When one is starting a new kitchen, what are the essentials? Where does one begin? There are a number of approaches. We will talk about two extremes:
Most approaches can fall somewhere between these. Normally, the accumulation of kitchen tools is a lifetime process, so don't worry too much about what you don't have. Look over the Young Single's Kitchen, get these tools first. Then prioritize the list of other equipment to match your cooking style and your wallet.
A single young person living in an appartment will mostly be cooking for one or two people. A person can eat quite well cooking for himself, but chances are that much of his food will not be made from scratch. The first things to get:
Get durable plates something dishwasher and microwave safe. This stuff can be bought in sets of four or onesy-twosy at a place like Bed, Bath, and Beyond or Target, but we hope you will look here first.
The next things to get :
The third things to get :
The fourth things to get :
With these simple tools, a person can prepare a vast array of good foods. This list of stuff will run between $350 and $500 and can be accumulated over the course of a few months. If one is determined to cook food from scratch, one can buy everything at once and the money saved on eating out will pay for the hardware in a short time. One might save as much as $5 or more per meal by cooking dinner. That's $150 a month. A person determined to be economical might find a thrift store or a garage sale that has good stuff for really cheap.
This is a kind of minimal set of stuff. Although five or six decades ago, a family could be raised using just about this list of stuff, there are many young people who will wish to go beyond this list in order to cook better stuff. Here are some things to consider. This is especially true of families in which both parents have full time jobs:
New brides have strong ideas about service items; dishes, flatware, and so on. Our goal here is to develop a list of things for the kitchen. The one class of tools that each kitchen uses every single day is the knife set. A kitchen without three or four really good knives seems like a very cook-hostile place What knives are in a knife set?
The minimum knife set is
If one eats any meat add
Most knife sets come with some utility knives. And anyone who has ambitions of making fresh bread will want a slicing knife. A block is the right place to store kives, because they stay sharp there, and they do not risk slicing fingers as they would in drawers.
Some knives are better than others. Ones that ship from Germany have a reputation for top-of-the line metallurgy and exemplary craftsmanship. One can save a bit of money buying stamped rather than forged knives, and for most knives this will save money without compromising performance or durability.
There are also a number of great knives from Japan, notably the Global line. Global knives start sharper and stay sharp well, but when they dull they need to be factory sharpened, which can be a hassle. Get the best knife set you can afford. You will never regret getting good knives.
Pots and pans are the second major area of expenditure in the kitchen. As a young cook I imagined my cast iron griddle was good enough for pancakes and my pyrex saucepan was good enough for rice. Then I bought a set of good three ply pans and I could not believe the difference. Before, it was almost impossible to cook the rice without burning; afterword, it was almost impossible to burn the rice. Before, it was almost impossible to make an evenly cooked pancke; afterword it was easy. Good cookware really can make the difference between success and failure! Don't let anyone try to get you to believe otherwise.
The biggest question is Stainless Steel or Non-Stick? Nonstick is ideally suited for making eggs, pancakes, crepes, and fritters - things that need to stick together but not to the pan. These are almost always things that are cooked in a saute or omelet pan 8, 10, or 12 inches in diameter. It makes sense to have a few non-stick pans in this size. Furthermore, many good non-stick pans will have a really thick layer of aluminum, making them ideal for distributing heat.
Stainless Steel is so much more durable that if one is selecting a single kind of construction for a whole line of pots and pans, one will want to choose stainess steel cladding on both sides. The standard of perfection will be the copper core pots and pans - usually also with aluminum, clad over the outside with stainless steel. These will be very heavy and will heat very evenly. They will also be rather expensive. But for most cooking chores the three ply construction will be enough.
One does not have to pay a fortune to get durable non-stick. And it is unthinkable to have a kitchen without at least one solid, good-conducting, non-stick saute pan. I have abused a Calphalon Commercial non-stick crepe pan for almost ten years, washing it in the dishwasher weekly. It is beginning to show signs of wear - the hard anodizing is coming off the bottom. Still, I use it every day and when I have driven it into the grave, I will get another one. And maybe I will save the handle for some craft project; it is a work of art.
There remain two or three other pots or pans to consider. One is a Dutch Oven. The idea of the Dutch Oven was to produce roasted meat results on the stove top, hence the name. If one has an oven, one might be tempted to imagine that a Dutch Oven is not a useful tool. But it is. It can be used to make large roasts, especially if they are to be browned on the top of the stove and finished in the oven. There is a whole class of roasts, braises, fricassees and so on that are only possible with a Dutch Oven, and those who love tender, juicy, fully cooked meat dishes will grow to love the results they get from one.
If one makes pancakes for as few as two people, doing them on a single cooktop is really out of the question. Similarly, if one cooks sausages or bacon for more than about two people at a time, a single cooktop pan is too small. And if one is doing any of these tasks for a small crowd, a two-burner griddle will be just the thing.
Each family will eat something different; each will need different power tools in the kitchen.
Presumably everyone needs a toaster. Breakfast without toast is like a day without breakfast - you can get through it, but you will have a nagging feeling that something crucial is missing. One can get toasters at Wal-Mart for $10 or so, but they may not be ideally suited to toasting bagels or heavy bread. And they are likely to break in a short period of time. One can easily spend $100 on a good toaster. I did this once and had perfect toast for about six years before the toaster broke. I believe it had something to do with flames coming out of it - probably my fault for not cleaning it properly. My wife still thinks we should buy $10 toasters and I still want to buy $100 ones; so we split the difference and got one that has worked pretty well for four years.
One might argue whether to buy a blender or a food processor. I bought a blender first, but I only use it to make crushed ice drinks. A food processor, on the other hand has hundreds of uses. And a kitchen without one seems a strange and debilitating place to a cook who has lived with one for several years. It can be used to make sauces, to slice vegetables, to whip egg whites, to liquify soups, to make pesto, and even to make pie dough! This may seem an expensive purchase, but a good food processor can last much more than a decade and a reasonably ambitious cook is likely to use it several times a week. I only cook two meals a week and I use mine thirty or forty times each year.
After a toaster and a food processor, most would choose a mixer. Mixers are used to make cakes, cookies, bread, and whipped egg whites for pies. People who are interested in eliminating sugar from their diet may find a bread machine is more practical than a mixer. We have found that a bread machine is useful for making homemade jam and granola as well as bread. And we have been enjoying making all sorts of breads that cannot be found in the local supermarket or healthfood store. We do not eat wheat, so the freshest bread we get at market is frozen. For us it is a real joy to be able to get fresh bread once a week or so.
Those who are serious about making artisinal breads or who must have great cakes, or those who have ambitions of making and stuffing their own sausages and rolling their own pasta will want a stand mixer with all the attachments. Stand mixers are covered thoroughly here.
It is easy to be surprised by the amount of gadgetry one needs to run a kitchen. It seems like every time you make a recipe you need another tool.
Tools you need
Tools you may not need
Eat well and prosper.
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.
Spoons & Spatulas
Paper Towel Holder