firewood. Although it is difficult to generalize all tribes in Africa as a whole when it comes to food and cooking techniques, there are some similarities.

  1. Geography

    • As the people in each region change, so do the variances in basic utensils. For example, in West Africa, the leaf from the banana plant is used to hold the batter for steamed bean or grain cakes. In East Africa, mogogos or clay stoves are used to cook a native bread known as injera. To some this same injera is a utensil, as food is eaten off it and placed on top of it. In North Africa, a special pot, similar to a Russian samovar (teapot), is used to make tea, while in South Africa (and all over Africa) firewood is used on roadsides to roast bush meats.


    • Most meals in Africa are cooked using the same type of utensils. For example, a large pot of vegetable and bush meat soup is eaten in some form or another continentwide and is almost always cooked in a large metal pot, traditionally a cast-iron pot. Grains, root vegetables and starchy fruits and vegetables, such as cassava, millet, yams and plantains, are usually pounded into a dough like pulp in a wooden mortar. Grains, spices, vegetables and peppers are ground on stone, wooden or metal hand grinders to season food.


    • The traditional function of these utensils are mostly utilitarian and are also deposits from other cultures visiting Africa. For example, tea drinking is taken quite seriously in North Africa, but the teapot used is fashioned after an ancient Russian utensil. Grains and root vegetables can be pounded in a metal pot, and often are, but most prefer to use the wooden pestle and mortar.

    Common Substitutes

    • West African bean cakes, usually steamed in a type of banana leaf, can be steamed in aluminum foil paper. Roasted meats can be grilled in an oven using the same African spices. Pounded tubers and grains may be mashed with a wooden spoon in a metal pot. Instead of looking for a stone grinder to get the coarse texture of peppers and leafy vegetables, a sharp knife and a cutting board can do the trick.


    • Africans in Africa and in the Diaspora can and do cook traditional African meals using contemporary, international utensils. While these are common substitutes, the taste can be quite different; for example, the banana leaves for bean cakes are not only a utensil, but a seasoning that add a distinctive earthy flavor. Same for roasted meats, which often take on the aroma and taste of the wood they are cooked with.

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  • Photo Credit Gbaku,

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