Kitchenware that no good kitchen would be without?
November 15, 2008 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for some better cooking tools. What kitchenware would you swear by? What should no good kitchen be without?

I love to cook, but I don't have the right tools for it. What I do have is either a hand-me-down that's severely showing its age or something cheap I bought when I was dirt poor. There are a lot of things I don't even have; I've had to get creative on occasion. So, I'd like to start investing in some good quality cooking gear. Knives, processors, pots, things that go whrrrrr... anything that's helpful in the kitchen. What do you use and recommend? It would be even more helpful to me if you could suggest specific brands, but if you don't know the brand and just really, really think I should have a hibachi or something... I'll look into that, too. I'm not looking to spend my life savings, but if it's well-recommended and will last me a while, I'm willing to spend a little more. Alternatively, if it's suspiciously cheap but you tell me it's awesome, I'm definitely interested.

What I DON'T need: grill tools. I live in an apartment, and I don't really use the community grill that often (at all).
posted by katillathehun to Food & Drink (47 answers total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
An immersion blender. Oh god, the soups you will make! The milkshakes you will drink!

I think mine's just a Hamilton Beach, and I have no complaints about it, though I didn't really comparison shop or anything.
posted by adiabat at 5:43 PM on November 15, 2008

I think mine's just a Hamilton Beach, and I have no complaints about it, though I didn't really comparison shop or anything.

I had a hamilton beach one, and it totally broke after a year of use (while being parts of an immersion blender out of hot soup is not fun). Haven't gotten around to buying a new on, but I miss it, so I'll second this one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:47 PM on November 15, 2008

Electric griddle. I use mine for everything from pancakes to fried rice to steak.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:48 PM on November 15, 2008

I've been pleased with the Emeril set of cookware. All stainless with glass lids. Can be found at Macy's...$200 for a 10-piece set.

posted by bach at 5:53 PM on November 15, 2008

I started out with Henckel's Professional S series and worked up from there- if you can only start with a few, start with a good chef's knife (6-8 inch), a serrated utility knife (for tomatoes, fruits with skin), and a veggie parer.
My next suggestion would be a good pair of kitchen sheers- useful for cutting the fat and gristle off of chicken and other meats where using a knife can be difficult and not as precise.

Otherwise, a 7 or 8 piece block does wonders. (and depending on the set, you can get sheers included)
Wüsthof makes very good knives as well.
posted by Seeba at 5:56 PM on November 15, 2008

A Le Creuset Dutch oven. Get pots and pans with very heavy bottoms. I can't live without--well, I am currently living without it--my cast iron grill pan. Silpat silicone baking sheets are nice to have around. My Wustof knives are awesome. When your knives need sharpening, you can take them to Ross Cutlery in the Bradbury Building. You can't beat a KitchenAid mixer, though Sunbeam's high-end model is quite nice but nowhere near as versatile.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:57 PM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

We recently got married and were happily overwhelmed with lots of kitchen-related gifts. I tried to think of what I use and value the most and came up with a pepper grinder. Once you cook and season with fresh-ground pepper, you will NEVER want to go back to the canned stuff again. It's so delicious!

I also love my crock pot and the aforementioned immersion blender. Quality knives are a joy to work with. Oh! And I absolutely LOVE my palm-held vegetable peeler.
posted by bristolcat at 5:57 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Spatulas with silicone scrapers.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:59 PM on November 15, 2008

This article from the New York Times should help a bit.
posted by mhz at 6:02 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Kitchenaid stand mixer. I don't know how anyone could cook without it. And they last a long ass time. And look at all the attachments!
posted by puke & cry at 6:02 PM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I love my microplane. I couldn't do without a couple of cast iron skillets for cooking great steaks or dutch babies. Spatulas for various tasks are a necessity. And I simply adore my rice cooker and my convection toaster oven. (I don't think I have used my stove since the toaster oven. I have cooked whole chickens in that baby.)
posted by thebrokedown at 6:04 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

My Microplane grater makes me happy every time I use it. A good set of bowls is essential. Last year, I got these knives for Christmas; although they are not suited for all tasks, they make chopping veggies and slicing boneless meat (think stir fry!) an absolute pleasure.

I second the Kitchenaid mixer. I love it and my ice cream bowl attachment. My Le Creuset dutch oven gets tons of use and I can see it lasting me a lifetime. A Lodge cast iron pan is a relatively cheap essential as well.
posted by katie at 6:06 PM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I also have to agree with needing the immersion blender!
posted by at 6:06 PM on November 15, 2008

I hate chopping things, especially onions, so I end up using my food processor (Kitchenaid, 7 cup) several times a week. I also use it to grate, slice, and mix dough for pie or scones. I wouldn't enjoy cooking as much if I didn't have it.
posted by capsizing at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Get the nicest chef's knife you can afford. Supplement it with a decent paring knife and maybe something midsize, like 5 or 6 inches long. Multi-knife sets are a waste of money. The large chef's knife is the tool of choice for 95% of cooking tasks. I have a Victorinox 10 inch knife that I love. It is a very good brand for cheap (around $30).

A big, thick, heavy cutting board. Get the biggest one you can comfortably wash in your sink. Nothing is more annoying than chopping a bunch of vegetables and having them fly everywhere because your cutting board is too small. End grain cutting boards don't warp, but are more expensive.

12-inch cast iron skillet. Can be found at thrift stores and flea markets in droves, because they never wear out. How to season a cast iron skillet.

A nice big stock pot for cooking soups, pasta, mashed potatoes, etc. Brand not that important.

I like stainless steel pans over any kind of nonstick coating. They are easy to clean; you can go wild with metal scouring pads and never worry about releasing the deadly Teflon toxins. All-Clad and Calphalon are both really good, but expensive.

One of these for steaming vegetables. So convenient!

Kitchen Aid mixers are the best. Cuisinart food processors are really good.

Cooling racks for baked goods. Without them your stuff gets soggy or continues to cook from the stored heat of the pan/sheet.

A gas stove, if possible...
posted by scose at 6:18 PM on November 15, 2008 [4 favorites]

I've been slowly investing in good tools for my kitchen. Here is my list of things that I use pretty much every day. YMMV of course:
A Calphalon 12 inch steel skillet with lid-- I one with two tiny handles on each side. If I were to buy this now I would buy the one with a long handle on one side. Really convenient for lifting things.
A cast iron dutch oven. I got a cheapo Lodge Logic one that works great.
Have to agree about the Microplane grater.
My stainless steel mixing bowls
My Preethi Chef Pro Mixie
An anodized aluminum wok with lid that I got in India. You can buy something similar from Calphalon. Great for stir fries or anything where you want a lot of surface area.
A good nonstick pan
A large stainless steel strainer
My good knives from Korin
posted by peacheater at 6:22 PM on November 15, 2008

Oh yeah, and I second the NYT guy, go shopping at a restaurant supply store.
posted by scose at 6:26 PM on November 15, 2008

Cast iron skillets. I have them in sizes ranging from 4" to 12".

I like my Farberware Stainless Steel sauce pans a lot. Heavy bottoms, even heating, and they clean up nicely.

All sorts of spoons, ladles, tongs, whisks, spatulas, and gadgets. Every Christmas I get more in my stocking. Ah, Tradition!

My Kitchenaid Mixer. It was my Mom's. Now, it's mine. It will be my daughter's when she's ready, and I retire from cooking the big family dinners.
posted by Corky at 6:26 PM on November 15, 2008

pastry knife
silicone baking mats (you will never go back!)
very nice muffin tins in v. small, regular, and gigante size
rice cooker
wooden spatulas
a very small food processor (I had a large one and it both took up far too much space and went unused.)
a really nice, very heavy chopping block/board
a chef's magnetic knife strip
an ice cream scoop with anti-freeze in it (I've had mine for more than 20 years)
posted by santojulieta at 6:29 PM on November 15, 2008

On the very low-tech end, my really light, thin cutting Epicurian board has increased my kitchen quality of life and was one of the first things I splurged on when I was in your position. It's so easy to handle and to clean, unlike my old, heavy board that made me just not want to chop anyting and make ramen instead.
posted by footnote at 6:34 PM on November 15, 2008

It really depends on the kind of cook you are. You can easily get carried away with appliances which end up taking up too much space on the counter while simultaneously clearing space in your wallet. I love to cook and love my kitchen tools. What I would consider essential investments are:

--Good quality set of knives. Henckels or globals would be my choice. Also, a solid cutting board is a must.

--A good quality pot and pan set. Stainless steel and at least one decent sized cast iron pan. All-Clad are some of the finest you can get for stainless. I have a set of Royal Doulton/Chef Ramsay pots and pans which I love to bits.

--I would like to eventually get a stand mixer and food processor, but those are luxuries right now. In the meantime, I use a mandolin in place of the processor and its great. Prices vary.

--If you like working with spices, a mortar and pestle is a very nice addition.

I could keep going on. As I said, its based on your style in the kitchen, but good knives and pots and pans are the top of the list IMO.
posted by scarello at 6:45 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I do more cooking than baking, and most of the ingredients I use are fresh. That being said, the equipment I use most include:

-Knives, as others have said. Don't bother with a block, just get a good chef knife (I prefer a santoku, but get what feels good) and a paring knife. I hang them on the wall with a magnetic strip. I also have a honing steel for them.

-A big, heavy soup pot, a cast iron skillet, and a heavy nonstick skillet. The other pot and pan pieces are pretty cheap.

-Storage containers. I think they're Rubbermaid - reusable, very durable, and they nest inside of each other so they don't take up much space in the cabinet.

-Microwave. I tend to make food for the entire week on the weekends, so the containers and microwave make reheating meals very easy.

All of the other kitchen things - measuring cups, utensils, whatever - are all pretty cheap, but they get the job done and they've lasted for quite a long time.

Just keep in mind that restaurant food doesn't taste good because they use good equipment. It tastes good because they use assloads of butter. So buy lots of good quality butter!
posted by backseatpilot at 7:03 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not mentioned so far:
--Pressure cooker. A smallish one. It makes cooking dried beans so much easier. you can also use it to cook other things.
--Cast iron dutch oven. Bake No-Knead Bread in it, cook soup in it, deep fry in it, make stew--you name it, you can do it in a dutch oven. I use mine for absolutely everything.
--Wok, preferably a cast iron one. Absolutely crucial for making killer pad thai.
--Cast iron griddle.

I agree about a good knife. This is of utmost importance! But the immersion blender? Skip it. Totally, utterly useless. A plain blender works just as well and can be used for other things. And you will only need a KitchenAid stand mixer if you bake. If you take baking very seriously, it's crucial. If your baking is limited to box cakes, skip it....that is, if you are not a vegetarian who makes their own seitan. If you make seitan, get one.
posted by hecho de la basura at 7:13 PM on November 15, 2008

Another vote for going to a restaurant supply store. Here are my must haves:

-a good chef's knife. Pay $60 at a kitchen supply store, don't be a fool who thinks you need to spend $200.

-cast iron skillets/frying pans. Cheaper and healthier than anything else, I usually pay between $0.25 and $25.00 for one (garage sale versus new). Remember to season it properly.

-at least one Le Creuset (or a reasonable knockoff such as Lodge) enameled roasting dish/dutch oven/casserole. The knockoffs are just as good, but made in China instead of France. Also, America's Test Kitchen recommended these dishes as the best pot to use for deep frying.

-a French Press. We had a drip machine up until we moved out in the country and someone gave us a French Press. It'll make four cups of coffee in three minutes (after boiling) and we constantly get (gushing) compliments on how good the coffee tastes. All this for $20, and less wasteful and easy to clean to boot!

-a bunch of those small thin lightweight steel bowls. I use one for holding scraps (instead of making messy trips to the garbage can), one for holding my cut veggies, another for holding my cut onion, garlic, ginger or whatever goes first in the oil when making a stir fry. It makes prep a cinch and cleanup easy. Kitchen supply stores will sell them for less than a buck a pop.

-one of those little brushes for cleaning mushrooms,

-and a set of thongs for grabbing/turning/serving items.
posted by furtive at 7:28 PM on November 15, 2008

I would go to your local library and review back copies of Cook's Illustrated magazine. Or, check out their TV show America's Test Kitchen. Both the magazine and show have a regular feature where they review worse-good-better-best in all kinds of equipment.

In fact, it's where I learned about my OXO nylon-tipped tongs, which are the only thing I'll use on my non-stick cookware.

I also love my Henckels knives. Regardless of brand, I say start with a chef's knife if you can only buy them piece at a time, as it's most versatile. Also regardless of brand: get "full tang" -- which I can't explain it as well as this tutorial.
posted by pineapple at 7:34 PM on November 15, 2008

P.S. A cast iron wok is NOT the way to go. Most Asian (with some Chinese exceptions) use carbon steel, which is much thinner, so that heat stays at the bottom, cooking occurres much faster and the wok can be seasoned just like iron. The steel is also a great deal lighter so it's easier to toss/flip your food in it. Try to find a hand hammered or two ply carbon steel wok so that you're less likely to get a wok that warps and gets hot spots. Either way, avoid teflon as it causes a host of problems at the high temperatures most woks require.
posted by furtive at 7:39 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Electric griddle. I use mine for everything from pancakes to fried rice to steak.

I say ABSOLUTELY NOT to an electric griddle. At least, mention the brand used.

Most electric griddles don't get hot enough to cook pancakes right, let alone eggs or anything else. While a heated non-stick surface has its uses in certain situations (dorm room), if you have access to a kitchen, you wouldn't use it as much as you think.

Get a lightweight wok.

Keep away from special purpose devices. The best kitchen tools can serve multiple purposes.

I use "Tools of the Trade" cookware from Macy's. Specifically the stainless steel 8 quart cooking pots. Those are great for cooking rice, meat, stews, etc.

The general rule is the heavier the pot/appliance, the better it is. A heavy pot has good heat distribution. A heavy blender (motor part) usually has a powerful motor.
posted by abdulf at 7:46 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

my sharpening stone is my best investment ever. it gives new life to my kitchen every time I use it on my knives and it cost about $5.

sharp knife plus big saucepan = cook anything.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:17 PM on November 15, 2008

Endlessly discussed previously.

And anyone who tells you to skimp on a knife is a fool.
posted by mkultra at 8:25 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

My past roommate was an awesome raw food chef. He swears by these:

- Kitchenaid 12 cup wide-mouth food processor
- Blendtec blender (his is a commercial model)
- chopping blocks from The BoardSmith
- Henckel knives
- Breville stainless steel juicer
- Musso Ice cream maker
- a spiralizer (aka saladico)
- OXO mango splitter
- Excalibur 9 tray dehydrator
- CusiPro 8 qt stainless steel mixing bowls
posted by Manhasset at 8:38 PM on November 15, 2008

One good chef's knife and one good paring knife, both kept extremely sharp. An inexpensive stainless Chinese cleaver for hacking through bones. A whisk. Two pairs of lockable tongs (I have the Oxo ones and they're pretty good). A citrus reamer. A can opener. Some regular and slotted metal spoons. Wooden spoons. A microplane grater (the medium-grain one will grate cheese, zest citrus peel, grate nutmeg, pretty much anything). A plastic-body mandolin ($30, not the expensive French kind). A high-power Waring or Blendtec blender. A Cuisinart food processor. A KitchenAid stand mixer. A SilPat-type silicone baking mat. An enameled dutch oven. A cast-iron skillet. A non-stick omelette pan. A few aluminum or "black steel" pans. A silicone spatula. A set of cake pans. Some pyrex brownie type pans. Some 9x13" metal brownie pans. A pressure cooker.
posted by rxrfrx at 8:47 PM on November 15, 2008

As previously mentioned, get a wok if you want to stirfry anything. Don't use a skillet!

A french press and a $100 grinder will make your coffee taste better and truer than many coffeeshops, and way better than $1 coffee at dunkin' donuts etc. Just buy the cheapest burr grinder possible and buy whole beans at a local roaster. Good coffee in the home is considerably easier and cheaper than good espresso. Used grinders are cheap, and I would recommend a stainless steel french press (look on Amazon for Frieling French Presses - will never break)

Also, if you plan to make rice dishes more than once a week, a rice cooker is a great investment. Unless you live in Japan or want to cook more than 6 cups at a time, you need not spend more than $200. Bottom end ones that cook 3-4 cups at a time are well under $100 (look for used). Having a dedicated appliance to make rice simplifies preparation of such meals, and it will always come out right. Many models can also cook other things in the rice cooker as well.
posted by mezamashii at 9:01 PM on November 15, 2008

Total agreement on the knives (I love my globals, especially the santoku, which is my go to blade) -- but do yourself a favor, and get them regularly sharpened by a professional. (For the San Franciscans reading along, go see Jivano. To find your own Jivano in another town, ask a chef or a culinary student.)

I love love love my rivetless Lincoln ever-smooth frying pans, and (I almost hate to say it) the ceramic-based nonstick one has seen more use recently than my cast iron. Lincoln stuff is not pretty enough to be sold in department stores... but you'll see lots of it at the restaurant supply store, in non-stick, hard-anodized, and raw aluminum.

Cuisinart food processors are the best available, and not just because all detachable parts are dishwasher safe. If you regularly cook for one or two people, the mini-prep is more useful than you'd think.

Got spices in your cabinets that are old enough to be in grade school? Throw them out. Read The Spice House's catalog before replacing them from your supermarket.

Corningware. Everybody should have a few baking dishes made out of this easy to clean miracle material that can go from oven to stove top to table. Unfortunately, it's no longer being made (as of 2001, the "corning" that's sold is not stovetop-safe, and it's made in a different factory, with a different substance). Estate sales, swap meets, and dusty shelves of hardware stores in sleepy towns are your friends here.
posted by toxic at 10:27 PM on November 15, 2008

Carbon steel if you get a Wok - cheap as chips too, which is unusual when buying kitchenware.

I've got a full set of Scanpan copper cookware & it's absolutely fantastic. Have found it produces much better results than your usual stainless fare. Also get a couple of decent casserole pots (like Le Creuset).

Also, wouldn't be without my Svord knives either. When it comes to knives, you want (a) SHARP & able to keep its edge, (b) nothing too thick - you'll end up splitting food like potatoes rather than slicing them, (c) something that feels balanced in your hand. Be prepared to spend money on good knives - it's worth it.
posted by MatJ at 12:37 AM on November 16, 2008

Wow, I can't believe it, but after 34 answers I'm the first one in here with my #1 kitchen pick, the digital scale. They're like $10-20 and are SO useful for baking. I'm going to be totally honest and say that since I moved to weighing my ingredients instead of using cups, my baking has been much more consistent. VERY highly recommended.
posted by jedrek at 3:32 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know what this is called, but I got one about ten years ago and recently replaced it with this one when it went missing. OXO calls it a stainless steel scraper and that seems about right. I bet the french have a fancier name for it. My first one, found at Goodwill, was the same size but the handle was the steel curved back onto itself. This has a fancy rubber handle.

It doesn't have a knife sharp edge but it is beveled. It's great for working dough or for gathering up chopped stuff on a board and moving it. It also does cut. Not finely, but I use it on pizza rather than a wheel.

I really do use this thing constantly. It's like another hand. And it deals better with sticky and chunky than a hand can. It gathers over two handfuls at once and easily gets under pastry or bread dough, biscuits, piles of chopped veggies, you name it. I know some people use their knife to move their chopped stuff, but I think that tends to dull the blade prematurely. This can be used to chop, in a pinch, and isn't supposed to be sharp, so it can get under things easily. And it has a ruler etched into the bottom, for easy measuring! It's also useful for cleaning surfaces. It really helps me be more efficient in the kitchen.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:28 AM on November 16, 2008

I have to disagree with hecho—unless you're a big fan of smoothies or piña coladas, an immersion blender is much handier than a standing blender. Big pots of soup puréed in no time, without having to transfer to the blender in batches. Also they rinse off easily, and don't have to be taken apart like regular blenders do. (Of course, I also have a food processor; I might feel less satisfied with the immersion blender if I were trying to make romesco sauce with it.) Mine's a Cuisinart and I've been happy with it, but I haven't really put it to any sort of motor-challenging test.

It's kind of pedestrian, but a good colander is so pleasant to have. I was using my roommate's plastic one for a year, until he moved out and I bought a metal one, and I didn't realize how much I'd hated that piece of junk until I started using the new one.

I got an ice cream machine this summer. It was totally worth it (only fifty bucks, half off at the end of the season!) and probably the most exciting thing I've acquired recently, but if you don't have the storage space it might not be worth it. Again, a Cuisinart. I've moved it off the counter now that it's winter in NYC, but for a while it was in use almost as frequently as the bowl froze solid again.

Mandolines are pretty excellent, especially if you want to make fries or gratins or anything else that benefits from perfect slicing. I have a big intimidating french one, that juliennes and waffle cuts as well as slicing, but the little plastic ones seem to do all right as well. I'm sure there are variations in quality, but you probably don't need a big monstrosity like this. (Mine is the top one; the ceramic ones down the page a bit look pretty nice.)

A set of glass wet measure cups is a lovely thing to have—two cup and four cup is a good set, I think. These left with the crap colander and I miss them frequently. (Good for making an ice bath for the custard for your future ice cream machine.)

I agree, of course, that you should have nice things in the pot and knife department. However, I shoud add that I have a ten dollar santoku knife that is more in use than my big henckels—which is not at all to suggest that the henckels is not a good knife. It's just not my go-to these days. I would almost say the santoku is all I need (besides a paring knife and a bread knife), but it's a little too weak to cut through winter squash and suchlike.
posted by felix grundy at 8:04 AM on November 16, 2008

Nthing microplane grater. Amazing.
posted by lalochezia at 9:34 AM on November 16, 2008

I came in here to recommend an immersion blender, and I'm glad to see I'm not alone! It does sort of depend on what kind of cook you are, though -- if you make soups or shakes or sauces frequently it's really indispensable. I've got the Cuisinart immersion blender and it was thirty dollars, which is very inexpensive for such a reputable brand. I would never recommend Hamilton Beach -- never get the cheap knockoff of something if you're dealing with a blade!

I only saw one recommendation for Pyrex, but I swear by Pyrex baking dishes for things like brownies, casseroles, and lasagna. Pyrex is really inexpensive and it's so versatile and can be put in the dishwasher, which is a huge plus. Corningware is good for this too. I'd buy that on Ebay or at a consignment shop though, for the reasons that toxic discussed above.

Also, as many have mentioned, don't skimp on a good chef's knife. Although you can use the knife to pick up chopped veggies, unlike Toekneesan suggests -- just use the back of the blade to pick things up rather than the sharp end. I have a set of Cutco knives that were a gift and they're very nice.

Oh, and I love silicone mini-prep bowls. They always come in handy!
posted by k8lin at 10:53 AM on November 16, 2008

I recommend a Chinese Cleaver, but not as an aforementioned poster said above, for hacking bones. Hacking bones with a Chinese Cleaver, in my experience, have dulled the blade. T

- They're perfect for vegetables and meat,
- You can use the dull side to even tender the meat
- The blunt end of the handle serves as a pestle, for grinding
- Once you've cut up your food, you can use the cleaver to slide it all off the cutting board into wok/pan/pot without having to touch the food.

Carbon-steel works best, but tends to rust, so a stainless/carbon composite might be a good compromise.
posted by ageispolis at 11:09 AM on November 16, 2008

I asked a similar question at awhile back and looked through a lot of threads and books and came up with:
Do not buy expensive nonstick cookware. It will peel and that stuff gets in your food/in your body. Buy one inexpensive nonstick skillet, like a Faberware millennium. When it gets thrashed get a new one.
Buy a small set of All Clad stainless cookware. Its a bit more economical to buy the small set rather than a couple of pieces on their own, and its on sale at Crate and Barrel or Macys often enough. Get the set with the stock pot. I love my all clad and swear by them. Use bartenders friend to clean them.
Buy one or two good knives. A good chef and bread/serrated one. I use Wusthof Classic and love them. Try them out in the store and make sure they fit your hand. Don't buy an expensive paring knife. The cheaper ones will do.
A Le Creuset Dutch oven is a great investment. An oval one will fit a roast or chicken nicely, a round one not so much. Someone told me that and I found it helpful.
A food processor is great. 10-12 cups. Saves a lot of time. You won't need a blender.
A KitchenAid stand mixer is great too, especially if you bake. Go for the biggest motor you can afford.
An immersion blender if you make soups but not if you dont.
If you bake, get the nonstick Silpat liners or use parchment paper. A scale is nice too for baking. But again, if you dont bake, it's not that important.
I don't have a lot of specialty gadgets. I use wooden spoons mostly, have a stainless slotted spoon, whisk, spatula, and ladle and one of those Chinese spider things.
The rest depends on what you cook. Look at the recipes you make to figure out what you need. I use a microplane for one thing I make a lot so it was a good purchase but the garlic press wasn't because I just use my knife and smash the cloves.
You might want to look over at Chowhound on the home cooking board archives. If anything, its a good read and very informative.
posted by bookshelves at 11:19 AM on November 16, 2008

An Australian vegetable peeler, the kind with a pivoting slotted blade.
posted by zamboni at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2008

If you get All-Clad (and I highly suggest that you do), buy it for half-price at Cookware & More.
posted by Wet Spot at 11:25 AM on November 16, 2008

-and a set of thongs for grabbing/turning/serving items.
posted by furtive at 9:28 PM on November 15

Sorry, I had to. I'm sure furtive meant "tongs."
posted by bach at 11:32 AM on November 16, 2008

Adding to my above comment: I have a stack of those plastic cutting boards, that are actually thin sheets. They have a larger surface area than a regular cutting board, and you can bend them to funnel your chopped items into the bowl or pot. They are very inexpensive, so they are easy to replace as they wear out. I wash mine in the dishwasher and they stand up to lots of use. Mine are something like this, but there are various kinds around.

In response to the anti-electric griddle comment... Mine is just a George Forman brand, about $40. It gets plenty hot to make pancakes, steaks, and fried rice, as mentioned. I would not be able to make pancakes on it, if it did not get hot enough to make pancakes. The surface area of a griddle allows you to make more pancakes, steaks, etc. at one time than you could conveniently do on a stovetop.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 3:45 PM on November 16, 2008

-Forschner knives are very well rated by Cooks Illustrated and are much cheaper than many more famous brands.
-Nthing the Kitchenaid Mixer and the Cuisinart blender. I've had both of mine for years.
-Nthing the Microplane
-I think whether or not you'll love the immersion blender depends on what you like to cook. I love to cook soup, and this has been the greatest-it is huge to not have to ladle soup into a blender in batches, and dirty another pot to put the blended soup into while I'm blending the next batch (cause it never all fits in the blender in one batch). Plus, my blender also works as a small food processor, and that is really handy when you don't want to get the big one out, or if you don't have space for a big one.
-Lots of small OXO tools will go a long way to make your life easier. A really good can opener (run away from electric ones), vegetable peeler, and potato masher is a thing of beauty.
-I use my crockpot every week-definitely worth the ten bucks. We don't eat a ton of rice, but still like our rice cooker quite a bit (and it can be a crockpot, too)
-Just get pyrex pie plates; nothing else works as well.

I cook a lot. And really, I use just a few pots and pans. A large nonstick skillet, a large and small Belgique skillet, a small saucepan and a larger saucepan, and a big cast iron dutch oven.
posted by purenitrous at 6:50 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow. So many great suggestions! I've got a lot to look into, but at least I know where to start. Thanks all.
posted by katillathehun at 10:25 PM on November 16, 2008

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