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getting into cooking-- what should I get?

As a graduation present, my parents offered to treat me to a few essential items for my first kitchen. I'm thinking of a good knife, cast iron pan and dutch oven. I really want a grill pan, but I'm thinking it would be a more logical idea to get a set of good frying pans instead... I already have a great wood butcher block and kitchenaid mixer, care of a thoughtful ex-boyfriend. Between these I feel like I should be pretty much set. Any ideas for good brands? Things should stay in the more or less lower-priced area-- I'm still a recent grad and have plenty of time to work my way up to the expensive brands.

Has anyone heard good things about the Kitchenaid grill pan? It's nonstick, not cast-iron, which may be a problem, but I have one of those flat electric stovetops so i think it might be better.

I was also thinking of an RH Forschner knife, I read good reviews on that.

Ok thanks for any advice!

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  1. Here are my suggestions:

    - 8"or 10" MAC carbon steel chefs knife
    - 1000 grit japanese wet stone for sharpening
    - "diamond steel" steel
    - MAC paring knife
    - 10" cast iron fry pan
    - 12qt (or larger) stock pot
    - 4qt Sitram stainless sauce pan
    - 8" carbon steel saute pan
    - stainless commercial grade (a must) spring tongs
    - japanese style turner
    - set of stainless mixing bowls (in various sizes)
    - high temperature spatulas (a must)
    - commercial grade roasting pan (these are pricey and why not have someone buy it for you)
    - two half sheet pans
    - two half sheet pan sized silpats

    I think with these items you should be able to create just about any meal for yourselves. But I'm sure others will have some great suggestions.

    1 Reply
    1. re: onocoffee

      I love being able to take care of my own knives, but if you aren't into it and don't want to get a whetstone, most towns have a place or some service that will sharpen them for a few bucks a blade - you can avail yourself of them 1-2 times a year. The steel is essential - use that every time you use the knife.

      Why would a japanese mandoline be core? They are pretty cool,but I haven't had anyone give me a good reason to buy one (and I love kitchen tools.. they just need to pass the "am I buying this just to buy it or is it truly helpful??" test

    2. If you want grill marks with your grill pan, I'd suggest avoiding non-stick, which shouldn't be heated real high. Here's a good article on some basics. How much you spend is optional:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/din...

      1. I'd suggest a food processor. I use mine to puree veggie soups, make tart shells, shred veggies, I've even made homemade mayonnaise in it.

        1. forshners are not a bad choice for knives. Invest in an 8- or 10 inch chefs knife, see if you can try one out at the store. a slicing knife is good too.Get a ceramic rod to keep them sharp. invest in a good saute pan, 3 or 4 quarts, and a good frying pan. i like sitram and all clad. you want one you can use on the stove top for searing and also place in the oven. cast iron pans are good too, and if you season them well, won't stick a lot (stainless will stick). get a reasonable size pot for making soup. also a couple of smaller sauce pans, which don't need to be expensive. grill pans aren't all that versatile, in my opinion. A lot of stuff you'll acquire as you need it.

          1. Nothing wrong with a Forschner knife. It is the same co. that makes Swiss Army knives and the Forschners are found in many professional kitchens. I will admit my favorite knives of the moment are from the new Wusthof Ikon line, the egronomic handle and the extreme sharpness of the blade make it a joy to work with, but at the prices, you can have several Forschner's instead of just one of he other. The Forschner's will last you a long time, be sure to get a good steel and hone often.

            1. Hmmm.. depends on what is meant by "a few essential items..

              1) Per your idea, a good chef's knife and a honing steel are essential.. a paring knife is a good second one to have.. if you are storing it in a drawer, get a knife guard to protect it and your fingers..
              2) A Dutch oven is a good solid core piece - get an enameled one of course.. 5.5-6 qts is a good size for most things..you can find a decent one for $60-100.
              3) For pans, I'd get a couple basic stainless frying pans, a couple of sauce pans, a big stock pot, and a larger non-stick frying pan

              There are a lot of "good to have" follow on items - but a few that stand out would be..

              1) Set of dry/liquid measuring cups and spoons
              2) A medium-sized fine mesh strainer
              3) A microplane grater and a decent box grater
              4) A fire extinguisher
              5) A set of mixing bowls, and a bunch of small bowls for prepping ingredients
              6) Some pyrex baking stuff..
              7) A kitchen scale
              8) A thermometer (for sticking into things).
              9) A couple of half-sheet pans and grids that fit inside them.

              You can go crazy after that, with things like whisks, spatulas, spoons, etc..

              A food processor is a helpful item, but that's a more expensive piece, so maybe try to get that for x-mas, if you are of that persuasion..

              1. Kinda depends on what you cook.

                Just to show how subjective all of this is... IMO the #2 (right behind a good knife) bit of kitchen gear is a good modern pressure cooker. That's your fallback skillet, your stock pot, your braising pan... no good for frying eggs (hard to flip 'em) but great for 1000 other dishes. When I had to re-equip my kitchen the pressure cooker was literally the first pan I bought. I added an item here or there (skillet, wok, grill pan, etc) as I found things on sale but the pressure cooker was and is the central bit of cookware. Ask around here and I'd bet most would say pressure cookers are specialty items of limited use... but for the cooking I do (lots of soups, some beans, braised meat, potatoes, pasta, and more soups) it just works so well and so efficiently.

                Grills are supposed to get HOT. Non-stick + aluminum add up to not too hot. I'd pass but that's me. I don't use my grill pan that often. If you will I'd suggest the least expensive iron grill pan that fits in your oven.

                Dutch oven? Trendy now. I have one but I use my dolsot (Korean stone pot) more often -- which says something because that stone pot is really specialized. What does it say? That I like experimenting with alternative cooking methods. Most people would use the dutch oven a lot more.

                Figure out what you like eating and go from there.

                2 Replies
                1. re: gimmeflavor

                  I couldn't agree more about the pressure cooker. I use mine everyday. And with rising energy prices and less time to cook, the pressure cooker is an invaluable kitchen tool. Many people find it scary but I think that when you can make GREAT vegetable soup at 3 minutes at pressure, you've got a winner. And as you say, you can use it just like any other pot when you want to and it's stainless steel so works well for any kind of cooking. And you keep the kitchen cool in the summer -- that really works for me.

                  I do use my grill pan but not that often. It's good only when my grill isn't being used -- cooking over fire is much better.

                  I do think that a food processor is a good idea. I have 2 sizes and use the little one whenever I can.

                  You are right on with recommending that you choose what to use based on what you eat. I eat lots of beans, grains and vegetables, and love soup. So the pressure cooker works well. But it would also work if you eat roasts, chops and chicken.

                  You can tell where my heart lies.

                  1. re: The Veggie Queen

                    I am so with you on pressure cookers. I own 2. Rissotto in 7.5 mins. split pea soup with no presoaking with prep of veggies in about 15. I tell people I don't have time for a slow cooker. My DH and I trade off cooking. I often work until 6:00 PM as does he. a great dinner like short ribs which usually take hours is done while we have that after work unwind drink.

                2. There will be just about as many opinions posted to advise you as there are posters. So I'll add my two-cents too. Cooking at home is really individualistic, the equipment that is essential to one cook is sheer extravagance or utter nonsense to another.

                  For example, I have been a successful home cook for lo these many years without...I repeat, without...a pressure cooker. I also don't have a grill pan, nor do I have a 12-quart stock pot. So I don't consider those things essential.

                  Cook what you like to eat, and purchase equipment to make it easier to do that cooking. If you aren't a baker, no need for silpats. Actually, I do a bit of baking and find that silpats are more trouble than plain old parchment paper. If you don't plan on making soups or stocks, no need for a stock pot that big, just get one big enough to make pasta - say a 6-quart pan.

                  I also question whether a food processor is an essential item for a beginning cook. I have had one for many years, and honestly to me it's more trouble than it's worth to use it frequently (washing by hand all those parts - what a pain). And it takes up a lot of space. I find now I only use it to make hummus a couple times a year. But like any other kitchen equipment, it depends entirely on what you like to cook. I don't cook many dishes that entail the use of a food processor.

                  Buy your kitchen gear as you need it, but buy quality from the start. Nothing is more frustrating than lousy results from cheap gear. Avoid stainless steel fry pans, everything sticks to it no matter what you do. Avoid buying sets of cookware. Buy one piece, try it out to see how it works for you. If you don't like that material, try another. There is no one good answer - no "best" pan, depends on the cook, the techniques, the food used, the range/cooktop used. The worst though in my kitchen are the stainless steel and the non-stick pans, hate them hate them hate them.

                  Buy a quality knife or two, but don't go overboard with many different knives. Not early in your cooking efforts at least. Care for them properly, advice that applies to all your fine kitchen gear, and you will be rewarded with years of useful service and true pride of ownership!

                  It may be satisfying to go out and acquire a bunch of gear, put in neatly away in your cupboards and gaze at it fondly and proudly. But if you never use it it's been a waste. I know I'm repeating myself here, but here goes: buy what you need as you need it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: janniecooks

                    Avoid stainless because stuff always sticks to it? Sometimes stuff is supposed to be a bit sticky - helps develop flavor. I've always very much enjoyed using stainless.. do I cook an omelette or pancakes in it? No, but I love making pan sauces, and cast iron, though very useful, has its limitations.

                  2. An 8" chef's knife
                    A 4-quart all-clad saucepan w/lid
                    A good 10 or 12" frying pan w/lid; cast iron if you're constitutionally inclined to keep it up
                    A 4 or 5 quart LC dutch oven
                    C'est tout--you can cook almost anything with these pieces!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Hungry Celeste

                      I like your list. I would change it but I like it. :)

                      Knife... (About $50). I must be a heathen... My workhorse knife is a Yaxell/Ran 3" paring knife (not cheap @ $50 but nice). I use it 4-5 times as often as the chef's and santoku combined.

                      Saucepan/frying pan... replace the two with a 6-8 qt pressure cooker. ($100...less with shopping).

                      I'd add a restaurant style saute pan of 8" or so (<$20) for frying eggs and the like and having a second pan for use while you are using the others/putting under a grill/in the oven in a pinch.

                      Nothing but quality, $170, and you can cook a surprising range of very nice meals.

                      Here's another $100 worth of stuff I can't live without but others around here will consider borderline useless:

                      Kitchen scale. I have a fancy iWeigh ($50) that can count and do tricks but any scale beats no scale. This can do all the measuring (allowing you to use coffee cups and soup spoons as cooking utensils if you want) provided your cookbooks (or internet savvy) provide weights instead of volumes.

                      Mixing bowl. ($10) Get a medium/smallish stainless steel bowl from a sam's club or a restaurant supply.

                      Tongs. (<$10). I picked up a 2-pack of stainless steel tongs from Sam's Club but they have piles of them in restaurant supply shops.

                      Stirrer/scraper.(<$10>) I use a $1.50 bamboo model from an Asian store but the expensive silicone versions are nicer.

                      Strainer. (<$10) I use a $3 Asian market over-the-pot wire mesh strainer, but there are all sorts of good options.

                      Timer/thermometer ($10). I picked up a very simple time/temperature alarm for about $6 from Ikea of all places. You can insert the temp probe in a roast and it'll alarm when it reaches a preset internal temp or count off minutes when boiling or baking. It's also good to remind yourself not to leave the stove on all night.

                      And, finally, one marginal but generally useful thing...

                      An immersion blender ($30) ... at that price they usually come with a chopper that can grind spices, a whisk, and a mixing cup. Suddenly you can make pureed soups, smoothies, and so on.

                      $300 bucks and it's got some gaping holes (no roasting pan, no wok, no grill, no fondue pot, etc) but with some ingenuity and maybe a few dollars here or there you can do a LOT with this setup.

                      I'd then get into a picky shopping mode. A dedicated 10-12" lidded frying pan is nice to have (when I found a nice heavy one for $25 I grabbed it), so are dutch ovens, grill pans, muffin pans, comals, and 100 other must-have items you don't really need to have.

                      1. re: gimmeflavor

                        Did you actually just suggest buying an 8qt pressure cooker as an adequate replacment for a fry-pan, but then suggest buying an immersion blender? I am competely at a loss...

                        To the OP, I would agree with the majority of advice here -- buy what you need, and buy the best quality you can afford. Personally, I don't boo-hoo the smaller cookware sets (a typical 8-9 peice set contains a 1.5-2qt saucepan, a 3-4qt saucepan, a medium fry-pan, a medium saute-pan and a 6-8qt "pot" -- all very useful in my book) usually contain some useful stuff, the larger sets usually contain some off pans that really don't get much use.

                        1. re: mateo21

                          Yep. Sorta :)

                          The point wasn't that it's your dream fry-pan but that it allows you to do fry-pan recipes while you shop for your dream/bargain fry pan.

                          Look at a typical good pressure cooker and good fry-pan side by side... they are extremely similar at the bottom. Thick bottom to spread the heat, thin walls... pressure cookers are hard to stir (sealed lid gets in the way ;)) and they need to provide even heat or food will scorch. That makes for decent frying-pan-ness as well. Also, they are bare stainless so you get nice crunchy bits to deglaze... and since you would make your sauce/soup in the same pot deglazing is easy.

                          I won't say that's universal. Just that it would work for me. That was my first point -- base your choices on what and how you cook.

                          Then, while you are cooking delicious meals, you can be picky about the fry-pan you buy. Save up for a really nice one or keep your eye out for the bargain that is just as good but costs 1/3rd as much... either way the pressure is off so to speak.

                          As for immersion blender... it really does allow you to do some things (types of soup, smoothies, use whole spices, etc) that a fry-pan won't.

                          Not the right choice for everyone but it would work for me. :)

                      1. An Asian cleaver from an Asian supermarket. Mine cost about $15AUD, and I wouldn't be without it.

                        I religiously used a whetstone or my Wusthof steel for the past 20 years on my good knives, but my latest obsession is a 3 way "drag-through" sharpener. It's got three notches, one diamond, on steel and one ceramic, and a quick 1-2-3 once a week keeps them ultra sharp, without the hassles of using a steel. And the drag-through action means I can use it on my cleaver and my mezzaluna without fear of disembowelment.

                        Believe me.. there is nothing more dangerous than my hubs, wielding a steel on a mezzaluna!

                        Mine cost $50 AUD from http://www.chefstoolbox.com.au/produc... with a lifetime guarantee