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Kitchen Essentials on a $500 Macy's Budget - Input is GREATLY Needed!

Hello, Chowhounds!

In two months I'm moving out on my own. I'm a novice cook; I just started really cooking and experimenting with food at the beginning of the year. (My New Year's Resolution was 'learn to cook!') Lucky me, I'm inheriting a beautiful table and six chairs from my aunt, and I'd like to have some little dinner parties, as well as continue to better my kitchen skills. I'm wondering what Chowhound would recommend for a beginning cook who's starting out by herself for the very first time. I have a short list already:

- Dinnerware and drinkware for 6 people (dinner and salad plates, cereal bowls, mugs, tumblrs, wine glasses, flatware)

- Pots and pans (How many? What size, aside from a small frying pan and a medium-sized pot?)

- Knives (what's the best budget brand?)

- Utensils like spoons and spatulas, a veggie peeler, a colander, and some measuring cups

- Cookie sheet and muffin pan

- A casserole dish (Glass? Ceramic? Metal?)

- Cheap toaster and coffee pot that won't be used every day, maybe 2 - 3 times a week

What else am I missing? I already have a microwave on lock.

I have $250 to Macy's, and I'm a Macy's card holder. I'm trying to budget my moving-out money, and I can put another $250 toward that amount, maybe $300. I'm hoping to go to Macy's when the have a sale or deals for card holders and try not to go past $500/$550. What's the best cookware, utensils, dishes, etc for a moderate/cheap price? Is it even possible to get all I need, for now, with that kind of money, at the store I'm intending to shop at? (Of course I want to build my kitchen, but not for at least another three or four months after initially moving out.) Is there anything I'd be better off buying elsewhere with my cash? What do you think of:

- Tools of the Trade?

- Martha Stewart brand cookware/dishes?

- The Cellar brand?

Is there anything I should splurge on?

Thanks for your time!

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  1. i have found Alton Browns book --Gear for your kitchen...has a lot of useful tips for building a kitchen set....

    one of the things u should splurge on is a good chefs knife...it should be the work horse of your kitchen cutlery..i have a ja henckels that i use most often..
    u should also go to a good cutlery store and hold them in your hands..and find one that feels comfortable before u decide on which one...

    as far as casserole dishes..corning ware usually has good sets for around 30-40 bucks..

    for utensils..i have a mix of things...some wooden spoons..some cheap starter sets..
    but if u get nonstick cookware make sure u get utensils that wont scratch it..i also like oxo good grips...
    and i find the heat resistant ones useful...like spatulas/spoonulas etc..

    my dinner ware i usually buy a set at BBB...not sure about macys ..u will have to check and see..also check their online site for sales and clearance items...

    a good half sheet pan is a good start..

    as far as cheap toaster..i wouldnt go for cheap they dont last very long..i like my tfal 4 slice avante..which they also make in a 2 slice..
    dont drink coffee so i cant help you there...i only keep a hot pot around for boiling water..

    and if u search chow...there are lots and lots of threads on specific brands..and more on this subject

    so good luck and welcome

    1 Reply
    1. re: srsone

      Thanks so much for all the input! Yeah, my grandmother always says 'the most expensive things are the cheap things!' I guess that's why I'm sticking with Macy's; I'm hoping their deals are still decent quality. Definitely taking notes about the toaster, knife, and Corningware!

    2. If I were you, I would buy a good chef's and paring knife, a Pyrex glass bakeware set as well as some moderately priced pots and pans from Macy's. Take your cash to Marshall's and you'll find beautiful china, utensils, etc for a fraction of the cost!

      If you're living alone but planning to entertain, you might want to get 8 and 10 inch frying pans, a 12 inch covered saute pan, a 2 qt pot, and a 4 - 6 quart pot. You can get some really amazing deals at Macy's, especially if you go on sale days as you mentioned. I've seen Circulon pans in sets of two for 50% off.

      Other things to add to your list:

      -- Mixing bowls
      -- Cheese grater
      -- Dish towels
      -- Oven mitts
      -- Half sheet pans, instead of a cookie sheet. They're much more versatile. You can bake cookies and cakes, and roast vegetables and shrimp on them very easily.
      -- Wooden spoons
      -- Whisk

      4 Replies
      1. re: Jadore

        Hi, daydream:

        Using your budget, I recommend spending 1/4 to 1/3 on a really good chef's knife, another 1/4 to 1/3 on a good 10-inch lidded rondeau (a shorter Dutch Oven), and the balance at the thrift or clearance stores on some utensils and bakeware. Think individual, quality purchases that you will not have to replace (make it hurt), and you will be ahead. Smart vintage purchases can be the very best as you move forward.

        I'm excited for you!

        Kaleo

        Kaleo

        1. re: kaleokahu

          Thank you, Kaleo! You CH crew are soooo sweet, aw. Liking your idea about splitting it up between the knife, and considering thrift stores.

          1. re: daydream

            Aloha, daydream:

            You are very welcome.

            If you think about it, this search you have started is more about significance and meaning than it appears. Better "stuff" can theoretically help you--if you're up to it--turn out better food that can be more memorable and pleasurable to you and yours over time.

            But one thing I have learned is that the provenance of these things can also impart great meaning to cooking (and its results). A vintage piece pressed into your young hand by a withered old arthritic one at a garage/yard sale *because it was their grandmother's and they could see you admiring it* may actually gratify you more than anything Macy's or Williams-Sonoma can ever offer. And it may be a better piece, too.

            I have a metal "stirring spoon" of some antiquity that, after generations of righties using it, is mostly worn away, flat on one side. Actually works better all worn out. Can't put it in the DW, doesn't match anything, ugly as sin, but I wouldn't trade it for everything OXO makes, even though I can't use it in my good copper. Most other folks would throw it away. I don't because I find it *significant* (and useful).

            You have fun now. Please yourself and don't buy everything you're sold.

            Aloha,
            Kaleo

        2. re: Jadore

          Loving this sensible list of essentials. I completely forgot about things like dish towels and oven mitts, and even a wooden spoon, ack.

        3. If I were in your shoes (knowing what I know now as I'm replacing my cheap kitchen stuff) buy the best that you can afford at the time. Better to get couple of pots and pans than a set - check amazon, ebay, Williams Sonoma outlet, pyrex outlet, BBB, etc. Also goodwill and garage sales are great places to find deals! Some of my favorite pieces are my lodge cast iron skillet - they can be found for under $20. Something else I found that I've really been enjoying is my pressure cooker - Macy's has had good sales on these. If you're looking for a multitasker it'd be great for cooking pasta, making stock, etc. Just my own preference. I love All Clad but I recently found some great copper pots at TJ Maxx at an awesome price and I'm very excited about them.

          Another piece of advice I've learned from here is to think about what you like and to ray/make and let that guide your purchases. If you don't make lasagna there's no need for a lasagna pan, if you never make muffins don't bother with the muffin pan, etc. You can always add as you feel the need. Something else I liked that I read here is that you can't afford to buy cheap gear. My cheap stuff did the trick for me but I'm replacing it now with what I hope are forever purchases. Since it's expensive I'm definitely buying a pieces or two at a time.

          Final thought (for now) Fiesta ware has been extremely good to me and there are frequently deals on it at Macys although I get mine at their factory. Best of luck - keep us updated!

          1 Reply
          1. re: olympia

            Duly noted about the part about getting pots and pans separately. And Fiesta is awesome, I think I've seen some of it at antique stores. Where is their factory? My mom and aunt have some and I know it's super durable, so I'd consider it if the price was good.

          2. Ouch, ouch, ewww, be careful. 5 bills sounds like a lot, but once you get going you will run short of $$$ really fast with a big portion of your 'need' list unfilled.
            1) America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated published a list of kitchen crock essentials; IIRC, the total was around $100.
            2) knives: a couple of el cheapo paring knives, an el cheapo serrated bread knife, and a $75, best quality 10 inch chef knife plus cutting board
            3) a set of Pyrex baking dishes and also mixing bowls
            4) 2 pieces official, good quality (Lincoln or Wearever, I think) commercial half-sheet pans.
            5) one non-stick, 10 inch generic fry pan and a 3 or 4 qt. sauce pan: these must be of top quality, I would recommend All-Clad.
            Plus, you will definitely need: toaster, toaster oven, blender, hand held mixer, rice cooker, etc; I noticed that Walgreens sells some of these for, like $10. Cheapies that may not last a lifetime, but will certainly get you started until you can afford better. You can also get discount dishes and silverware at the local thrift/second-hand store.
            As is, this will already exceed your budget. But, hey, who said this was gonna be cheap?

            6 Replies
            1. re: jerry i h

              >>>>a $75, best quality 10 inch chef knife plus cutting board

              You may find a 10" knife more than you need. I have an 8" and a 10", and I almost never choose the 10". And this was true even when I had plenty of room, and a larger cutting board than I use today.

              There's a relationship between size of knife and size of cutting board, btw. You want a certain number of inches on either side of your knife when you lay it diagonally across your cutting board. Does someone remember? Should the diagonal measurement be twice that of the knife?

              1. re: Jay F

                That's what I was going to ask, on another thread. I've heard the size of your knife also depends on your height/size how it fits in your hand, and that some women do best with a 6 inch?

                1. re: daydream

                  I am a woman with small hands, and I rock out on a 10-inch Wusthof chef's knife. :) It's all about what feels good to you!

                  1. re: daydream

                    This is a rather crucial item. Your knife is as important as all your other kitchen stuff combined. This is how I sold kitchen knives during a past life:
                    1) if you are 5 foot tall or less and have small hands, use a 8 inch knife
                    2) if you are 5 foot up to 6 foot tall with normal sized hands, use a 10 inch knife
                    3) if you are anywhere near 6 foot or more, or have unusually long fingers ( calling the 'Frugal Gourmet' , with whom I worked with on a TV cooking show, and yes, I know about the aftermath of said chef's career, but he had long, creepy. spider-like fingers that truly creeped my out) like a recent college basketball player to my kitchen, use a 12 knife or even a 14 inch knife; yes, I know for a fact that 14 inch knives exist, because I have one for which I paid about $30.

                    1. re: jerry i h

                      LMAO at the creepy spider-like fingers of the frugal gourmet. Now, I have to google pics of his hands.

                2. re: jerry i h

                  Wow, I'd love to read the ATK/CI list of essentials! I did a search and can't find it. Where should I look?

                  And you're awesome for the Walgreens tip! Like Glam Foodie said, I really do need to think outside the box. Thank you, and to the other CHers for making me realize I can get more for less if I stray away from Macy's and JC Penny.

                3. Oh, man, you have $250 to Macy's right now? I'm jealous! ;)

                  For your budget, getting everything you feel you need right away isn't impossible, but you're going to have to shop the sales and think outside the box a bit. It's a good thing you're planning now.

                  Three years ago, I was a lot like you: A newbie cook with a new kitchen for one to shop for. It's hard to rec. stuff to you because there are a few things to consider when purchasing kitchenware. The first is, do you want something that's going to last a long time, or do you plan on trading up within a relatively short period, of say 1 - 3 years? Second, what foods do you like to eat now? Third, what types of cuisine will you be planning to explore as part of your resolution, and are you willing to invest in the proper gadgetry, cookware, etc to do so?

                  If you want pots and pans that won't rust, warp, or loss evenness of cooking after a year, you're better off investing in pieces that will last.

                  Regardless, the only way I see you getting all you want on a maximum of $550 is to go for the cheapest of the cheap. If you're fine with that, then you can probably do it. Otherwise, take Jadore's suggestion and scour Marshall's. I'd also try Ebay, Costco, Target and even Good Will. If you start buying now, you'll be able to stock a great kitchen that can meet all of your needs for a decent amount of time.

                  If I had to do it all over again like you are, here's what I would buy, and where:

                  - Three knives: 6 inch chef's, 8 inch slicer, 3.5 or 4 inch paring. As srsone suggested, you need to splurge on these knives. I bought a cheap Martha Stewart set from Macy's myself when I first lived on my own. I thought they were fine. Then I invested in Wusthof, and it was like I became a better, faster cook, no kidding! This is where some of your Macy's money should go, but check Marshall's first. In fact, check Marshall's first before anything else.

                  - A 6 quart stock pot. You can boil pasta, make soup, stew, and great one-pot meals in this. I would also get an 8 inch nonstick frying pans for eggs, two different saucepots in 2 and 4 quarts or similar, and another fry or saute pan with a lid, from 11 - 13 inches, depending on your stove size. Cuisinart, Circulon, and Calphalon have wonderful nonstick and stainless pieces that often go on sale at Macy's, but can be found on Ebay and Marshall's. I believe Calphalon has a Target line too. Look into it. Read some reviews and compare prices. It will be more than worth it.

                  - Echoing Jadore, half sheet pans are a cook's essential for versatily and clean-up. Get stainless ones. I've seen great ones at Crate and Barrel for cheaper than the fancy Williams Sonoma kind and they look identical. Mine actually came from Costco, in a set of four, and they are second to my knives in terms of being the kitchen work horses.

                  - Mixing bowls in three different sizes. Someday, you'll want a set of stainless, a set of glass, and maybe some ceramic thrown in. For now, I would get one set of stainless OR ceramic. Cuisinart has a set of stainless for $30 at Macy's (just looked it up) that I actually own. They're great, and a worthy purchase. However, you may find it more economical to find a pretty but sturdy ceramic set in a color or colors that compliment your dishes, so you can use them for serving as well. Target, Ebay, Marshall's, are great places to find a quality, fairly priced ceramic set.

                  - An 11 inch square grill pan. Mine came from Bed Bath and Beyond, and I think I paid $25 for it. I love to grill meats and vegetables in it, and I use it at least once weekly, so it's more than paid off. This is just my personal preference; you may not see it as an essential.

                  - A colander, Microplane grater, coffee grinder that can also be used for nuts, whisk, wooden and plastic spoons for nonstick, silicone spatulas, a can opener, wine opener, bottle cap opener, tongs, and a ladle. All of these can be found for cheap, cheap, cheap, for decent quality, at any of the stores mentioned previously.

                  - You can find cheaply priced, high quality muffin, brownie, and round cake pans for a steal at Marshall's, but sometimes Macy's will have a good sale.

                  - Invest in an Emile Henry or Le Creuset casserole. You won't regret it.

                  Good luck, feel free to ask me any other questions.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Glam Foodie

                    I knew I was forgetting something: Amazon! Great place to find cheap steals and name brands.

                    1. re: Glam Foodie

                      You'd probably walk out of the store with more stuff if you had $250 on a TJ/Marshall's card.

                      But seriously they carry a lot name brands from cookware to bedding to home furnishings. It helps if you kinda know what your looking for before you go. Most of their mid range pots and pans are less than $30 a piece.

                      Start with a 10" nonstick skillet (fry pan). Nonstick is more forgiving than cooking on stainless. A 3 or 4 qt stainless pot with aluminum disk bottom and colander lid for pastas. Cuisinart generally makes quality cookware. As you begin cooking you will figure out pretty quickly what pieces you need for your style of cooking.

                      Save the $250 Macy's credit for things you can't find at TJ/Marshall's. Watching other people cook on youtube will give you ideas too.

                      1. re: Glam Foodie

                        Dang, Glam Foodie, I'm in awe of your advice! Thanks so much for all of it. I really am itching to go to Marshall's now. Your best idea is Ebay though - why didn't I think of that? :)