Kitchen Basics: The Gear
This is the first in a series of articles that attempts to elevate your skills in the kitchen so you can entertain that special someone without resorting to a takeout menu or serving grilled cheese made with your clothes iron (what? You don’t own an iron??..ugh). We will begin with items necessary to outfit your kitchen and then move on to simple meals that are designed to impress.
So what do you need? Let’s start with what you DON’T need. Basically, anything that performs one and only one function. So, no lemon zesters, cherry pitters, apple corers, garlic peelers, strawberry hullers, or egg separators. Most of these tasks, if needed, can be done with something from the list below.
What you DO need are the basic utensils to peel, cut, chop, measure, stir, grate, mix and, of course, cook your food. As always, the Dude Society recommends buying the best quality you can afford. You get what you pay for. That said, where possible, I have given some options.
You can get away with these three to start off with and add as necessary. These should all be stainless steel (see links below). Stay away from non-stick, copper, or any other unusual material.
Fry pan, 10” or 12” is sufficient. Fry pans are shallow pans with sloped sides. “I am healthy, I don’t eat fried foods” you say. Well it’s used for lots of other things, so pick one up.
3-Quart Saucepan. A saucepan is your standard pot, it’s tall and has a long handle and should come with a lid. You will cook rice, boil pasta, heat up soups and sauces, etc. in this pot.
6 or 8-Quart Stock Pot – Like a sauce pan, but bigger and has two small handles, not one long one. You will make soup, stews, braise meats, etc. in this pot.
That’s it. If you want to add a few more, a non-stick fry pan is good for eggs, pancakes, and fish, but not essential. A sauté pan (like a fry pan but with straight sides and a bit larger) is good for sautéing a bit more volume. A grill pan is nice if you want to do some chicken or steak (make sure you have adequate ventilation in your apartment)
You save quite a bit if you buy in a set and sometimes you get an extra piece or two.
Good- This is a basic set of cookware to get you started
Better – These are better quality, thicker pans that conduct heat better
Best – These are the best you can get and have a lifetime warranty.
If you invest a bit of money here, these will also last a lifetime. You need a Chef’s (sometimes called Cook’s) Knife. These are the big knives you see most chefs using. Recommend 8”-10” long knife. Paring Knife is about 3” long and is a good utility knife to have for small items. A long serrated (has teeth) knife for bread and carving is also good but not necessary.
Knife Set Recommendations:
Again here is a ”budget” option and a higher quality option..choose your weapon.
You should choose either Butcher Block or Bamboo. Don’t get plastic. Despite people thinking it’s more sanitary, those little slits are a perfect sterile environment to harbor bacteria. Also, get something of substantial size. If you get something that’s 8” wide you won’t have room to chop and cut and dice and will end up with stuff all over the floor. If you get a nice butcher block one of decent size you can leave it on your counter permanently, they look nice.
Here is a small inexpensive one, and then a larger more substantial one.
Half Sheet Pan
This is a rimmed baking sheet about 12”x18”. Want to put something in the oven, cookies, slice of pizza, potatoes? This is what they go on.
Plastic or stainless steel is fine. Ceramic are nice, but heavy. Don’t buy a set of more than 3 or 4, you won’t need that many at once.
Some mesh strainers either with a handle or not. You will use this to drain pasta, wash vegetables, strain sauces.
I like the OXO brand for many kitchen utensils, they are designed well, have comfortable grips, and last a long time.
Not an electric one, they don’t work, just your standard old fashioned can opener.
Wine Key or Bottle Opener
No fancy device required here. A wine key is what you see almost every waiter carry. It can take out a cork or pop the cap on a Corona.
Even if you don’t eat a lot of cheese it can be used for other things. I suggest a box grater, they have four or more sides with different size holes on each. Again, OXO is a good choice.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
Get a sturdy pair, they will last forever. I prefer stainless steel over plastic here. Plastic just tends to stain and get cruddy.
A few wooden spoons (which you will never put in the dishwasher…right?), some rubber spatulas (the kind you scrape bowls with), a ladle (get a good size one), a whisk (again, metal not plastic), tongs, and a spatula or as my grandmother used to call it a pancake turner to flip ,well pancakes of course. But also, burgers, fish, eggs, etc.
Instant Read Thermometer
These are digital and will give you a read out as soon as you put it in something. Best used for checking if meat is done. We don’t want anyone getting sick now do we? We also don’t want the chicken to come out like sawdust.
I am going to go out on a limb and recommend two appliances. 1) A hand mixer. You will at some point want to whip up a cake, or some other dessert and this is essential. 2) A Mini-Prep or other small food processor as long as it’s not the Slap Chop or other “As Seen on TV” device. This is good for salsas, pestos, and other kitchen grinding/chopping chores
This might go without saying, but you are going to cook stuff and you will do some if it ahead of time and hey, you might even have leftovers, therefore you need some things to store food in. Get a few plastic containers, nothing bigger than a quart. Also, your kitchen should be stocked with Saran wrap (yes that brand and only that brand) aluminum foil, and Ziploc style bags (quart and gallon size please)
So that’s it. You’re ready to cook. Next article will go over some pantry staples to keep on hand at all times.