Last week, I was listening to an old episode of The Splendid Table, and a conversation on the show helped to inspire this post. If you’re not familiar with the show, its host, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, takes calls with questions during the second half of the hour-long program. In this episode, a young man called and was asking Lynne what cooking items he and his fiance should add to their wedding registry. Her response is what I loved, though: “well, let me think — I’m trying to think about what ends up in my sink the most, because those are the things I use most frequently”.
This is such great advice, not just for people who are building a wedding registry, but also for people who are stocking their first real kitchen. Most people think of the basics — pots and pans, forks and knives — but a few extra tools make a huge difference in your ability to cook, and to cook well. The following 8 items are my idea of “essentials” for someone starting out, even if that person is just learning to cook, based on the things that end up in my sink the most.
1. Three Knives: Chef’s, Serrated, and Paring
Many houses have knife blocks with great cutlery, but I think that when you’re just starting out (and on a budget), three good knives will suffice. The workhorse in my kitchen is my chef’s knife, which I use constantly. Chopping onions, assembling salads, smashing garlic — this thing does it all. I also recommend a good serrated knife for bread or for more delicate vegetables like tomatoes. Finally, a paring knife is good to have on hand to cut cheeses and do quick vegetable work in your kitchen. I don’t use mine as much as my chef or serrated, but when I have it, I’m glad that I do. My favorite brands? Chicago Cutlery and Rada.
2. Cutting boards in different sizes
If you’re getting knives, then it makes sense to purchase a cutting board, but I suggest snapping up a few cutting boards in varying sizes. Usually one small board and one big board will do — you want enough so that you can prepare a meal easily. I usually like one for cutting dry things like bread and another for wet vegetables. If you often cut up meat, you may want to grab a third board and label it as your “meat board” so that it gets into the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning after each use.
3. Wooden utensils
These are the least expensive way to make your life easier. Wooden spoons don’t scrape your pans, they’re cost-effective, and they look great sitting in a crock next to your stovetop. I have four or five, which is perfect, because I never have to worry about whether or not one is clean.
4. Silicone-covered spoon
In addition to my battalion of wooden spoons, I use one that is stainless with a silicone head made by Tovolo. This is the best tool for aromatic curries that would absorb into wood, and it’s easy to clean. Buy one of these guys and you’ll find yourself reaching for it all the time.
So, what’s the difference between this and a colander/strainer? Sieves are designed to be used with dry ingredients while colanders and strainers are designed to drain out things that you’ve been boiling. Truthfully? I use my metal sieve for all of this. It’s great for draining pasta and veggies, sifting flour, and rinsing quinoa. It’s got a very fine gauge, and I think it’s the better multipurpose tool.
6. Sheet pans and cookie sheets (the good kind)
You might have planned to purchase some cheap cookie sheets for your first kitchen, but I highly encourage you to reconsider. My parents have had two air bake cookie sheets and a commercial-grade sheet pan for as long as I can remember. Thick cookie sheets are good for cookies, breads, and even baking tofu. Half sheet pans are great as well; they’re sturdy, and they have a lip that will catch drips and such. If you’re a fan of baking meats, a sheet pan is a good investment.
7. Glass baking pans
When I moved into my graduate school apartment, I treated myself to a set of Pyrex baking dishes with easy-store lids and easy-grab handles. When I moved out, my roommate (who is definitely not into cooking) decided she wanted them. The point? Regardless of your cooking skills, you’ll use these. I got a set on flash-sale at Target for something like $30. Sets like mine have a variety of sizes, and they can go from pantry to oven to microwave to refrigerator. These are definitely worth buying.
8. A great cookbook
Even in the age of the Internet, I find myself referring to my copy of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook for standard recipes. I grew up learning how to cook from it, and asked for a copy when I moved out on my own. It covers all of the basics and contains recipes for everything from polenta to bread to souffle. If you buy no other cookbook, buy this one.
What are your kitchen essentials? Share your thoughts in the comments!