When you have to equip your first kitchen, buying the right tools can be daunting and expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. The key to properly outfitting your kitchen with the basics is collecting a handful of multi-purpose tools that can be used in a wide array of food preparations. I recommend that you stay away from any tools that have a very specific purpose (that potato ricer can wait!) and go for general, good-quality cookware. I have picked out several kitchen basics that get you cooking right away and let you actually enjoy creating home cooked meals.
1) Knives. Ask any chef and he will tell you a good, sharp knife is the most important tool an aspiring culinarian will need. A good knife can range in price anywhere from around $20 to hundreds, so the choices are many. Again, stay away from the gimmicks and go for a solidly made, 8” chef’s knife. While many professionals uses “forged” knives, ones that have a continuous metal “tang” that extends from the blade all the way through the handle, a “full-tang” knife is often much more expensive. A Wusthof Classic, 8” chef’s knife has long been an industry standard but runs about $120. For a good-quality, sharp knife that is easy to maintain but won’t break the bank, I recommend a “stamped” knife, one where the blade is machine stamped and has either a wood or plastic handle. The weight of these knives is less balanced than a “full-tang” knife, but the blade quality is comparable. Check out this 8” stamped chefs knife from Victorinox, the company that makes Swiss Army Knives. Some chefs here at the Culinary Institute swear by these knives, and they are a great deal at $26.
Note: A second, essential knife, the paring knife, can be purchased from the same company for around $5.
2) Saute pan. A good, solidly made saute or frying pan is another kitchen essential. Choose something that feels heavy for its size and has a stainless steel cooking surface. Avoid solid aluminum pans as the metal can react to acidic foods and does not do as good a job conducting heat evenly. Also, buy a pan that is all metal (no plastic or rubber handles). An all metal pan can be used on the stove top, as well as in the oven. A heavy bottomed steel pan (10” is a good start) will help you avoid scorching food because it does not heat up too quickly. This pan, by Cuisinart, costs around $35
3) Pots and pans. Another good addition to your collection of pots and pans is a good stock pot. A stock pot can be used to make stocks and soups, as well as to boil large amounts of salted water for pasta or vegetables. This 8-quart stock pot from Target is priced reasonably at $25.
Note: A smaller sauce pan with a lid and handle is also a very useful purchase. This Cuisinart pan starts at $15.
4) Strainer. Whether making a sauce or straining pasta, you’ll needed a strainer or colander. In order to get the widest range of uses out of this tool, I recommend choosing a mesh strainer with relatively fine holes in order to cover as many needs as possible. This one only costs $3 from Amazon.