In a recent post, we reported on how to start a new, healthy cooking habit and get past the common excuses we use for not beginning.
In this post, we’re going to cover the basic gear you’ll need to put your new habit into practice.
Whether you’re setting up a kitchen for the first time, or simply want to do a bit more cooking, having the basic gear is an essential part of success. Not only does it make cooking easier, it also makes it more enjoyable.
You don’t need to buy out Ikea, nor does your selection have to be the most expensive. Get the best quality for your budget, and build from there.
Here are the basics:
1. Cast Iron Skillet
Having two is better, one large and one small. If you can only swing the price of one, go for the larger version.
For the beginner, a cast iron or a thick, carbon steel skillet is a better option than a nonstick version, because it won’t wimp out when mistreated the way nonstick cookware does – although you must take some measure of care and not mistreat them by soaking them in water.
The great thing about these type of pans is their huge versatility – they can be used from everything to frying up a chicken southern style to putting an awesome sear on a steak, to baking a cobbler or a deep dish pizza.
And if you’re on a really tight budget, check out garage and estate sales for cast iron cookware. When well maintained, these beauties last for decades.
In terms of skillets, however, there’s a lot more choices beyond just cast iron. Feel free to explore which type of frying pan you think would be best for you.
2. Roasting Pan
A roasting pan is another important piece that can perform multiple tasks.
Beginner or expert, quick and easy meals are important for every cook, and a roasting pan is the perfect vessel for one-pan meals. It can also be used as a casserole dish with some foil for a lid, and will serve as a baking sheet in a pinch.
Find out more and take a look at Foodal’s Roasting Pan Guide.
A stainless steel version with handles is optimal.
Make sure it’s sturdy enough for handling hot ingredients, like straining pasta, as well as rinsing salad greens, veggies, berries, and so on.
4. Mixing Bowls
A nesting set of three will do to start with. Stainless steel, glass, or food-grade plastic – the materials are up to you.
Besides their standard duties including mixing baking ingredients, tossing a salad, and marinating meats, they can double up as serving bowls.
5. Box Grater
Not as chic as a microplane zester, but much more versatile with three grating sizes, plus a slicing side.
Use the small caliber for zesting citrus, and grating ginger, nutmeg, and chocolate. The medium and large-sized holes can be used for grating root veggies for sauces and soups, and hard cheese. And the slicing side is good for shredding items like cabbage, onions, and soft cheeses.
One small and one large, with about 1- and 3-quart capacities.
The small one is great for creating sauces or cooking up rice, quinoa, or couscous. The larger one will handle pretty much everything else, such as pasta, veggies, and sauces.
Or a steamer rack can be placed inside, for cooking those ingredients that you plan to steam.
Again, if you can only afford one, go for the larger size.
7. Steamer Rack
Either stainless steel or bamboo.
If better nutrition is one of your reasons for learning to cook, a steamer rack is essential, as steaming veggies retains more nutrients than boiling. Just make sure it will fit into your large saucepan with the lid on.
These can often be purchased in sets if you’re looking for value.
Having a knife for every function isn’t absolutely necessary – two will do.
Be sure to handle the chef’s knife before purchase if you can, or pay close attention to the measurements to ensure it’s a good fit for you in terms of weight, balance, and maneuverability.
Get the best quality you can, and add a honing rod to your set if possible.
10. Cutting Board
Wooden or plastic are the kindest on your knives – stay away from those made of marble, granite, or glass.
Marble is better for rolling out buttery pastry dough, since the cool, smooth surface will help to keep it from melting.
Read Foodal’s Guide to Finding a Knife Friendly Cutting Board now or see all of our cutting board guides and reviews.
11. Measuring Cups and Spoons
Using the correct measurements in a recipe is crucial for success in baking, and for the beginner in particular.
And as there’s a difference between dry and liquid measures, having a set for each is recommended.
A cup for liquids should have the measuring line well below the rim, so none of it spills as you move the cup from counter to mixing bowl.
Cups for dry ingredients are meant to be filled right to the lip, then swept with a straightedge for precise measurements.
Eyeballing amounts and making guesstimates are for those with more experience, and should be diligently avoided by the newbie foodie.
Not Absolutely Necessary, But Smart to Have…
A clever way to kit out your kitchen is to model the tools experienced cooks rely on.
Here’s a couple for your wish list – ones that savvy kitchen mavens depend on for eliminating uncertainty, and producing consistently satisfying results.
A Meat Thermometer
This takes away the guesswork when grilling or roasting meat and poultry, and ensures that your proteins are done to perfection. It’s an inexpensive bit of gear that will boost your confidence by leaps and bounds.
Find more information about these handy devices.
A Digital Food Scale
This is a much more accurate method for measuring all ingredients, except for liquids.
Dry ingredients measured by volume (i.e. using measuring cups) can vary wildly in weight – for example, a cup of flour scooped from a canister will weigh considerably more than a cup of sifted flour. And this can make a huge difference in the outcome of a recipe.
As more and more recipes give both volume and weight measurements, investing in a kitchen scale is a wise choice.
A larger version of a saucepan, these vessels are ideal for preparing stock and broths, but are also great for making all sorts of soups and stews.
It’s great to have one in the 8-quart range, and another in the 16-20 quart range for when you’re feeding a crowd, or want to make freezer meals for those busy times.
Comfortable Kitchen Footwear
Though kitchen clogs aren’t at the top of every budding home chef’s wish list, they can go a long way towards preventing injury, and combating back pain that might come as the result of long hours spent in front of the stove.
Having the basic tools and equipment on hand will help to make your cooking experiences easier, more fun, and more successful.
And a little bit of success at the start will go a long way towards developing your cooking habit.
To the beginners, if you have any questions, ask away – we’re happy to help!
And for you cooking pros out there, are there any suggestions you’d like to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!
Photo credits: Shutterstock, except where otherwise indicated. Photos by Mike Quinn, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.