Do you really need thousands of dollars worth of equipment in your kitchen? Can you make good food without all that stuff? Of course you can!
In this article, we’re going to take a look at which items are absolute necessities in the kitchen, and which ones are helpful, but not absolutely necessary. The rest, you can pick up later if you really want.
Let’s take a look at those things you’ll really need for basic cooking, and you can add all the rest later.
A great knife is absolutely essential. Trying to cook with a dull knife is dangerous and frustrating. Ever heard that it’s more likely you’ll cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one? That’s actually true, because a sharp knife will slide right through most foods, while a dull one is likely to slip off the food instead of cutting through, and the next likely target is your fingers!
Have you ever tried to slice a tomato with a dull knife and ended up mashing it all to heck? (Guilty!)
Ever tried to slice a loaf of freshly baked bread with a standard kitchen knife and mangled it beyond recognition? (Guilty!)
How about trying to cut raw meat into nice, even pieces, only to end up with what looks more like a terrible attempt at making mincemeat? (Guilty!)
It is absolutely critical to have one good quality, general purpose knife in your kitchen, at minimum.
Now, there are many types of knives that will do. The one you choose is totally your preference. You could try a chef’s knife, a santoku, or even one of those cool Asian knives.
Technically, each one of these knives is supposed to be used for slightly different purposes or in slightly different ways, but I have used all of them successfully to do just about anything I need to do in the kitchen.
If you want the most affordable knife at the best quality, I recommend the Asian knives. They are usually much sharper than most American knives, and at much lower prices. You can find them at most Asian markets, or order them online.
In addition to a good quality general purpose knife, you may also want a paring knife for peeling and making smaller, more delicate cuts, as well as a bread knife. Serrated bread knives aren’t just great for cutting bread, but also delicate things you don’t want to smash, like tomatoes!
You’ll probably also want a good set of steak knives if you have meat eaters in your house. Steak knives are really important when you need to cut through tougher cuts of meat. My preference is serrated steak knives with pointed, rather than rounded ends.
All those other knives aren’t really necessary. Only buy other knives if have specific needs, such as a filet knife or boning knife if you want to work with meat or fish often.
A lot of people have separate cutting boards for meat, vegetables, etc. I don’t. Maybe I should, but I just use the same one for everything, just washing it carefully between uses. If I cut meat on it, I wash it very well with soap and very hot water before I cut anything else on it.
You can get a cutting board made from whatever material you prefer. It’s totally your choice. I don’t recommend glass, because the clink-clink sound annoys the crap out of me, and because I’m always worried I’ll break it. When I stayed in a hotel for a while, the cutting board they provided was glass, and I learned I absolutely hate glass cutting boards.
I usually use plastic, because they’re affordable, however they do need to be replaced often because over time they develop tons of scratches in them from your knife cuts and they’ll end up looking stained and… just… awful. Yuck. Even bleach won’t get those stains out.
If you can afford it, wood cutting boards are said to be the best, but they’re very expensive and they are porous so it’s said they can harbor bacteria if you don’t take care of them very carefully such as oiling them regularly. I have had wooden boards, but they cracked easily and just weren’t worth it for me considering the expense.
Bamboo cutting boards are a cheaper alternative. Since bamboo is invasive and grows rapidly, it’s a cheaper material than wood, and it’s also pretty sturdy. They do tend to warp and crack if they have moisutre left on them, so if you get a bamboo cutting board, be sure to dry it carefully whenever it gets wet and NEVER put it in the dishwasher.
Pots & Pans
Depending on the size of your family, you might get away with having just one or two pots, and one frying pan, at least to start. However, if you have a big family, or you like to cook for friends a lot, you will probably want to invest in a set of cookware. A good set of cookware can cost around a hundred bucks or more, and I absolutely do not recommend buying those cheap sets because they will fall apart in no time. I’m speaking from decades of experience here. There are NO cheap cookware sets on the market that will last longer than a few years at best.
I mean, if you absolutely can’t afford anything else, they will do, but you will not be happy with them.
At the very least, I recommend having one saucepan, which can be used for smaller batches of soups and stews, sauces, making vegetables, cooking ramen noodles, etc. One fying pan for making things like meat, scrambled or fried eggs, pancakes, omelets, grilled cheese, basic stir fries, etc. And one large, multi-purpose pot. These are stock pots that can be used for making large batches of things like soups or sauces, but also have a colander insert for making pasta, and a steamer insert for steaming things like vegetables or dumplings.
I use this one.
You can do pretty well in the kitchen with just those three pans, at least for a while.
Cast Iron Pans
I also highly recommend that you consider investing in at least one cast iron pan. They are truly non-stick if you take care of them properly, won’t impart a bunch of potentially dangerous chemicals into your food like Teflon, and will last you a lifetime. Seriously, you’ll pass these onto your kids and they’ll still be in great shape!
I prefer the Lodge brand cast iron, as it’s made well and will last for decades, if not longer! Some people have cast iron pans made by this company that were used by their great grandparents and still work just as well as when they were brand new!
I have a cast iron skillet for things like making cornbread and frying bacon, as well as a deeper pan that I use for frying things like fried chicken.
This is the set I own. The smaller skillet doubles as a lid for the larger one, or you can just use it to make cornbread or biscuits in!
As a bonus, they can also be used to cook on an outdoor fire or in your fireplace if the power goes out!
You will want a decent selection of baking dishes if you like to bake, but even if you don’t you will probably at least need a baking sheet, a roasting pan, and a couple of cake or pie pans, depending on what you like to make.
The baking sheet is essential for things like making toast if you don’t have a toaster, heating up things like frozen pizza or burritos, making cookies or biscuits,
I consider a slow cooker an absolutely essential item in the kitchen, because it can be used for so many things and can save so much time. You may not like slow cooked food, in which case I’m shocked and appalled, and I don’t even know what to do right now but give you the side eye. But if you’re normal like the rest of us (okay, I’m not normal, but I do like slow cooked food) this one is definitely essential.
The good news is, they’re cheap. I’ve snatched one up on Black Friday for ten bucks a couple of times, and the most I ever paid for one was 99 bucks, and it quit a couple of months later. It wasn’t worth the hassle to deal with the warranty, so I bought a new one for half the price and it’s still going strong several years later.
If you’re interested in the one I use, it’s this one.
Every kitchen—and I mean EVERY kitchen—needs a colander. A plastic one will do, but keep in mind that it may warp or even be destroyed if you pour something really hot through it. Do NOT attempt to drain bacon grease through a plastic colander. Not that I’m speaking for experience or anything, because, really, who would be that stupid? *cough*
If possible, spring for a quality metal colander with handles. The plastic ones just won’t last.
You’ll need your colander to drain things like vegetables, pasta, brown meats, etc. You can also use it for other things in the kitchen, such as washing salad greens and making yogurt cheese.
Years ago, I thought an immersion blender was something only chefs used, and that no practical home cook would ever need one. Boy, do I feel like a jerk.
I bought an immersion blender/mixer combo that has made my life in the kitchen so much easier. I use it for everything from blending lumps out of gravy, to making whipped cream, to blending silky smooth soups, to making salsa!
This is the one I use. Very affordable, and very worth it!
Measuring Cups & Spoons
I don’t use measuring cups and spoons all that often, because I don’t bake as often as some people, and because I tend to eyeball amounts a lot. However, that’s a skill that comes with experience, and if you’re newer to cooking, having the right measuring tools is essential.
At the very least, you need:
- 2 cup liquid measuring cup
- Set of dry measuring cups (1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup, etc.)
- Set of measuring spoons (1 Tbsp, 1 tsp, 1/2 tsp, 1/4 tsp, etc.)
Why do you need both liquid and dry measuring cups? Because they measure differently. If you want to see what I’m talking about, put a cup of flour into a dry measuring cup, level it off, and dump it into your liquid measuring cup. Or put a cup of water into your liquid measuring cup and try to pour it into your dry measuring cup. Probably won’t work how you might expect.
Not only that, but some recipes call for things such as “packed brown sugar” or “1 cup flour, leveled”. You can’t pack sugar as easily in a liquid measuring cup, nor can you “level” a cup of flour in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Most liquid measuring cups have a lip above the top measuring line, so leveling would be pretty much impossible.
There are lot of different types of graters out there. There are box graters, which can do several types of grating and slicing, and then there are those flat graters like microplanes that are used for grating things like nutmeg or parmigiano reggiano cheese.
A standard box grater will serve you best, as you’ll get the most use out of it. And no, a food processor isn’t a good grater.
Tools & Accessories
There are also a few essential tools and accessories every kitchen must have.
- Silicone spatula or spoonula
- Ladle (NOT plastic, trust me)
- Slotted spoon for serving foods that need to be drained
- Non-slotted spoon
- Knife sharpener
Okay, so there are a few things you can buy that are optional, but can definitely make your life a lot easier.
Blender & Food Processor
Don’t think a blender can replace a food processor, or vice versa, because they aren’t interchangable.
Please don’t skimp out on this one. If you are going to buy a blender or food processor, spring for a more expensive model. Trust me on this. There are NO really cheap models that are worth a damn, and I know, because I’ve tried dozens of them.
Those $25 blenders are good for maybe blending some soft soups or maybe making whipped cream, but they will be destroyed if you try to make a smoothie with frozen bananas, or crush ice, or anything else that… you know… normal people might want to do with one.
My husband bought me the Ninja set that included a blender and food processor several years ago, and it’s still working like a champ! I cannot recommend this model enough, and it was MUCH cheaper than some of the other high-powered models on the market! (I’m looking at you, Vitamix!)
Cast Iron Grill Pan
Most of us don’t have the time, or even ability to grill outside on a regular basis. I’m fortunate enough to have a husband who is amazing at using the grill, but if you’re not so fortunate, a cast iron grill pan can help you get that charred, smoky flavor and those beautiful black grill marks on your food without having to deal with things like charcoal and flames and ashes and yellow jackets.
Don’t think that one of those cheaper non-stick grill pans will work. They will never get those beautiful dark lines on the food! It must be cast iron.
The good news is that once you buy one, as long as you take care of it well, you’ll never have to buy another one!
If you’re comfortable with your paring knife, you probably won’t need one of these, but if you’re a klutz with knives or you’re scared of them, a peeler is essential. You can even buy
I freaking love my rice cooker. It makes perfect rice pretty much ever time, unless I somehow screw up my water to rice ratio, and it works so quickly. I eat quite a bit of rice, so in my kitchen, this one is essential. Mine also comes with a steamer insert so I can cook some meat and/or veggies along with my rice.
If you don’t eat much rice, definitely skip this one, but for me, it’s very necessary!
You can make do without a sieve and/or chinois, but eventually you will probably at least want to get a sieve. For example, I use a LOT of lemons, and it would drive me insane trying to keep lemon seeds out of my food without a sieve. In a pinch, you can even use your sieve for sifting flour in recipes that specifically ask for sifted flour. Not that I’ve done that before. But it would have worked. If I’d done it. Ahem.
A chinois is also a sieve, but the holes are much finer. They are used mainly in professional kitchens when you want a sauce or broth to be exceptionally pure and smooth, so they aren’t necessary in a home kitchen, however there may be times when it would make sense to have one. For example, if you find you like making your own jams and jellies, it might be a good idea to have one to keep those tiny little berry seeds out of your perfectly good jelly.
A rolling pin isn’t critical unless you reguarly bake things that need to be rolled, such as rolled biscuits, cookies, pie crusts, etc. But they are definitely handy to have.
In a pinch, you can pat out most things with your hand or use a tin can to roll, but obviously neither is ideal, especially if you need to roll something quite thin.
Pie or Cake Knife