Kitchen Essentials You Need

Setting a Budget for Kitchen Essentials
Wait, you may say — $300 sounds like a lot of money! To most of us, $300 is not pocket change. (And we’re actually talking about $310!) It could represent half of your monthly rent, or the cost of your textbooks for a semester.

But keep in mind you can easily spend nearly that much for a single set of cookware or knives (heck, for a single pan or knife), and we’re not just outfitting you with a set of pans, but with everything you need to take an empty kitchen from useless to delicious.

The Goal of This List
Our goal was a list of essential equipment for daily cooking, aimed towards the beginner cook.

We prioritized the things you need for habitual daily cooking.
We looked for smart buys, focusing on commercial kitchen tools.
We looked for quality materials and avoided plastic.
We looked for tools that are pleasurable to use. (Extremely cheap cookware is often false economy, since it’s harder and less fun to cook with, and produces discouraging results.)
What’s Not on the List
We designed this for a new cook who’s just learning the basics, and we think it would help someone just starting out to cook a wide range of dishes. But as cooks gain experience, they form opinions about the tools that work best for them. So of course, if there’s something not on this list that you couldn’t live without, customize away!

A few things we didn’t include:

Tableware: Dishes, glassware, silverware, serving dishes, and serving utensils.
Small appliances: Blender, toaster, food processor, mixer, and kettle.
Storage: Jars and storage containers.
More Ways to Save Money
Could you buy this list of 20 essentials for less money? Most likely. But we didn’t want this to be a gimmick, full of dollar-store finds and really cheap cookware sets. Having said that, you can probably find items here for cheaper locally. Places to try:

Thrift stores
Discount stores, like T.J.Maxx and HomeGoods
Garage sales
Church rummage sales
Craigslist
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)
Essential Cookware & Tools for a First Kitchen
Pots & Pans
We only included four pans on our list, and this may be controversial. Where’s the cast iron skillet? Where’s the bargain set of pots and nonstick frying pans (with utensils thrown in)? We skipped all of those for just two pots and two pans.

Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless 3-1/2-Quart Saute Pan with Helper Handle & Cover
AMAZON
Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless 3-1/2-Quart Saute Pan with Helper Handle & Cover
$55
BUY NOW
Sauté Pan with a Lid
A deep sauté pan is the most multipurpose pan. It does everything a more shallow frying pan can do, but it’s also deep enough for soups and sauces. It’s wide enough to cook pancakes or burgers. You can fry an egg and make a piece of toast. It’s deep enough to braise meat, steam vegetables, and simmer beans. It’s worth spending a modest amount on a solid, well-made pan, and this Cuisinart pick is by all accounts a bargain.

Our pick: Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless 3-1/2-Quart Sauté Pan with Helper Handle & Cover, $55
AmazonBasics 6-Quart Dutch Oven
AMAZON
AmazonBasics 6-Quart Dutch Oven
$45
BUY NOW
Dutch Oven
Use a Dutch oven as your big pot, and you gain a lot of extras. A Dutch oven can do many things, both on the stove and in the oven. You can boil pasta and cook rice, brown meat, and steam or boil vegetables. But it also can go in the oven and be used for gratins, lasagna, casseroles, and more. You could save a little money by buying a stainless steel pot instead, but this AmazonBasics piece is still a great buy.

Our pick: AmazonBasics 6-Quart Dutch Oven, $45
Focus Foodservice Commercial Bakeware Aluminum Half Sheet Pan
AMAZON
Focus Foodservice Commercial Bakeware Aluminum Half Sheet Pan
$15
BUY NOW
Sheet Pan
The best sheet pans are made for commercial kitchens and won’t warp even after long use. (Note: The pan linked below fits in standard ovens; if you have a smaller oven, double-check the proportions and if necessary buy a quarter sheet pan instead.)

Our pick: Focus Foodservice Commercial Bakeware Aluminum Half Sheet Pan, $15
Wilton Recipe Right 9 x 13-Inch Oblong Pan with Cover
AMAZON
Wilton Recipe Right 9 x 13-Inch Oblong Pan with Cover
$14
BUY NOW
9×13-Inch Baking Pan
If you want to make a casserole or a birthday cake, you need a 9×13-inch baking pan — maybe the most called-for pan size of all time. This one is good value and comes with a cover for storing leftovers.

Our pick: Wilton Recipe Right 13 x 9 Oblong Pan with Cover, $14
Pots & Pans Total: $129
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)
Knives
Knives — the most important tool in the cook’s arsenal! We stuck to the basics, here. No grater, zester, or peeler — that’s what the paring knife is for. (And remember: Vegetable skins are good for you!)

Zyliss Control Chef’s Knife
AMAZON
Zyliss Control Chef’s Knife
$26
BUY NOW
Chef’s Knife
We’ve talked about this knife before. It’s super comfortable to use (and teaches grip technique to beginner cooks) and a great value.

Our pick: Zyliss Control Chef’s Knife, $26
Sabatier Edgekeeper 3.5-Inch Parer Knife with Sheath
BED BATH & BEYOND
Sabatier Edgekeeper 3.5-Inch Parer Knife with Sheath
$10
BUY NOW
Paring Knife
This is Alex Guarnaschelli’s favorite pairing knife and we’re pretty fond of it, too.

Our pick: Sabatier Edgekeeper 3.5-Inch Parer Knife with Sheath, $10 at Bed Bath & Beyond
Knives Total: $36
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)
Prep Tools
Between your bowl and the colander to drain pasta and the measuring cups — there are a lot of little things that affect your day-to-day cooking. It’s important to look for quality even in these little tools because you use them so frequently.

ExcelSteel 8-Quart Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl
AMAZON
ExcelSteel 8-Quart Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl
$15
BUY NOW
Mixing Bowl
I use my big metal mixing bowls at least twice a day: to toss a lunch salad, to make biscuit dough, to whip up a cake, to marinate meat. Absolutely essential.

Our pick: ExcelSteel 8-Quart Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl, $15
ExcelSteel 5-Quart Stainless Steel Colander
AMAZON
ExcelSteel 5-Quart Stainless Steel Colander
$9
BUY NOW
Colander
For washing vegetables and greens, and draining pasta.

Our pick: ExcelSteel 5-Quart Stainless Steel Colander, $9
J.K. Adams 17-Inch-by-14-Inch Maple Wood Kitchen Basic Cutting Board
AMAZON
J.K. Adams 17-Inch-by-14-Inch Maple Wood Kitchen Basic Cutting Board
$32
BUY NOW
Cutting Board
We still stand by wood as our cutting board material of choice, and this heavy, oversized board from J.K. Adams is well-wearing and long-lasting if cared for.

Our pick: J.K. Adams 17-Inch-by-14-Inch Maple Wood Kitchen Basic Cutting Board, $32
New Star Foodservice Stainless Steel Measuring Cups And Spoons Combo Set
AMAZON
New Star Foodservice Stainless Steel Measuring Cups And Spoons Combo Set
$10
BUY NOW
Measuring Cups & Spoons
Here’s a great find: stainless steel measuring cups and spoons together in one economical package.

Our pick: New Star Foodservice Stainless Steel Measuring Cups And Spoons Combo Set, $10
Pyrex Prepware 2-Cup Measuring Cup
MACY’S
Pyrex Prepware 2-Cup Measuring Cup
$7
BUY NOW
Liquid Measuring Cup
You can’t cook without one of these! It’s also good for watering plants and heating milk or water in the microwave.

Our pick: Pyrex Prepware 2-Cup Measuring Cup, $7 at Macy’s
Prep Tools Total: $73

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(Image credit: Faith Durand)
Utensils
Utensils are like extensions of the cook’s hands, and we have just a few essentials.

Winco 12-Inch Utility Tongs
AMAZON
Winco 12-Inch Utility Tongs
$5
BUY NOW
Tongs
If I could only have one utensil, it would be tongs. You can do almost anything with them — even stir soup, in a pinch! And my best tongs are the cheapest. Don’t spend more than $5.

Our pick: Winco 12-Inch Utility Tongs, $5
OXO Good Grips Wooden Corner Spoon
AMAZON
OXO Good Grips Wooden Corner Spoon
$6
BUY NOW
Wood Spoon
Wood spoons are a matter of preference, but I’ve found that I reach for angled spoons like this one most frequently, as it gets into all angles of the pan.

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