List of Kitchen Essentials: How to Stock Your First Kitchen
If you open a cookbook or watch a cooking show, you’ll see dozen of cooking utensils and pots and pans. Do you really need all of those fancy supplies? You don’t! It’s easy to make a delicious, healthy meal with a few simple kitchen essentials. Read on for What College Forgot’s list of essential kitchen supplies and tips on how to stock your first kitchen.
Pots and pans
If you go to a kitchen supply store, you’ll see a dizzying array of pots and pans. When you’re first starting to stock your kitchen, you only need two basics: a medium-sized saucepan and a frying pan.
A saucepan is a pot with high sides that you can use to boil water and make soups. Saucepans come in lots of different sizes, but if you only want to buy one saucepan, pick a three- or four-quart pot. A larger pot gives you the flexibility to cook a meal for friends and still make small portions when you’re eating by yourself.
You also need a large frying pan, which can also be called a sauté pan. Frying pans are used to make eggs, sautéed vegetables, chicken and other meats, in addition to hundreds of other dishes. Like saucepans, frying pans also come in many different sizes. If you’re just buying one pan, choose a ten- or twelve-inch pan so you can make large or small quantities. Many frying pans come with lids. You won’t use a lid all the time, but opting for a frying pan with a lid gives you more versatility.
When shopping for your saucepan and frying pan, look for ones that are non-stick. When you cook with non-stick, you don’t need to use as much oil in your meals, and clean up is much easier. Keep in mind, though, that non-stick coating can come off and that pans may need to be replaced. You can keep your non-stick pans in good condition by using wooden or plastic utensils with them and by cleaning them with non-abrasive sponges. You should expect to spend about $40-50 on each item to ensure you get a decent product without going too high end.
One final caution about frying pans – choose one that has a metal handle and is free of any plastic. Some recipes call for you to put your frying pan in the oven, and plastic handles will melt.
As your kitchen grows, consider adding any of the following additional pots and pans that suit your lifestyle:
- Dutch oven: If you love cooking soups, stews, and braised dishes, consider buying a Dutch oven. This pot is like a saucepan, but it’s larger and heavier. It has a tightly fitting lid and is useful for recipes where you have to cook a stew in the oven.
- Stockpot: A stockpot is useful when cooking large quantities of pasta, soup, or chili. You can also use it to make homemade stocks.
- Cast iron skillet: Many cooks swear by their cast iron skillets and use them to fry chicken and pan roast meats. The heavy bottom helps the heat distribute evenly.
- Large sauté pan: Choose a three- or six-quart sauté pan if you plan on cooking for multiple people regularly. These pans often have high sides, making it easy to cook pasta sauces and larger quantities of food.
- Wok: Although you don’t need a wok to make a delicious stir-fry, the high sides make it easier to stir the food quickly. It’s also a lot of fun to use.
- Pots and pans set: Most stores sell sets of pots and pans. Although contents vary, you usually get a couple saucepans and frying pans of varying size. Buying a set can be a quick and easy way to get a versatile set of pots and pans.
Even if you’re not a baker, you’ll need some pans that can go in the oven. If you’re first stocking a kitchen, buy a sheet pan (sometimes called a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan) and a baking pan. Choose a non-stick sheet pan that’s a half-sheet size, which is the most versatile option for new cooks. A half-sheet pan takes up most of the space on a rack and is usually 18’’x13’’x1’’.
You won’t just use your sheet pan for cookies. Sheet pans are also useful for roasting vegetables and meats. Look for sheet pans that feel solid and don’t bend easily in your hand. Sturdier pans distribute heat more evenly than lighter pans and are less likely to burn your food.
A baking pan is a dish with two- or three-inch high sides and is used to make casseroles and lasagna; it can even be used for brownies and cakes. If you usually cook for one or two, you may want to start with an 8x8 inch pan. If you cook for more, choose a 9x13. A glass baking dish is inexpensive and versatile.
As your kitchen grows, consider adding a few other pieces of bakeware:
- Muffin pan: If you enjoy making muffins or cupcakes, buy a twelve-cup muffin pan.
- Porcelain or ceramic casseroles: You may want to buy some casserole dishes or baking pans made out of porcelain or ceramics because these can look a little bit nicer than glass when you’re serving at the table.
- Cake pans: Buy eight- or nine-inch round cake pans if you enjoy baking cakes. Choose non-stick for all of your metal bakeware because it’s much easier to clean and you don’t have to worry about food sticking.
- Roasting pan: A large, metal roasting pan is usually used for making big roasts like turkeys. Roasting pans can be pricy; if you don’t plan on roasting regularly, consider buying a disposable foil pan.
Many kitchen stores have whole walls devoted to dozens of different types of cooking utensils. As a new cook, you’ll only need two: a wooden spoon and a spatula (also called a turner). A wooden spoon is convenient anytime you’re cooking something in your sauté pan. It won’t ruin the non-stick finish on your pan and is inexpensive. Although some people put their wooden spoons in the dishwasher, it’s better to wash wooden spoons by hand and dry them well.
You can use a spatula whenever you’re making something that needs to be flipped. Spatulas are also useful for making eggs and lifting cookies off a sheet pan. You can choose between metal and plastic spatulas, but go for plastic if you’re only buying one. Metal can destroy non-stick cookware, but plastic is safe to use.
As your kitchen grows, here are a few other utensils to consider:
- Ladle: Buy a ladle if you enjoy soups and chilis.
- Pasta fork: If you make a lot of pasta, you may want to buy a pasta fork or slotted spoon.
- Tongs: Many cooks enjoy using tongs when cooking; tongs are also convenient for tossing salads or making food on the grill.
- Rubber or silicon spatula: If you like to bake, a curved rubber spatula makes it easy to clean batters out of the bowl.
You can buy a cooking utensil set if you want to get several utensils at once. Utensil sets vary but may include a wooden spoon, spatula, slotted spoon, pasta fork, and ladle.
The only appliance you’ll need to create delicious meals is an oven with a stovetop, but some small electric appliances can make cooking a lot easier. If you’re just starting out, consider purchasing a microwave. Not only can you reheat leftovers, but you can use the microwave to shorten cooking times for items like baked potatoes and winter squash. You can also use the microwave to quickly defrost frozen items like chicken and to melt butter or chocolate.
Some apartments come with built-in microwaves. If you’re planning a move, hold off on purchasing a microwave until you know what comes in your kitchen.
As your kitchen grows, here are a few more convenient appliances you might like:
- Toaster: You can always toast bread in the oven or in a dry frying pan, but a toaster is definitely lower maintenance.
- Food processor: A food processor can be a huge timesaver. Use your food processor to quickly chop large quantities of vegetables and even to make homemade breadcrumbs. Use the specialized discs that come with many food processors to grate cheese or to evenly slice vegetables like potatoes.
- Blender: Use a blender to make smoothies, salad dressings, and pureed sauces and soups.
- Electric mixer: Available as a standing or hand-held device, an electric mixer can speed the preparation of baked goods. You can make most recipes without an electric mixer, so only buy one if you plan on baking frequently.
In order to cook just about any meal, you’ll need two basic tools: a sharp knife and a cutting board. An eight-inch chef’s knife is a standard size and will serve you well for most dishes. When you’re shopping for knives, be prepared to spend about $100. It’s important to have a high quality, sharp knife because dull knives can slip easily. Sharpen your knife every couple of months; you can often get your knife sharpened at the butcher counter of grocery stores.
You also need a cutting board. Although wooden cutting boards look nicer, a plastic cutting board is easier to clean (you can pop it in the dishwasher) and a little more versatile. Some cutting boards come in a pack of three (small, medium, and large). If you’re only buying one board, choose a large board.
If you go to any kitchen store, you’ll see dozens of specialized tools for cooks. Only buy the things that you plan on using, but common “extras” include the following:
- Colander: A colander is a must-have if you like to cook pasta. You can also use it to strain canned beans and rinse vegetables like green beans.
- Salad spinner: Although pre-washed greens are available, they’re often a lot more expensive than whole, unwashed lettuce. A salad spinner is the easiest way to clean and dry chopped lettuce and can even serve as a storage container for leftover salad.
- Mixing bowls: A basic set of three mixing bowls is necessary for baking but can also be convenient for tossing salads and serving meals. Some mixing bowls come with lids, which can be convenient for storage.
- Plastic storage containers: You can store leftovers in regular bowls, but plastic storage containers are easier to use because they have lids. Choose high quality containers; cheap, flimsy containers tend to warp in the dishwasher.
- Dish towels: In a pinch, you can use a small bath towel, but dish towels are lighter weight and dry more quickly.
- Measuring cups: Start with a liquid measuring cup, which is a glass cup that has measurements marked on the outside. You can use it when making dressings and sauces. Dry measuring cups are usually made out of plastic or metal and come in sets of several cups. You can use dry measuring cups to measure out dry ingredients like flour and sugar when baking.
- Measuring spoons: Measuring spoons are helpful in measuring out very small quantities of liquids and dry ingredients. Most measuring spoons come in a set of spoons in different sizes. Make sure the set you buy includes a quarter teaspoon, half-teaspoon, teaspoon, and tablespoon.
Setting up your first kitchen doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Begin by asking your family members if they have pots and pans or utensils that they’re not using. You may also be able to find decent starter items for sale on Craigslist or at garage sales. If you opt to purchase new items when stocking your first kitchen, check out stores such as Kohl’s and Bed, Bath, and Beyond that offer mid-priced, quality kitchen supplies, which you can often buy on sale or with a coupon. Most items should last you for many years before you need to upgrade.
By: Jessica Bayliss
Jessica Bayliss is a freelance writer specializing in finance and education. She has degrees from the University of Illinois and Texas A&M-Kingsville and is still learning all about what college forgot.