Before we get started, a word about the lens through which this site is built, an admission of biases, if you will. This list of “essentials” was built through careful consideration and consultation with a wide variety of home cooks from a range of backgrounds. That said, our “essentials” are primarily considered from the point of view of American and European cooking traditions. Those with east Asian, Latin American, Indian or other primary cuisine focuses may find some items glaringly missing or bafflingly unnecessary. Finally, some items we call essential you may call nice to have (or vice-versa), but we trust you’ll believe that we think all of these items will meaningfully enhance your ability to cook delicious, beautiful meals.
There is only one place to start a list of kitchen essentials. It’s the tool you’ll reach for at every meal – an extension of your arm and hands. For us, the chef’s knife is our workhorse, and there are none higher recommended by home and professional chefs alike than the 8″ //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=ahnsense-20&marketplace=amazon®ion=US&placement=B008M5U1C2&asins=B008M5U1C2&linkId=f8d17f3a6b75f04519bcebeb8f33a7de&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066C0&bg_color=FFFFFF” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Fibrox Pro from Victorinex. There’s no better value for money that we know of. For an upgrade, we’ll recommend what we use in our kitchen: the 8″ Zelite Infinity. It’s a great blade that stays super sharp with looks to kill. If you ever plan on cooking with a friend, it’s not a bad idea to make sure you have two good knives on hand. Maybe try a santoku or a Chinese cleaver for a second main blade.
In addition to the chef’s knife, there are a couple others you’ll need for food prep. First, as versatile as it is, the chef’s knife just won’t cut it (the first of many, I promise) when it comes to crusty breads. We //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=ahnsense-20&marketplace=amazon®ion=US&placement=B001L80GPY&asins=B001L80GPY&linkId=5923f4e629019dc43f6b550fa25bd6b2&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>like this bread knife from German maker Wusthof for its combination of looks and feel. For those finer kitchen tasks like taking the stems off of strawberries, it’s also good to have a sharp paring knife on hand. //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=ahnsense-20&marketplace=amazon®ion=US&placement=B000IBVD0W&asins=B000IBVD0W&linkId=82a65626ce35c4cd673dbac831a857ce&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>This one from Mercer is simple and functional. Or try //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=ahnsense-20&marketplace=amazon®ion=US&placement=B00YPQMFVW&asins=B00YPQMFVW&linkId=e47fca545b7970f15396563d90ca564e&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>this Shun for an upgrade.
Your new knives will come with razor sharp blades out of the box, but how you use then, store them and maintain them will dictate their utility going forward. First off, pick up a honing rod and get in the habit of using it every time you take your knife out of the block. It straightens the molecules on the edge of your blade, and, unlike sharpening, doesn’t make you donate a tiny bit of your steel to the kitchen gods. This one from Wustof will get the job done, and check out this video from Gordon Ramsey to hone your honing. Eventually, your blades will need to be sharpened. Taking them to a professional will get them closest to their original spec, but you can do a pretty good job at home with //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=ahnsense-20&marketplace=amazon®ion=US&placement=B003TWNZ08&asins=B003TWNZ08&linkId=a88ee6b1fa16fbade0a14798bd6f77ba&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>this sharpener from Wustof. For and upgrade, try this Shun.
Storing your knives properly will also go a long way to keeping them sharp and happy. Henkel makes a good block that will also hold a set of steak knives (more on that later). Since you’re getting great looking knives, why not show them off with a magnetic knife strip? Our friend Nils at Brooklyn Butcher Blocks handmakes these racks that will look great with or without your knives on them.
When we’re slicing and dicing, wooden cutting boards are our tool of choice. In general, we try to minimize plastic in the kitchen, especially items that will come in contact with hot foods. When properly cleaned and maintained (not tough), wooden boards are just as antiseptic as plastic ones. It’s advisable to keep two full size cutting boards so multiple people can work at once or to have the ability to keep meats and veggies separate (especially any raw meat you’re preparing). Get something with a channel for fluids. This one ticks all the boxes and is nice enough to serve as a… well serving platter as well. For that upgrade, it’s back to Brooklyn Butcher Blocks. In the Kitchenary test kitchen we have a butcher block countertop extension that serves as our primary food prep space.
To get your prepared ingredients from the chopping block onto the fire, pick up a food scraper. If this hasn’t been a tool you’ve used in past kitchens, you’ll have to trust us on this one. Once you start, you’ll find yourself using it with every meal. With this, you’ll be able to use a cutting board large enough to work comfortably on without being constrained by the need to haul it across the kitchen and dump your prepared food into a smoking hot pan.
Speaking of pans, you’ll need those too. And pots. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because we’ve done a lot of work already and nobody’s even offered us a drink. Well I’m offering you one now. But I need something to open this dogone bottle with, and so do you. Why no go with the old standby, the tee-arm? It combines corkscrew and bottle opener in an easy to use package. For something a little smoother, the “Rabbit” pops corks with ease, but you’ll need a separate bottle opener. Xxx. You may need a can opener for those cocktail olives as well. This one is sturdy and reliable.
Ahhh. Where were we? Right, pots and pans. We will do pans first because this is potentially a little more controversial. We recommend you pick up three pans: a non-stick frying pan, a large sauté pan, and either a cast iron skillet or a stainless frying pan. The non-stick is perfect for eggs and other stick-prone foods. We like this one from xxx, for its durable coating and the fact that you can put in the oven. The top of the line is xxx. This gets you xxxx. You’ll also want a deep sauté pan with a lid for cooking foods that use a large volume of liquid like a pasta sauce or even a curry. Xxx also makes a great one of these. If you want to step up your game, go copper. This pan from Mauviel not only looks awesome, but copper transmits heat better than any other common metal used for pots and will heat up quickly and evenly. Finally, you’ll want a second pan for the utility of preparing two dishes at once and because you won’t always want to baby that non-stick. If you’re willing to put in the work to season and care for it, this cast iron is a great choice. Just be warned, you can’t cook anything acidic and you’ll need to season and properly clean it. If you don’t have the patience or the muscles for cast iron, stainless is a great choice. Pick up this one from xxx, you won’t be disappointed. Just keep in mind if you don’t want food prone to sticking to leave its bottom quartile stuck to your pan, you’re going to need to cook hot and with a sufficient amount of (no easy way to say this) fat in the pan. Make sure to use an oil with a high smoke point. We’ve started using Avocado oil for higher heat cooking, and love the utility and mild flavor.
Sticking with the theme from above, we think three pots are the minimum to stock a kitchen. The three little bears approach will serve you well; pick up a small, a medium and a large. The medium will probably be your go-to, with the small used for sauces, kid-sized portions and for fitting on that fourth burner when you’ve got three other pots and pans covering the rest of your range. A large pot is needed for soups, long pastas, stews, chilis and everything else you can make in bulk. You’ll want to pick up lids of course. Xxx makes a great set of stainless pots that’s easy to maintain. If you want to splurge (or have a generous benefactor) copper pots are amazing, and Mauviel is the top-of-the-line. Make sure to grab a couple of potholders while you’re at it. These are less ugly than the ones my grandma used to whip out around Christmas.
Now that you’ve prepped your food and it’s in the pan, you’ll need some tools to stir and serve it with. Grab a set of wooden spoons and spatulas, like this one. We’d suggest supplementing these with a metal spatula (you’ll also need a less harsh one for the Teflon), a slotted spoon, metal serving spoons and a ladle. As usual, we recommend metal over plastic when dealing with hot stuff. Oh and tongs. We love tongs and you should too. These ones have a no-slip grin and won’t pinch your fingers.
Ok, food is almost served, but you may have to throw a few items in the oven (note: don’t actually throw). For some stuff, a flat baking sheet will do just fine. We like these because they’re easy to clean. For those items that need a little more containment, this Pyrex baking dish will do the trick. Pyrex glass is awesome, and in addition to a baking dish, we find this set of Pyrex bowls with lids to be perfect for holding ingredients during prep, warming up things in the oven or storing leftovers.
I know your mouth is just about watering, but let’s back up a little for a few other items you’ll need for preparation. Get yourself some big-ass metal bowls (like these), a whisk and a rubber spatula. All would be absolute requirements for even the most elementary baking, but are also going to come in handy for cooking your main courses. Metal bowls are light and durable, and can be stacked and stored with ease. You’ll also want a set of measuring spoons (plastic or metal will do here), cups (for dry goods) and this Pyrex liquids measuring cup.
Someone will scream at me for this, but we also find the garlic press essential for our cooking needs. Yes you can just use your knife, but this will save you time and potentially keep you hands from smelling quite as garlicky (can’t do anything about your breath after eating it though).
For your veggies, you’ll want a good peeler. We’ve used and loved this one for years. Its comfortable in the hand and super easy to use. You may not realize it, but unless you’re going to run each leaf out on the clothes line, you also need a salad spinner. This metal model from xxx gets the job done and will survive a long drop and a short stop, unlike cheaper plastic models. You’ll also need a strainer for anything boiled. We like these wire mesh models for their versatility.
Ok, finally time to eat. You’re going to finish your food off with some fresh cracked pepper. This one from xxx will give you lots of pepper at a time with an ultra-consistent grind. Or go baller style with this large wooden mill. For grating cheese (or other things), a box grater is the most versatile. Try this one.
Flatware, plates and glasses are certainly essential, but for the most part, choosing them is just a matter of taste, so we’re not going to make any recommendations here. Enjoy your fine china, vintage floral pattern or commemorative Elvis plates. What you won’t get with most sets of flatware, however, are steak knives. Unless you never serve meat, a sturdy set of steak knives is a must-have. In our opinion, there are two ways to go: thick wooden-handled steakhouse knives or French-style xxx. We use and like both equally, and have selected a great set in each style.
That’s all for this first edition of the Kitchenary “essentials” guide for setting up your new kitchen. Stay tuned for our takes on some less essential (but great to have) kitchen kit, an “essentials” guide for baking and much more.