What are your kitchen essentials?
December 4, 2011 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Let's say you're starting from scratch and outfitting a minimalist kitchen. What do you buy?

By minimalist kitchen I mean: you have neither the space nor the money to buy everything your heart desires. You need the essentials, but since you're not getting everything, you're willing to pay a little bit for quality where you think it counts.

Example: maybe you finally realized you don't need and will never really use the full 17 piece knife set, but one of your essentials is a 6" chef's knife, and you're glad you splurged on a _____ brand knife (Shun? W├╝sthof? J.A. Henckels) because it might last for life. Or maybe you're glad you saved money and went with the Victorinox, which has been just as good?

I'll take any suggestions, from pots and pans (stainless steel or non-stick?) to cutlery to appliances to small utensils. Thank you for your suggestions.
posted by sharkfu to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
Paring knives are my best friend. I use them for everything from cutting to peeling, well, just about everything. I'm talking about those little ones with the colorful handles that are four for a dollar at the dollar store. I suppose you could splurge on better ones, but those always work for me...

And I've only ever used one frying pan - I think it's about nine inches, but it could be eleven (I'm not home to measure). Cast Iron of course. I use it to bake in too.

A cast Iron dutch oven could also be used as a frying pan, a slow cooker, and a baking pan, and get a tiny sauce pan for when you cook something small.

For utensils, I like wooden spoons for nearly everything, they're cheap and don't take up a lot of room, and I have one good spatula (or turner, or whatever they're called).
posted by patheral at 2:17 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

A cast iron frying pan. A large pot for soups and sauces. A wooden spoon. A good serrated knife, which will work for both bread and roasts and don't let anyone tell you it won't. A grater, which doubles as a zester. A bottle opener. A spatula for frying. A roasting pan. A six inch knife for onions and stuff. A peeler.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thai knives (cheap and sharp. You can read about why they're good here)
Cheap and best garlic press I've found
Small rice cooker
Cast iron (can't live without it)
I cook in these Revere ware pans everyday and have for the past 15 years
posted by biscuits at 2:22 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

My SO and I cook a lot, and we have way too much stuff in the kitchen, so I've actually been giving thought to this myself.

The one pan we use all the time is a cheap, but really sturdy Favorit from Ikea. Nonstick. We have a number of cast iron pans of different sizes and vintages, but this comes out every day.

We have a few hard anodized saucepans I got off of Amazon, for next to nothing, and they're always in use. Probably Calphalon.

I have a couple of knives from Fante's, a million year old cooking shop in Philly. They have their own brand, and the knives are the same quality as Henckels or Wustoff. More than the cheapo Victorinox, but they're worth it.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:28 PM on December 4, 2011

Round cast-iron griddle. Electric ones aren't all that reliable, and these days are always made with fragile nonstick coatings. Square/rectangular griddles don't heat as evenly as round ones.

I have a big chef knife and a small paring knife, I've never felt the need to have a medium 'utility' knife.

Immersion blender. The $20 ones are fine, but if you really want to spend money you could get a Bamix. Blend hot soups in the pan, smoothies in a large glass, and make really smooth batter, and they don't take much space and are really easy to clean.

A couple cutting boards: a small one and a large one.

A good colander with lots of small holes, like this.

Thick commercial aluminum half-sheet pans. Often they're actually cheaper than the flimsier ones designed for home use.
posted by Hither at 2:29 PM on December 4, 2011

Agree with the blender. Also a really excellent baking sheet.
posted by devymetal at 2:34 PM on December 4, 2011

Medium sized frying pan, medium sized pot, perhaps a milk pan.
A sharp chef's knife (do buy a decent one because this will last you a life time), a small pearing knife and a lacerated knife. A steel or similar implement to sharpen them with.
A whisk.
A measuring jug
A few storage jars, tupper ware type containers or some such stuff.
An electric mixer with a blending attachment. Do buy one with a blending attachment because you will get a lot more use out of it.
A chopping board.
A pair of kitchen scissors. Mine were dirt cheap and they have lasted for over 12 years know and are one of the most used items in my kitchen.
A kettle.
A serving spoon, a soup ladle.
A wine bottle top thing.
A bottle opener and a cork screw.
An ice cube tray.
A smallish bowl, between a cereal bowl and a small salad bowl. Seems to lend itself to lots of things.
A salad bowl, if you like salad and don't just like to assemble it in small portions or on the plate.
4 plates, 4 bowls, several cups and glasses. No more than 4 each, unless you have more people to feed daily.
Grater, one of the ones with 3/4 sides with different sized holes or slices.
Garlic crusher.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:36 PM on December 4, 2011

If you only get one colander get one with a handle and with small holes. Again mine was dirt cheap and is still going strong. In fact I would recommend getting the medium sized pot with one handle, as opposed to two, too, because it makes life a lot easier to be able to pick up this kind of stuff with one hand each.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:39 PM on December 4, 2011

Big cast iron frying pan. And tongs.
posted by Cocodrillo at 2:41 PM on December 4, 2011

Here's what I have, minus the stuff I don't use much.

Ports/pans: cast iron skillet, cheap non-stick skillet (for eggs), Staub dutch oven, Calphalon roasting rack, sauce pan, commercial baking pan, cheap carbon steel wok, cheap stock pot.

Cutlery: Global chef's knife, cheap paring knife, good bread knife, wooden spoons, ladle, good quality tongs, peeler, plastic flipper, kitchen shears

Appliances: electric kettle, rice cooker, immersion blender with chopper attachment.

Other: colander, stainless steel mixing bowls, metal steamer basket, OXO salad spinner, drying rack, Microplane zester, box grater, measuring cups/spoons
posted by smorange at 2:44 PM on December 4, 2011

You need to be able to fry, boil, bake and saute.
A cast iron frying pan with lid works well for frying, baking and sauteing - cornbread, fried chicken, meats, sauces. You need a medium and a large pot - boiling pasta, making chili, potatoes, soups, sauces, veggies.
For baking - a glass 9 x 13 Pyrex dish for brownies, cakes, lasagna, casseroles. Box grater with multiple graters.
I love my Shun Santoku knife; I also have a paring knife and a 7-inch Henckle chef's knife but if I had to choose, I'd go with either the santoku or chef's, I wouldn't have to have both. A couple of wooden spoons, couple of rubber heat resistant spatulas; good can opener; spatula for flipping eggs/pancakes.
I love my scanpan nonstick skillet for eggs; a strainer, white cotton flour sack dishcloths, set of nesting bowls - easy to store and various sizes are handy for everything; I love my garlic crusher but it's a recent purchase that I lived without forever; parrot corkscrew; plastic chopping boards; vegetable peeler, cookie sheet.
posted by shoesietart at 2:46 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I had to pick one appliance, it would be the food processor. I do love my stand mixer but I used an electric hand mixer for years before I got it.
posted by shoesietart at 2:48 PM on December 4, 2011

A good pair of kitchen shears. I do a lot of cutting/cubing of meat before and/or after I cook it, and the shears make it so much easier. They also work on veggies, to slice pizza, and just about anything else you can think of.
posted by jenny76 at 2:52 PM on December 4, 2011

I have a Henckels paring knife as my only kitchen knife, and it's been enough for me for years (although I wouldn't mind having a heavier one for some things, like dealing with large cuts of meat.) I will say, though, that especially if you are doing the one-knife thing, get a knife sharpener - I have a cheap one like this - and keep it sharp. It makes all the difference. (Presumably a honing steel is a good idea, too - I've never used one, but I know I should.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:52 PM on December 4, 2011

The items I use the most can be counted on a six-fingered hand:

10 1/2 inch All-Clad sautee pan
8 inch Wusthof chef's Knife
Wooden paddle/scraper/flipper
18 x 12 inch wooden cutting board
Set of stainless steel bowls
Salad spinner

Large soup pot
Metal strainer
6 inch Wusthof knife
Henckels serrated bread knife
Cookie sheet
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:02 PM on December 4, 2011

mark bittman's list of kitchen essentials for the nyt is classic because not only does he tell you what you really need, he also tells you which items are worth buying cheaply and which to splurge on.
posted by lia at 3:33 PM on December 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

This is less necessary, but a small saucier pan. Unlike a saucepan, its rounded so food has less of a tendency to get stuck around the bottom edges. I use mine for making oatmeal, pasta sauces, reductions, or quantities of anything that would get lost inside a bigger saucepan. (When I got mine, it was the very cheapest of the All-Clad pans; I think they were using it as loss-leader, or at least a way to get you hooked.) If you do this, get a nice thick clad one, because cheap pots scorch thick sauces in the blink of an eye.

A good sturdy can-opener.

A good ladle comes in handy, both for handling both soups and batter. I like ones that are made from a single seamless piece of metal, so its really easy to clean.
posted by Hither at 3:37 PM on December 4, 2011

I'd argue about having a food processor. Certainly there are some tasks which they are enormously helpful for, like finely chopping large quantities of vegetables. But they're quite annoying to clean, the bowls especially have lots of nooks and crannies that pick up food particles. So on the whole, I don't miss having one too much.
posted by Hither at 3:48 PM on December 4, 2011

Flexible cutting boards. i use these constantly for dinner prep. and since they are so skinny, they take up zero storage space.
posted by nanhey at 3:49 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wooden chopping board. If looked after properly are as hygienic as plastic ones.
Good knife. Which is basically one that holds and edge, can be sharpened and you like to use, size shape and brand varies by the person using it so you might have to try out some to find what you like.
A couple of good pots.
Stirring spoon, wooden spoon some sort of egg flip or spatula, tongs.
Mixing bowls. I like stoneware ones for the feel and weight of them but others like plastic or stainless steel.
Good fry pan.
strainer of some sort.
Good Can opener
cooking thermometer
Roast Pan and Cookie sheet.
Knife sharper you know how to use correctly.
Measuring cups/jug/spoons.

Extras I'd like but you don't "need need"
Stock pot
Rice Cooker
Pasta scoop/spider for pulling cooked noodles out the pan
Gas stove & oven
Separate Electric roaster for turkey. I only use it once a year but I bless it each and every time I do.
Cast Iron Dutch oven
Egg Coddler (I am addicted to coddled eggs what can I say).
Electric mixer, stick or immersion blender & electric kettle.
posted by wwax at 4:03 PM on December 4, 2011

My favorite splurge items are my Le Creuset oval oven (dutch oven but the French don't call it that) and my Mauviel copper pots.

You have to think about how and what you cook and that will guide you in making purchases that work for you. I moved out of state temporarily with only a moment's notice and all my belongings, including cookware, were in storage but I needed to furnish a kitchen in the most minimal way possible and for the least amount of money. I had nice things in storage, i.e. copper pots, cast iron skillet, good knives, so I didn't want to repurchase what I already owned but I needed to be able to cook. The scanpan frying pan, which has a titanium non-stick surface was perfect as it stands up better than cheap non-stick pans, a cheap hotpot (kettle) for boiling water, a stainless steel Sur La Table saute pan, and a Rikon serrated edge paring knife and wooden spoons met most of my needs.

I missed a lot of my things but it really depends on how you cook MOST REGULARLY. A rice cooker, though I have one, is pretty far down the list and ties with my blender in usefulness. I mentioned that I love my garlic press but I just bought it, literally two months ago, after using my sister-in-law's. It works great and I thought they were crap because the one I'd had for years was really awful so I got by with finely mincing my garlic, so while I love the new gizmo I was fine for years without it.

I use a salad spinner but I grew up in a house without one and if I'm too lazy to pull it out now, I'll toss my lettuce in a large kitchen towel and swing. Like nanhey mentions, the flexible cutting boards are cheap, store and clean easily.

What you need really depends on what and how you cook and for how many. Do you really need a wok or a large roasting pan? My large roasting pas hasn't been used since I did Thanksgiving three years ago. My 13 x 9 Pyrex glass pan with foil or my cast iron skillet with lid work 90% of the time. I do love my food processor and I was thrilled when I finally bought it but I lived without one for a really long time (those mini choppers met most of my needs). I've always had a hand mixer and they can be had for next to nothing.

My suggestion is buy slowly and when you keep reaching for or wishing you had something, then you know to buy it.
posted by shoesietart at 4:18 PM on December 4, 2011

My specific essentials:
A Crepe pan for pancakes, omlettes, searing meat, etc.
A Sautee pan with lid for sauces, veggies, pasta, heating things.
A Stock Pot, any old cheapie will do, for boiling pasta water. If you like to make stews get something likethis one and you can pick up a le creuset or staub dutch oven somewhere down the line if you use it a lot.
A wooden turner. Can be used as a spatula, to stir, scrape and even to cut or mash soft things in a pinch.
A giant Cutting board plus at least one more that can be bleached and thrown in the dishwasher after being in contact with raw meat.
One good knife for slicing tomatoes and other tender things, a cheapie big bread knife and a set of cheapie steak knives for cutting everything else. Add more good knives as you refine what you cut the most.
A pyrex measuring cup, to be used in addition to the usual, as a batter/mixing bowl and prep bowl.
A coffee pot.
A metal collander. Try to get one that fits in your stockpot to steam things.
An oven thermometer.
A set of stainless steel mixing bowls. When I added these to my kitchen I became much better organized and much quicker at prepping.
Glass storage bowls for leftovers.
A can opener, wine opener, bottle opener, or any combination thereof.
6 bowls, 4 plates, 2 large glasses, 2 small glasses, 4 mugs and a cheapo set of dishwasher safe silverware.

Additional things that are nice to have, depending on what you typically eat:
A rice cooker, a tea kettle, a saucepan, a cheap roasting pan and rack (extra cheap this time of year!), a digital thermometer, a metal ladle, a spatula, kitchen scissors, a cheap asian market cleaver, a food processor, a coffee grinder for grinding spices, a veggie peeler. An apron with pockets, an oven glove and a pair of rubber gloves for cleanup.
I bake a lot so I also use a mixer, scale, cake pans, a whisk, a sifter, a spatula, two cookie sheets, a loaf pan, muffin tin, measuring spoons, dry measuring cups, a zester and a citrus reamer.
posted by tinamonster at 5:19 PM on December 4, 2011

Oh! Another nice to have: a toaster oven. Any cheapie, as long as it has a timer will do.
posted by tinamonster at 5:37 PM on December 4, 2011

Compact microwave. for reheating & thawing quickly.
posted by yoga at 5:37 PM on December 4, 2011

I live in Japan. My kitchen is the size of two large pizza boxes. I have on powerful gas burner, a microwave, and a very small convection oven.

Cooking is my job and it is also my hobby. Here are the only things you need if you like and are good at cooking.

these are the things you do when you cook: heat things, put things into other things, make things smaller.
the more you know the fewer tools you need.
heating of all kinds except specialized baking: steel wok(30cm is best), bamboo wok steamer, domed lid for wok. one wok burner. a spatula, tongs.
things to put things in: 2 steel bowls each of three sizes, if you bake: 3 half sheet trays, steel pie tin, spring form pan
things for making things smaller: two knives. one small one medium. a two sided ceramic sharpening stone. brand does not matter. you do not buy a "sharp knife" you sharpen a knife. you can learn how to do this on youtube.

a note on kitchen metrics. throw away your measuring cups and spoons. get a digital scale that can tare (does this even need to be mentioned anymore?) AND does not reset to 0 if the weight goes to a negative value. get an instant read thermometer. it doesn't matter if it is glass or the expensive thermopen. use these always for everything.
posted by Infernarl at 5:57 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I found a stick blender is more useful and space-saving than a blender/food processor combo. The stick blender I bought came with a couple of extra attachments, including what I'd probably call a baby food processor. It's far more versatile and space saving than the other two appliances. You may occasionally have to chop food in the processor in batches - but who cares?
posted by chronic sublime at 6:27 PM on December 4, 2011

seconding wok. replaces frying pan in most instances
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:12 PM on December 4, 2011

Go to a restaurant supply store. Get yourself a small and a medium sized aluminum skillets, a plastic cutting board, a sheet pan, a slotted and a regular spoon, a small and medium aluminum mixing bowl, a chef's knife (the kind with the plastic handles), and a paring knife. This might sound like a lot, but you won't ever need to buy these items again. Then, go to Target. There, get yourself dry and wet measuring cups, measuring spoons, a colander, a box grater, and a pyrex baking dish. The majority of these things you will never need to buy again.
You are now set to make 95% of the recipes you will find anywhere.
posted by Gilbert at 8:06 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

By minimalist kitchen I mean: you have neither the space nor the money to buy everything your heart desires. You need the essentials

It depends a great deal on what you cook to get yourself happily fed on a day-to-day basis. My SO never owned measuring cups or spoons, they were utterly irrelevant to how he cooks. Half the stuff that people have listed would be on my "meh, optional at best" list, but that's not a judgement at all -- if it's worth it for what they cook, it's worth it for what they cook.

When I had to set up the minimal basics, I got by with the following for quite awhile while I assessed the value of anything further. (Cookware sizes are to the best of my memory, I may be off by a quart/inch increment.)

Wustoff 8 inch chefs knife
3 qt saucepan w/cover
10 in cast-iron pan (doubles as baking dish, roasting pan, etc.)
8 in nonstick skillet
kettle (gets water up to boiling way faster than your saucepan)
sheet pan/baking sheet
loaf pan (breads)
13 x 9 glass dish (casseroles, roasting)
6 cup pyrex measuring bowl w/pouring spout (main mixing bowl)
set of measuring spoons and cups
6 in mesh strainer (used this as a colander, too.)
wooden spoons
rubber scrapers
veggie peeler
cutting board
dishtowels (double as oven mitts)
set of dishes and cutlery
posted by desuetude at 11:28 PM on December 4, 2011

The only thing I'd add is silicone spatulas! They're the best thing for scraping things out of pans and they're heat resistant.

No wait, there's a ton of stuff I'd add, but that's only if you like to bake at all. I bake a lot. Here are my essentials.

- A set of bowls, small, medium and large. I used to have Pyrex bowls and I loved them. You'll need a range of bowls for even a simple recipe.

- A whisk. I wish I had two. I always get flour on mine then need to use it for something else. Two whisks! All the whisks!

- Good digital scales with a tare function.

- The best set of measuring cups and spoons you can afford. I used to have really nice steel ones before I moved and they gave me the most baffling psychological boost.

- Rolling pin.

- Pastry blender (or cutter). This is negotiable, but I wouldn't want to be without it. It takes up no space at all, is cheap, and allows you to make great pastry without a food processor or trusting your own hot hands and fingers. Plus it's weirdly satisfying to stab the dough.

- 2 x great baking sheets. I recommend spending money here on good heavy sheets that won't warp in the oven - they're a total kitchen workhorse. I used to have two Chicago Metallics sheets in Australia; I have one here, and genuinely miss the second one.

- A tart tin, an 8" square cake tin, an 8" round cake tin, a loaf tin, a standard cupcake/muffin tin, and a springform tin should cover you for most cakes. I actually have 3 8" round tins, but I make a lot of layer cakes. I've NEVER been able to find a real pie plate in Australia or The Netherlands and I am longing for one. The pie plate is my white whale.

- A box of pre-cut baking parchment. You can find this at hospitality suppliers and once you go pre-cut you'll never go back. I use it constantly, and not just for baking.

Looking back I realise this probably defies the purpose of a minimalist kitchen, but baking uses up a lot of stuff.
posted by nerdfish at 11:29 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I had to build my kitchen from scratch today, for cooking everyday things for myself, this is what I would buy:

A heavy 8-inch omelet pan (I get my pans from Marshalls/TJs/Homegoods)
A heavy medium-sized saucepan
A 6-to-8 inch chef's knife (from a restaurant supply store)
A paring knife (cheap and replaceable)
A cutting board
A rectangular cake pan that can do double duty as a roasting pan OR a large stovetop-safe dutch oven (dutch oven if you are more likely to make soup/stew, cake pan if you're more likely to make cake/brownies)
A cookie sheet
A cutting board
A spatula/turner appropriate for the surface of the omelet pan
A silicone spatula (great for making sauces and scrambled eggs)
A couple of wooden or bamboo spoons (though really you could probably get away with just the silicone spatula if it's a bit spoony)
Measuring cups and/or a good digital food scale
Mixing bowls - three is a nice number
Parchment paper - makes living with one cookie sheet much easier, and you can make it into a funnel, or use it to help lay out small quantities of things for your mise
Probably some kind of colander/strainer, smaller holes are better

And then I'd buy additional things (pans or baking dishes, mostly, and additional knives) as I needed them.

I'm not including the forks/knives/spoons/plates/bowls that you use to eat off of but I assume you would have these. Try to get plates/bowls that are safe for the oven and microwave if you have an oven and microwave.
posted by mskyle at 8:22 AM on December 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

No suggestions for books yet? You only need one: Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything."
posted by jbickers at 8:39 AM on December 5, 2011

A lot of ideas emphasizing the minimalist side on this recent thread.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:40 AM on December 5, 2011

Instead of a big metal pot for soups and boiling pasta, get a large dutch oven. The kind that is made of cast-iron and then coated with enamel. This way, it can be used both on the stove top for the aforementioned, as well as the oven for baking... stews, roasts, breads, etc. Will definitely last you several lifetimes.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 5:52 AM on December 6, 2011

Knives - They are only as good as you look after them. Fine japanese blades are wonderful to behold but they also demand a lot of care. And similarly with $$$ German brands, crude sharpening will degrade the life of any knife. I would suggest getting decent el-cheapos and practice caring for them first.
posted by boogiefunk at 10:50 PM on December 11, 2011

« Older I tried jogging, but the ice kept falling out of...   |   Is my modem dying? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.