Question: I just got my first place. I like to cook and want to set my kitchen up right, but can’t afford much. What equipment should I get?
Whether you’re getting equipment and utensils for your very first kitchen or thinking of helping out a young adult in your family, deciding what to get and what not to get can be both frustrating and confusing.
We’d like to get the expensive stuff and make sure we have everything we could ever need. The reality is, however, that a well equipped home kitchen is something that happens over time, not at all once in the beginning. Most of us go through a few years of trial and error before we come up with a list of must-haves that we can afford and a practical list of what to get next.
Still, when I was when I was 18 and setting up my very first kitchen I would have killed for a list of basic equipment and cooking utensils to get on my meager budget. I ended up buying many of the wrong things and shed more than few tears over ruined meals, wasted food, and, yes, emergency room visits.
A few decades and several home economic students later and I have a pretty good idea of what kitchen equipment and utensils to recommend to others who are just starting out.
Starter kitchen equipment are things like mixing bowls, pots, pans, and pasta strainers, and can include small equipment like toasters, blenders, and electric egg beaters. Our first instinct might be to get the fancy sets marketed towards young adult cooks, but most of the time it’s less expensive and a lot less frustrating in then end to pick and choose your equipment piece by piece. You’ll get better quality for your money and will not be weighted down with things you don’t use while lamenting the absence of things you do.
So, what kitchen equipment should you get? Here’s a list that’s been compiled over time by many different cooks:
2 medium sized microwave safe plastic mixing bowls.
1 large pot with a lid
1 medium pot with a lid
1 large or medium frying pan with a lid
1 metal colander (pasta strainer)
1 steel or double-ply composite baking sheet with sides
1 8×8 or 9×9 deep dish baking pan
1 rolling pin
1 13×9 (or bigger) cutting board or mat
1 set of plastic measuring cups
1 set of plastic measuring spoons
1 4-cup liquid measuring cup (if possible)
1 large cooling rack
1 hand-held can opener
Next we want to look at kitchen utensils, which are things like mixing spoons, whisks, serving forks, knives, and tongs.
You can buy starter kits that will include most of the utensils you will need and not waste money on things you don’t need, like you would with a pots & pans kit. However, you will end up needing a few utensils that aren’t in those utensils kits. Most won’t come with a decent pair of tongs or a vegetable peeler. Cooks knives are another thing you don’t want to buy in utensils kits unless you can afford the really expensive ones. Knives are often hit or miss, but you can increase the odds of getting good quality kitchen knives by selecting them individually. Most people get the less expensive knife/utensils kits just to get the steak knives, but those can be bought in sets of 1-6 for less money than an entire kitchen utensils kit.
In this category there are three sub-categories:
Cook’s Knives (Utility Knives)
1 straight-edge wide-blade knife that can be re-sharpened
1 serrated-edged wide-blade knife
2 straight edged paring knives
Wooden spoons, a cheap set will do
Rubber head spatula
Wire whisk (a strong table fork is a good alternative)
ladle (doubles as a serving utensil)
4 hot pads (yes, four)
Serving & Eating Utensils
2 metal serving forks
2 large metal spoons
*1 place setting of spoons, forks, and tables knives for each person in the house
*1 mug for each person in the house
*1 tumbler (tall glass) for each person in the house
*1 dinner plate for each person in the house (microwavable is best when on a budget)
*1 bowl for each person in the house
* Plus two of each of these things for visitors.
Small kitchen appliances are things like toasters and coffee makers. The requirement for these can vary widely based on the kinds of foods you like to eat and plan on cooking. The three most commonly used small appliances, however, are:
Hand-held cup blender/mixer
Some of you out there are asking, “What about a blender?” To that, I must ask how often do you actually use your blender? Some people will still find these to be essential small kitchen appliances, and that’s fine. Many people, however, find themselves using their hand-held cup mixer more often to achieve the same results. I cook for 5 on a daily basis, have been expected to cook for as many as 200 on short notice often enough that I actually plan for it to happen at any given moment, test every single recipe I publish in my own kitchen, and yet, I do not own a blender. Granted, I used to, and would like to get another one simply so I can test recipes that specifically require a real stand-blender. But to be honest, I haven’t found the need for this specific piece of equipment in 10 years.
So there you go! As far as kitchen equipment and utensils that’s about all you’ll need to get a good roaring start. It’s still a pretty long list though. If you can’t afford all of that at once start with your mixing bowls, pots, pan, mugs, wooden spoons, and table settings and work on it from there. If you can, budget to get the rest of the equipment and utensils over no more than a 3 month period of time or suggest them to friends and relatives as house-warming gift ideas.
Another good idea is to use this list as guide for what to ask for on a gift registry.
May your kitchen be filled with happiness and smell like your favorite eatery!
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