My co-workers, all of whom love to cook, were talking about the basics of cooking and how it's a skill that seems to be going away. Parents aren't teaching kids and take-out comes home more nights a week. Nan, one of my co-workers, was saying that she is going to start a blog about basic cooking. Not the fancy, 20 ingredient, 5 steps kind of cooking that you see on Food Network. But the "I don't know what simmer means." kind of cooking. (Great idea Nan!)
That conversation lead to thinking about if most people even have the right equipment to cook basic foods. I've been in more than on kitchen where basics were not where to be found. It's hard to thinking about making home-cooked meals if you don't have the equipment.
When I got home I posed the question to my facebook friends - "What are your basic kitchen must-haves?" Assuming that we are not talking about an oven or refrigerator or set of plates, there were lots of great responses. Here is a list that builds from the facebook responses and my own experience.
Kitchen Equipment Must-Haves
- 12" cast iron skillet - Yes, it's needs to be cast iron. It will last your entire life time and you won't be eating whatever strange coating is put on those other pans. Just remember to season it (follow the directions that come with the pan) and never wash in soapy water.
- 3 quart pot with steamer - This pot needs to have a heavy bottom, good handles and a well fitting lid. It will be the workhorse of your kitchen. Sauces, pasta, soup, steamed veggies, etc. (Pictured to the left.)
- 9x13 inch glass baking dish - Lasagna, baked chicken, enchiladas, cobbler all need this. They come in multiple sizes, but a 9x13 is a good place to start.
- wooden spoon - You'll use this for everything! It's safe to stir hot liquids over the stove, saute veggies, mix cake batter. You can probably find a good deal for a package of 3.
- spatula - aka Pancake flipper. I prefer metal to other materials. Make sure it's sturdy.
- can opener - I would assume anyone who lives on their own has a can opener. But just in case, I had to add it to the is.
- nesting glass bowls - Get Pyrex! Pyrex is oven, microwave and dishwasher safe. The only place you can't use it is on the stove top. Get a set of at least 3.
- cookie sheet - If you get a stone cookie sheet, with a lip around the sides, you can use it for homemade pizza, baking bacon (yep, baking bacon), making home fries. Metal is fine too, but stuff will stick more to metal than to seasoned stone. The lip keeps grease and liquids from leaving the pan.
- glass measuring cup - Get a 4-cup size, so it can be used for nearly everything you need. You can get a 1-sized as well, which is helpful for smaller jobs. Pyrex! You can microwave it to warm up the liquids.
- wooden cutting board - Get a big-ish one or find a two-fer deal, that way you can chop more than one veggie. Wood is far superior to plastic or other synthetic because it won't contaminate your foot, it is easier on your knife and it will last for every provided you take good care of it. (Pictured to the left, along with my chef's knife.)
- measuring cups - For dry measuring like flour or rice. A typical set has a 1 c, 1/2 c, 1/3 c and 1/4 c included. I prefer metal, but non-BPA plastic is OK.
- measuring spoons - You'll need a set with a 1 T (that's tablespoon), 1 t (that's teaspoon), 1/2 t, and 1/4 t. Again, I prefer metal. Some really cute, but more expensive sets, also come with a 1/8 t which is called "a dash".
- metal whisk - Scrambled eggs anyone? Also important for making a white sauce, which is the base for creamy soups, Alfredo sauce and mac-n-cheese.
- chef's knife - This is the one item I would spend $ on. A good chef's knife is a miracle and if maintained (sharpened and hand washed) will last a very lone time. Do some research and get a good one!
- serrated knife - With a pointy end. Coring a tomato, cutting meat, cutting bagels, etc. work better with a serrated knife. (Note - I don't suggest buying one of those knife sets. You don't need all that. Just a chef's and a serrated knife.)
- Kitchen Shears - I went a number of years without kitchen shears, bought some and wondered how I ever got by. I use mine to cut fresh herbs (chives), cut up chicken into bite-sized pieces, open any container of raw meat. Make sure to get some that come apart for better washing and easier sharpening. (Pictured to left.)
- Foil - Ok, I know this isn't equipment per-se, but it is vital. It's the lid for the 9x13" baking dish or the largest Pyrex glass bowl when cooking. It's the cover before leftovers go in the fridge. And it's recyclable, making it better than plastic wrap.
You may have noticed that I said "sharpening" a couple of times. Your knives and shears are only as good as they are sharp. Dull knives are dangerous because they can slip off food as you cut. So a knife sharpener is one of my essentials. Sharpeners can be expensive, but the investment in a good knife and good sharpener is worth it. I got mine as birthday gifts, so I lucked out!
Everything else can wait. When you plan to do a recipe that requires a hand mixer, decide if it's time to buy a hand mixer. I use my hand mixer 3-4 times per year, so it's not vital. I've never owned one of those Kitchen Aide stand mixers. They sure are fancy, but really expensive. I just stir by hand. A food processor is nice for big jobs, like shredding potatoes for latkes, but elbow grease works just as well.