2 people favorited this suggestion on Twitter, so I’m rolling with it. This will be divided into 2 lists: The stuff everyone should have and is relatively affordable, and the fun shit that might not be as practical but makes life 1000 times easier. I’ll provide Amazon links where I can. Also , use smile.amazon.com instead of the regular site. That way, many of your items also benefit a charity. I do the Nature Conservancy. Pick one that speaks to you.
I will update both lists as I remember things that I’d forgotten this pass.
So, part 1….
These are things I can’t live without in my kitchen and shouldn’t have to do without either. These are the kinds of things Alton Brown would take away in Cutthroat Kitchen to make professional chefs cry.
Here’s the non-perishable “Essentials” list on Amazon if you want to get started in one shot:
Acrylic or plastic are my preferred type. Wood and bamboo are fine for bread and vegetables, but NEVER for meat. Wood and bamboo are porous, and the type of cleaning you need to do to make it adequately sanitary will eventually destroy it. I prefer to have one on hand for meat and one for produce and other stuff. One is plenty, though. Just be prepared to wash that bastard frequently.
There are a million different types of knife, but the most versatile is the 8-10″ chef’s knife. You can cut anything with them; use them to cut vegetables, carve meat or clean fish. Keep it sharp and it will serve you for years. I just bought my first new knife in 10 years, that’s a decade of abuse. Spend at least $20 on one. Cheap ones are dangerous because they can break or are too light. A good knife should have some weight to it. I prefer steel, but ceramic aren’t without their charm, just be careful. I’ve been cooking almost daily since I was 16 and I’ve suffered horrible cuts no less than 4 times.
Seems obvious? Maybe, but flour isn’t just an ingredient, you also use it to keep things from sticking (when baking), but also thickening gravy, making roux… trapping ghosts? (It shows their footprints)
But seriously, an easy 1/3 of things worth cooking use flour in some respect. Buy some and always have plenty on hand. Also make sure you have…
These are super cheap and make storing ingredients super easy, but more importantly, they make measuring easier. Having that nice wide open area to scoop and scrape is invaluable if you’ve ever fought with a narrow vessel. And most cost like $1-$4 a piece so they’re affordable, too.
Yeah, pretend this is obvious, but it isn’t. I’ve known a ridiculous number of people who didn’t have them, and especially for baking, not having them is crippling. I recommend:
A wet ingredient measuring cup (a 1 quart Pyrex cup will treat you well for years)
All of these are relatively inexpensive and invaluable.
I use this for everything. I haven’t baked on a cookie sheet or in a bread pan that I then had to wash in years because I line them with foil. I do this for a couple reasons: just balling up the foil and tossing it when it’s caked with Lasagna is much easier than screwing with washing the bakeware, but also the shiny side reflects heat toward the food cooking it marginally faster.
Also foil can quickly turn a pair of food tongs into a pair of charcoal tongs for barbecue in a few seconds. Buy the big, cheap roll. Quality is not that variable between generic and name brand and the heavy duty stuff is nice, but regular lasts longer.
It’s like having longer hands that aren’t in danger of getting 3rd degree burns. I keep a short pair and a long pair, but a single long set will treat you right. They are great and I use mine for baking, grilling, frying, regular stove-top cooking… Everything.
Cast Iron Skillet
Fun fact: There was a 2 year period after moving out from my parent’s house that I only cooked in 1 cast iron skillet. It’s probably the most versatile cooking implement there is. I’ve used them for basic pan-cooking, making soup, deep frying, grilling, baking, you name it. It’s also good for inflicting severe head-trauma, but I recommend just cooking in them.
Again, seems obvious but people skip it in cooking too often and without salt, you’re only using part of your tongue to taste and that is a shame. I recommend at least 2 types: kosher and sea salt. Maybe regular iodized instead of sea if you’re super budget-conscious, but salt is actually quite inexpensive so do yourself a favor and get a coarse and a fine salt.
Use fine when you need salt to dissolve, like when making breads or soup. Coarse is great for things like eggs, steak, and rubs. If you are only going to get one kind, I’d say get the kosher salt. You can always grind it into something finer if you need.
You can get expensive or cheap ones, but I recommend 3: A nice big one, a medium one, and a relatively small one. You can get them in glass, porcelain or metal; the material doesn’t matter in my experience. You can use them for mixing (duh), but they also are great for marinating. Also, you can set the small ones in a small pot of water to act as a double boiler (or bain marie for the educated types) for things like making hollandaise or melting chocolate.
Pick your poison: canola, olive, avocado, peanut, whatever. Oils are necessary for moist baked goods, not-sticking cooked foods, and frying, among many many other things. I prefer having a few on hand (usually canola, olive and avocado) for various uses, but any one of those will work for many jobs. Also, have some cooking spray on hand; sometimes simple is best
Another “duh” ingredient, but it serves so many more uses than just making coffee palatable. You can use it to macerate fruit, feed yeast (either in a sourdough starter or packaged yeast), or some meat rubs and/or barbecue sauce.
Have at least 2 because this is going to get used a LOT. I use them for everything from scraping bowls to cooking food. Silicone has a high heat resistance and does a much better job than plastic since it’s more flexible.
Instant Read Thermometer
When cooking meat, do NOT FUCK AROUND. Unless you plan on making nothing but “well done” leather, you need to test the internal temperature of your meat so you don’t make people sick. No matter how tasty your food is, no one will trust you if one of your meals gives them the shits or kills one of them. Alternately, if you want to spend some more, get a probe thermometer (see below)
Nothing mixes by hand better than a whisk. Sure, you can get away with a fork for things like scrambled eggs, but if you want to make whipped cream or hollandaise, you need a whisk.
Always have eggs on hand. They’re second only to salt as an ingredient that is used in/on everything. Along with their traditional dishes, eggs are a great addition to baked goods (brush on some for a nice shiny crust). Also, who doesn’t like to eat eggs? They are a fantastic source of protein.
Eggs. Or, go to the store. This one you should probably leave your house for.
Most savory dishes include onions in some form. You literally can’t start cooking onions without making people drool. Also, before you cut them, they keep really well for a long time. I didn’t mention garlic?
That’s because as great as garlic is, you can live without it in many dishes if you have adequate onionage.
By no means necessary, but they open 1000 doors that otherwise are closed to you. Mine has not only the whisk, paddle and dough hook, but I also have a meat grinder attachment. They also have a pasta-machine attachment. They cost a fortune up front, but last for decades and make otherwise painful processes easy. I haven’t hand-kneaded bread ever because that’s a godamn pain.
Did you know that when baking it’s better to go by weight than volume? I didn’t either but it really is better and these little buggers make that possible. You can easily live without one, but once you get one, you’ll wonder how you did.
More expensive than the instant read, but they make life so much easier. You stick the probe into the meat, set the time and desired doneness, and it takes care of the rest. They beep when the target internal temp, removing the need to time things and risk over or under cooking it.
Another tool that opens entire new worlds to you. The ability to chop ingredients into tiny pieces at the push of a button is a huge time saver. Also you can make some things (like homemade mayo) using a food processor or blender because the speed alone emulsifies things better than you can with a whisk and self-loathing.
You can use it to cook bacon if you want! It’s like a George Foreman grill without the shame. Also they make waffles, which is one of nature’s perfect foods.
Great for storage, canning or drinking booze like a redneck and/or hipster. I use mine for everything.
Mortar & Pestle
Sometimes you need to grind the shit out of something, and the ancient Egyptians used these things. They’re like the crocodile of cooking equipment and do a fantastic job.