A little side gig of mine is giving cooking lessons to friends. Some of these friends are single guys who have NO IDEA how to cook or what they need to stock their bachelor pad with to get going. I thought it would be helpful for anyone who’s just starting out (in a new home, or starting out in the kitchen in general) to provide a list of items that I’ve found essential. In the future, I’ll also provide a list of things that are “not essential, but helpful” – those little luxuries that you can get by without, but will make your life behind the stove a little easier.
A little disclaimer: I obviously spend more on kitchen equipment than the average bear. In fact, a huge chunk of my personal “net worth” (which isn’t much) is probably kitchen equipment. I’ve made this choice because this is my profession, and my hobby, and my love. I don’t really care about what kind of car I drive or having a lot of jewelry, but kitchen stuff is my thing. So, when I outline the products I use, please don’t think I’m a snob (please! I’m not!). These are just the items that have served me well, but I want you to find what works best in YOUR kitchen, at your budget. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments!
Pots & Pans
You’re obviously not going to get anywhere without these. I use All-Clad, an amazing wedding gift from my parents. Now obviously, All-Clad isn’t fit for everybody’s budget, but I do recommend that you buy the best-quality pots and pans you can afford, even if you have to save up for them to buy one piece at a time. You know that $60 set of pots and pans you see on people’s wedding registries? That set probably won’t live to see the couple’s 3rd anniversary. I know, I had a set like that in college. Actually, two sets. But I’m expecting to pass my All-Clad on to a grandchild. The good news is, if you invest in high-quality (recommended: stainless steel), you don’t need THAT many pieces. I have a 10-piece set, which includes:
- 2 skillets - 8″ and 10″
- 2 saucepans - 2-quart and 4-quart + 2 lids
- 1 high-sided saute pan (4-quart) + lid
- 1 stockpot (8-quart) + lid
That’s it! These were the only pots and pans I had for years, and they were all I needed! Over the years, I’ve supplemented with a few additional pieces, which I’ll discuss when we get to the “luxuries” portion of this event.
I use Wusthof, but there’s lots of great (and pricey!) brands out there like Shun and Global. There’s also plenty of more affordable brands - Forschner makes a good set that is similar to what I used in culinary school. The most important thing is that the knife feels comfortable in your hand, so make sure you pick out your knives in person if you can. A basic set of knives includes:
- A French knife, also sometimes called a “chef’s knife” – this will have a 8″ to 10″ blade, and you’ll use it for everything from chopping vegetables to slicing meat.
- A small paring knife for peeling fruit and other small tasks.
- A bread knife, for…..you know.
- Kitchen shears, which are good for not only opening packages, but snipping up herbs and cutting up pasta.
- A set of steak knives if you’re a meat eater.
Along with feeling good in your hand, a knife that stays SHARP is equally important. You may have to sharpen it now and again, but it needs to keep a good edge. When I see people using dull knives, 1.) it makes me twitchy, and 2.) it reminds me of the mantra, “a dull knife is a dangerous knife.” It’s true – the worst cut I’ve ever had in the kitchen was from a dull knife. Which leads me to….
So important. You need one of these. I use something similar to this, but there’s lots of methods to sharpen your blades including steels and a set of sharpening stones. So, make sure you get some sort of sharpening system, and use it. Frequently.
I have three boards – 2 Epicurean boards which are eco-friendly and dishwasher-safe (I use these for everything non-meat), and a cheap plastic board for all meat and fish – it’s best to have a separate board for all things meat, so that there’s no cross-contamination going on.
I have 4 different sizes of USA-made Anchor Hocking glass bowls. Choose whatever bowls you love (glass, ceramic, plastic, stainless steel or other), but you should probably have 3 – 5 different sizes. Bonus if they’re dishwasher safe. Double-bonus if they’re attractive enough to double as a serving bowl.
Sheet Pans (Rimmed Baking Pans)
These are a huge kitchen workhorse. Anything you put in the oven can go on these. You can also use them as tray, or to make a makeshift extra shelf in your fridge. These take a huge beating over the years, and even the “nice” brands can’t seem to withstand the abuse, so I go extra-cheap on these. I found a brand of USA-made aluminum pans similiar to these at my local restaurant supply store, and they were just $4 each. At that price, I don’t have to worry about scratching them or running them through the dishwaher a thousand times. But the set of 2 that I use now have held up for over two years, and they look pretty good! $8 well spent. An 18″ x 13″ pan (or a “half sheet pan,” in restaurant terms) is a perfect size for all your kitchen uses.
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