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What You Need (and Don’t Need) to Set Up
Your First Workable Home Kitchen
Cooking at home is the most effective way to minimize your food
budget. Almost every meal you cook at home will be less
expensive (and often quicker) than a similar meal out on the town.
Doing it consistently will not only save you money consistently, but
it’ll build up your skills in the kitchen.
The only problem? The setup cost is usually quite stiff. You do
need quite a number of items. Fortunately, you don’t need quite
as much as you think, and most of the stuff you do need is cheap.
Here’s the equipment I’d get for a basic kitchen.
|NO microwave “Blasphemy!” many will shout. I argue that a microwave
stunts your ability to learn to cook at home by making it very easy to pop
convenience foods in the microwave instead of actually preparing
something. It’s a crutch at first, though it can definitely become a tool
later on. Challenge yourself to no microwave for a year and see how
much you learn. Even better – do it right off the bat and you don’t have
the initial cost of buying a microwave.
An oven, a stove top and a refrigerator
These are the basic appliances you’ll need to even attempt
cooking at home. Without them, this article is moot. If your
apartment/home comes with them, just use the ones already
there until they wear out. If you must buy new, buy durable.
A loaf pan
If you’re going to bake bread consistently or like to make meatloafs or other small casseroles, a loaf pan is perfect
and costs only a buck or two.
A food processor
This is the least essential item on this list, but it’s incredibly useful, particularly as you move more towards cooking
consistently complex meals at home. A good one can retexturize almost anything, from chopping and grinding to
juicing and pureeing. I favor the Kitchen Aid KPF 750, as does Consumer Reports. This is a great housewarming gift
for someone genuinely interested in cooking.
Plastic reusable leftover containers
For food storage in the fridge (leftovers, stuff prepared in advance, etc.), just get a bunch of low-end reusable
storage containers and a roll of masking tape. You can use the tape to identify the contents and the date of
preparation on the lid so you don’t have to wonder what forgotten mystery item X is in the fridge. We still use the
ones we got for a wedding gift more than five years ago.
Basic flatware and eating dishes
Don’t sweat this a bit. Go to your local department store and go for the low-end stuff for now. Later on, if you want to
“upgrade” to something “classy” (meaning spending far more for essentially the same functionality of an item), go for it.
Just don’t waste your money right out of the chute on hundreds of dollars of flatware.
A cutting board
Get the cheapest one possible – probably a rectangular chunk of plastic for a buck or two. The entire purpose is to
keep your knife from damaging your countertop.
A vegetable peeler
This is one of the very few kitchen “gadgets” that’s worth its salt. Although you can peel potatoes, zucchini, squash,
and so forth with a knife, a vegetable peeler is incredibly efficient at its task. You can use a knife and/or a box grater in
place of this item, but it’s very inexpensive (any old one will do) and the efficiency it adds to many food preparations
(especially in a vegetable-heavy diet) is immense.
A large pot, a small pot, and a skillet
You need three pots, that’s all. The large pot’s for cooking stews, boiling beans and pasta, and so forth. The smaller
pot’s perfect for making sauces, boiling small amounts of vegetables, and so on. A single large skillet will be your
primary stove top cooking tool. Don’t skimp and get teflon-coated pans or else you’ll just be tossing them in a couple of
years when the teflon begins to chip off. Instead, invest now and get some hard-anodized aluminum ones, especially
the small pot and the skillet. You’ll still be using good ones when you retire.
Two very simple baking pans
Get a 9″ by 13″ cake-style pan and then a French oven or casserole-style pan. 90% of the time, you can get by with
just one of these (I’d get the latter one), but that other 10% will leave you aching, when you need to have two items in
the oven at once.
A box grater
You can get a metal box grater for a buck, and there are all sorts of little uses for it – slicing and grating cheese or
vegetables, making breadcrumbs out of an old loaf of bread, and so on. Amazing little utility item for just a few pennies.
Two knives and a honing steel
A paring knife and a chef’s knife will handle almost every cutting need you’ll have in your kitchen. Go to your friendly
local department store and grip each one. Find the one that fits best in your hand, regardless of price, and buy it.
Different hands grip a bit differently, so it may be that the most expensive knife is the best fit for you or the cheapest
knife is the best fit. Just get the chef’s knife that fits your grip the best and the paring knife that fits your grip the best.
You should also snag a honing steel. It’s easy to use and makes a world of difference in keeping your knives usable. It
does not sharpen your knife, but it does keep the edge on your knife from warping over time. Just use the honing steel
twice on each side before you use the knife.
A magnetic knife rack
This is basically just a long magnetic strip you can hang somewhere high. Since it’s a big magnet, it’ll attract the blades
of your knives and allow them to hang there, without the edge touching anything at all. This reduces the slow wear on
the blade of your knife. It’s cheap and definitely the right way to go if you’re childless – if you have children, though,
this may be an unsafe temptation for the little ones.
A baking sheet
Something to toss things on when you bake them in the oven, from pizza and vegetables to cookies and bread. Again,
just get the cheap one – an air bake one is a nice $4 extravagance, but not vital.
Do the research, check out Consumer Reports, and follow their recommendations. Energy efficiency is also vital – use
the Energy Guide stickers and look for the EnergyStar logo when comparing models. I also strongly encourage you to
avoid getting a flat-surface stove top if you’re unfamiliar with cooking, as you will have many boil-overs as you learn and
the top can be nearly impossible to clean.
|If you can see only a few situations for using it, don’t buy it
So many kitchen items have one use. Take, for example, the cheese slicer. It
slices cheese. Period. Use a knife, or if you grate or slice a lot of things, get
a four-in-one box grater. Don’t waste your money on a cheese slicer unless
you slice five pounds of cheese a week. Any item that does not have uses
with a wide variety of foods should be looked at with a very discerning eye.
| Be creative in finding workable substitutes
There are countless clever little items for the kitchen that
seem like a good idea, but can usually be substituted for
easily if you think outside the kitchen a bit. A meat tenderizing
hammer? If you prepare meat every day of the week, sure –
otherwise, just use the rubber mallet out in the garage with
your meat under paper or plastic.
|Just starting out? This stuff makes perfect gift requests
Almost everything on this list makes for a perfect bridal shower, wedding, or graduation gift. If you have a registry for any such
purpose, put these items on it and get gifts that are actually useful instead of just tossing stuff on there without thought or pattern.
|Keep the food basics on hand, always
What about the food? I recommend keeping
plenty of olive oil and a well-stocked spice rack
on hand, no matter what. Both are very cheap
and both are used in almost anything you make.
|When in doubt, always go cheap
If you’re standing there trying to choose between two similar items,
always go for the cheap one.
For starters, you don’t know for certain how much you’ll use the item, so
an expensive one may be a complete waste of money. For second,
unless you know the item cold, the quality difference is likely pretty unclear
Third, if you do decide that you use the item a lot and can actually see a
compelling reason for the higher quality version, you can always upgrade
later. So save your money now and go for the cheap one.
These items are all you’ll need to prepare, eat, and store almost anything that’s realistic in a home kitchen. If you do
come up with additional needs, don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little bit before you turn to the store – you’ll be
surprised at how many nifty solutions you have around the house.
The real key is getting started – don’t just buy this stuff to have it on hand. Use it. Try starting with very simple things,
like scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches, then progress on to things like rosemary chicken. To keep it
cheap, start with inexpensive basic foods and master their variations. You’ll find that before long both your wallet and
your palate are happy. Also read our article on ' Recommended Refrigerators, Ovens & Stoves '
Article compiled & edited by various editors of