Q: Hi Heather. I have just begun the herculean task of replacing all of my kitchen equipment a piece at a time. The problem is we have never purchased any kitchen stuff for ourselves (even though we’ve been married for 7 years). Our kitchen is an eclectic collection of second hand things from our parents, friends, garage sales and wedding gifts. Being the geeks that we are my husband and I have been trying to decide just what we need. The idea is to purchase only what we need and not to overspend. We love reading your blog and were wondering what you have found to be your essential pieces of kitchen equipment? What couldn’t you live without? Do you have any advice for us?
A: Of course, everyone has different needs and preferences, and people have different “essentials,” based on their cooking habits. For example, if you cook a lot of Asian food, you may consider a wok or a rice cooker to be essential, and if you bake a lot, you may consider springform pans, or a cake decorating set to be essential. I tend to avoid buying lots of kitchen gadgets, because I prefer to invest in standard equipment that can serve multiple purposes, so I want to focus on what I consider to be basic essentials that everyone can use, and you can expand from there. Aside from the kitchen appliances you’ll find in nearly every home, such as a toaster, coffeemaker, and microwave (none of which I’m at all particular about), here’s what I think is essential to set up a well-equipped kitchen:
A set of stainless steel cookware. I love stainless steel because it’s durable, easy to clean, safe and non-reactive, doesn’t discolor, rust, or pit, and it’s affordable. Ideally, you should have large and small saute’ pans, large and small saucepans, a chef’s pan (which is like a deep skillet) and a large stockpot. You don’t need to spring for horribly expensive All-Clad cookware – though professional chefs will tell you it’s the best – because for home cooks, a less expensive set will do just fine. I own and love this Cuisinart set, because the handles are solidly riveted, the pans have an aluminum base for improved heat conduction, and the lids are interchangeable.
I also want to add that Barkeeper’s Friend is a fantastic product for cleaning stainless steel…I LOVE it! Love. It.
A set of sharp knives. You’ll most often use a chef’s knife, and a paring knife, but you should also have a serrated bread knife, and a knife for slicing. I’ve had the same Chicago Cutlery block knife set, similar to this one, all of my married life, and I think they’re great. This set includes a kitchen shears, which I would never have thought to buy, but use all the time.
Large and small wood cutting boards. Wood is gentle to knives, and won’t scar as easily as a plastic board. Don’t buy into that old wive’s tale that plastic cutting boards are safer than wood – research does not support this. In fact, a study performed by food microbiologists at the University of Wisconsin found that 3 minutes after test cutting boards were purposely contaminated, 99.9 percent of the bacteria on wooden boards had died, while none of the bacteria died on plastic. “Bacterial numbers actually increased on plastic cutting boards held overnight at room temperature, but the scientists could not recover any bacteria from wooden boards treated the same way” (read the full press release here). If you regularly oil your board to protect it from staining or warping, it will last for years (but don’t put it in the dishwasher!)
Basic kitchen utensils. Wooden spoons, rubber spatulas, wire whisks, a large, slotted spoon, and a pancake turner – these are the ones I use the most. You should also have a small serving spatula for bars, cakes and pies, an ice cream scoop, a vegetable peeler, and a can opener.
Measuring cups and spoons. I have a set of 3 glass measuring cups (for liquids), as well as dry measures, and measuring spoons.
A good food processor. I own an inexpensive Black and Decker, and while it works fine, I can’t recommend it because it is deafening! I have to warn the children, and cover my ears before I turn it on. If you have the means, spring for a Cuisinart. It’s what the pros use.
A quality stand mixer. I love my Cuisinart, which was a gift from my husband. He bought it because it has a more powerful motor than the KitchenAid (he is a man, after all), and shortly after, I saw the exact same model on Chopped, and Tyler’s Ultimate on The Food Network. I figure if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. KitchenAid is also good (Ina Garten has one), and you can choose from a wide variety of colors. Just don’t buy a cheap stand mixer – you’ll be disappointed. Save your money until you can afford a good one.
Mixing bowls. I have large and small stainless steel bowls, which I bought 15 years ago at Wal-Mart for practically nothing. They’ve seen very heavy use. I also have a set of glass, Pyrex mixing bowls which I love, and use all the time.
Baking sheets, dishes and pans. Here’s what I have:
(2) 13×9 glass baking dishes (mine are Pyrex), with plastic lids for leftover storage
(1) 8×8 glass baking dish
(2) 13×9 baking pans (this is the size you’ll use most often. I like Wilton baking pans).
(2) 8×5 bread loaf pans
(2) 9-inch round cake pans
(1) 8×8 baking pan
(2) half sheet pans (I use these for roasting chicken breasts and vegetables, and for baking cookies).
(1) 15x10x1 jelly roll pan
(1) pizza pan
I never have a need for more than this, and I cook and bake a lot.
Silpat Silicone Baking Mats. These are, in my opinion, one of the best kitchen inventions ever. I LOVE them! I have enough to fit all of my sheet pans, and they produce the best quality baked goods. They’re an easy-to-clean, reusable replacement for parchment paper. I never have to scrape burned cookies off a sheet pan, and they provide a perfect, non-stick surface for kneading bread dough, too.
A few other essentials:
-A meat thermometer. Every kitchen should have one, because it’s essential to insure that meat is up to temperature before serving, to prevent food poisoning.
-Wire racks, for cooling baked goods
-A kitchen timer
-A colander, for washing greens, and draining pasta
-A small, handheld mesh strainer for straining gravy, and sifting flour and powdered sugar
-A large serving platter, and serving bowls (your glass mixing bowls can double as serving bowls)
-Dinner plates, salad/dessert plates, soup/cereal bowls, and coffee mugs (at minimum, service for four. Ideally, service for eight)
-Drinking glasses (and BPA-free plastic cups, if you have small children)
-A basic flatware set
-Salt and pepper shakers
-Potholders, dish towels and cloths
Here are some things I have and like, but they aren’t necessary (just nice!)
-A slow cooker. This is a lifesaver for busy Moms, and I use mine at least once a week.
-A salad spinner. Mine is OXO-brand.
-An enamel-coated, cast iron Dutch oven. I like this because it can go from stovetop to oven, has a multitude of uses, and makes delicious and simple artisan-quality bread.
-A cookie scoop. Wonderful for quickly making perfect, uniform cookies, and also meatballs. But don’t get a plastic one! I had one and it broke after a year. Spring for stainless steel – it will last forever.
-A cookie press. This little gadget saves me the agony of trying to roll and cut out my favorite, ultra-buttery sugar cookie dough every Christmas.
-A rolling pin, if you plan to make cut-out cookies or biscuits
-A bread machine
-A tea kettle. Not just for tea, but for heating small amounts of water for cocoa, jello, and recipes that call for water to be at boiling temp.
-A non-stick, 2-burner griddle. We make a lot of pancakes and crepes, and it’s also nice for making multiple grilled cheese sandwiches at the same time.
-A large roasting pan, if you plan to host holiday dinners
-A cake saver, for preserving all the homemade birthday cake leftovers
-A popcorn popper. We eat a lot of air-popped popcorn because it’s healthier and cheaper than the microwave kind.
-A Pyrex food storage set. I don’t like plastic food storage containers (see Purging the Plastic).
-Glass canisters with lids, for storing dry goods. You can buy these inexpensively at most dollar stores.
We have a nice set of ironstone dishes for holidays, but our everyday dishes are Pfaltzgraff blue and white stoneware. We’ve had them for years, and we’re pleased with how well they’ve held up. We also have an Anchor Hocking universal tumbler set, because they’re the heaviest, most durable drinking glasses I could find, and they don’t tip (we’re notorious for breaking glasses around here).
I’m sure I left something out, but I think this list is fairly complete. I hope it helps! Readers, feel free to add your own “essentials” in the comments.