If you open a cookbook, chances are you’ll find a section in the beginning that lays out which essential kitchen tools you’ll need in order to prepare all of the intricate recipes within that book. It’s an overwhelming start, especially if you’re just learning to cook and have next to nothing in your kitchen. I’ve gone through my own kitchen and pulled out the things I use basically every day. I was left with a few things in my drawers and cupboards – some specialty items or things I use once or twice a month – but was pretty pleased to find that most of the things I have, I use! Remember, this isn’t a gourmet kitchen, so there’ll be plenty of missing items. This is just a beginner’s list catered more to the recipes I’ll be making here at Salt and Skillet, and a great place for anyone to start making a checklist!
Essential Kitchen Equipment
Pots and Pans
I’ll start with the big ones. It’s obvious that you need pots and pans, right? But I remember when I got my own place I was overwhelmed by the different shapes, sizes, and materials (copper? cast iron? aluminum? nonstick?). Master chefs will tell you that you need at least one of all of these things, but we are not master chefs here. We just want to make some awesome homecooked meals for ourselves and our families, and for that I would like to recommend just a handful of things.
On my stove I’ve gathered my Rachael Ray Nonstick 10-Piece Cookware Set. (Note: links in this blog post are affiliate links, and I will earn a small percent commission if the item is purchased from this link.)
They came in a beautiful set of three pots, one saucepan, two skillets, and four lids. Now, if you want a complete cookware set, this one is a great deal. But if you’re just looking for one pot or one pan, you can’t go wrong just picking and choosing from these! I highly recommend going bigger with your pots and pans if you’re only going to get one or two. You’d be surprised how quickly they get full, and we don’t want to overcrowd a pan when cooking. I do a lot of one-pan dishes, so I use a 12″ pan, which didn’t come with the set and I bought separately. These babies clean up beautifully, hold heat well and evenly, and just look at that pretty color!! Rachael Ray’s stuff comes in all kinds of gorgeous colors. My set is red, and I’m building my kitchen around them. Seriously!
You might notice a few things tucked in the corner of that first photo, too! Baking pans usually come in a set of multiple sizes and are super cheap. I use mine all the time for baked chicken and roasted vegetables. Baking dishes are deeper, and either come as metal or glass. I like the glass ones because metal can cause too much browning or even burning…plus, all right, I like the way the glass ones look. I have an 8×8 pictured, but I also use my 9×11 just as often! These guys are great for more than just brownies and cakes – think casseroles, baked enchiladas, shakshuka, or one-dish meals like baked chicken, potatoes, and asparagus in a creamy dreamy sauce. Mmmmmmmhmmm. Ooh, and don’t forget a hot pad or oven glove to pull things out of the oven safely!
(I also propped some cheap-o olive oil and pan spray in there because I consider them more of a tool than an ingredient – they’re my pans best friends!)
Essential Kitchen Utensils
Next, we’ll look at utensils. Knives are possibly the next most important thing if you’re working with whole foods, and we will be! I’ve got a whole block of Kitchenaid knives, but I pulled out the ones I reach for the most. (This is the same set I have, only in red (!!): KitchenAid 16 Piece Set) Our largest knife is the chef’s knife, good for slicing and dicing both meats and vegetables. Beside that is a serrated knife for cutting bread. Then, a santoku knife – like a mini chef’s knife with divets to prevent food from sticking to the knife as you cut. Finally, a small paring knife is best for working with smaller, more intricate cuts, like fruits and vegetables. If you don’t want to buy a whole block of knives, at least get yourself a chef’s knife! It’s the head hauncho when it comes to cutting things in the kitchen.
On either side of our knives, you’ll see a spatula, a wooden spoon, and tongs. I’ve got a few variations of each of these, but the ones shown are my favorite. You’ll need these for stirring and flipping around food while they’re in your skillet!
Below it all, I use a glass cutting board. I like the glass because it’s easy to clean and non-porous. There’s wooden cutting boards, plastic, glass, and really thin and flexible ones which are easy to store. Regardless of what kind you get, it’ll save your counter from getting all cut up!
Up at the top behind the onion, a set of (ugly) measuring cups, my Perfect Beaker liquid measuring cup, and a set of measuring spoons will help us get all of our ingredients in the right amount. I also use that Cuisinart Digital Kitchen Scale which is measuring a pepper to get very precise – this works great for quick measuring to count calories without having to dirty a measuring spoon or cup. Which would you rather do – spoon peanut butter into a tablespoon measuring spoon, level it, then spread it onto your bit of toast from that spoon, or spread it onto the toast and plop it on the kitchen scale (after taring the bread, of course) to see exactly how many grams of peanut butter you’ve got? Yeah, I love my little kitchen scale. Make sure yours has a tare function, which will balance the scale out to zero if you’re measuring multiple things (like a bunch of berries in a bowl).
At the tip of my knives is a meat thermometer. If you’re not a vegetarian and you cook meat, poultry, and/or fish, you need a meat thermometer. Even if I’m 99% sure a piece of chicken is cooked, I will use my thermometer to push it to 100%. Plus, it’s oddly satisfying to see the readout climb up and over that sweet 165 degrees F! (Or 145 for fish!)
A few more things . . .
My green colander is really obnoxiously green. It belongs to a set of three, the one pictured being the largest, and was a few bucks at Walmart. It was one of the first things I got for my kitchen, way before I got my beautiful red Rachael Ray set. But, even though it’s just a cheap plastic thing, I use it (or one of it’s smaller brothers) every day for rinsing beans, washing veggies, or draining pasta. Maybe buy yourself a prettier one…
Finally, on the left side, there are three smaller tools. In the middle is a simple vegetable peeler. I really only use this on carrots, because I like the skin of my potatoes and apples, but it also has a little pointy tip that’s used to get eyes off of potatoes or cut away any tiny, questionable spots from things. My The Pampered Chef Garlic Press is the love of my life, besides my husband. Before if a recipe called for garlic, I grabbed the garlic powder and shrugged it off. I hated peeling them and trying to mince up the little cloves….with my garlic press, I just shove the whole clove, peel and all, into the little compartment, press a bit, and the garlic comes out perfectly minced. I LOVE IT!
I saved the can opener for last because I get really excited about it. My whole life I have struggled with crappy can openers that were impossible to crank, flung around everywhere, and were just overall awful. I even had one that would give me blisters it was so uncomfortable! But no, not this one. The ZYLISS Can Opener is easy to crank, attaches every time, has a lock to keep it from opening and flying around in your drawers, and has a little magnet to easily remove the can’s lid. Now, I mostly use canned food when it comes to beans and sauces – no Spaghetti-o’s in this kitchen!
That’s it! It seems like a lot because I tend to ramble, but a simplified kitchen doesn’t need a whole lot of flashy equipment. These are the essential kitchen tools you’ll need to get started cooking. Like I said, I’ve got some other things in my cabinets that I use, but they see daylight way less often than everything pictured above. I hope this list helps you to start your kitchen with the right equipment or fill a gap that you might have had.