20 Equipment and Utensil Essentials for Starter Kitchens

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We all have to start somewhere when it comes to home cooking. Kitchens take years to build (unless you’re cash money), and for all good reasons they should – you need time to learn how to use the equipment that you want to purchase. Don’t buy the expensive stainless-steel pots and pans until you learn not to boil over your food and burn the bottoms!

Dollar and spoon, a portrait

Dollar and spoon, a portrait

Each new cook needs a starter set of items to get them going in the kitchen.

In college, I had one 5 quart pot, a few microwaveable bowls, and basic eating utensils. I lived in the dorms and had a food plan that, for the most part, kept me fed. Cafeteria hours were terrible and the food was only about 50% better than what I could have purchased in high school, which isn’t really saying much.

That’s why I worked at a pizza restaurant for a few years.

It was at Maurizio’s Pizza that I learned to love pickles, green AND black olives, crumbly American sausage and the art of…. sauce. All of this likely leading to my infatuation with pizza in general.

Fast forward to apartment living and now I’m tasked with a working kitchen. It’s begging me to take advantage of it. But I had to purchase a few items to get me going with most beginning home cook recipes.

Equipment list:

  1. Set of pots and pans – mine were (and still are) Paula Deen cookware, a dark reddish-purple color. Look for 3 pots (small, medium and large), one or two small to medium-sized skillets, a large 5 quart stock pot and a large skillet with raised edges.
  2. Strainer
  3. Hot pads
  4. Mixing bowls – small, medium and large
  5. Sheet pan
  6. 9×13 glass pan
  7. Broiling pan – we used this a lot when John and I first started cooking together. Others may omit this but it’s what we cooked meat on to keep our one small sheet pan nice.
  8. 2 cutting boards, one for meat and one for vegetables – yes, you do need one for each.
  9. Meat thermometer – EVERY home cook needs either a standard or electronic one.
  10. Measuring cups and spoons

Utensils list:

  1. Variety set of wooden spoons – solid, slotted, and forked spoons will work for most any cooking technique
  2. Spatula
  3. Tongs – if you have non-scratch cookware, get a metal pair and a coated pair
  4. Knives set – steak knives, a paring knife and a large chef’s knife
  5. Vegetable peeler
  6. Can opener
  7. Beer and wine bottle opener
  8. Whisk – metal pair and a coated pair
  9. Pizza cutter
  10. Large soup spoon or ladle
Now that list of items got me through a good year before I started purchasing or receiving gifts (thank you family) of cooking equipment and utensils. These things were added a bit later:
  1. Electric hand mixer – mine is avocado-colored, a Sunbelt from the 70’s and I love it. Thanks, Mom.
  2. 9×9 glass pan – better for brownies and items that you want thicker.
  3. Cast-iron skillet – gives the best sear and flavor to food.
  4. 5 quart dutch oven
  5. Slow cooker
  6. Coffee pot – if you have a Starbucks habit, save the bucks with a regular coffee maker. Save money and get more variety with what you pick up at the grocery store.
  7. Muffin pan
  8. Loaf pan – breads AND meatloaves, people.
  9. Food processor – skip the blender if you can only get one item.
  10. Immersion blender – perfect for pureeing soups and fruits for jam
And to this day, there are still coveted cookware items on my wish list:
  1. An electronic scale – too often do I need to know the weight of an item, especially for canning recipes.
  2. Griddle – skip the panini press and use this with bacon, patty melts, sandwiches, and cuts of meat.
  3. Roasting pan – the sides are taller than a baking dish, better for turkeys.
  4. Mini cocottes – small dishes perfect for mini pot pies and desserts.
  5. Kitchen Aid Mixer with pasta and meat grinder attachments – specifically for that reason, because for me, it’s not about the baking.
I will say that I’ve faired quite well since I started taking a serious look at home cooking. The amount of money spent on equipment and utensils in no way could be compared to how much money we would have spent eating out all the time. I’d like to hear from you about what items are on your essential cooking lists! I bet there are a few differences… ;)


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  • Kalamity Kelli

    Wooden spoons, spatulas, etc…..they are indespensible, aren’t they? The most amazing thing I learned about pots and pans in my life are the ones that are heavier and cost more, really DO work better and cook more evenly. I always thought that was just a bunch of bologna – that is until I bought a caphalon skillet at a yard sale ($120 in store/$2 yard sale) then put it through the dishwasher. My husband made chicken fried steak first and commented on how wonderful it was – Then I used it and I couldn’t believe how wonderful it was! A dutch oven – enameled cast iron, also makes a huge cooking difference. Finally? Sharp knives. I didn’t think it really made that much difference – and yet it does. Once again, at a yard sale I bought a set of knives that was a brand I had read about in a cooking magazine. I paid $10 at the sale – I looked them up and I kid you not – $399 for same set in catalog. Those things will cut through a car if I need them to! That’s my list. I’m now a believe in quality utensils – but I also am big on recycle and repurpose…………….uh, and frugality so buying them at yard sales etc… is always a big plus to me!

    • solidgoldeats

      That is a great idea! I am lucky in that I received a lot of my gear through holiday/birthday gifts and saving up my Chase credit card points! That, and sales at Kohls – my boyfriends mom works there and she gets deep discounts on top of what they offer in store. Yard sales are also a fabulous idea! Thanks for sharing ;)