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Equipping your Kitchen

Here’s a list of equipment, tools, and utensils you will want in your kitchen.

You won’t need all of this right away, but over time these are the things you will need most frequently and for which there isn’t an easy workaround or substitute. I’ve also listed some things that are optional but incredibly helpful to have. I’ve added links to buy them on Amazon; you don’t need to buy them there, but you can get all the specs there and then look for sales on these or equivalent items wherever you can find them.

Countertop Appliances:

  • Stand mixer. This is the countertop appliance you will probably use the most. In a pinch you can get away with a hand electric mixer, but stand mixers are so much better. They free up your hands to do other things (like scrape the bowls, or add other ingredients) without stopping the mixer. A stand mixer also won’t tire out your hands and arms like a hand-held mixer will. The gold standard for stand mixers is KitchenAid; they are solid, reliable, and have lots of attachments and other compatible pieces available from both KitchenAid and from third parties. They are a bit pricey, but they are work every cent; they also frequently go on sale at the major retail outlets (including Amazon — and scroll through the available colors, because they aren’t all priced the same!). And you can often pick up a lightly-used one for a bargain price at a garage sale (many people get them as wedding presents and then ever use them).
  • Food processor. A food processor makes quick work of a number of common tasks that would otherwise take a long time: cutting butter into flour for pastry, chopping or slicing up vegetables, even mincing or shredding meat. They come in a variety of sizes: a small one is optional; a 9-cup or larger one is a must-have. There are a number of reliable brands (check the reviews!) but Cuisinart is a go-to brand that has been making reliable, long-lasting, workhorse food processors for years.
  • Blender. While food processors mostly deal with dry ingredients, a blender’s sweet spot is mixing up wet ingredients. Blenders come in all shapes and sizes, some designed for bartenders, some for pureeing protein shakes, and some for heavy-duty kitchen use. Unless you have some recipe that specifically calls for it, you don’t need a huge blender; 4-6 cups is sufficient capacity, though you may need to process some recipes in batches. And while it doesn’t hurt to have one that is high-power and very rugged (like a Ninja), again unless you have a specific purpose that calls for it, it’s overkill for most home recipes. On the other hand, you do want a blender that can handle hot liquids (and possibly crushing ice cubes), that has a lid that will stay on, that will do a variety of speeds, and that will “pulse.” Also, if you can, find one where most of the parts are dishwasher-safe; blenders can be a pain to clean by hand. There are several trustworthy brands of blenders; check the reviews for the latest models before you buy.
  • Optional: Electric kettle. You’re going to be boiling a lot of water, and you’ll need either a stovetop kettle or an electric one. I recommend an electric one: they’re not that much more expensive than a stovetop kettle, they have about the same capacity, they don’t take up a precious burner on your stove, and they often boil water faster than a stovetop kettle. Some electric kettles let you specify a temperature below “boiling,” which is nice for making coffee or some teas. Some also have a “keep warm” feature that is nice to have, so that you can boil the water in advance of when you actually need it. Hamilton Beach is my go-to brand for electric kettles.
  • Optional: Rice cooker. Unless you’re going to make a ton of rice or are very picky about it, this is not a necessity; however, a rice cooker also can be used as a steamer for vegetables and dumplings, which can be handy. Rice cookers are big and bulky to store, however, and for most purposes they take longer to cook rice than on the stovetop (if you cook rice like pasta in a big pot of water). They come in very simple models with just two settings, “cook” and “keep warm”; as well as more complicated versions with a variety of settings. But overall rice cookers are not complicated pieces of machinery, they’re not essential for most people, and you shouldn’t spend a lot on one.
  • Optional: Coffee/spice grinder. If you’re into coffee, you may already have one of these. For the purposes of home cooking, a coffee grinder is also great for turning spice seeds into powder (just make sure to clean it between uses, especially when switching between coffee and spices). Coffee grinders are also not complicated machines, and you shouldn’t spend a lot on a fancy one.

Cutting, peeling, grating: (see the page on knives for longer explanations on what to look for)

  • Cutting boards and/or mats: Don’t spend heavily on cutting boards and mats, because no matter how good they are, eventually you will throw them away once they’ve been used enough to accumulate enough nicks, scratches, dents, and other wear that they become difficult to keep clean. I recommend buying ones that are dishwasher-safe to more easily sanitize them. I also recommend buying a roll of rubber drawer liner and cutting it into pieces that are the size of your cutting boards so that you can lay it underneath a cutting board to help hold it in place.
  • Chef’s knives: Ideally, you want three: a large one, a medium-length one, and a short paring knife. See here for information on buying knives; in short: unless you’re buying an exact replacement for one you’ve bought before, go to a knife store and try them out in person before buying them so that you know they will fit and feel good in your hand.
  • Cerrated carving knife: you’ll use this for carving meat, fish, and a few other dishes. This you can buy online. Get a matching carving fork while you’re at it so that you’re all set for Thanksgiving.
  • Bread knife: Good for bread, as well as for leveling cakes.
  • Pizza cutter: This is basically a knife made into a wheel, so that you can run it along to cut in a line. It’s super handy for pizza, obviously, but also for other flatbreads, noodles, crackers, lasagna, and a number of other cutting jobs. Even if you don’t make pizza very often, you’ll get a lot of use out of this.
  • Peeler: They come in two types: blade perpindicular to the handle, and blade parallel to the handle. I prefer perpindicular, but both work. One note of caution: some “parallel” peelers mount the blade at an angle such that it won’t work if you’re left handed. Peelers rust and get dull; assume you’re going to replace yours frequently, so don’t spend a lot on one.
  • Kitchen scissors. These are handy not only for opening packages, but also for cutting stems off leafy vegetables and for trimming pastry dough to the proper dimensions. Some cooks also use them for trimming fat off of meat or even for cutting up meat into smaller pieces (though I find that a chef’s knife works just as well for those).
  • Grater: you’ll use this for grating cheese, but also for grating fruits (e.g. apples) and vegetables (e.g. carrots and cucumber). Box graters give you lots of options for size of the holes in one unit; other graters come in sets of several pieces with different sizes of holes. Graters can be a bit dangerous; every cook I’ve ever known, including myself, has slipped with a grater and sliced some skin off a finger or thumb. The advantage of box graters are that they are very stable: set it down on a plate, press down on the handle on the top, and it will stay in place while you use it. Graters are fairly inexpensive, which is good because with enough use they will get dull and need to be replaced (there is no easy way to sharpen one). There are also higher-end graters made by a company called Microplane that essentially repurposed workshop wood planes as kitchen graters; while more expensive, they are fantastic pieces of kitchen gear and so you should consider them a very-nice-to-have but not essential item (stick one on your holiday wish list).
  • Optional: pastry board. A pastry board looks like a really big cutting board. Its surface is specially textured so that you can easily spread flour on it and the flour will stay there, giving you a wonderful non-stick surface when working with dough. The extra-large size is also very helpful for rolling out large items like pie dough. This is definitely in the “nice to have, but not essential” category.

Cooking utensils:

  • Mixing bowls. It’s best to have multiple sizes (at least three). Minimally they should be dishwasher and microwave safe, which rules out stainless steel bowls. A pour spout is optional, as are lids; unfortunately you usually need to choose between one or the other.
  • Colander. This is essentially a strainer with large holes; you can use it for draining pasta, but not for draining rice. The most versatile colander will have a stand on the bottom so it can sit in your sink, as well as handles on the sides that allow you to rest it on top of a mixing bowl.
  • Strainers. It’s good to have multiple sizes of strainers, as you will often be resting them on top of other containers as you pour into them. Look for strainers like these that have an extra nub across from the handle that allow them to sit stably on the rim of a bowl.
  • Steam tray. This inserts into a pot, but sits far enough above the bottom that a layer of water can boil underneath and the steam will rise up through the tray. They come in two forms: a “basket” that expands out to fit a range of sizes of pots; and a flat tray that just sits in the bottom of a pot. If you’re planning to buy a rice cooker, know that they usually come with a steamer tray. The tray won’t work with anything other than the rice cooker, but it works very well and it means that you may not need a separate steamer tray.
  • Flexible spatulas. Make sure to get silicone ones that are specifically made for use in high-temperatures (like a saucepan); rubber spatulas will melt if used on the stovetop.
  • Flat spatulas. Again, make sure to get nylon or silicone ones that can withstand high heat. Avoid metal, as they can scratch teflon-coated pots and pans. You will probably want multiple shapes, including a long, skinny “fish spatula,” that will work for flipping differently-shaped items. Cooking spatulas often come in sets.
  • Slotted and solid spoons. Again look for nylon or silicone that withstand high heat. You will probably want three: a slotted spoon (which lets liquid drain), a solid spoon, and a pasta spoon. They often come in matching sets.
  • Whisk. It’s handy to have both large and small whisks, but minimally you’ll need one. Whisks are notoriously difficult to clean by hand, so look for ones that are dishwasher safe.
  • Tongs. Having both medium and long tongs is very helpful. I tend to prefer nylon/silicone tips, rather than stainless steel, because they won’t scratch teflon pans.
  • Wooden spoons. These are notoriously useful for stirring, poking, and a thousand other uses in your kitchen that requires a solid utensil that won’t bend or flex. Buy them cheap and in quantity and expect to discard them in time; they are not family heirlooms.
  • Soup ladle. Like spatulas and spoons, look for nylon or silicone. Ladles come in round shapes or irregular shapes; I have always found the irregular shapes to be awkward to use.
  • Can openers. There are two types: the kind that you crank around the top of a can to remove the lid, and the kind that you use to poke holes in the lid so that you can pour out liquid. For the crank-to-remove-the-lid type, it’s worth spending a bit more to get one that is solid and reliable. For the poke-holes type, often called a “church key,” buy a set of two or three because they are cursed objects that will disappear just when you really need them.
  • Bench scrapers. These are essential, inexpensive, super handy tools: for moving food off a cutting board into a bowl; for cutting through dough; and for cleaning up your countertop after cooking. They come in two types: stainless steel and plastic. Make sure to get ones that are dishwasher safe.
  • Turkey baster. Yes, you will at some point use this for basting a roast (so make sure you get one that’s heat-resistant), but they are just generally useful for moving liquid from one container to another. Don’t spend a lot on it, though; consider it expendable.
  • Rolling pin. Rolling pins come in three basic styles: a long wooden cylinder; a cylinder that tapers at the ends; and a cylinder with an axle running through it that connects to the handles on both ends. All three are fine; it’s mostly just a matter of preference. The ones without an axle tend to be longer, which can be helpful if you are rolling out large items. The tapering, with a little practice, can give you a bit more control when rolling out dough. You will also find some fancier rolling pins that come with rings you can attach that will allow you to specify the desired thickness of the dough; some people swear by them, but I have never found them to be particularly helpful or necessary.
  • Prep bowls. They are super helpful to have when doing food prep, especially for a big, complex meal. They come in multiple sizes and materials. I like having some six-ounce pyrex, heat-resistant bowls that I can stick in the microwave (for melting butter) or quickly stir together some cornstarch and water. I also like smaller, plastic or silicone bowls for pre-measuring herbs, spices and spoonfuls of liquids.
  • Ice cream scoop. They’re useful for scooping far more than just ice cream. They come in a number of different shapes, sizes, edge-sharpness, and mechanisms for removing the scoop; there is no “best” scoop (though every cook thinks theirs is best); it’s just a matter of preference.
  • Optional: sifter. If you already have a fine-meshed strainer, you don’t need a sifter too.
  • Optional: tasting spoons. I keep a bunch of these in a mug right next to my stove; they let me (and others) taste test frequently without double-dipping.

Measuring utensils:

  • Measuring spoons. These come in different shapes and sizes, and in both plastic and stainless steel. Generally you buy measuring spoons in sets of different sizes. The must-have sizes are 1 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, and 1/2 teaspoon; everything else is bonus. Make sure that whatever you buy is dishwasher-safe. And consider buying two sets, so that you have one spoon for dry ingredients and one for liquid ones. Set of spoons often come on a ring; assume you’re going to take them off the ring as soon as you get them into your kitchen. The ring is impractical, especially once you’ve used one of the spoons for measuring out a liquid. Also, some come with magnets instead of a ring to hold the set together; this is better than a ring, but still unnecessary. You might look for a good deal on a combination of spoons and cups.
  • Measuring cups. These also come in both plastic and stainless steel. You will want a set that covers 1/8 cup, 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, and 1 cup. Don’t spend a lot on these; as with spoons, make sure they are dishwasher-safe, they are clearly labeled, and that it’s easy to run the flat side of a knife across the top of the cup to level it off.
  • Pyrex measuring cups. These are heat-resistant and are the best option for measuring liquids because they are taller than the desired amount so you aren’t forced to fill them to the brim. Both 2-cup and 1-cup are essential; optionally, a 4-cup is also very handy.
  • Oven thermometer and refrigerator/freezer thermometer. See this article for more on why these are absolutely necessary and critical pieces of equipment. Do not buy the cheap spring dial type; they are next to worthless; buy mercury thermometers (oven and refrigerator/freezer). Or if you really want to splurge, digital (oven and refrigerator/freezer).
  • Kitchen scale. Look for a digital scale that handles both grams and pounds/ounces, and that has a “tare” function so you can zero it out with a bowl on the scale (so that you’re measuring the weight of the ingredients, not the bowl).
  • Insertion thermometer. You will use this all the time; it’s worth spending to get an accurate, reliable, fast-reading, and durable one. ThermaPen is the gold standard (and the most expensive). There are many knock-off brands that are now almost as good and certainly good enough to be your go-to thermometer as a much lower price (but if you see a ThermaPen at a good sale price, snatch it up).
  • Timers. Your oven has a built-in timer, as does your microwave. But it’s super handy, arguably a necessity, to have one or two handheld timers that can move around your kitchen with you. They are inexpensive and reliable; I like the kind with an “off” switch to extend the battery life.

Pots and pans:

  • Sheet pans. These are often called “cookie sheets.” I strongly encourage you to stick to the standard sizes: half-sheet and quarter-sheet. Getting accompanying cooling racks that fit inside a half-sheet pan is a huge win. Quarter sheet pans also make for handy trays for food prep.
  • Frying pans. It’s important to have a frying pan that is the right size for what you’re cooking — not too big, not too small — so that the heat distributes evenly, food isn’t “crowded,” and liquid is the right depth. For most kitchens, a set of 8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch pans will work just fine. The controversial part is deciding what materials your pans should be made of. If you have an induction stovetop, your pans need to be made of steel or iron (if a magnet sticks to the pan, it’ll work). If you have an electric coil or gas stove, then you can use almost any type of pan. There are also a wide variety of non-stick coatings for frying pans (and pots); but be aware that the most common one, teflon, scratches easily especially if you are using metal utensils with it (just don’t). Cast-iron pans usually don’t have a non-stick coating applied to them, but they require a bit more ongoing care to build up a layer of polymer that will prevent food from sticking (called “seasoning”). Also, some recipes call for starting a recipe on the stovetop then moving it to the oven (or vice versa). If you like cooking such recipes, look for pans that have oven-safe handles (most don’t). The range of options for frying pans can be intimidating; in truth, pans wear out after a couple of years (with the exception of cast-iron ones) regardless of how much you spend on them, so it’s rarely worth sinking a lot into an expensive set — especially when you’re just starting out.
  • Pots. Everything detailed above for frying pans applies to pots too. You will probably want three pots: a 1-quart, a 3-quart, and a larger one (at least eight quarts, often called a “stock pot“) for boiling pasta and making soups. Make sure they come with lids.
  • Roasting pan and rack. It’s very important to make sure that your roasting pan is longer and wider than the things you want to roast, so that all the drippings go into the pan and not onto the bottom of your oven. Also, buy a roasting pan that comes with a rack that fits inside: it is essential that your roast is sitting above the pan so it’s not soaking in liquid while it’s cooking.
  • Muffin pan. There are three different sizes for the cups in a muffin pan: standard (12 cups per pan), large (6 cups per pan) and small (24 cups per pan). Most recipes call for a 12-cup pan, and having one is a necessity; the other two are optional. Muffin pans are made either from metal (steel, aluminum or tin) with a nonstick coating, or from silicone. Religious wars are fought between fans of metal vs. silicone pans; again, there is no “right” answer, just go with what you like. One tip: metal pans can be dark or light; the darker ones absorb more heat and will tend to cook food a bit faster than lighter ones.
  • Pie pan. The standard width for a pie pan is 9 inches; most recipes are sized for this. And fortunately almost all pie pans are 9-inch; however, they can vary in depth, which can make a huge difference. Pie pans come in non-stick metal, pyrex/glass, and occasionally ceramic; they all heat just fine, but a knife will damage the nonstick coating on a metal pan, which means you need to remove the pie from the pan before you cut it. For this reason, glass pie pans are preferred for most baking: you can serve your beautiful creation in the pan. Also, make sure that your pie pan has a rim at the top that is at least a half-inch wide to support the edge of the crust.
  • Baking pans. There are two standard sizes for baking pans: 9-by-9 (sometimes 8×8, depending on the thickness), and 9-by-13 (both 2-inch depth). You need one of each. As with pie pans, they come in glass and nonstick metal varieties, though you can also find the occasional ceramic pan as well. While the nonstick surface has lots of advantages, the nonstick metal will be damaged if you use a knife to cut in the pan.
  • Kettle. You don’t need a fancy, expensive kettle; a really basic one will do just fine. Or just skip the stovetop kettle altogether and get an electric kettle.
  • Dutch oven. A good dutch oven is a workhorse that can can be used with both your stovetop and your oven. It’s perfect for making soup, stews, and other slow-cooked dishes, and it can even double as a stockpot for boiling pasta if need be. Dutch ovens come in cast iron and enameled; as with pans, cast iron dutch ovens require a bit more care to maintain them, whereas the enameled ones are rugged, mostly non-stick, and super easy to clean. The gold standard is the very expensive Le Creuset dutch ovens, which are indeed very, very good. Fortunately, these days you can buy a different brand that is 95% as good — and perfectly suited for everyday use — for a fraction of the price. A 4- to 5- quart dutch oven is the closest thing there is to a standard size, and you should definitely have one of those; optionally, you might consider getting a smaller one too.
  • Cooling rack. Cooling racks are essential for allowing baked goods to cool on your countertop. You can buy them in a number of sizes, but I recommend buying ones that will also fit neatly into a half-sheet pan (approximately 17 inches by 12 inches).
  • Optional: spatter guards. If you do a lot of frying and sauteing, these are super handy: just lay it over the top of the pan and it reduces the amount of hot oil flying all over the place. Make sure you buy multiple sizes to fit your pans. Spatter guards take a lot of abuse and even the expensive ones will wear out quickly with frequent use, so I recommend buying cheap ones and replacing them often.
  • Optional: cake pans. These are obviously essential if you plan to bake your own cakes, but they don’t have many uses otherwise. 8-inch cake pans are standard, though you can buy them in all sorts of sizes and shapes (and in a pinch you can use a half-sheet or quarter-sheet pan as a cake pan — thus the term “sheet cake”). They are usually made from either aluminum or stainless steel, and sometimes come with a non-stick coating. They also come either as a solid piece of metal, or as a “spring form” that opens up the side to make it easier to remove a cake intact.
  • Optional: bread pan. If you plan to make sandwich bread, this is essential. Standard bread pans are 9 1/2 inches by 5 inches with a depth of up to 3 inches. Most are metal; occasionally you can find a silicone one. I strongly recommend bread pans with a wide rim, because as your bread rises in the oven if it wraps around the top of a rimless bread pan it is impossible to remove from the pan without tearing it up.

Liners and wraps:

  • Aluminum foil.
  • Plastic wrap.
  • Wax paper.
  • Parchment paper. You can buy parchment paper in rolls, but I find it impossible to work with because it refuses to lay flat. I strongly recommend buying parchment paper in sheets, pre-cut to the size of a half-sheet pan. It saves time, it lays flat, and you can fold it in half to use in a quarter-sheet pan.
  • Muffin/cupcake baking cups. Make sure you buy them the same size as your muffin pan. They come in disposable paper, or as reusable silicone. They also come in all sorts of sizes, colors, and festive patterns.

Containers:

  • Jars. They are super handy for storing leftovers and will even serve as emergency drinking glasses if needed. There are two main brands: Mason and Ball. They’re both fine. Don’t spend money on fancy patterns or colors; just buy a dozen 8-ounce jars and maybe some 4-ounce jars too. Plus some plastic lids (the two-piece canning lids are a nuisance if you’re just using them to store stuff in the refrigerator for short periods of time).
  • Sealable plastic containers. Face it, you’re going to have leftovers. You will want a variety of sizes and shapes of plastic containers. Make sure to buy ones that are dishwasher-safe. Tupperware is the high-end, designer brand; Rubbermaid makes very durable, but somewhat pricey containers; and Glad makes thinner, less rugged, but much less expensive products that are just fine for most uses.
  • Ziploc bags. Also very handy for storing leftovers. The come in multiple sizes: snack, sandwich, quart, and gallon. Feel free to buy the cheaper, local brand in your grocery store or Target rather than buying Ziploc.
  • Bread bags. Old-fashinoned plastic bags with twist ties are much harder to come by these days, but they are very handy for storing bread.
  • Dry goods containers. At some point you will get sick of pulling bags of flour and sugar out of your pantry, and you’ll realize that it’s much more convenient to have them in air-tight containers on your kitchen counter or in an easy-to-reach cabinet. Dry goods containers come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and configurations. I would recommend not buying them online the first time: check them out in-person at a store like Target so you can see what you’re buying and whether it will work for you and your kitchen. Then, when you want more of the same, buy them online.
  • Freezer tape. This tape is great for labeling containers, jars and bags with their contents and today’s date before you put them in the refrigerator or freezer. I keep a roll of this in a drawer in my kitchen, with a fine-tip Sharpie attached to it with a piece of twine.

Cleaning supplies:

  • Sponges. Buy non-scratch sponges. Buy them in bulk. Replace your sponge every 2-3 weeks; they are really nasty breeding grounds for bacteria.
  • Dish soap.
  • Dishwasher detergent and rinse aid, if your kitchen has a dishwasher.
  • Bottle brush. Cleaning bottles is the bane of our existence. There are lots of options for sizes and shapes of bottle brushes, including some wire handle ones that can bend into useful shapes to reach hard-to-get crevices. Like sponges, brushes get nasty. Try to buy ones that you can run through your dishwasher.
  • Paper towels.
  • Cleaning spray.
  • Kitchen wipes.
  • Dish drying rack. No matter how hard you try, you will always have some things that can’t be run through your dishwasher, so a dish rack is a necessity. You will want one that drains into your sink. There are three options: ones that sit in or over your sink; ones that have a carve-out in one side of the mat that can run water out into the sink; and ones that have a spout to shunt water into the sink.

Other stuff:

  • Kitchen towels. Cooking can be a messy business. Kitchen towels for cleaning up spills and for drying dishes are a necessity. Like sponges, however, kitchen towels can get nasty pretty quickly, so have a bunch of them, wash them frequently, and consider them expendable. It’s fine to have a couple of nicer, expensive towels to put out when you have guests coming over, but for everyday use you are much better buying a large number of cheaper ones that you don’t care about. When stuff is happening in your kitchen, the last thing you want to be worried about is your towels.
  • Food prep gloves. They are especially useful when you have a cut on your hand, when you’re working with raw meat or fish, or when you’re worried about passing on germs (we all have to cook when we’re sick sometimes). Disposable gloves are relatively inexpensive and come in multiple sizes (and materials, in case you’re allergic to latex). Get the form-fitting kind, and powder-free. Pro tip: wash your hands before you put on the gloves; that way if you’re in the middle of something messy and you suddenly need a clean hand, you can just quickly strip off one of the gloves.
  • Fire extinguisher. If you’re going to be cooking, you need a fire extinguisher in your kitchen. This is a basic safety precaution that every cook should follow to protect themselves, their family and friends, and their home. Place it somewhere visible — you may not be the one grabbing for it in a hurry.
  • First aid kit. At some point you, or someone in your kitchen, will burn, scald, and/or cut yourself. You need a first aid kit that contains, at a minimum, bandages, burn cream, antiseptic wipes and ointment, and cold packs.

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