Whether you are moving to a new house and rethinking your kitchen equipment, returning to cooking after retirement or equipping your first kitchen, it is good to start with the basic kitchen tools. Here’s our guide to equipping a kitchen.
A nesting set of microwave-safe, glass mixing bowls, a wooden spoon, a heatproof rubber spatula (scraper), a set of nesting measuring cups and spoons, and a glass measuring cup for liquids will get you through just about any recipe.
“I keep a container full of tablespoons and teaspoons, so I can use them and not have to wash them every time I need another,” said Barbara Gillespie, formerly of Carbondale.
I like the way she thinks!
I suggest a set of nesting, clear glass Pyrex mixing bowls. They are reasonably priced and versatile enough to be used in the microwave or as serving containers. Also, you can often find older Pyrex sets in thrift stores or resale shops. They come in a rainbow of colors and are highly collectible.
Essential utensils include a wooden spoon, a ladle, a rubber scraper (spatula) and a heatproof spatula (pancake turner). Find utensils that make you happy and feel good in your hand.
Add a large cutting board and two basic knives — a small, super-sharp paring knife (3- or -4-inch blade) and a medium size chef’s knife (usually an 8-inch blade). Find a knife that fits comfortably in your hand and that you feel confident using. A knife is an investment. Try several brands and buy the best quality you can afford.
My favorite knife, purchased 30 years ago on my honeymoon, is a 7-inch chef’s knife. I bought a replacement ceramic knife of the same shape and size last year, and both are used frequently in my kitchen.
Kitchen shears are one of my essentials. They can prevent common accidents when knives are used inappropriately. Use them to cut up chicken, to remove elastic bands from produce, to cut open pouches, snip herbs and cut raw bacon.
One 8-by-8-inch baking pan means you can roast a couple of chicken breasts or bake a pan of brownies. Ovenproof glass or ceramic prove most versatile because they can be used in the microwave to reheat things. Trade up to a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, and you can bake a cake or a bigger batch of brownies.
Purchase the best-quality nonstick skillets you can afford. The heavier the skillet, the less chance things will scorch. Look for a skillet that also can be used in the oven. A 10-inch skillet is handy for everyday cooking, and a 6-inch skillet is good for cooking eggs.
For other cooking, use a large, not-too-heavy pot for boiling water for pasta and vegetables and for making the occasional pot of soup.
Buy a colander that won’t tip over in the sink when you pour the boiling water off pasta or blanched green beans.
A can opener is a must. A hand-held model works well, but an electric model is quick and easy to use.
Dish towels and dish cloths are essential for cleaning and washing dishes. Throw in some good pot holders and an oven mitt or heatproof kitchen glove.
For small appliances, we suggest a hand-held mixer or inexpensive blender, timer and chopper. A basic Ninja Master Prep will help you make a quick salsa, chop onions or frozen drinks. It is inexpensive, versatile and easy to use.
The weekday cook
The difference between a novice cook and an accomplished cook is practice and a larger collection of kitchen equipment. Here are some items you may want if you are cooking every day.
Spring-loaded tongs may be the tool that elevates the novice. Use them to turn shrimp in the pan, lift asparagus from the boiling water to check doneness, flip meat and poultry on the grill, toss salads, remove hot potatoes from the microwave. Test them out in the store for comfort before you buy. Store them near the stove.
Add a vegetable peeler, garlic press, whisk, citrus press, box grater and micro plane grater to make fast work of many kitchen tasks. Likewise, a salad spinner takes the chore out of rinsing garden-grown greens and lettuces.
Add another knife or two, such as a serrated bread/tomato knife and a long slicing knife for carving meat. A second cutting board that can be designated for raw meat use is a smart idea. Look for cutting boards that can be washed in the dishwasher.
Upgrade to a wire mesh colander from the standard plastic. Buy one with a foot that will stand by itself.
An instant-read thermometer makes sure your meat is cooked to perfection. Find one that is easy to read and shatterproof.
A heavy-duty, enameled cast-iron Dutch oven comes with a hefty price tag, but your stews, braises, pasta sauces and hearty soups will thank you. No more scorched chili or burned tomato sauce. You can even use the pan to bake bread or roast chicken.
If you work, a slow-cooker is a fool-proof way to have dinner ready when you return home. You put the food in, set the timer and cooking temperature and you are done! My newest version is programmable and has a lid that seals and locks for travel.
The advanced enthusiast
A santoku knife or a second, larger chef’s knife will give you more options. If you don’t like chopping, invest in a small food processor to do the work for you.
Add some kitchen appliances such as a powerful blender for super smoothies, creamy soups, chili sauces and batters. An immersion blender (also called hand-held blender or stick blender) is the best tool for pureeing hot soups and sauces right in the pot and can whip a small quantity of cream.
A stand mixer with a powerful motor will make easy work of cookie doughs, breads and beaten egg whites and cream. Six of my friends mentioned a KitchenAid mixer by name. They are the Dodge Charger of the kitchen, and essential for serious baking.
For years, I did not have a larger food processor. A friend offered me a food processor that she did not use. I nearly wore it out! I use my food processor most in the summer for slicing and grating fresh vegetables, making pesto, pie crust and biscuits.
Cast-iron skillets make browning a snap — the perfect pan for crispy potatoes, crusty chicken and great cornbread.
Holiday cooks will need heavy-duty baking sheets for cookies and flatbreads. Pie plates, Bundt pans, muffin tins, cookie cutters and loaf pans all come in handy and make welcome gifts.