You don’t have to collect the latest, fanciest, or priciest gadgets in order to cook delicious and healthy food. Good kitchen basics can be bought at a relatively low price. Restaurant supply stores are cheap but can be a bit daunting, since they’re stocked for professionals, and home-goods stores can be quite expensive. Luckily, the internet and second-hand stores can be a great place to find deals.
However, all gear isn’t the same. For instance, weight and ease of handling become significant factors when the loss of strength and weariness become barriers. So here’s our complete menu of cookware.
Knives– At the cutting edge of kitchen work, you should feel comfortable and in control. A sturdy knife, whether it has a wooden, composite or plastic handle, should feel good in your hand. Knives can be a good investment, however, comfort and sharpness are priorities. Fortunately, more money doesn’t always buy a better knife.
The three basic knives:
- Chef’s knife (larger knife for chopping, dicing, mincing)
- Paring knife (small knife for peeling, and smaller jobs)
- Serrated bread knife (large knife with serrated edges for bread, also works great for cutting ripe tomatoes)
Knife sharpener– There are some user-friendly knife sharpeners out there that cost about $10.00. They will increase the lifetime of the cutlery you just invested in and will keep your kitchen safer by preventing dull knives which can cause slipping and injury. Ensuring you have sharp knives also means less force is required to chop, saving your strength and energy.
Frying pans– Try to get one pan 10″ in diameter and one or two smaller sizes. If buying non-stick cookware, steer clear of Teflon, as there are possible links between the chemical and cancer. Anodized aluminum cookware is a safer alternative. The anodizing process seals the aluminum so it can’t get into food, but is still an ideal scratch-resistant and non-stick choice. Calphalon and All-Clad are both brands that carry Anodized aluminum ware. There are also ceramic non-stick pans on the market that are safe to use. These pans don’t need special tools and work well. Cast iron cookware is another safe choice, and can even add iron to your meals, but the pans are heavy. If you prefer cast iron, try shopping at a camping store to score a better price.
Sauce pots– Try to get anodized aluminum for these as well. If you’re buying generic pots in a supermarket, make sure they’re not too thin, since this affects heat distribution. Having a few different sizes is convenient, and often you can get them cheaper in a bundled set of small, medium, and large. Also, check stainless steel pans. Although expensive, you can get terrific bargains when buying sets from discount sites and sometimes second-hand stores.
Wok- This graceful object with an Asian origin is basically a steep-sided frying pan. This is helpful for easily stir-frying as it allows you to cook with less oil and more heat than a normal frying pan. It’s also useful for rice dishes that need stirring, like this Summer Risotto, and for many South Asian dishes.
Cutting boards– An absolute necessity, cutting boards range in quality and price. Wood is better, but plastic is much cheaper. If possible, buy a thick wooden cutting board for vegetables and fruits. A large plastic cutting board will suffice for meat and fish. No matter what material, cutting boards should be dedicated to either meat, chicken and fish, or fruits and vegetables. If your cutting board does not have a gripping surface on the bottom, place a rung-out wet towel underneath to prevent it from sliding around.
Sturdy sheet pan or roasting pan– Used for roasting and baking, these sheets or pans only need to be relatively large and rigid. These can be found for around $10.00.
Cookie sheet– Maybe the happiest reminder of childhood a kitchen can have. This simplest of wares is inexpensive and doesn’t have to be high quality, just sturdy.
Mixing bowls– These can be either stainless steel or glass. A set that has a small, medium and large bowl will cover your basic needs. There is no need for designer brands in this category.
Medium balloon whisk- Balloon whisks were made popular by Julia Child and are important tools for incorporating air into egg whites and cream. Try to get one with a sturdy handle and 8 wire loops.
Heat-resistant spatula- This is about as necessary as kitchen tools get. Make sure the one you choose is strong and truly heat resistant. This shouldn’t cost more than $5.00.
Colander– For draining pasta, blanched or cooked vegetables, and rinsing beans, a good colander is essential. Although more expensive than plastic, a metal colander can be put directly into boiling water. Look for one that is stainless steel with handles on the side. These run for $10.00 or less.
Salad spinner- Salad spinners are key items for thoroughly washing leafy greens and vegetables. This can help remove pesticides and dirt (important for anyone with a weakened immune system). In heavy-duty plastic, these run about $12.00.
Measuring cups- Plastic, metal, pink, blue whatever, as long as they measure! You can buy these very cheap.
Measuring jug- Measuring liquids often requires more volume than measuring solids. These larger measurers are inexpensive and can be easier to use than measuring cups. You can buy plastic or glass, but glass holds up better in the dishwasher.
Wooden & slotted spoons–A wooden spoon will help you more than you think, and the slotted version is great for stews, dumplings, risotto, and ravioli. You can never have too many of these, and they’re cheap enough to buy several.
Immersion blender– Perhaps not essential but incredibly useful, immersion blenders are hand-held electric blenders that mix and puree food directly in the pot. Other names for these include stick blender, wand blender, and hand blender.
Sifter/Sieve– Helpful for removing clumps in dry ingredients, these items are also great for washing berries, and small grains like quinoa. This is a low-tech standard, so get the cheapest you can find; just make sure the holes are small.
Can opener–Make sure they have a large grip for comfort and good leverage. If your old one is dull and hard to use, it may be time to buy a new one. Your hands and wrists will thank you.
Tongs- These are important for safety when handling hot food. Ensure they are sturdy and have a good spring. Unless you are using tongs for open-flame grilling, there is no need to get longer ones. The regular version should cost about $3.00.
Box grater– This four-sided, four size metal grater is a whiz when you need to grate cheese into the size you want. Sharpness matters, since a grater, like a knife, is less safe when dull. The price should be $10.00 or under.
Microplane grater– This item has become indispensable in our kitchens. Excellent for spices and smaller items, such as nutmeg, for which a box grater can be a bit clumsy. A microplane grater is also great for finely grating fresh garlic and gingerroot. This should cost no more than $15.00.
Fruit and vegetable peeler– The very simple ones are cheap, but one with a grip will feel better on your hands in the long run. Even with a grip, it should not be more than $12.00.
Deep casserole or baking dish– This classic comes in cast-iron, enameled cast iron, aluminum, or stainless steel. Here’s a place where you’d be well-advised to spend some money (prices will vary widely), since sturdiness and longevity count. The most important detail to look for is a way to make it easy to lift out of a hot oven, such as wide handles.
Gripping oven mitts- Taking things out of a hot oven can be nerve-wracking, especially if you are feeling weak. Mitts with rubberized grips will protect your hands from heat and make things easy to hold. They usually cost about $15.00.
Rolling pin– This fundamental tool for baking is an inexpensive miracle that makes rolling dough a snap. As long as it rolls easily, there’s no reason not to buy the simplest, cheapest one you can find, usually around $5.00.
Glass storage ware– Left-overs are great, but BPA’s, which are in many plastics, have been researched heavily in correlation to cancer. Try glass containers instead of plastic, or BPA free plastic containers.
Aluminum foil- Aluminum foil is endlessly useful and can be used to line pans when roasting and baking to save time on clean-up.
Parchment Paper – This creates an instant non-stick surface to make clean-up easy. Great for lining cake tins, cookie pans, baking sheets, and pans for roasting. Try to buy unbleached.
Plastic wrap– This is one of those everyday products that we wonder how cooks of yore ever did without. It’s the miracle that lets us say, like a satisfied movie director, “That’s a wrap!” There are a growing number of more environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic wrap available for purchase online.
Food processor- Though many cooks fare well without one of these, it’s a device that can save time and energy when chopping and dicing. They are now competitively priced and widely available, even in smaller sizes. If you can, buy a quality one with a guarantee or warranty.
Electric whisk– Balloon whisks work well for most baking but are hard work. An electric whisk may save you time and energy in the long run.
Ladle– You can use a measuring cup as a ladle, but the real thing is a convenient solution for serving soup.