Shops, media, and TV chefs are trying to convince us we need a lot of cookware, kitchen tools, and appliances, to feel like true chefs. When you are trying to figure out how to equip your kitchen, you might have a lot of questions. What will you need? Should you invest in more expensive tools? What to buy first and what can wait? What are the kitchen essentials? It might be intimidating and pricey. But it shouldn’t be! Even with a few kitchen essential you can cook, bake, and serve beautiful and delicious meals. And feel like a proper home chef!
It’s difficult to resist the temptation of an IKEA catalog, online stores, and Instagram and Pinterest pictures. All those beautiful serving sets, cookware, tools, and utensils beg us to buy them. But what you need, especially when you are just starting with cooking or equipping your kitchen, are a few well-picked items.
We have been living, cooking, and baking in our own kitchen for the past (almost) nine years. When we started, we had little more than a pan, pot, and a wooden spoon to stir what was cooking. Then, we moved to another country and had a temporary kitchen to equip.
At the moment, our cookware and tools are still pretty minimalistic, and we only have what we need. This way, we use everything, and we use it to its full potential. There were few items we replaced, and we learned what we need, want, and are willing to pay more for.
Below are 8 things I consider to be kitchen essentials. As I read it through, I thought they are all no-brainers, and you would have figured them on your own. So, under each category, you can find a tip on how to choose that specific item the best. There’s vast selection available in stores but trust me, some of the items are superior to others, be it due to material, style, or size 😉
Have I forgotten about any must-have kitchen item? What is it? Let me know in the comments below.
8 Kitchen Essentials
1. Universal Knife
There are many different types of knives, and true chefs will tell you that you need at least these 3, 5 or even more to be a proper home chef. But if you’re just starting your household, living a minimalist lifestyle, or not going to bone a fish or portion a turkey, you can do fine with one universal knife. You’ll learn what you need as you cook and prepare food in your kitchen and you can extend you knife selection based on that.
Don’t get the biggest knife if you’re scared of them as I am. Start with a knife which is not too small and not too big. We love our IKEA knife, and we’ve been using it for years. It’s comfortable to work with, easy to sharpen, and helpful in our every kitchen need.
Tip: Get a universal knife which you can use to cut a cake, slice bread, chop vegetables, cut cheese, etc. Focus on the size of the blade and how comfortable the handle feels in your hand.
2. Wood Cutting Board
Always go for wood board instead of plastic one. It’s easier to clean, it ages well, and it’s more ecological.
Make sure you get the right size, especially if you only want to have one cutting board. You should be able to slice a big loaf of bread on it, chop several carrots, or slice a couple of tomatoes without a problem. If the board is too small, it’s tricky to use because you can cut just one item and then place it on a plate or in a bowl while you cut the rest.
Tip: Choose a nice, dark wood board, which works beautifully also for serving, e.g., as a cheese platter, for serving sandwiches, etc.
3. Stainless Steel Pot
When we first moved to Belgium, we bought two things for our kitchen. A stainless steel pot and a non-stick pan. And we still use that stainless steel pot after six years. Later we added a bigger pot to cook a big batch of chili, and a smaller one to heat milk for oatmeal in the morning.
But, to start with you only need one pot. Select a size that would serve you well. For our two-person household, a 2.5-liter pot was just right to cook some soup, boil pasta, steam vegetables, or make a curry.
Tip: Buy stainless steel pot which is easy to clean and doesn’t get easily scratched compared to the non-stick material. Choose the size of the pot based on how many people you cook for.
4. Deeper Pan
Whether you love scrambled eggs, steak, or roasted vegetables, you’ll need a pan.
We went through several non-stick pans in the last few years and even though they have a huge advantage over other material (i.e., the non-stick surface) they get scratched easily and you need to handle them with care.
Recently we bought a cast iron pan, which needs proper care as well, but it’s almost impossible to damage it permanently. Even rust that might form on the surface can be scratched off. Then you just oil the pan and bake it to restore it. Another great option, cheaper than cast iron, is a stainless steel pan.
Tip: If possible, select one that has a lid or is compatible with a lid you have for your pot(s). It’s better to select deeper pan, but it doesn’t have to be a wok, 4-5cm deep is enough. And if possible go for a material which will last you a lifetime, like stainless steel or cast iron.
5. Wooden Spoons
If, you cook you need a tool for stirring, mixing, and combining. You need a spoon and probably more than one. Over the years we acquired several different ones.
I find it better not to buy a set of spoons, but rather a specific spoon I like and which is of the right size and shape. In a set, you’ll end up with a spoon or two which you’ll never use. Buy spoon which sits comfortably in your hand, has a smooth texture, and is the right size for your pots.
Tip: Designate one spoon (easily distinguishable) for sweet meals, such as milk rice, oatmeal, caramel, etc. It’s not ideal to use the same spoon to mix spicy chili stew one day and oatmeal the next. Wooden spoons absorb a bit of flavor and smell.
6. Serving Bowls
Serving bowls are pretty versatile kitchen item. We use ours to serve smoothie bowls in the morning, fried rice or Asian noodles at noon, and salad or soup in the evening. We also use them to serve fruits, spreads & dips, or chips and nuts. We have two sizes and just enough of them to serve us and our occasional guests.
Tip: Buy bowls that are made of thicker ceramics, they feel nicer to touch. Choose a neutral color like white, light beige, or light grey to make every food look appetizing.
7. (Bigger) Mixing Bowl
Whether to mix a batter for cake, prepare fresh salad, vegetables to roast, or rise a loaf of sourdough bread you need one bigger mixing bowl.
It’s best to choose one made from a material that doesn’t absorb taste and smells and doesn’t get scratched easily. Also, one piece bowl is always better because food tends to stick to the most difficult to clean spots (e.g., a connection of two pieces).
We were choosing between metal, ceramic, and glass bowls. Highly preferring these materials over plastic. We ended up buying a glass mixing bowl, and the price was comparable with plastic ones.
Tip: Buy a bowl which can double as a salad serving bowl (e.g., a nice glass or ceramic bowl).
8. Baking Pan
You often get a few baking sheets with the oven, in which case you are ready to bake. But in case your oven doesn’t come with baking sheets you’ll need to get one to start with.
Again, as with everything, it’s best to buy one that corresponds to your needs. Baking for 2 and baking for 6 makes a difference.
There are plenty different materials – stainless steel, aluminum, enameled steel, ceramics, Teflon, silicon and I haven’t even considered all the cute shapes and colors. But the best is to go simple and choose a rectangular or round baking pan which is most versatile.
I prefer rectangular over round pan because it works better for baking potatoes or chicken. My favorite has been this IKEA baking pan. We had it for years, and I’m sure we’ll have it forever, since damaging it is impossible.
Tip: Consider how many people you’ll be baking for and choose a pan of appropriate size. Will you be baking vegetables, meat, and cakes? Go for a rectangular shaped pan which is more versatile. And choose a material which is hard to damage like stainless steel.
Did I cover all the bases? Do you consider other tools to be essential in your kitchen? Please share in the comments!