Kitchen essentials, a list

I recently told a friend of mine that I would put together a list of what I believe are the essential bits of kitchen gear you need to be able to cook at home regularly, reliably, and enjoyably. Sure you can get by with a sharp stick, a pot and a bit of fire, but that’s just going to be frustrating and annoying in the long run.

The list totals out to around $2200 which seems like a lot, but it includes a lot of decent quality gear you’ll only ever have to buy once. Most of it is spent on cookware (pots and pans) because good cookware really does make a huge difference in the end. Oh, and knives. High quality razor sharp knives are your friend. They’re not cheap, but you only need two anyhow. This isn’t everything you will ever need ever, just most of it. Pick up other bits and pieces when you need them.

Ok, here’s the list. Feel free to leave comments if you think I’ve included something silly or forgotten something essential. I will amend the list if need be…

Knives and knife-related items ($185)

Cookware ($935)

Bakeware ($203)
Do not get non-stick bakeware except for muffin tins and pizza pans. You will just end up scratching the crap out of it and wasting your money. Never cut pizzas on the pizza pans — slide them off on to a cutting board first.

Electric gadgets ($157)

Tools and fiddly bits ($610)


  • Baking paper
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic wrap
  • Tin foil
  • Ziploc freezer bags (lg, and md size)

Essential references ($79)

Things not to get

  • Silicon oven mitts – they’re terrible. Get regular cloth mitts.
  • Almost anything “single purpose”. For example: garlic press, grapefruit knife, cherry pitter, citrus zester, nutmeg grater, cheese plane, melon baller, corn stripper, etc. Notable exceptions: citrus juicer, pizza wheel.

16 thoughts on “Kitchen essentials, a list

  1. I’d totally trade a dutch oven for a garlic peeler and garlic press. Yes, I’m lazy like that.

    Also, you can get unglazed terra cotta tiles at home depot for $5 and it’s better than the silly pizza stones.

    Finally, where’s the 10″ cast iron skillet? ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Adam: yeah, the cast iron skillet was on the slightly-longer-than-this-short-list but didn’t make the final cut. Mostly because I can’t use one on my current glass-top stove ๐Ÿ™‚

    When I get a gas range, cast iron is going back on the list.

  3. the pizza cutter can also be used to cut pancakes, waffles, foccacia, basically anything flat.

    for when you get a gas stove: you can get non-stick cast iron skillets. It’s all I own now.

  4. Adam: yeah, apparently – our manual is pretty specific about it. Apparently it can a) scratch the hell out of the surface, and b) damage the pan. I’m not really sure I buy the “damage the pan” part, but I know I scratched the glass stove in our old apt with my old pan. I guess newer pans are better because they’re smooth on the bottom instead of having a raised ring? Not 100% sure on that.

  5. I call “not essential” on:

    – salad spinner
    – microplane grater
    – wire sieve
    – all the electronics
    – dutch oven
    – pizza pan(keep the stone, though. They’re great for people with 90 year old ovens like me)
    – Only keep the 10″ stainless fry pan, the others aren’t essential
    – s/stainless ladle/ladle/
    – roasting pan. If you’re just starting out, use a baking sheet until you realize you really need a roasting pan

    That being said, I have all of these things and use them pretty regularly. Except the spice grinder. I like using the old mortar’n’pestle I got from my mom many years ago for that kind of thing; it’s very cathartic. However, none of them are actually essential. A decent salad spinner can go a long way towards easing the pain of washing veggies for a salad, though.

    Other thoughts:

    I’d recommend a pizza cutter and a 6″ chef’s knife before a 10″ chef’s knife . I use it to cut all kinds of stuff. With a little effort, you can sharpen a good pizza cutter like you wouldn’t believe. You should see me dice carrots and celery for soup with the “ninja wheel.”

    If you get a can opener, get one of the new fangled ones that cuts through the side of the lip of the can. Sooooo much nicer and you can re-use the cans without fear of cuts.

    Cheap welding gloves(I tend to get mine from Harbor Freight stores when they’re on sale) are great and usually only a couple of dollars. Plus, they have individual finger movement. Sounds crazy but it can be helpful.

    Also you need to add an old school bottle opener with the little beak on the opposite end. Perfect for opening cans of stock when you’re making big batches of soup.

    Find a local restaurant supply house that’s open to the to the public. You can get a great deal of this stuff there for less.

    If you have a dish washer, make sure the cutting boards you get will fit in the lower rack vertically without impeding movement of the upper rack AND make sure that the boards aren’t “top rack only.” If you don’t have a dish washer, make sure that the cutting boards will fit in your sink. I speak from boneheaded experience.

  6. Cool list.

    Now that I know that your stove isn’t compatible with cast iron (the horror!), your choices make more sense to me. That said, unless someone has a similar constraint, I’d suggest swapping the stainless steel skillet for a cast iron version (saving about $100 and providing a whole new range of tastes). Similarly, I’ve never found much use for a fancy dutch oven, so I’d suggest swapping the Le Creuset for a Lodge cast iron version and saving another $180.

    I’d also suggest getting a lot of small glass bowls for holding ingredients. They’re also super-cheap and make a big difference in setting up an efficient kitchen.

  7. BBQ,waffle iron,rolling pin,a Cuisinart type thing is really useful(Bread crumbs,cracker crumbs onions etc.)Some folk don’t have time to chop,chop

  8. I’m aware that it’s possible to get pretty much everything on this list less expensively in other forms or places. I linked to the items on Amazon because a) it’s there, b) it’s easy, and c) not everyone is super interested in spending time hunting down the greatest bargains. Those who don’t cook at home often complain about a lack of time as the root cause – one click ordering with free delivery is a long step towards at least getting the stuff on hand to get started.

  9. Until you’ve used a freshly-sharpened Global knife to cut onions or tomatoes (no crying! no tearing!) you shouldn’t poo-poo my recommendation of the knife sharpener. Honestly, that sharpener gets those knives sharp enough that it’s like a late-night infomercial. I don’t care if it means I’ll have to replace my $90 knife in 10 years rather than 20 ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. great list deb!

    +1 on the salad spinner. people who grow their own lettuce understand this ๐Ÿ˜‰

    trades i’d make:

    – a santoku for the chef’s knife: easier on the wrists, and easier for chopping noobs.
    – Joy of Cooking for How to Cook Everything: just personal preference.
    – Saveur subscription for Cooks Illustrated: most everything on Cooks Illustrated will be in your reference cookbook, while Saveur will *inspire*.

    also, instead of a $15 box grater (hello frustration), i’d recommend a plastic mandolin. go to any goodly sized Asian market, and you can get one for $20, usually with 3-4 blade attachments. i’ve had my cheapo mandolin for about 5 yrs. it’s awesome.

  11. I’ve never used a santoku, but now i’m intrigued ๐Ÿ™‚ And Saveur looks great, but also looks a little intimidating for noobs. Cook’s Illustrated has great recipes, but also has the added bonus of equipment reviews (which are excellent), and tons of instructional videos covering everything from basic knife techniques to advanced recipes. Their website has really come a long way in the past couple of years, imo.

  12. I’ve tried both santoku and chef’s knives, and I prefer the chef’s knife by far. Dicing onions with a santoku knife is hard because the thick spine is close to the tip, and it’s hard to make the initial cuts cleanly.

    I’m surprised you don’t have a boning knife on your list. I can’t imagine doing poultry without one.

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