I've recently decided to start cooking and baking instead of buying all my snacks and dinners from places with drive-throughs...
What kitchen essentials (gadgets, appliances, utensils, etc.) would be handy to have in my toolbox?
I've recently considered the issue since I was forced to move due to a fire in my apartment and I finally was compelled to admit to myself how much cookware I own (too much) and what's really necessary...
First, it really depends what TYPE of things you will be cooking. That said, this is my essential list:
- Ovenproof 12 inch skillet. I have one nonstick and one stainless steel. I would go for both if you can, but if you can only choose one, get the stainless steel as it'll brown things better.
- a 10 inch skillet and a 5 inch skillet
- at least one Le Creuset pot. If you do big braises, get the 7 quart. Otherwise, the 5 quart is the best all around size. Get the round size if only getting one.
- One large stockpot and a few smaller regular saucepan type pots
- Casserole dishes - one 9x13, and a few smaller ones
- A couple good knives - one large chef's knife, one smaller, and a serrated knife
- Wooden spoons
- Silicone spatulas that can withstand high heat
- Splatter screen for browning meat and keeping grease off everything
- A large slotted spoon
- A non-metal silicone whisk for using with nonstick or Le Creuset pots
- An instant read meat thermometer (ESSENTIAL if you are going to make roasts, steaks, chops, any cut of meat that you want to cook to a specific level of done-ness)
- A couple of good cutting boards (sometimes you need more than one at once if doing a bunch of prep)
- 2-3 good cookie/baking sheets.
- Whizzy hand-blender (with small cuisinart type attachment) for making soups, cutting up onions and garlic, making small pesto batches, etc. My favorite appliance.
If you plan on making lots of desserts, well, that's a whole separate list. Start with a Kitchenaid stand mixer. :-)
I would add a 10" and 8" cast iron skillet. Make sure that the tongs are locking if they are not the scissor action variets, I use both. Little small whisks. Either a Japanese Benriner or Swiss Moha mandoline, especially if you want to make your own fries. A good box grater and at least the basic Microplane grater, i have several and do like the little curved one for nutmeg etc. A silicone basting brush is nice to have, I like the long handled one for out door grilling and that short handled one for baking. They go in the diswasher and don't leave hairs on your food.
Put a good heavy weight pizza stone and a peel on your wish list, birthday or Christmas? The stone can live in your oven and help it heat more evenly, especially good in baking.
For baking I would look for heavy weight cake pans. Don't buy the cheap light weight stuff from Target, the supermarket etc. you will want 2 each 8" and 9" pans, a pyrex 9"x9" square baker, a couple of pie plates in pyres, the deep and shallow ones, the glass browns the crust better. For cookies and that sort of thing a heavy weight aluminum 1/2 sheet pan, I now have 3 and 2 1/4 sheet pans and use them all of the time for many different things.
Wish list, Cuisinart food processor and a Kitchen Aid Stand mixer but get a Kitchen Aid hand held mixer in the meantime. It can take cookie dough.
See the list from Wed. below about what people have found they were amazed that they did not have before and now cannot live without.
Lora Brody's Kitchen Survival Guide can be very helpful for people just getting started in the kitchen. She wrote it for her sons when they were moving into their first apartments. It is humorous and factual too.
Good luck and happy cooking. Don't let any recipe intimidate you, you don't know what you are capable of doing if you don't try. Sometimes there will be disasters but with more practice there will be lots of triumphs. 30+ years ago I did ot know that I could not make my own strudel dough or puff pastry. Piece of cake but what took a learning curve for me to get past was pie pastry but I got it. In baking follow the recipe exactly, you might want to add a good scale to your wish list, baking recipes are formulas, regular cooking is more method and is more forgiving.
Actually, the cheap cake pans from the grocery store do just fine. The brand to get is Baker's Secret; when Cook's Illustrated did a testing of cake pans some time ago the only one that ranked higher was the 80 dollar All-Clad, and even then they said they'd rather spend just 4 bucks on the Baker's Secret. Do not buy the Baker's Secret cookie sheets, though.
Hard to argue with the list above, but she didn't mention knives.
Good knives, as few as 3 or 4, will make a huge difference in what you cook. Avoid sets unless you just want something to look pretty on the counter. If I had to pare my collection back I'd keep my ugly but third hand like carbon steel chinese cleaver, $6 many years ago in Chinatown, my serrated bread knife with an 8 inch blade, and a Sabatier 6 inch chef's knife that does most of my fine work. I have many more but If I am cooking these 3 are near the cutting board. YMMV but don't get caught up buying more quantity than you need, just get a few great quality pieces that fit your hand.
I always wonder why people say never buy a set of knives.
I bought a set of Wustof knives that included the following:
8" chefs knife
8" serrated knife
7" or 8" slicer
3" or 4" pairing knife.
I'm happy with all of these knives and I use all of them. The set included a block, sharpening steel, and scissors, and was about $200 back in the mid-1990s.
Sure, now that I have an additional 10 years of experience under my belt, maybe I'd prefer something a little different. And, sure, if I only wanted to spend $150, I could buy a lower cost serrated knife and a lower cost pairing knife, and stick with the high quality chef's knife and slicer, and I wouldn't be *that* worse off. But for the extra $50 I got better knives, plus the block, scissors, and sharpening steel.
My point is that some sets are, actually, a good deal. It all depends on what's in the set. Wustof (and the rest of these companies) make a lot of different sets. I'd never recommend buying a set with 8 knives. But the small sets can be a good deal.
Also, most manufacturers sell different sets to different stores. So be sure to search widely.
While I have no particular problem with sets (I have one of cuisinart pots and pans), I have noticed (when trying to make a point about how they are cheaper), that at least at Amazon, which tends to have lower prices than elsewhere, the set and piecemeal prices tend to be identical. Obviously not true when you bought your Wusthofs, but it was a surprise to me, and worth noting if time is not a factor.
I probably should have been more specific -- I was referring to the large 27 piece of everything in the factory sets. Many times they look good because people think they need more than they actually do.
Your set would suit me well, it duplicates the functions of all my favorite tools and is in fact the 3-4 count I was referring to. These sets aren't obvious when you start shopping, as you pointed out, look around.
Check out the following:
The "Cooking basics" section has a longer list of stuff than what you need to get started.
2. Alton Brown's "Gear for Your Kitchen" (a book by the host of Food TV's Good Eats show).
While you're looking at Alton's Book, you might check out his two cookbooks, "I'm Just Here for the Food" and "I'm Just Here for More Food," the former is about general cooking while the latter is about baking.
A good sturdy pair of kitchen shears.
A good-quality pepper grinder.
Potholders and absorbent towels.
Cotton string (sometimes called "beef twine").
Parchment paper if you're going to be baking.
And if you're going to be baking, then you get into muffin tins, cookies sheets, loaf pans and cake pans.
start with less, than build up.
books and websites usually recommend far more equipment than you actually need, which i find cluttersome and annoying, not mentioning waste of money.
After all these years of cooking, the ones I find absolutely essential are:
One big [stock] pot, one smaller saucepan
A frying pan and a skillet
Pressure cooker (if you like to cook fast)
Chinese cleaver, paring knife, serrated knife, bread knife, veg peeler, grater
Wooden cutting board
A 9" pie and a 8x8 square baking pan, and a baking sheet
Whisk, spatula, ladle, chopsticks (more useful than one thinks)
Food processor can be a nice luxury, but not neccesary. I have a blender but I dont use it often. The list will be longer if you bake.
Everyone has different lists. Just make sure it's good quality and only buy the minimum necessary. I can't tell you how many unused junk is still sitting at my mom's kitchen....