As stated above, it is very easy to accumulate more utensils than you will need. Start with the essentials, taking into consideration the type of cooking or baking you do, as well as the pans that you use. Stainless utensils are wonderful, but cannot be used in nonstick cook or bake ware. Therefore, you might want to start with wooden, plastic or silicone items. The quality of wooden utensils differs as much as the styles available. You do not need the most expensive, but very cheap sets are not worth it. They are usually made of softer woods and deteriorate rapidly. I have had some that splintered, rendering them useless. A good set, made of hardwood, will last for many years. Like cutting boards, they should be oiled on occasion and never placed in the dishwasher. As for plastic or silicone utensils, they must be resistant to high heats. I have had some that melt when resting on the edge of a hot pan. There is even a difference in rubber spatulas. Some are much too thin and soft. They tend to deteriorate in a short time. Flexibility is essential, but it must be stiff enough to scrape, stir and fold mixtures, as well as stand up to use.
Spoons - There are spoons for cooking and spoons for mixing, some of which are interchangeable. The spoons I use most often are wooden. They are essential for stirring, whether it be batters, sauces or soups and broths. I have several different sizes ranging from short for small saucepans and bowls, to very long for large stock pots and deep mixing bowls. It is the same for heat-resistant plastic spoons. I have several of those and use them mostly for cooking sauces in large sauté pans. The one I use most is a large, flat spoon. I guess it is not a necessity if you have wooden spoons, I just like it. I also have a large slotted spoon which is essential. I consider ladles to be in the spoon family. I won't admit to how many of those I have accumulated through the years. I have several plastic and stainless. And then there is my grandmother's stainless ladle that is no longer used, but holds a place of honor in my hutch. It is, after all, nearly 100 years old. As I said before, wooden and plastic utensils are essential for nonstick pots and pans to prevent scratching the surface, but I also use them with my stainless cookware.
Spatulas - I guess I have as many spatulas as spoons, but with good reason. There are many different sizes and shapes, each of which serves a purpose. The wooden spatulas have the largest variety of shapes, mostly useful for a sauté. I use one with a slight curve and slits most often. It is great for chopped vegetables and for moving things around in a skillet. Most of the others are more narrow, straight and, admittedly, I seldom use them. The one wooden utensil I had and never used was a flat spatula designed for turning over fried foods, such as eggs. It has no flexibility, making it difficult to get under things. For that I use the plastic spatulas or my favorite flexible fish spatula. A slotted spatula is great because the oil or fat drains before turning or removing from the pan. I also have one with a solid, longer surface for larger foods. As with spoons, wooden and plastic spatulas are essential for nonstick surfaces. A large, flexible stainless spatula is a must for baking cookies and other items when you need a very thin edge for lifting. I also use it to remove pizza from the oven.
Rubber-type spatulas are a must for scraping the inside of mixing bowls or removing the contents from processors. As with other utensils, I have several shapes and sizes. There is the tiny fellow for the mini-processor. I find both medium and large useful for larger bowls. Then there is the spoonula. That is a spatula that is shaped like a spoon. It is very helpful in scooping mixtures out of the bowl. All of the spatulas I use now are made of silicone and stand up to high heat. I often use them for stirring food cooking in pans. Since silicone takes on the odors of the food, such as garlic, I have a couple that I reserve just for baking.
If you make a lot of frosted cakes, you will want to consider icing spatulas. Like many of you, I used to use a table knife to smooth or swirl the frosting. Then I purchased a rather small icing spatula and it really makes the job easier because it covers more surface and has some flexibility. Now I have a large spatula and an offset spatula. The offset, meaning the spreader is lower than the handle, works well for cakes that get frosted in the pan, as well as for spreading batters in jelly roll pans, because you can easily get to the edges.
Tongs - The more you cook, the more you learn. I used to use tongs only for grilling outside or for turning pan-fried meats and fish. Then I purchased some good restaurant-style stainless tongs in two different sizes for indoor use. I keep finding new uses for them, such as turning greens as they cook, combining and serving long pasta with sauce, turning or lifting roasts, tossing salads, and much more. The brands I have are spring-activated and have an easy to use locking device so they will stay closed when stored. That is a big plus, because I can keep them in the utensil basket within easy reach. Most recently, I purchase stainless tongs with a silicone coating to be used in nonstick pans. I would consider several tongs are essential to any kitchen.
Whisks - There are times when you will need a whisk. Electric mixers, processors and blenders can do the job, and are especially useful when working with large amounts, but why make those dirty in preparations that can be done just as easily with a wire whisk. A whisk is also essential for cooking thick sauces or gravy to prevent lumps. I have several different sizes. The tiny ones are very good for mixing ingredients in a small bowl, such as vinaigrettes. I use the larger ones for all sorts of things. The most common whisks are the balloon type, but there are flat whisks designed specifically to get in the edges of saucepans. When purchasing a whisk, look for one that has some flexibility. Most importantly, it must feel good in your hand.
Grilling Utensils - If you are going to use a large outdoor grill, you really must have a set of grilling utensils. They have long handles that protect your hands and arms from the intense heat. They are also sturdier than most indoor utensils. You will need tongs, a large spatula and a basting brush. Additionally, a wire brush is essential for cleaning the grates.
Cooking Fork - I have several two-prong cooking forks of various sizes, but I find I only use the oldest, which is not very large but very sharp and sturdy. I use it mostly to check vegetables or long-cooking meats for tenderness. A two pronged fork is also convenient to hold roasts in place while carving. My tongs have replaced most of the fork's previous uses, but I still like to have it on hand.