What Kitchen Cookware Do You Really Need?
If you’re going to cook, you’ll need the right kitchen cookware.
If you’re going to cook, you will need the right kitchen cookware.
It’s like building a house – you will need a set of tools like a hammer, a saw, a cement mixer, and so on. Not only will you need a variety of kitchen utensils, you also need to know how to use them efficiently and safely.
Little Things Make All the Difference…
Like a frying pan that doesn’t stick, a sharp knife that fits the size of your hand, a set of mixing bowls that fit inside each other, an organized spice rack, and a good blender.
Below is a list of some of the cookware that I have in my kitchen. I use these tools to prepare and cook a variety of dishes with ease.
The Bare Minimum Kitchenware
The following list details the minimum kitchen essentials you will need to prepare and cook meals without a great deal of frustration:
- 1 Chef’s knife: 8-10” blade length
- 1 small (paring) knife
- 1 large (and optional 1 small) cutting board
- 1 small, medium, and large stainless steel pot (buy as a set)
- 1 medium and 1 large frying pan. I recommend cast-iron and, for convenience, a medium non-stick frying pan
- 1 roasting pan and/or 1-2 baking sheets
- Preparation utensils like a silicone spatula, wooden spoon, flipper, can opener, strainer or colander, etc.
- A basic blender
Only Get What You Need
By no means do you need to rush out and buy all of these tools. However, as you start to cook and follow recipe instructions, you will soon discover what tools you absolutely need to work well in the kitchen.
I’ve noticed that if we don’t have the proper tools to work it’s less likely that we will continue with that new habit.
Borrow the basics if you need to, but if you are committed to eating healthier, saving money, and reducing stress, I urge you to make the minimal investment in kitchenware. This small investment in kitchen tools will transfer into a larger investment in your health and well-being.
And if you’re on a budget, then wait for big sales and shop at outlet stores.
Your Most Important Kitchen Tools
A set of quality kitchen knives are the most important tools you will need for effective and easy meal preparation.
You can make do with knives of lesser quality, however, if you are cooking on a regular basis you will come to appreciate a high-quality knife for its sharpness and weight-balance. The cheaper the knife the sooner it will dull and the easier it is to cut yourself.
Think of it this way: a carpenter or a mechanic need quality tools to do good work. The same applies to a chef or anyone who wants to enjoy the cooking process. Quality knives help make food preparation easier and they will last for many years.
The king of knives is the chef’s knife. I have a 10″ chef’s blade that I bought when I attended cooking school in 1986. It has served me well for over 25 years.
It’s well balanced and easy to rock it when chopping (with one hand on the handle and the other palm across the top of the blade, you rock the blade like a seesaw to chop or slice).
When I use my Chef’s knife to slice thinly (e.g. finely diced onion), I have complete control of the blade: it doesn’t slip, meaning I won’t cut my fingers.
Most people get cut when a cutting tool is dull and slips, instead of cutting through food, as opposed to having poor knife skills.
If you want a complete set of knives this what I recommend:
- A chef’s knife (8-10″ blade length). This is my kitchen workhorse – I use this knife for almost everything.
- A paring knife to cut tomatoes, fruit, slicing smaller vegetables like radishes and sometimes peeling.
- A serrated knife for cutting breads or for making a careful cut into something fragile like a tomato (if you want a very thin slice for presentation) or a cake.
- A sharpening steel (to keep your knife’s edge and sharpness)
- Optional: a boning or filet knife (also works well to peel a pineapple)
- A 6-inch straight meat fork for carving.
Make the investment in quality kitchen knives. Visit a decent department or kitchen store that stocks several varieties and hold them in your hand.
Start with a chef’s knife. This is the largest blade you will have and it’s used for cutting, slicing, and chopping in large quantities (e.g. carrots, salad, onions, and meat), and/or food that is harder to break down, like nuts or cutting a squash in half.
The grip should be comfortable and it should sit nicely in your hand. If not, try another brand or size. Use it on a cutting board and ‘pretend’ to chop and slice. When chopping it should rock nicely, almost like a seesaw – this helps with the rhythm of the cutting movement.
Pay attention to the weight of the blade. A heavier knife is best for larger and harder food items.
Here’s an example using a chef’s knife to break down a whole chicken. This would be really difficult with a small, dull, or light-weight knife.
If quality kitchen knives are not in your budget (you can spend hundreds of dollars for a basic set to well over thousands) go to an outlet mall and look in the kitchen stores – in Canada at Home Sense or Winners, and TJ Maxx in the US. I have found some great deals in these stores. Note that you can sometimes find a good knife set that will often cost less as a set than buying them individually.
Shopping online at my Kitchen & Cookware Supplies Store is a great way to find everything in one place.
You can make due with a decent chef’s knife that doesn’t cost a lot of money if you are just starting out. If you are cooking more often then I’d recommend buying at least a quality chef’s knife in the $100-$200 range. You will not regret this purchase.
Safe & Proper Knife Storage
Always wash your kitchen knives immediately after use, by hand, with soap and water – not in the dishwasher (they could move around and get damaged). Food residue, especially acids from citrus, and even garlic, will wear down the sharpness of your kitchen knives, which is why you need to wash them right after use.
Dry immediately and store in a wooden knife block, blade-side up (blade-side down cuts the block and dulls the knife). A wooden block is the safest place for sharp knives, whereas the cutlery drawer is a great place to cut your hand when you accidentally grab the blade. Ouch!
Next to quality kitchen knives, you will need the following hand-held cooking utensils to work effectively and easily in your kitchen. These are basic kitchen utensils to do the most basic of cooking tasks. You may have need for items not on the list based on how and what you cook.
At least one, but preferably two cutting boards (one large and one small) will serve you well. If you’ve invested in quality knives you will need a durable surface (other than your counter) to cut meat, vegetables and more. One of the most versatile and easy to clean products I’ve used is the Epicurean Kitchen Cutting board.
I suggest a large and heavy wooden board to use with your chef’s knife. When you’re cutting lots of veggies, cutting a squash in half, cutting off fat from a large piece of meat, or de-boning a chicken, you will soon find out why you need both a large surface area to work, and a heavy board that doesn’t move across the counter.
A small cutting board is fantastic for cutting a couple of tomatoes or lemons when you don’t want to use the big cutting board.
Measuring & Mixing Tools
These are the least expensive and most often overlooked kitchen utensils. You can’t function well without them.
Measuring Cups & Spoons
Many recipes call for dry or liquid ingredients by cups or milliliters. It’s helpful to have a set of measuring cups that range from ¼, ⅓, ½, ¾, ⅔ and 1 cup, and a 2-cup glass-measuring cup as part of your kitchen cookware (get a 4-cup model if you are cooking for a family).
This is handy for measuring large amounts of liquid and even mixing in the measuring cup itself.
Spatulas, Mixing Spoons, Tools, and Gadgets
Cooking preparation requires a number of tools. If you need to mix eggs or whisk cream you’ll need a whisk. You will need wooden spoons to stir soups, stews, or pasta so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. If you’re pan-frying eggs you’ll need a silicon spatula, which are best for nonstick-type surfaces that you don’t want to scratch. Wooden spoons are best for cast iron and stainless steel pots and pans.
- A box grater is used to grate or wedge vegetables like carrots or zucchini and for getting the rind from orange, lemons or limes;
- Tongs are used to grab hot items (like corn or lobster from boiling water);
- A peeler is a necessity to remove the skin from carrots and potatoes;
- A wooden basting spoon is used to baste a roast pork or beef with its juices while cooking.
Get a set of three mixing bowls in plastic, silicon or stainless steel. You will use these bowls for making a big salad, mixing ingredients for burgers, holding chopped vegetables as part of a recipe, etc. They can also be used for storage in the fridge – some sets come with lids for that purpose.
Strainers, Colanders & Salad Spinners
Strainers are used to drain pasta, rinse veggies or fruits. How much you cook will dictate the size you need. They come in plastic, silicon, and metal.
Most salad leaves need to be washed. You cut up salad into the size you want, rinse it in the colander insert to get rid of any dirt, and then spin the salad to get rid of the water.
Moisture is what causes salad to get soggy, If you have left over salad make sure it’s dry and kept in the salad spinner in the fridge.
Hand Held Juice Extractor
I use a lot of lemons and limes and other citrus fruits for cooking. I use a citrus reamer for a single lime, and a hand juice extractor for lemons (no seeds in the juice!).
Stove-top & Oven Cookware
You will need pots and pans in different sizes and materials, from cast iron to non-stick cookware.
Pot Boiling & Steaming
Stainless steel is a standard material for stove-top cooking. What size should you get? That depends on how many people are in your household.
For example, if you’re cooking rice for 1-2 people for the week you may only need a 4-cup (1 litre) pot.
If you’re cooking for more and for versatility, I suggest a small, and a 3 and 5 litre pot (or larger stock pot). You will need a large pot for cooking soups, stews, boiling pasta, corn on the cob, etc.
A larger pot is also used for steaming vegetables in a bamboo steamer. Steaming vegetables retains most of the vitamins and minerals instead of having them boiled out and drained away.
I recommend 18/10 quality stainless steel cookware – they last a long time, don’t rust and conduct heat more evenly than something much cheaper.
Cast iron cookware is incredibly versatile. These pans are heavy and take a while to heat up, but if you are using a gas stove, this is the best type of pan for the stove-top. It will evenly distribute the heat and hold heat for a long time – perfect for dense proteins like steak and burgers.
Cast iron pans are great for browning meats. You can even complete the cooking process on the stove or put the meal in the oven to cook more slowly.
For example, you can brown chicken breasts on both sides quickly and then put the pan into the oven at about 350° F to cook slowly and evenly through for 20-30 minutes.
One of my favourite meat dishes is flank steak cooked in the oven in my large 13″ cast iron pan with chopped onions, Balsamic vinegar and a bit of red wine.
Non-Stick Fry Pans
Non-stick cookware should not be used at the highest temperature or the coating can break down and give off potentially poisonous fumes.
Non-sick fry pans are best used for more fragile and moisture-rich foods like eggs, crepes, fish like tilapia, and other foods that don’t need to be cooked at maximum heat. The non-stick surface makes it easier to turn these foods without sticking or breaking apart.
To protect the surface coating and life of a non-stick pan, only use a silicon-type spatula, bamboo or wooden spoon/spatula. Never use metal as this will scratch the surface. When cleaning, use a dishcloth, sponge or a gentle plastic/synthetic scouring sponge.
When buying a non-stick fry pan look for a decent thickness and weight. There are many ‘eco-friendly’ brands available. Read my article about safe and healthy cookware options here.
I cook the majority of my meals in the oven. It’s an efficient way to cook in bulk and you can cook many dishes at the same time.
For example, I have two Pyrex glass baking dishes. The small one fits inside the larger one for easy storage. I use these mostly for chicken breasts cooked in liquid, pork, squash, mixed roast vegetables and casseroles. The thicker base allows for even cooking without burning.
I also have a non-stick pan with a thinner base, for when I want something to cook more quickly and for foods that are more fragile and need a non-stick cooking surface (they can fall apart when you attempt to remove them from any other type of pan).
Finally, a roasting pan is used for whole chicken, turkey, a beef roast, flank steak, etc. This could be stainless steel or non-stick. Look for a roast pan with a removable grilling rack – you will need this if you’re dry roasting meat and want the fat to drain into the bottom of the pan.
If you plan to bake breads, cakes, and cookies you will need non-stick bakeware. I would recommend a pair of bread pans, two pie/cake tins, a square 9″ bake tin, and a pair of baking sheets.
Before buying baking sheets, make sure you know the width of the inside of your oven. Yes, I have made the mistake of buying baking sheets that didn’t fit!
Note that baking dishes aren’t just for desserts! You can use the bread pans or the baking sheet for a meatloaf. I use my baking trays to roast red and yellow peppers, cut in half, face down, dry roasting chicken breast, or for dry roasting potatoes (a healthy alternative to deep-fried potatoes).
Oven Mitts & Grips
You will absolutely need oven mitts or oven grips to take hot dishes out of the oven and even to grab handles on pots and pans from the stove, especially cast iron cookware (the handle will be as hot as the pan). I have both mitts and grips and find grips to be easier. However, this is a personal preference.
An oven mitt will protect your whole hand and part of your arm from searing oven heat and potential burns or splashes. If you are inexperienced in the kitchen get a pair of quality mitts.
A last word on mitts and grips: when they start to wear replace them! Otherwise one day you will grab a hot dish that’s been in a 400° F oven and you risk not only burning your fingers or hand, but dropping the dish – which could be an even bigger disaster!
How to Shop for Pots & Pans
When shopping for pots and pans, look for quality: smoothness of finish (so that food won’t get trapped in cracks, etc. and cause bacterial growth), ease in cleaning, ‘weight’ of the product (or the thickness of the base) to offer better heat transfer, heat retention and less burning or catching of food on the bottom of the pan.
Know the limits of the type of cookware you are using – i.e. the material effects what you can do. You can only use low to moderate heat with non-stick cookware, but you can cook at very high temperatures with cast iron cookware.
Big Things Come in Small Packages
You will need basic small kitchen appliances as part of your kitchen setup to be able to blend, chop quickly and in quantity, and to mix thoroughly. Here are my kitchen appliance recommendations based on what I’ve been working with for years.
Blenders: Basic to High-End
I own an Oster 12-speed blender that I bought for less than $50. I like it because the motor connects with the blender blade via a metal-to-metal connection. It resembles an Allen key going into an IKEA-type screw.
In the past I had a Braun blender that connected via a hard plastic/latex-type material that broke too easily when you chopped ice or other frozen fruit. After replacing two blades I could have bought a new blender!
There are extremely high-end blenders, like the Vitamix, which are perfect if you want to create smoothies and blend whole raw vegetables, etc. Be prepared to spend $500 or more.
I have a full size Cuisinart food chopper and a 2-cup size Moulinex chopper. I rarely use the full-size machine and the last time I used it was to make humus. I find I can do things faster by hand with a knife and the cleanup for that Cuisinart is excessive because there are so many parts.
More often I use the smaller 2-cup chopper to grind a small batch of spices, or nuts, or to make a small amount of sauce. I would recommend the smaller chopper over the larger device.
There are also manual choppers for chopping and dicing vegetables, but again I’d recommend the smaller electric chopper as it’s more versatile and you can do more with it.
Buy a “Smart” Slow-Cooker
I have the Hamilton Beach IntelliTime™ 6 Quart Slow Cooker. It the guesswork out of slow cooking by automatically setting the proper cooking temperature. You decide when you want the slow cooker to be done based on when you plan to turn it on.
For example, if the recipe calls for cooking on high for six hours and you want to start the slow cooker at 7:30 a.m. before you go to work, that means the food will be done at 1:30 p.m. However, you probably won’t be home until 5 or 6 p.m. earliest. If you know you’re going to be home by 6 p.m., you set the IntelliTime slow cooker for 10.5 hours (start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 6 p.m.). This slow cooker automatically lowers the temperature based on the total cooking time.
In this way, your meal isn’t over-cooked or dried out. It will also keep the food warm at a very low temperature once the cooking is completed. This is perfect for those days when you’re running late.
The result? If you get home later than expected your dinner is perfectly cooked and still warm. Remove the lid, serve, sit down and enjoy your meal.
For more information on slow cookers, read my post, Why I’m in Love with my Slow Cooker.
Keeping Your Meals Fresh
You’ll probably need more food storage containers than you think. It helps to have a variety of sizes to accommodate different foods and for taking food with you to work.
If you’re cooking in bulk you’ll need a variety of food storage containers to keep your meals fresh and presentable in your fridge and freezer.
You will need fridge and freezer-safe containers of various sizes. Be sure not to use these containers in a microwave unless the containers have a ‘microwave-safe’ label.
Look for leak-proof containers – there’s nothing more annoying than having your packed lunch leak inside your gym bag or purse!
This is a smart strategy since storage containers of the same brand are usually designed to stack inside each other taking less space in the cupboard. They will also stack more easily on top of each other in your fridge.
I have the Rubbermaid 24-piece set and the containers of different sizes all nest inside the other. You may need much larger containers if you have more than two people in your household.
Storage Jars & Spice Storage
Storage jars of various sizes are great for holding dry food items like nuts, oats, seeds, rice, quinoa, and spices.
For spice jars, buy a set or use small mason jars. Mason jars are great for liquid storage, e.g. if you make a salad dressing you can you put all the ingredients in the jar, shake, serve, and then store the remainder in the fridge.
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