So you’re moving into your next phase of life, and you’re brand new to cooking but want to learn. You’re headed to Target/Wal-Mart/IKEA/Bed Bath and Beyond with a gift card (because let’s face it: if you’re trying to save money, you aren’t heading to Bed Bath and Beyond without a gift card). How do you know what to buy for your kitchen? Click on any item to expand the text and see what you need.
- Dish detergent
- Sponge/rag/brush and towel (if no dishwasher)
Presumably, you already own these, but if you don’t, you are pretty much eating take-out until you do.
If you’re going to prepare your own food rather than order it ready-made, start with:
- A knife and cutting board. I use a 5-inch Santoku knife and prefer wooden boards. I also have one plastic board for meat, because it can go in the dishwasher.
- A mixing bowl and mixing spoon. Buy the largest bowl you can manage. Nothing is worse than worrying about whether your salad/pancake batter/cookie dough is going to fly across the room as you mix.
Congratulations! Having purchased the items in Step 2, you now have enough equipment to make a salad.
Unfortunately, most people who are jazzed about cooking are not that excited about making a salad. In fact, great salads are one of the most impressive things you can make, but more on that elsewhere.
You need less equipment to use your stovetop than your oven–plus, most people are already comfortable scrambling an egg or throwing pasta in some water. When shopping, bear in mind…
- You need a way to get your food from the pan to the plate. Food that needs flipping requires a spatula. Non-stick skillets need non-metal spatulas. Saucepans can be tended with wooden spoons but you’ll need something else (a ladle, a pasta strainer, a spider) to serve your dinner.
- You’ll need at least one pan. Start here if you aren’t sure what to buy.
- If you’re planning to make pancakes, you’ll also need to check the list of baking items below.
The advantage of stovetop food is that it cooks quickly, but the disadvantage is that it often requires ongoing attention.
- An oven mitt. No point using your oven if you can’t remove hot food without third-degree burns.
- An ovenproof pan to hold your casserole/veggies/Thanksgiving turkey. The size of this pan should depend upon whether you are cooking for one or more people and on whether you like leftovers. Things cooked in the oven don’t do well in pans that are too big.
- Cookie sheet(s). Useful if you want to make homemade pizza or just toast some bruschetta.
- Whatever you’re going to use to flip or rotate food while it is still hot. Spatula? Tongs? Fork?
If you want to bake, there are a few extra items you’ll want:
- A second mixing bowl. Most recipes call for liquid ingredients to be mixed separately from dry ones.
- Rubber spatula. Not needed for bread, but important for cupcakes and muffins.
- Measuring spoons and cups
- If your budget allows it, buy a whisk. For when you want to whip your eggs back and forth.
- Consider what you’re baking. Certain items require specialized equipment such as pie or bread pans, cooling racks, muffin tins, or a rolling pin.
Your oven is one of your best bets for making large batches of food that will last you several days. It’s also useful if you want to prep something on the weekend, bake it later, and relax while it cooks.
- Salad spinner, because drying lettuce with paper towels just sucks.
- Cheese grater, unless you are sold on using only pre-grated or crumbly cheese.
- Can opener
- Meat thermometer
- Paring (smaller) knife
- Large spoons (think serving spoons)
- Storage containers for the fridge. Buy more small ones than you think you need—canning jars work well if you’re trying to cut costs.
- Glass storage containers, if you plan to reheat individual portions in the microwave.
- Toaster oven. See Appliances.
- Crock pot. See Appliances.
- Blender. See Appliances.
- Hand mixer. Necessary for cookie and cake batters.
As you cook, you will acquire more equipment, and many of those new tools will improve your efficiency. Items on this last list are the ones that I tried to do without for a while but now use all the time.
Ready to shop? Here are some related articles you might also want to read: