Kitchen Essentials: Utensils You Need to Start Cooking

What do you really need to cook an amazing meal? Some flame, a pan and something to stir it with. You should probably also have a knife, that’s good for cutting things. It should be that easy, but somehow it’s not.

In this age of the celebrity chef, it’s easy to get carried away with various and sundry kitchen items that you think you need or will use once for one recipe. Watch an episode of Chopped and you’re bound to see some oddly shaped pots, expensive looking mixing contraptions and some other things you’ve never seen before. Don’t get me started on Martha Stewart. God bless her but she is the worst. I mean I REALLY love Martha Stewart, but her recipes are not only complicated (I’m convinced only ½ of them are tested) but they require things like charlotte molds and chinoises.

If you’re someone like me who cooks almost every day there are endless kitchen gadgets and products that make your life easier. (I am the proud owner of an ice cream maker, a mandolin, a garlic press and a juicer…but really I could get by without all of these things) These things also take up space, are expensive and more often than not, just complicate the whole process. Let’s say you’re someone who loves food and likes to cook but isn’t all that confident in the kitchen. Garlic presses look like torture devices and you’re pretty sure a mandolin is something in an orchestra. That’s okay, there’s no need to be intimated. I’m going to tell you the bare minimum you’ll need to cook impressive and delicious meals at home.

Bygone are the days of lavish wedding presents. I can’t think of the last time I saw a fondue set on a gift registry. Though my parents, who got married in the 80s had not only a fondue set, but an authentic Japanese hibachi grill. But now it’s 2012, times are tough and most of us live in much smaller spaces than our parents. Even the most bourgie (boo-jhee) couples today register at Bed Bath and Beyond.

I’ve seen some “kitchens” that consist of a stove, a toaster and a mini fridge. I don’t have any data to support this at all, but I’m sure one of Ikea’s best selling items is the BEKVÄM.  It’s a wooden square kitchen island and sells for $59.99. Essentially, it’s a kitchen in a box. Put that baby in the middle of your beautiful, but overpriced “loft” and you’ve now got a cutting surface and some storage…and it’s got wheels! A moveable feast!

Point being: you don’t have a lot of space. Or time. Or money for that matter. But you want to have your friends over for dinner or cook for your significant other or even your really lovely roommates who always offer to buy the toilet paper and dish soap.

Really, this is all you need.* I wish someone had handed this to me when I moved into my own house. Though my mother gets credit for sending me two Calphalon pans my senior year of college that I still use to this day.

*By which I mean this is what I would suggest buying to start your kitchen and is by no means a complete list.

Kitchen Starter Kit

Pots and Pans

Large skillet: you will use this a lot. For sauces, for stir-fries, for rice dishes, for meat, for fish. Really, you can’t cook anything without a large skillet. And it has to be non-stick. With a heavy bottom. I like Calphalon. Essentially this is something you should spend a bit of money on as teflon deteriorates and is a carcinogen. While they can be a bit expensive (around $100), places like Marshalls and TJMaxx usually have good brands for much less.

Small skillet: You’ll want this to cook eggs, fry small batches of onions and to fry meat in small batches. While I’d say not as essential as the larger one, it’s pretty handy and easier to clean (not to mention will stack neatly inside your large skillet inside your oven for storage).

Soup pot/pasta pot with lid: A large pot with high sides, this will be best for boiling pasta water and cooking soups. I’d go with non-stick, but metal with a heavy bottom will work too.


Wooden Spoon: This will cost you about a dollar and you’ll use it to stir and taste just about everything you make. Wood won’t scratch your Teflon either.

Silicone spatula: You’ll need this to flip fried eggs, chicken cutlets and quesadillas…and really anything else that isn’t liquidy or soupy.

Metal tongs: Good for grabbing things, especially when frying. Silicone tips are best.

A really sharp peeler: You’ll need this to peel all those potatoes, beets, cucumbers and even to grate cheese. I got mine at a dollar store in Brooklyn and it’s incredible…but I’m sure there are good brands out there. I prefer the horizontal blade to the vertical blade.

Cheese grater (microplane if you can): I despise box graters. They are clunky and often take some skin off along with the cheese (gross). You’ll probably need the box grater too for big jobs, but a microplane grater works really well for cheddar cheese and doubles as the best lemon zester money can buy.

Measuring spoons and cups: Essential for following any recipe you aren’t completely familiar with.

A really good knife: You can’t really get by without one, large really sharp and awesome knife. I’d splurge on this if you can. I use GLOBAL knives, made by craftsmen in Japan using an ancient technique originally used to make samurai swords. They aint cheap.

Food Prep

A large metal bowl: Not only will your weeknight salad look sexy in this bowl, but it’s essential to have a large container to mix things in.

Sheet pan: Better than a cookie sheet, it has higher sides so your roasted vegetables won’t bubble all over the oven. It must be metal and is quite good for broiling meat and fish.

A colander or mesh sieve: You’ll need this to drain pasta and boiled vegetables.

Cutting board: You need one, about 15×12. Plastic or wood.


A really really good blender (or mini Cuisinart): I’m convinced you can make anything in a blender. From protein shakes to gazpacho, it does it all. Don’t get the cheap one. Splurge on a good brand. I’m also obsessed with my mini pink Cuisinart. It’s great for salad dressings and chopping onions.

Those are just the basics, but if you’re a bit more serious about cooking you’ll also need:

A dutch oven or Le Cruset pot

Glass pyrex baking dish 9×13

Set of glass bowls of different sizes

Smaller sauce pans with lids

Wine glasses

Can opener

I’ve probably forgotten some things, but this should get you started. At least with the recipes on my blog…

2 thoughts on “Kitchen Essentials: Utensils You Need to Start Cooking

  1. Estate sales and resale shops. I bought an oak rolling pin with a sleeve that was 100 years old for $6. It’s awesome. Nothing sticks to it!

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