Things You Should Have in your Kitchen—Part 1: Tools
So now you’re going to be cooking for yourself—and maybe others. What do you need on hand in order to do that? In this first of four parts, let’s talk about the tools you will absolutely need in your kitchen. I’m not talking to potential chefs here, just anyone who needs to prepare even the most basic meals. These are the things I sent my own kids to look for when setting up their first kitchens.
I’m only going to list the essentials in the main list. For instance, I think you should have a wire whisk, but you could use a fork, so the whisk isn’t on the main list. Also, this list does not include serving tools or utensils, though many of the items here could double for that purpose.
Mostly, you can start with stuff from your local thrift store, upgrading as you are able and as you figure out which tools are most important for the way you cook. Print this out and take it shopping with you, in case you stumble upon something from the wish list while you’re getting the essentials.
- Measuring cups and spoons. You will need a see-through 2-cup measuring cup. Glass works in the microwave better than plastic. If you’re getting a used one, make sure you can still read all the measurement markings. And you need measuring spoons from 1/8 tsp up to a tablespoon. Yes, even if you never intend to bake.
- Long-handled spoons, at least two (one for the pasta and one for the sauce). Preferably silicone, but wood is also fine. Metal ones will scratch your pans. (See Part 2: Pans)
- A good chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a medium-sized serrated knife (long enough for bread, short enough for tomatoes). They don’t have to be expensive; they do have to be sharp. And yes, unless you’re extraordinarily lucky at the thrift store, they need to be new. Here’s more info: Knives of Choice
- A colander. Big enough to wash a bunch of lettuce and drain a bunch of cooked pasta.
- A large-ish cookie sheet. I like the kind that has 2 layers, so cookies don’t burn, but if you have only one, you need one with a rim, because it’s for a lot more than cookies, and too large is better than too small.
- A ladle. The cooking size, not the gravy-serving size. Not metal, if you have a choice, because of the pan-scratching factor.
- An 8″x 8” square pan. Glass or metal, doesn’t matter.
- A 9″x 13” pan. Can be metal, but glass is probably more versatile. You’ll be glad later if it comes with some sort of lid or cover.
- Kitchen tongs
- Spatulas—3 kinds: hard plastic, for flipping things over without damaging your pans; metal, for scraping the good part of something crispy off the bottom of a cast-iron pan; rubber or silicone, for cleanly scooping stuff out of bowls.
- Vegetable peeler. And/or vegetable scrub brush.
- At least two mixing bowls, one smallish, and one as big as you can find
- Electric mixer. Though you could get by without this, you won’t be happy about it. Mixing things by hand is long, hard work, and not always successful. This will probably need to be new, but you might find one at your thrift store that will work for a while. You can get either a stand mixer or a hand-held one. The latter is a lot less expensive.
- Microwave oven. This will save your life for most meals.
- Mesh strainer. Small, like 6”, is fine. And yes, this is in addition to the colander. They get used for different things.
- Grater. I think the box-type is less likely to skin your knuckles, but a flat one will do. Get what you can find at the thrift store.
- Bag clips/closers. Not just for chips, but also for bags of frozen stuff and other ingredients you only use part of. Twist ties you collect from wherever will work, too (except for the chips).
- Can opener. NOT an electric one, because if it breaks or the power goes out or there’s an earthquake and you need food, you are so out of luck. It may take you several tries to find one that actually does the job without breaking your thumb. After many that repeatedly made me angry, this one seems to work reliably, easily, and well.
- A cutting board or two. Not wood, because it soaks up and breeds bad things, but almost anything else. Think about being kind to the edges of your knives when you’re choosing one.
- Hot pads (Pot holders). Good ones. Several. Get them new.
- Kitchen towels. At least two. Thrift store ones are fine. In fact, if you find a really well-worn, thin, non-terrycloth one, snap it up for straining roasted squash and making cheese and stuff.
- Little bowls in which to assemble ingredients or crack an egg. (Also great for serving yogurt, fruit, ice cream, nuts, olives, condiments, custards…you get the idea.)
For your wish list, gift list, or if you want to get to the level above the bare necessities:
- A slow cooker! This makes cooking for yourself and/or company so easy, using only the bare minimum of other tools! And just FYI, they’re really not expensive, even brand new. They are often on sale in October/November. One that automatically goes from cook to warm at the end of your cooking time can be especially nice, but not necessary.
- Wire whisk. Medium or large. A small one, too, if you find it on sale.
- Rolling pin. I love my marble one, and my son was speaking passionately about his the other day, but they come in wood and silicone, too. Marble is good because it’s already heavy, so you don’t have to push as hard. Not just for bakers, because they’re good for crushing nuts, rolling pizza dough, and even self-defense. Offensive moves with this tool when you’re angry are not recommended.
- Salad spinner. This spins the wash water off of things like greens, lettuce, garden herbs, and other stuff. It’s really fast and much more effective and eco-friendly than paper towels.
- Garlic press
- Parchment paper. This saves a lot of cooking spray and works like magic to keep so many things from sticking to your various bakeware. Also a must if you’re making your own pizza.
- Kitchen scale. Seems like overkill? Well, sometimes you need only part of a bag of chocolate chips or chicken or whatever. How do you know when you get to 4 oz. without a scale? It doesn’t have to be fancy or electronic, as long as it’s adjustable to be reasonably accurate.
- Mixing bowls of in-between sizes
- Glass casserole dish (with a lid would be cool)
- Loaf pan. Glass is best.
- Muffin/cupcake pan. Useful for much more than muffins and cupcakes.
- Ice cube trays. These are great for freezing broth, pesto, buttermilk, lemon juice, etc. to spontaneously use later in various recipes.
- Electric blender. Can make a quick morning smoothie or act as a food processor for some things.
- Toaster or toaster oven (the latter can be great for quick reheats or frozen meals)
- Vegetable scrub brush
- Food processor. Even if you start with a really small one and wait to get a full-size one, you will be so glad to have this.
- Pastry brush. The nylon or natural bristle kind are more versatile than the silicone kind. No, it’s not just for bakers. Think olive oil on the edges of a pizza or barbecue sauce on ribs.
- Large spoon with holes in it that can scoop out solid things and leave liquid behind.
- Potato masher/ricer. Good for more than mashed potatoes. (Applesauce, avocados…)
- A wire cooling rack
- Meat thermometer or all-purpose temperature probe
- A back-up can opener. Because if your only one breaks, you’re up that proverbial creek.
Please contact me if you have questions about any of these things. I’d love to help you figure what you need. I’d also love to hear from you if you think I’ve missed an essential item. I will update the list accordingly!