What items in your kitchen do you consider essential? I thought it would be interesting to explore what is considered “basic” as far as utensils and equipment. Where do you start if you are setting up a new kitchen? What do you keep if you are downsizing (something I will be doing this year)? I’ve compiled a list of equipment I find essential with a little help from Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything) and Cal Peternell (Twelve Recipes).
What we have in our kitchen is often very personal. Much of my own was inherited from my mother and grandmother. Cast iron skillets only get better if they are properly cared for, and my wooden spoons still retain the stains of my mother’s tomato sauce or pickled beets. I have casserole and gratin dishes given to me by friends over the years. They retain the memories of special meals and the loved ones with whom they were shared. One casserole dish in particular screams Swedish meatballs at me every time I pull it out of the cupboard. It was my younger brother’s favorite meal, always served on his birthday.
So here goes:
- 2 wooden cutting boards, reserve one for fruit so it doesn’t become flavored with garlic or onion
- 1 plastic cutting board for chicken (not glass which will damage your knives) – that can go in the dishwasher
- 8 quart pasta and/or stock pot
- 1 1/2 or 2 quart saucepan
- 3 or 4 quart saucepan
- 8 inch cast iron skillet
- 10 inch skillet (stainless steel if you can afford it)
- 12 inch skillet (ditto)
- Lids for skillets
- Mixing bowls – large, medium and small
- Big wire mesh strainer (my preference) or colander
- Salad spinner
- Tongs – several pairs
- Metal spatula
- Wooden spoons
- Vegetable peeler
- Box type cheese grater
- A bamboo-handled spider or other sieve
- Slotted spoon
- Potato masher
- Rubber spatula
- Can opener
- Soup ladle
- Small bowl or container for salt
- Instant read thermometer
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Kitchen scissors
- Knives – 8 inch chef’s knife, 2-3 paring knives, serrated bread knife
- Knife sharpener
- 9 inch cake pans
- Baking/casserole dishes – a 13 x 9-inch casserole is often called for in recipes – pyrex, you may also want an 8 x 8 inch
- A casserole or gratin dish you can bring to the table – clay is very nice
- Large roasting pan if you eat meat
- V shaped rack for roasting pan
- Baking sheets for cookies and roasting vegetables (I like the large jelly role pans, line with parchment paper)
- baking pans if you bake cupcakes
- Cooling racks for cookies or cakes
Then there are those items that I find indispensable and use almost daily.
- A microplane grater – for hard cheese, ginger, garlic, and zesting citrus
- 10 inch non-stick skillet for eggs
- Fish spatula for turning delicate things
- Silicone baking mat
- Cheese slicer – for thinly slicing cheese (grilled cheese sandwiches or cheese platters)
- Serving platters, bowls
- Tea pot
- Coffee cone and filters
- Rice cooker (you don’t need a fancy one, my own is over 35 years old and going strong)
- Mortar and pestle for grinding salt and spices – buy a larger one so you can make pesto sauce in it
You don’t need all these items at one time if you are just starting out. And don’t go out and buy a set, you may not need everything that is included. Start slowly and consider each purchase. Most of what is in my kitchen has been in use for many years. One skillet and one pot will do nicely at first, buy the larger sizes to give yourself more flexibility. Second hand stores are great places to find cast iron and many of the utensils. Check out garage sales, many of us our downsizing right now. Visit a restaurant supply store for real bargains plus high quality, they are also wonderful sources for glassware and crockery. If you have an Ikea close to you, it can be a source of good bargains. The larger pot pictured above has a wider opening and is perfect for making preserves. Similar pots at Williams Sonoma are many times the price.
What do you consider essential that I have not included? I would love to have your input and will update the list.
In a pinch, a plastic bag that you swing like a windmill can substitute a salad spinner. This was shown to me by Tad, a friend and chemist from Europe.
Great idea! Thank you.
I’d add a vegetable steamer basket to your list. I could not function without decent knives, a diamond steel to keep them sharp, electronic scales and measuring cups.
A steamer is a good idea, I don’t often steam veggies as I prefer to roast. But I will add it to the list.
Well, I had most of the items on your list. Will look for cheese slicer. Have recently replaced old Revere Ware pans with Cuisinart Pro Stainless – much thicker and nicer, but still not that expensive. My egg pan is an 8″ ScanPan (Danish) – expensive but an amazing piece of equipment. Non stick but no obvious layer on top. I’d second the suggestion of an electronic scale, particularly if you do baking (which I don’t). I use it regularly to measure servings of pasta and smoked salmon, or to check the weight of something to see how many calories are in it. And to weigh small packages for mailing. And I have an infrequently used but absolutely essential wand blender for pureeing or semi-pureeing soups.
Hi Dan, how wonderful to hear from you. I agree a scale is very useful, and a wand blender is a good idea. Someone else mentioned a steamer, I need to do some editing.
In our household a panini maker is essential, but not everyone would agree.