Help me outfit my kitchen!
April 20, 2010 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I'll soon have the opportunity to outfit a new kitchen entirely from scratch. Recommend me some great cookware and cook's tools!

Due to various circumstances, I find myself with very little kitchenware of my own (I've been using my roommate's stuff).

I've caught the cooking bug, though, and I'm planning to move soon—so I'll need to get a few things. Okay, more than a few. Like, everything. (Shopping orgy—hooray!)

I'm not looking for what kinds of tools to buy—I'm looking for recommendations of specific brands and models that excel in their category.

So: what's your favorite [ pot | pan | utensil | thing ] in your kitchen? And what's so great about it? How long have you had it (I'm willing to spend for great tools, but I want them to be durable)?

I don't think I'll have a problem finding a good knife and cutting board—so don't worry about that, lest this thread become nothing but knife-geekery. Anything else is fair game, though. Lemon zesters, woks, pepper grinders, cast-iron skillets, kitchen scales, special-purpose tools, spice racks, thermometers, you name it. I'm not going to buy everything right away, but I want to start looking for things.

I'll definitely need a few good pots and pans in various sizes. I don't need the best stuff money can buy, but I definitely want something of high quality. Definitely no Teflon crap. I'm considering an All-Clad set—any fans or detractors care to comment?

FWIW, I prefer glass or ceramic bakeware, stainless steel cookware and utensils, and generally as few plastics and synthetics as possible. (It's partly an aesthetic thing, and partly a health-concern thing.) I'm mostly vegetarian, so meat-centric stuff will not be necessary. And I'm interested in tools, not gadgets (unless they're super-useful—I could use a good, easily cleanable spice grinder, for example).

Note that I'm not asking about large appliances—I'll be renting, so I'll be using whatever fridge and stove is available.

posted by ixohoxi to Food & Drink (69 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
When I got married someone gave me a whole set of Farberware Hard Anodized pots and pans and LOVE them. Quite non-stick and easy to clean, yet so sturdy, nothing like as you say, "teflon crap". I would suggest you get one and try it out.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:44 PM on April 20, 2010

The Forschner Victorinox 8" chef's knife. Cooks Illustrated consistently ranks it not only the best knife for the money (~$26) but the best knife overall, against competitors costing upwards of 200 bucks. Best thing you could buy.

Oh, wait, no knife geekery...

One good cast-iron skillet from Lodge.

One good ceramic-coated cast-iron dutch oven - Le Creuset if you can afford it, another brand if you can't - at least 6 quarts.

One good stainless steel saucepan - All-Clad is the best, obviously, but pending budget.

A microplane grater - great for hard cheeses, nutmeg, chocolate, you name it. Will sculpt wood too if you find you need to do some carving.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 1:44 PM on April 20, 2010 [8 favorites]

Oh, also, many people are probably going to suggest getting good knives, and I agree. I don't really know about the "must-have" brands, but I got myself these and so far they're awesome.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:46 PM on April 20, 2010

Oops, sorry, somehow I didn't read the paragraph about the knife-geekery.....yet I know what you mean.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:48 PM on April 20, 2010

Get multiple cutting boards. I have maybe three or four each of plastic and wood, all of different sizes. They totally come in handy. I believe you can get glass cutting boards instead of plastic ones, since you said you're not down with synthetics (I've never used glass ones though so I can't say how good they are). You might also want more than just one decent knife, so you can prepare both meat and vegetables without making a trip to the sink to wash it off and get your hands all soapy in the process. Also good if you have someone helping you cook.

Seconding the cast-iron skillet though.
posted by xbonesgt at 1:54 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

A KitchenAid stand mixer. It's durable, and you can get all kinds of attachments to make it more versatile (I love the dough hook and the meat grinder attachments).
posted by spinto at 1:56 PM on April 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

Why not get a trial membership to Cooks Illustrated online, and read all their equipment reviews? It's free for two weeks, which should be enough time for you to figure out the brands you need to stock your kitchen.
posted by bokinney at 2:01 PM on April 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

What's your budget level ? Are we talking, "this is the cookset I'll be using for the rest of my life" ('cause such things do exist), or "I'm just starting out, get me something quick and cheap!"

What's the food you want to cook? French, Italian, South-east Asian, Chinese, generic North American? Are you going to be doing a lot of baking?
posted by bonehead at 2:01 PM on April 20, 2010

Williams-Sonoma sells lot's of great tools I'd hate to cook with out. Definitely something for every kitchen there.
posted by Funky Claude at 2:07 PM on April 20, 2010

Big wooden cutting board.
Multi-sized smaller plastic boards, ones that can fit in the dishwasher
Mix/prep bowls in glass
Mix bowls in metal -larger ones, you can use these to make your own double boiler
All-Clad (I prefer Copper Core) for sauce pans & sauciers
Le Creuset for dutch ovens big & small
Calaphon for non-stick & anodised fry pans (love their "everyday pan"
I have two sets of utensils -one bamboo, one OXO/silicon. No clear favourite.
Spoon rests -get a few. Two for the stove, one or two for the counter.
Corning ovenware, or some other ovenware for casseroles -round means no crunchy corners, which is nice

Do you bake? There is a different list for that!
posted by kellyblah at 2:10 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go to a restaurant supply store and get a couple of commercial half-sheet pans. They will outperform just about any cookie sheets you can find and are dirt cheap. Lots of other good stuff to be found there as well. (I have never used that particular merchant, they were just easy to find with google.)
posted by TedW at 2:12 PM on April 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Some good answers so far—and a few that are not answering the question I asked. I know what kinds of things I need. I'm looking for specific brands and models of things.

I've been considering a subscription to Cook's Illustrated anyway—that's a good idea.

My budget is, say, the best stuff one can get at a Bed-Bath-&-Beyond-level place—or maybe something respectable from a Williams-Sonoma-level place. Maybe $500 for a set of basic cookware—a sauté pan, a saucepan, and a couple of utility pots and pans? (Yes, I'll also be getting a cast-iron skillet, a soup pot, and probably a proper wok. That $500 is just for the essential, use-for-every-meal stuff.)

I cook a bit of everything (but as I say, mostly vegetarian, and not a whole lot of baking).
posted by ixohoxi at 2:13 PM on April 20, 2010

OK, I'm not going to suggest that you only buy one or two very good chef's knives rather than the whole block thing. I just won't.

But I will tell you that I lust for one of these thermometers! Even if you never look at meat you need some sort of instant read thermometer. I do do meat, and for roasting just about anything, this is very handy, but not to replace the instant read thing.

A huge vote for All-clad. Anodized has it's vehement supports, but the stuff can't go through the dishwasher, and that's a killer fact for me. Look closely at any set you buy. You will probably use a lot more small sauce pans and saute pans than it includes, but not need two of the big ones of either kind.

Tongs! Tongs for cooking and tongs for serving. I don't know why some people seem to think they don't need tongs.

A big clay pot. Many many things taste even more wonderful and seem more festive when they come out of clay.
posted by Some1 at 2:19 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

We are big fans of All-Clad cookware and have found the 2 qt (maybe 3?) saucier to be very useful.
posted by TedW at 2:19 PM on April 20, 2010

Buy a set of Pyrex if you like glass cookware. A good set of measuring cups is also great to have.

I recently got a nonstick fry pan from Ikea that I've been really happy with. Their other stainless stuff seemed rather nice (and affordable to boot). Consider having at least one good nonstick pan in your arsenal.

The rest of my pots & pans are from a 30-year-old set of Farberware Classic that I inherited. Although the Amazon reviewers gripe about them no longer being as good as they once were, I'd still consider it, given the low price.

Also +1ing the recommendation for Cooks Illustrated. They know their stuff.
posted by schmod at 2:27 PM on April 20, 2010

Nthing Cook's Illustrated. They always have both the "most recommended" and "best value" products, so you can decide how best to spend your money. They also tell you what to avoid, which is almost as important as telling you what to buy.

For me, I love my Wustof knives, my KitchenAid food processor (I think it's better than the Cuisinart, and so does Cook's Illustrated), my KitchenAid immersion blender, my KitchenAid stand mixer (unless you're doing serious baking, the base mode, I think it's the Artisan, should be fine), my Le Crueset 5-qt. dutch oven, and my fake-All-Clad-got-it-at-Sam's-Club tri-ply stainless steel-aluminum cookware (seriously, $150 bucks for a 10-piece set, and it looks just like All Clad).

Chicago Metallic is a good brand for bakeware (sheet pans and the like) that you can find at BBB (or anywhere) that's reasonably priced. Get at least two jelly roll pans, a couple of 9-inch cake pans, and a muffin pan.

BTW, if you're limited in how many knives you can get (probably the case on your budget), I suggest getting at least a small paring knife and either a chef's knife or a Santoku. (I like my Wusthof Santoku a lot and use it 85% of the time, for everything. Henkels is another good German brand. Japanese knives are amazing, but really spendy.)

And finally, with respect to sets of cookware, you probably don't need all the stuff in a set, so unless it's a HUGE bargain (see above, my Sam's Club find), get just a few really quality pieces. I also recommend the tri-ply stuff over the anodized stuff. Make sure it's fully clad and not that stuff that just has a tri-ply disk in the base of the pot. Otherwise you'll get a burn ring where the disk ends and the non-clad sides begin.*

*And I know you said you didn't need to know what kind of stuff to get, but if you're not getting a set, you need to know which specific items to get, so I hope this isn't the information you don't want:

Get a 12-inch saute pan, a 10-inch frypan, and a 3-qt. saucepan. If you get an enameled cast iron dutch oven, you don't need to also get a stockpot; if you want a stockpot, you don't need to get an expensive one because even heating isn't as big an issue when you're boiling water or making stock--get that from the commercial supplier. And a good nonstick is something you should have, too, but you can get a less expensive one. (I also have one from Ikea that is just fine.)

posted by devinemissk at 2:34 PM on April 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, okay—to forestall the knife stuff: I will be buying one very good chef's knife (probably a Wüsthof; that's what I've been using, and I like it). I will be purchasing the correct sharpener and steel to maintain it. I already have a good paring knife and a decent bread saw. Aside from that, I might get a cheap santoku (I like them for chopping herbs), but that's it. I am not buying a block set.

Now, everyone—I truly appreciate your good intentions, but no more about knives please :)

I've been dabbling in cheesemaking (just paneer and chèvre, so far), so yes, a good thermometer will be useful (for this and for other things).
posted by ixohoxi at 2:35 PM on April 20, 2010

I use my Cusinart food processor all the time. Also you will need a stick blender, I have a Braun. I also have a Cusinart hand mixer.
posted by govtdrone at 2:50 PM on April 20, 2010

A couple of things:

- KitchenAid stand mixers
These are great if you do a lot of baking. I have it do a lot of other things too - whip up cream, make butter or frosting, bread, and pasta (I have the pasta attachments). I use a hand mixer for box-mix cake, though.

- KitchenAid immersion blender
Great for any chopping/mixing liquids and very versatile. I've almost stopped using my normal blender since I got this. The KHB100 series has been rated the best immersion blender.

- Pyrex
Everything of theirs is awesome. Their measuring cups are sturdy and accurate, their baking dishes heat well, and I love being able to use the same items between freezer, fridge, and stove (not immediately!). I use them as food storage containers because they don't stain or smell (and if I drop them, they don't break!). They also sell little shot-glass-style measuring cups for up to 2Tbsp with a bunch of different unit types marked.

- Microplane zester/grater
A fantastic little tool. Much more useful than plane or box-style graters.

- Lodge cast iron
A well-known name. As much as I love my pots and pans (KitchenAid stainless steel), this thing is so versatile. With a little care, it can make everything from pizza to steaks, to simmering things on the grill. I haven't found something I can't cook on it and they're dirt cheap.

My mom god All-Clad and my dad's found it overpriced for what it is (too easy to scratch, so expensive you want to keep it pretty). Their old Farberware set lasted >20 years (they still have it and he uses that instead). You're mainly paying for the brand at that point.
posted by bookdragoness at 3:02 PM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

For gadgets, spoons, spatulas, etc, I will buy OXO brand in pretty much everything OXO makes.

All-Clad is lovely, but also tremendously expensive. It makes more sense for frying pans than pots, in my opinion, unless you make a lot of delicate sauces where very fine temperature control matters. Most of the time, most North American cooks are using their pots to boil things in water, an application for which All-Clad is tremendous overkill. And if you're cooking on an electric rather than gas stove, that just compounds the overkillness, since so much heat ends up getting stored in the element anyway.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:03 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a 30 sq. ft kitchen in my old apartment, so I managed to pare my needs down to the bare essentials (which, were: a Le Creuset dutch oven, a 12" braise/frying pan, a 6" frying pan, a small saucepan, an 8" chef's knife, a paring knife, a wooden spoon, a roasting tin and a pair of chopsticks) but the one thing I really, really longed for was a well-seasoned cast-iron grill pan. I hear great things about Lodge.
These things run around $20 and last forever.

I know this is straying into gadget territory, but I also found my toaster oven indispensable--this DeLonghi convection oven is supposed to be excellent, although I tend to use whatever is on sale at the time I need it.

Nthing the Microplane graters and the stick blender. I've had my Microplanes for about five years now, and they are still sharp as anything. My Braun stick blender was inherited from mom, so it must be about eight years old now.
posted by superquail at 3:04 PM on April 20, 2010

Wanted to add, on the subject of buying things in sets, that you can get things cheaper in sets, but first think about and price out all the individual things you actually want, and then make sure it's cheaper to buy the set + any pieces you want that the set doesn't contain at regular prices, rather than just assuming a set will be precisely what you need.

As someone who cooks primarily for myself, and doesn't like to do dishes every day, I find what I need is a few small pots and one or two larger ones that are rarely used, but occasionally necessary, rather than an array of sizes as a I might get in a set.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:19 PM on April 20, 2010

You can not underestimate the value of a quality can opener like the Rösle or Fissler.
posted by caddis at 3:21 PM on April 20, 2010

A few things others haven't mentioned yet that I find very useful:

Steel bowls. We have about six both 4L and 500mL steel bowls which make great mixing bowls, everyday serving containers, fridge containers etc... They're entirely non-reactive (unlike plastic), easy to clean (better than glass), impossible to break (unlike everything else), go from fridge to double boiler without problems. We still keep a couple glass ones for the microwave, but they've completely replaced everything else. Get them at a restaurant supply or chinese market. And buy more than you think you'll need, 4 at least of each size; they're only a couple of bucks each so go nuts.

Measuring spoons and cups. Unlike the bowls, these are items that are really worth spending on. There's nothing worse than cheap-ass spoons bending when you try to measure something out. Likewise, it's frustrating as hell when you can't get the measuring spoon to fit in the jar the damn sugar is in. We have these oval, stainless-steel measurers. They have heavy handles which don't bend, they're easy to clean and the oval shapes get into odd-shaped vessels more easily.

You're getting lots of recommendations for All-clad. It's great stuff, but you really don't need to spend that much on cookware. The only place I've found All-clad to be worth the money is in a saucier. All-clad does make it easier to do the long simmers and slow poaches with no hotspots that sensitive things like sauces, chocolate and the like want. I could be convinced for a sauté pan as well, if you do a lot of that. Otherwise, something in stainless with a solid metal handle (so it can go in the oven) with do 99% of what you need a pot or pan to do.
posted by bonehead at 3:28 PM on April 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you like pizza then you might also want to put a good pizza stone into your budget.
posted by caddis at 3:29 PM on April 20, 2010

My current source for the good stuff, and cheap.

Also, I own at least a dozen probe thermometers and not a single fucking one is accurate. The next thing I'm buying when I get the money is a Thermapen and, after that, an IR thermometer.
posted by stet at 3:33 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

America's Test Kitchen is the PBS show from the Cook's Illustrated people. On one of their most recent episodes, they recommended a cookware set from Walmart (I believe it was this one from Tramontina) as their 2nd best and it was $150 compared with the $700 All-Clad set.

I will second the recommendation above to look at that NYTimes article on outfitting your kitchen and to use Cook's Illustrated (registering for the America's Test Kitchen site is free and they have most of the same product reviews).

I also always recommend Consumersearch. They are a meta-review site.
posted by bove at 3:51 PM on April 20, 2010

fake-All-Clad-got-it-at-Sam's-Club tri-ply stainless steel-aluminum cookware

I think this is the Tramontina brand, of which I have a 12" frying pan and a 2qt saucepan, and can be found as individual pieces at Walmart.
posted by MeowForMangoes at 4:00 PM on April 20, 2010

fake-All-Clad-got-it-at-Sam's-Club tri-ply stainless steel-aluminum cookware

I think this is the Tramontina brand, of which I have a 12" frying pan and a 2qt saucepan, and can be found as individual pieces at Walmart.

You know, it's not, but the Tramontina stuff looks really similar. Mine is actually the "Member's Mark" brand, which is (or used to be, 7 years ago when I got the stuff) an in-house Sam's Club brand.

Honestly, the Tramontina stuff looks a little nicer than my set. At least the handles seem to be a better shape (my biggest complaint about my set is the uncomfortable handles). If I were looking nowadays, I'd definitely consider the Tramontina--it looks solid AND has a good review from Cook's Illustrated, and those two things are about all I need.
posted by devinemissk at 4:13 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consensus stuff every kitchen needs: Wustof 8" chef's knife, All-Clad 12" frying pan, All-Clad 6-quart sauté pan. Microplane graters.

Go to a restaurant-supply store and get three or four pairs of cheap tongs; not the hinged kind which are a pain in the ass, but the kind that are just springy bent steel, with heat-proof rubberized coating on the bent part. You shouldn't pay more than $3 each. You'll use these constantly.

While you're there, get a bunch of the cheap stainless prep bowls — maybe five of the 5-quart and ten of the 1½ quart. They nest very compactly and you can't have too many. Trick: invert them over stuff in pans that you want to speed-cook a little if the oven's busy or cold.

Get a couple of angled bamboo spatulas in your local Chinatown and use them for stirring everything; the pointy end gets into the corners of pots nicely.

Nickel-plated cast iron, not cheap, but also not a pain in the ass that you have to season and keep dry. All the utility of cast iron but you can scrub it, soak it, it's great.

Get an extra plastic chopping board, take a Sharpie and write "POULTRY" on both sides to remind you not to use it for anything else.

Polder digital probe thermometer, they seem to break a lot but they're cheap and awfully handy, and Polder is nice about mailing you a new probe.

The Ove Glove, I know they sell it on TV but it really is great for grabbing seriously hot stuff like cast iron from the oven.

If you get a KitchenAid mixer (and you should), the SideSwipe paddle is pretty nice — it continuously scrapes the sides of the bowl so you don't have to stop the mixer and do it.
posted by nicwolff at 4:16 PM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Baccarat stainless cookware is great. Nthing microplane, and even though microplane the brand is expensive they are leagues ahead of other "mini graters"

Get a cheap coffee grinder for spices - I like breville.

A stick blender is a thing of beauty, I like Braun - Bamix brand is a rip off.
posted by smoke at 4:38 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a Calphalon 14" frying pan that's one of their lower end anodized nonstick and it's the best thing I've ever cooked with. Everything browns to perfection in this pan, every time. I will never saute in anything else, and it can also go in the oven up to medium-high temps (this is very useful for applications which require browning/saute first then baking second).

I have a T-Fal plain stainless for when I want that instead of nonstick, and it's one of those tri-ply cores only on the bottom. It overheats easily if you don't watch it, but the responsiveness is good for some things and it gets up to temp more quickly on an electric range. Has a glass cover, good for stew-like dishes.

I have a plain, cheap Cuisinart nonstick skillet (supposedly a proprietary nonstick coating of titanium, but I'm skeptical) that is almost exclusively for eggs and crepes and other things that stick to even the "nonstick" Calphalon. My soup pot is also some sort of anodized aluminum thing by Cuisinart.

Zyliss makes a great salad spinner and other little "gadgety" kitchen items. I think these are fine to have for the things you use alot. We eat alot of salad so we have a salad spinner. YMMV.

Pyrex ftw for anything made of glass - bowls, storage containers, measuring, whatever.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:43 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

in support of cast iron skillets... just found a set of Griswolds on a fleamarket... they're awesome. Make sure though you're cooking with gas rather than an electric stove.

I'd also make sure you have a very good convection oven. It's worth it.

Nice solid heavy cutting boards and good knives. I prefer Japanese hocho. They cut like nothing else in the world. But they do require care and can only be sharpened with water stones.

Other things in my kitchen that I love

* herb knife/chopper: it's a curved blade with an upright handle at each end like this one. Stay away from double bladed ones... stuff just gets stuck between them. These knives are awesome and make finely/evenly chopped herbs very easy.

* a solid cast iron meat grinder like this one. I'd stay away from plastic grinder attachments to food processors etc.

* a set of various wooden spoons and spatulas for stirring stuff. Mine are olive wood which also looks great. The main advantage is that you won't scratch metal surfaces.

* a multilevel pasta/steamer pot with pasta insert and steamer insert and/or some steamer baskets

* numerous glass and steel bowls of varying sizes... can't ever have to many bowls for moving stuff around, pouring things, storing stuff while cooking

* a George Foreman Grill... no easier way to quickly and cleanly extract some bacon fat which I use in a number of recipes

* a supply of cheesecloth and string

* good scissors

* large/medium/small set of strainers (good ones... hate it when the welding points of the handle go after a year) plus one or two colanders.

* a wok... believe it or not the cheap $5 chinatown ones work just fine. No need to spend tons of cash on these. Buy one and treat it like you would cast iron pans and I'll turn dark and cook like magic

* keep honey/jam jars around with lids. You'll love them for storing excess salad dressings and sauces. In fact you'll love them for making salad dressings. Put all ingredients in the glass, seal tight and shake until well mixed.

* magnetic spice rack... frees up a lot of cabinet real estate. I love mine!

I could go on but I'll leave it at this...

Enjoy your new kitchen!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:55 PM on April 20, 2010

Calphalon Everyday Pan.

I love my All-Clad but holy cow is it expensive. Look at Cuisinart.

One thing that I use so much more than I ever expected to is this incredibly cheap egg/mushroom slicer. Believe me, it's not just for eggs and mushrooms!
posted by trip and a half at 5:11 PM on April 20, 2010

I would agree with nearly everything above especially All-Clad, Wustoff knives and the microplane grater. You should also get a bash-and-chop.

I don't know where you live, but every June and December(ish) All-clad has a factory seconds sale just south of Pittsburgh, PA. If you are local enough, its worth it to pick up pieces there for up to 70% off for minor dings and scratches. Still buy some All-Clad at retail to support the company and keep as much of them as possible in the US.
posted by buttercup at 5:18 PM on April 20, 2010

Cuisinart stainless pans with aluminum core. I love my fry pan. You can get them at TJ Maxx or the like.
I also have a small cast iron mortar and pestle that's just awesome. I don't know the brand but I got it at Savory (a spice shop, like Penzey's but better).
My wife found an old hutch on Craigslist, repainted it, and filled it with jars of all sizes. Everything is labeled and full of awesome spices, nuts, etc. It seems minor, but it makes the kitchen a really nice place to be, which makes me want to cook more.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:20 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're vegetarian, this might be knife geekery, but you should really try to find a good Japanese vegetable knife. They are amazing at cutting, slicing, dicing, doing just about whatever to a vegetable. One of the best things I have in my kitchen. One issue, they usually aren't stainless, so you have to keep them as dry as possible, or they will begin to rust. The rust can be washed off, but it's best to dry the knife directly after washing it, which you should do directly after using it. Still, good knife (careful, helaciously sharp).
posted by Ghidorah at 5:44 PM on April 20, 2010

Greats foundation stuff and ideas at The Minimalist: A No Frills Kitchen Still Cooks (Mark Bittman).
posted by Rudy Gerner at 5:47 PM on April 20, 2010

Spice grinder recommendation, I have been using a Krups 3 oz coffee grinder ~ $20 to grind Indian spices and it is awesome. It's very basic so I am not sure if that is what you are looking for or you need something more advanced with various settings. All you need to clean it is a pastry brush and just dust the spices out. Sometimes I will wipe the inside with a damp cloth and keep it open to air dry.
posted by VickyR at 6:02 PM on April 20, 2010

All Clad stuff is great, but it's not worth it to buy the Teflon coated ones, because the coating will wear off after a few years.
posted by kenliu at 6:10 PM on April 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Kitchenaid stand mixer, it's not just for baking.
Staub or Staub Basic works just as well as La Crueset in the enameled cast iron category, at a fraction of the cost.
Kitchenaid food processor, 11 cup. 7 cup is too small, 12 is too big, and the 11 has the same footprint as the 9 cup, so it's like you get 2 extra cups capacity for free.
Whirlypop - quality popcorn does not come from your microwave. (Then, order some kernals from the shipping is totally worth it)

On the Kitchenaid and Staub, check QVC - they generally have some of the best prices going, and frequently the brands give them access to special deals/combination not found in regular retail-land.
posted by spinturtle at 6:38 PM on April 20, 2010

Re: enameled cast iron; Lodge makes it, too! You're not limited only to Le Crueset. I got a gorgeous 7 qt. red enameled cast iron Dutch oven at the Lodge store in TN for about $109. I also have a couple of Lodge skillets and a stove-top griddle and I love each and every one of them.
posted by cooker girl at 7:13 PM on April 20, 2010

I know you said you could find a good cutting board, but one of the most useful things in my kitchen is my tempered glass cutting board. It's completely sterilizable, it's also a trivet so I can set pots on it right off the burner, and you can get them big enough to leave out and protect whatever is your most used bit of counter. When you're renting, especially, they are awesome. I kept one under an ice tea maker to keep the stains off the counter, for example. Love mine, wouldn't have a kitchen without one. And kitchen shears. I was shocked by how much I use them.
posted by lemniskate at 7:18 PM on April 20, 2010

I have a Breeville stick blender that impresses the crap out of me every time I use it (might be a bit too pricey). Oster makes a great blender - just avoid the fancy settings and opt for one with an on/off toggle. Otherwise, I would say get to a restaurant supply store - their stuff isn't as pretty as you say you'd like, but the price is right. Do you bake? If so, you'll want half-sheet pans and silpads. You'll need several prep bowls, both in glass and stainless, and probably even some mise-en-place bowls. Restaurant supply is also the place to buy tongs and strainers. Do you stir-fry? Again, skip the brand names and head to your local Asian grocery. While you're there, you can also pick up a sushi mat and some chopsticks.
posted by Gilbert at 8:32 PM on April 20, 2010

Ooh, and Bittman just reminded me of this: a Benriner slicer is a miracle! You'll probably need to get it online (it's wicked dangerous), but you won't regret having it around.
posted by Gilbert at 8:34 PM on April 20, 2010

A very powerful blender. One that can crush ice by looking at it. And a similarly powerful immersion blender.

At least two drying racks. You can't believe the general utility of allowing air to circulate underneath your food as it cools. Not just for baking.

You absolutely must have a dutch oven or a heavy roasting pan with a tight-fitting lid large enough to to slow cook large roasts and fowl. Such a pan can unlock a world of great dishes made from cheap cuts of meat that have to cook for hours at 200 degrees to come out mouth-watering and fork-tender.

Same for a good stock pot. Again, you can use it to unlock a world of frugal deliciousness by cooking bones from last night's dinner into good stock.

Also indespensible in our kitchen is a heavy flat griddle that will extend over two stove burners.

Can't have too many small metal bowls with lids for assembling your mise en place.
A salt cellar, pepper grinder and a mug full of small tasting spoons (provided you do not wish to double dip as you cook)

And forgive me the knife geekery, but we use exactly three Global knives in our kitchen. A Global cook's knife, paring knife, and a vegetable knife. An investment, but the things are the center of our kitchen and a source of much joy and health.
posted by cross_impact at 8:50 PM on April 20, 2010

one of the most useful things in my kitchen is my tempered glass cutting board

Word to the wise: if you care about your knives at all, do NOT cut on a glass cutting board.
posted by AceRock at 9:41 PM on April 20, 2010


Forget everything anyone has said about cookware. Get Scanpan. Their guarantees are ironclad, the pans can cook like cast iron yet are light and nonstick and nonscratch and I want to go cook something just thinking about them. They are a bigger initial investment but they are worth it, I promise.
posted by opossumnus at 11:53 PM on April 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've got a set of these mixing bowls (in black, not white) and I love them. They're heavy and have a non-stick rubbery coating. They look cool when used as a serving or salad bowl, and they stay in place when I'm mixing things in them. I've used mine frequently for years and they still look good.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:53 AM on April 21, 2010

Like Joe in Australia, I have a mixing bowl with a grippy bottom (not Oxo, but Oxo's probably a better choice). The other two useful things to look for in mixing bowls (unfortunately, I've never found them together):

1) a handle - not just a ring, but a proper handle - very useful for pouring heavy batters, etc. (I have a cheap melamine one, so no brand recommendations)

2) matching lids - I have a plain stainless bowl with matching lid I got at a discounter, but they sell whole sets of different sizes at proper kitchen stores. Having a proper lid means no futzing with cling film when you need to leave something in the fridge overnight - really useful. I picked mine out by looking for lids that weren't cheap or flimsy, like they would warp past using the first time you washed them.

I don't think brand matters so much as features with these - I prefer stainless mixing bowls, which (as someone pointed out above) you can get cheap at commercial kitchen supply stores since stainless is stainless. I know others who prefer glass or ceramic or even melamine/plastic mixing bowls - I've used all kinds and come back to stainless for the weight and smoothness. As far as I know, it doesn't make a difference in cooking, so it's all down to preference.
posted by clerestory at 2:51 AM on April 21, 2010

If you have the counter space, a Boos block cutting board--as big as you can afford space and funds- wise. It is awesome to have a significant swath of your counter simply acting as your everyday cutting board. (Obviously, have dishwasher-safe separate boards for raw meat and fish.)

OXO tongs, salad spinner. For knives def. try them out first-- it varies wildly by person, what heft and dimensions are most comfortable and effective. That said, I like Victorinox (best deal) and J.A. Henckels. Kuhn Rikon's colored no-stick paring knives are nice too for chopping onions if you've small hands. Pyrex glass measuring cups and storage containers. Kalorik's blender is nice and sturdy and super easy to clean as blenders go. Cast iron you season properly (check out Black Iron Dude blog). Cuisinart food processor and a mini one too for chopping herbs citrus garlic and ginger fast or for dips. Their stockpots are oddly enough my favorite too-- super lightweight but sturdy with proper handles bolted all the way through, etc., and relatively affordable for their quality.
posted by ifjuly at 8:46 AM on April 21, 2010

A granite pestle and mortar -- not wood, not ceramic. Thai food stores sell them relatively cheaply. I use mine nearly every time I cook. Bashing up garlic cloves with a pinch of salt reduces them to a smooth paste -- no need for a garlic press. Using it on black peppercorns allows me to control how finely the pepper is ground -- no need for a pepper grinder. I grind whole spices like coriander and cumin freshly for each recipe -- no stale powders sitting around in the spice cupboard.

An Oxo splatter screen. I don't know how I lived without one -- it prevents a mist of grease from frying food from drifting all over the kitchen and congealing into that layer of gunge caked with dust and cat hair that seemed to coat every surface in every kitchen I occupied during my 20s.

Salter electronic kitchen scales and timers have improved my cooking enormously.

Minosharp sharpening stones and wheels.

And I love, love, LOVE my heat-resistant, dishwasher-safe but still luxuriously fragile Jena Trendglas teapot with removable glass strainer. Making tea in anything else is doing it wrong.
posted by stuck on an island at 8:58 AM on April 21, 2010

Unicorn Magnum is a very well regarded pepper mill, but it's large/tall which might not work for you. If money is no object and you want endless table appeal, the Perfex pepper mill is freakishly beautiful.

I'm glad someone gave some love to Braun's immersion blender. I know Kitchenaid and Cuisinart both make better ones (they tie a lot of times in reviews) but I have a sentimental attachment to mine and it works alright. Aside from their stand mixers, Kitchenaid makes some mighty nice handheld mixers that come in great colors too.

I have Mario Batali's salt cellar and I really dig it, as I only cook with coarser salts anyway. It swings out on a magnetized swivel, so you can access it one-handed--very important for me, especially when seasoning raw meat! Normally I wouldn't go in for celebrichef shill; it just happened to be the only thing I could find online similar to what I had in mind. Tableside salt pigs are available on etsy and Amazon and are very charming and useful if you only use coarser salts too.

If you need pantry canisters, aside from the industrial kind you find at wholesale restaurant supply shops (cheap and work just fine, stackable and easy to drag measuring cups across) OXO's pop-button white ones are great if pricey.

For measuring spoons I highly recommend any that will fit in small spice jars, so you don't end up dumping out of the jar into the spoon and losing a bunch on the table in a mess. I have Cuisipro's as recommended by CI and I love them. For measuring cups, depending on things you might want to go with the collapsible kind or with nesting metal ones--do not cheap out and get plastic ones or any where the markings are painted on; you need the measurements to be molded into the cup itself lest markings rub off (like my first cheapo ones in college!). Amco makes nice stainless steel ones with flat surfaces all the way through the handle so leveling is simple.

Get a couple professional/wholesale supplier half-sheet baking pans--you know, not lipped cookie pans but boxier, wider, thicker pans with no lip. Really useful for roasting certain things, and then you don't fuss with lifting things off past the lip.

You don't need to shill for a super expensive mandoline; a couple of the cheap-looking plastic V-slicers work okay. I forget offhand though which (sorry!)--maybe OXO? The thing with a mandoline though is, I cut my fingers just thinking about them so maybe also grab those knife-resistant gloves to wear when using one.

I don't know if it's still the case, but Crate and Barrel/CB2 had some excellent deals on good looking, versatile, durable serveware last year. They have footed soup bowls, tureens, souffle dishes, casseroles, and most of all these soup bowls with little handles on both sides and matching saucers that RULE. They clean really easily, bizarrely so (more than any standard porcelain etc. casseroles/serveware I've used before), don't stain, and look great. And the soup bowls in particular I remember being something like 3 bucks each, saucer included. I outfitted my whole china cabinet with that stuff and it's great to finally have modern updated uniform stuff that's classy and lovely but also clean and white, letting the food take center stage. And all the stuff that goes from oven to table (the souffle dishes, creme brulee ramekins, casserole, etc.) has worked out well. I really recommend it.
posted by ifjuly at 9:15 AM on April 21, 2010

And for citrus juicers, I recommend the classic style you find in ethnic groceries (though admittedly mine is Martha Stewart's, in that gorgeous shade of blue she so favors) that looks like two big spoons nested together, and/or a glass one (sometimes old technology is the best technology). In my experience, you get the most juice manually from the glass ones (and they're more versatile size-wise; you can juice bigger citrus than in the other kind which is limited by the size of its head), but I like the other kind too for sheer quick ease of use and washing. Don't use plastic.
posted by ifjuly at 9:24 AM on April 21, 2010

Oh, and for non-stick the greatest tools in my kitchen are my pre-seasoned Lodge cast iron pans. I have an 8" that rivals any non-stick. Don't let "purists" tell you that you need your grandma's old pan for proper seasoning. Lodge does an awesome job at pre-seasoning, there's nothing in there but some cooking oil and lots of pressure. Keep them seasoned well (it's easy) and you're making crepes, omelets, you name it with little to no clean-up.

Also, I know you asked for brands and not device-types, but my wife bought me a heavy popover pan recently and it's just wonderful.
posted by monkeymadness at 9:49 AM on April 21, 2010

If you go through a lot of garlic, this ridiculously simple garlic peeler will make your world a much happier (and less sticky) place.
posted by soleilMia at 10:18 AM on April 21, 2010

regardless of what opossumnus says - forget Scanpan!
We had one, and if you ever try to get the Maillard reaction in one, well, let's just say "Good luck getting it clean and non-stick again".
Scanpan=expensive (ridiculously so), and NOT eternally non-stick
Cast Iron= inexpensive and truly indestructible, and non-stick when treated properly
posted by dbmcd at 2:00 PM on April 21, 2010

For pots and pans, I love copper-bottomed Revereware. They're an American classic for a reason: they last forever, they heat well, and they're a fraction of the price of All-Clad. Older Revere is better, though -- the quality on the newer pans isn't quite what it was twenty years ago. Fortunately, you can get great vintage pans on Ebay for a song.

It's also a good idea to have a small cast-iron pan or two for making perfectly-round eggs, cornbread, crumbles, etc. I have a big one, too, but I usually reach for my Revereware... whereas I find the tiny cast-iron pan infinitely useful.
posted by vorfeed at 2:31 PM on April 21, 2010

I'm a fan of simple, well-made, and not top-of-the-line (i.e., pay for the marketing & snob appeal)... so I'm seconding calls for cast iron (learn to use it, it's an important life skill for cooks), cheap uncoated steel woks, and multiple wood cutting boards*.

* Wood cutting boards, cleaned with soap & water, have been shown to prevent the reproduction of 99.9% of the pathological bacteria introduced to its surface. Plastic harbored the little deadlies, like a microscopic Plato's Retreat. GLASS DULLS KNIVES, why on earth is it used for cutting boards???? Sorry, had to get that off my chest. Don't know about bamboo's pathogen-behavior, but suspect it's most like wood.

Buy a honing steel. Use it. Frequently. A decent one will run you $10. After that, you're buying status, not function; no one on earth can tell if you honed your knives on a $100 Wusthof, a $10 knockoff, or the bottom of a porcelain teacup (grandma's solution).

However, there's one name-brand product I must recommend: the best $35 I ever spent (now $60) is the "Back to Basics" 3in1 blender/smoothie maker/food processor. Beat mine to death (bad owner!), and went right out & bought another (which has lasted me years, in near-new condition).

Personally, I have no desire for teflon/all-clad/whatever. But I have strong enough wrists to manage a loaded 12" skillet one-handed. Otherwise, I'd have bare steel or aluminum for that. Don't worry a second about the aluminum-causes-Alzheimer's scare; that's long been disproven. Plastic or non-silicone soft handles mean the pan can't go in the oven; some recipes or situations (keeping things hot) call for that.

After reading some online disses about the ubiquitous KitchenAid mixers, I found myself a Bosch stand mixer. Sadly, it's 10x harder to find parts for; the complaints about KitchenAid's shoddy manufacturing seem to have been answered by redesign (sturdier gearing); and in fact, a girlfriend's KA seemed to mix with much less mess & splatter than my Bosch. So, I'd give my vote to KA, now.

Consider silicone cooking forms (cupcake holders, cake pans, bread trays). They're inert, so there's little leaching danger as with ordinary plastics, reasonably priced, and eeeezzzzyyyy to clean.

If you have a steel hood for your oven, pick up a couple magnetic hooks. They're just powerful enough to hold a teatowel or mitts (again, think silicone; hot soup & grease will burn you through traditional cloth), but only just, unfortunately. Still, worth it to have a pot holder at the ready when a pot is boiling over or the broiler is smoking unexpectedly.

Glass storage jars with glass lids will store goods, keeping their contents visible but safe, and frankly look pretty good on countertops. $5-8 at most stores; don't pay more than that! (Steel mason jar lids are more secure against flour moths, but rust if used to store acid foods, and not as pretty.)

Don't skimp $$ on can openers, vegetable peelers, microplanes, graters (buy the box-with-holder-at-bottom kind) or tongs. Cheap ones will fail you, and that moment alone is worth the extra $3. I like Oxo, but there's a dozen equally good brands out there.

You must not only have, but use, a good thermometer. Ignore the prideful voice that says "I know when a steak/chicken/roast/turkey is done!" You only guess. The thermometer knows. Almost all pro chefs agree. You don't have to spend $40 (unless you want remote sensing, which is cool), but you want to spend over $10, probably.

Don't forget you'll need a cork screw, ice cube trays/maker, and sturdy cleaning tools (even if you have a dishwasher).
posted by IAmBroom at 2:48 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, I'll also be getting . . . a proper wok.

You might want to reconsider. America's Test Kitchen (golden gods, BTW) did extensive wok testing, and unfortunately most home cooktops just don't have the BTUs to keep woks as hot as you need for stir-frying. (Once you dump the food in, they lose most of their heat, and it stays gone.) ATK recommends a good 12" skillet instead.

Also, check out Smitten Kitchen for her recommendations for an efficient yet adequately equipped kitchen. She includes links for her favorite products. Have fun!!
posted by killy willy at 5:28 PM on April 21, 2010

I am smitten by the Smitten Kitchen, but then who isn't?
posted by caddis at 5:46 PM on April 21, 2010

We have Costco's brand of clad stainless steel cookware. It's easy to clean, comes with a nice steamer basket that in our kitchen also doubles as a colander, and is sturdy. It's a little heavy, but that isn't a dealbreaker for us and I like having pots I know I won't dent by being clumsy.

Microplane grater is very, very good. I use mine on cheese, mostly, but most recently I made very fine, very delicious carrot shavings for use in carrot cake.

Kitchen Aid stand mixer with pasta extruder attachments. Your life will never be the same after fresh, homemade pasta.

I recommend Pyrex glass casseroles if you plan to be making lasagna, square or rectangle cakes, or anything like that. These are exceptionally useful if you get the ones they have with the sturdy, flexible lids that go on top. It makes putting leftovers in the fridge very easy.

My Lodge cast iron I got is actually their 2 in 1, with the lid for the pot being a skillet. I use it all the time, and it's morphing well into the slick cooking surface cast iron is known for. If you're not using it to cook meat, though, you're going to have to be diligent about keeping it oiled for a little while.

I got a cheapie digital kitchen scale at Target. Cost me less than $20, measures in metric and imperial, and has the tare function which is possibly the most useful thing you could want since it allows you to (say) put a bowl on the scale to measure 1kg flour.
posted by Night_owl at 12:35 PM on April 22, 2010

Apologies if this has been posted before--no time to read all the responses:

The Cook's Illustrated List of Essential Cookware

Someone thoughtfully compiled the CI top reccs into an Amazon list for your enjoyment. (I'd still recommend the CI subscription, though!)

Aside from that, get either the Victorinox 8" Chef's knife or a Dexter-Russell SaniSafe... dirt cheap, ultra durable, and wickedly sharp. A 5.5qt Le Creuset dutch oven is the most useful thing I own... expensive, yes, but it has long paid for itself. See if there's a Le Creuset outlet near you and get a "second," or a piece with minor cosmetic flaws (which are often nearly invisible). For the month of April, they're running specials for 20-30% off, which should include the 5.5qt pot! I'd call ahead and ask.
posted by AAAAAThatsFiveAs at 12:20 PM on April 23, 2010

Another thing (though I'm sure I'll be commenting here an embarassing number of times)...

There's a weirdly good special on Amazon for an All-Clad 12" stainless fry pan WITH LID for $89.95.

Nthing Lodge cast iron skillets. Both 12" and 8" are useful to have... they're certainly affordable. Steak au poivre for all!
posted by AAAAAThatsFiveAs at 12:33 PM on April 23, 2010

Been said already, but I cannot emphasize the following, enough:

Le Creuset dutch oven (pricey, but worth the $$ spent)
Calphalon saute pan in two different sizes
Calphalon soup pot
A large lobster cooker (the quality isn't as important, but get one. It's a big disappointment when you want to boil lobster on a whim and realize you don't have a cooker big enough for two bugs!)
A teflon grill pan (if you don't have a grill. Or a Foreman countertop griller works just as well)
Pyrex measuring cup (the medium size one should work fine)
A good meat thermometer
Knives, knives, knives (Good ones - don't scrimp. Also, get a good sharpener)
Some decent teflon cake and brownie pans (8x8 and 9x13)
Some decent teflon baking sheets
Although I have two Cuisinart mini-choppers, I rarely use them, but have heard that they can be invaluable.

Finally, DO NOT pass up a subscription to Cook's Illustrated (seconding many here who have also recommended!). Their product reviews are top-notch and the recipes are easy and will last forever. I love reading the latest issues. I say subscription because individual issues are expensive to buy.
posted by mnb64 at 6:24 PM on April 24, 2010

Pressure cooker; I got CI's recommended Fagor Duo, and use it all the time. While technically a gadget in some respects, it falls into the exception for gadgets that can do a multiplicity of things without taking up additional space. 70% of the time it's just my keep-on-the-stove, go-to large pot for, e.g., boiling pasta. But the other 30% of the time, I can pull out the lid and cook tons of long-cooking things (artichokes, potatoes, unsoaked beans, tomato sauces, stock) in a fraction of the time. It's even big enough to do real canning, should you ever find yourself with a surfeit of ripe produce. It's got a nice bottom of aluminum sandwiched between layers of steel, and at this point, I can't imagine ever wanting a large stockpot that was "just" a stockpot.
posted by mabelstreet at 10:16 PM on April 26, 2010

My 2nd favorite (1st is obviously a knife) instrument: Adjustable Wire Cheese Slicer. (random style from amazon ) I inherited mine from my grandmother, so I can't recommend this one exactly.

I love thinly sliced cheese on crackers, thicker in sandwiches, and thickest in quesodillas. You'll never grate again!
posted by krieghund at 8:10 AM on April 27, 2010

To all those saying "Le Creuset if you can afford it" - what makes this better than other brands? Or, for that matter, ceramic-clad ovenware better than pyrex or other options?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:40 AM on April 29, 2010

Le Creuset is great stuff but it has its limits. It heats up slowly and retains heat, which is great for making a sauce, but not so great for sauté. It cleans very easily, but don't use metal scrubbers. This brand has particularly good enamel and will last you a lifetime. I have a regular cast iron dutch oven which is great and I have used many times an enamel one. Highly acidic foods seem to come out better in the enamel one. The Le Creuset variety is of particularly good quality. I have a Le Creuset fry pan. It gets almost no use. I have a Le Creuset sauce pan which gets used nearly daily. It has a pour spout though so is not OK for making rice.
posted by caddis at 4:55 AM on April 29, 2010

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