I spend a LOT of time in my kitchen. Between developing recipes, cooking those recipes, and preparing food for my family, my kitchen and I have a lot of face-time. My friends constantly ask my opinion on the latest kitchen gadget. Anything I use in the kitchen has to last and be durable enough so I don’t end up throwing it at a wall. I recommend spending as much as you can afford to on the very best product. Set a “kitchen budget” and have at it.
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So let’s dive right into it:
I have an unhealthy obsession with my knives. Butchering and cutting things is a soothing activity for me, and I realize some psychologist would have a field day if I were to explain it. That said, I take my knives very seriously.
A good knife has balance. The handle of the knife should have relatively the same amount of weight as the blade does. A great test of a good knife is to balance the bolster (or shank) of the knife on your index finger. A quality-made knife will balance evenly. Another tale tell sign of a great knife is the tang. The tang is the back end of the steel used to create the knife’s blade. If the tang runs the length of the handle, you have a pretty decent knife.
Knowing how to sharpen a knife and keep the blade’s edge honed is a skill that will guarantee less frustration in the kitchen. That said, if you’ve worked with a dull knife for a long period of time, ease into a new knife with respect and patience. I’ve seen tons of people slice themselves because they went from using a dull knife to a brand new knife overnight.
J.A. Henckels 15-pc Knife Block Set
Zwilling JA Henckels’ knives are the least expensive of the knives I’m going to recommend. This fifteen piece knife set is less than one hundred dollars (before shipping and taxes) and offers all of the kitchen knives you will use on a regular basis. This particular set includes a three inch paring knife for things like hulling strawberries, a five inch serrated utility knife, a hollow-edge Santoku knife that’s seven inches, an eight inch chef’s knife, six steak knives, a pair of kitchen shears, and the block. While this isn’t the cheapest set available, it’s the most inexpensive one I would recommend. There’s no point in spending your hard-earned money on cheap equipment that will wear out every few years. Invest in your time and your efforts by buying the best within your means.
Wusthof 7-piece Slim Knife Block Set
Wüsthof is the brand I used while going through culinary school. In addition to having t-shirts and bumper stickers in our college’s bookstore, we had knife sets and houndstooth pants to choose from. We were most often robbed trying to get sharp knives for our production classes. They are great knives. With proper care these German-made beauties will last you a lifetime, or until you level-up and replace them.
What I love about this particular set is that it’s streamlined with only the necessary kitchen knives. Meaning, there are no steak knives here. This acacia wood block includes: a paring knife, a serrated utility knife (useful for slicing tomatoes), a prep knife, bread knife, chef’s knife, kitchen shears, and the block. The kitchen shears are awesome because they come apart, which means you can clean them thoroughly.
Shun DMS1020 10-Piece Chef’s Block Knife Set
This Shun (pronounced “shoon”) ten piece knife set is my top choice of kitchen knives. While they’re considerably more expensive than my other recommendations, they’re not the most expensive knives available. These are the knives I currently love, though. The Japanese know knives, y’all. This set comes with something the other two don’t- a honing steel. This tool is important in maintaining a sharp edge on your knives. It also includes: a paring knife, utility knife, a chef’s knife, a slicer knife, bread knife, Santoku knife, and a boning/fillet knife (great for fish). There’s also a pair of herb shears and the block, of course. There are additional slots in case you want to add to your collection later on, too.
Now, all of these sets include an eight inch chef’s knife which is great for most women’s hands. For guys, I’d recommend a larger ten or twelve inch knife.
When purchasing cookware, you need to spend the most money on the highest quality you can afford. Stainless steel or anodized aluminum is the go-to material for the commercial kitchen. The problem with the latter is that it’s ugly. If you couldn’t care less about the aesthetics, head to your local cook’s supply store and purchase to your heart’s content. For most of us, though, we love the look of shiny pots and pans, so stainless is the way to go. If you can handle a pot or pan prior to purchase, do so. Feel the weight of the pan. If it’s lighter than it looks like it should be, it’s probably crap. You want a heavy pot or pan- especially on the bottom- as that means it’s made with quality steel.
A great pot or pan conducts heat evenly- you have to spend money to get that. Also, look at the rivets that hold the pot’s handle to the bowl of the pot. Anything that looks hard to clean will be. Streamlined is what we’re looking for. Speaking of handles, avoid rubber or plastic handles. We want to be able to pop these into the oven if it’s called for.
I vehemently reject any pan that’s non-stick. Well, except for my crepe/egg pan. I won’t ever recommend buying non-stick pots or pans because they’re so high-maintainence. If the only thing I can use on it is a rubber spatula, chances are it won’t be used. Not only that, non-stick surfaces means you can’t stack your pans or pots for fear of scratching. Dishwasher-safe is also a moot point. My closest friends and family know that you should never put your cookware in the dishwasher. It’s a great way to ruin its finish and wear it out sooner. Get used to hand-washing your pots and pans and you’ll get your money’s worth in years of use.
Cuisinart 77-10 Chef’s Classic Stainless 10-Piece Set
This is entry-level cookware, my friend. That being said, it’s not crap. Cuisinart is known for producing good food processors and cookware. They conduct heat pretty well and they stand up to the bumps and bruises of the kitchen. This set includes everything you will need to get started on the stove. One-and-a-half and three quart saucepans with covers, a three quart sauté pan with cover, two skillets (eight and ten inches) and an eight quart stockpot with cover (perfect for soups). This set is just over one hundred bucks which makes it a great deal for what you’re getting.
Calphalon Classic Stainless Steel Cookware Set
This ten piece set is about a hundred dollars more than the previous set, and with good reason. Calphalon is not just a non-stick brand; we’re dealing with stainless steel here. This set includes two sauté pans (an eight and a ten inch), a one and two-and-a-half quart sauce pans with covers, a three quart sauté pan with cover, and a six quart stock pot with cover. You get all the basic pots and pans you’d need with this set.
All-Clad SD501015-R D5 Polished Stainless Steel 15-Piece Set
You’re going to drop a little over a grand on this set. In all fairness, you’re getting a total of fifteen pieces of a high-quality brand of pots and pans. All-Clad is one of the top products in the serious home chef’s kitchen. You can purchase your cookware a la carte, like I do, or in a set like this one. With the latter choice, you get a discounted rate, so I’d recommend going that route.
This set includes ten and twelve inch skillets, a two quart sauce pan with lid, a three quart casserole with steamer insert and lid, three and six quart sauté pans with lids, a four quart soup pot with lid, and an eight quart stock pot with lid. It definitely has everything you’ll need and its quality will ensure YEARS of use.
I try my best to keep my countertops clear. Clutter in the kitchen bothers me and gives me mild anxiety. Because of that, I try to limit my countertop appliances to versatile products that can accomplish more than one thing. I also need to be able to store them in the cabinets, so that means nothing bulky.
Make sure you’re buying products that come with warranties. There’s nothing worse than getting something that’s a dud and not having a warranty to protect your purchase.
Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor
Again, Cuisinart is known for making pots and pans, but their bread and butter is their food processor. I’m always whipping out mine. I use it for everything from Hummus to Frozen Custard. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of going too fancy with my food processor selection. You don’t need added blades, bowls or attachments. They don’t do anything that a box grater or mandoline can do, and it’s just one more thing to break. A standard food processor with a blade is all you need.
This is Cuisinart’s powerhouse and a great tool that is multi-purpose.
Mueller Ultra-Stick Immersion Hand Blender
I, honestly, don’t know what I’d do without my immersion blender. Well, I do, but I don’t want to imagine it. Immersion blenders are great for so many things. Pureeing sauces (like this one), whipping cream, or blending fruits. Being able to pull this out of a drawer beats wrestling with a full-size blender any day.
Look for an immersion blender that has at least two attachments: a blender and a whisk. That’s all you need.
Electric Griddle With Removable Handles
This is one of only two non-stick things I will ever bring into my kitchen. A griddle may not be the first thing you think of when talking “must-have kitchen items”, but it should be. What other appliance can be used for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Oh! And snacks, too.
I’ve grilled sandwiches, pancakes, bacon, eggs, burgers and so much more on my griddle. It’s portable, so I can also take it when the Army moves us. When your entire house is packed up and on someone’s truck, this bad boy comes in handy. Griddles are the best multi-use tool and this one, with its removable handles, packs into a lower cabinet perfectly. When you purchase yours, make sure you pick up a rubber spatula to protect that non-stick surface.
Those little bits and baubles of the kitchen are so often under-appreciated. Things like measuring spoons and cups, whisks and spoons- we’d be nothing without them. Stainless steel is the way to go with most anything in the kitchen, but especially with small handheld tools. You don’t need to worry about melting a metal spoon in your caramelized sugar, right? Here’s what I use in the kitchen:
Stainless Steel 6-Pc. Measuring Spoon Set
Can I ask a favor of you? When your new measuring spoon set arrives, PLEASE, please, remove the ring that attaches them. Please? There’s nothing that confuses, or annoys, me more than seeing that freaking ring. Like, you wrestle with five other spoons when all you need is the half teaspoon?
You used one spoon, but since they’re all attached by that damned ring, you have to throw them ALL into the dishwasher. Take the ring off…please.
These measuring spoons I love because they are clearly marked with imprinted measurements. That means the writing won’t wear off with use. Important, no?
Stainless Steel Measuring Cups Set with Long Handles
Long handles on these measuring cups means they sit on the counter without falling over. Well, the quarter cup does, but one out of seven ain’t bad. These measuring cups also have their measurements engraved on the handle with is great for long-term use. As with the measuring spoons, these cups come attached with a ring…what are you going to do when you get them?
That’s right! Remove the blasphemous ring!
Stainless Steel Kitchen Whisk
Every kitchen needs a good stainless steel whisk. This is a twenty dollar whisk. You think that’s too expensive? Well, think of this: ever have a whisk fall into the bowl you’re working in? You need a longer whisk.
Ever wash your whisk only to find water (from God knows when) leaking from the handle into your foods? You need a better-assembled whisk.
What about rust, or flimsy tines on the whisk? The better the quality of the materials, the longer your whisk will last.
Quality costs money. Beating eggs, whipping cream, or stirring pancake batter can be done with this one tool. Make your money go far and buy products that last.
Stainless Steel Bowls in Varying Sizes
You’ll notice there’s no affiliate link for these. You know why? Because all the ones I’ve found online are mediocre. Yes, bowls are important, and finding the right bowl is necessary in alleviating frustration and the waste of your money. That said, go to a warehouse store (Sam’s, Costco, or BJ’s) and head to their cooking equipment section. They sell to small commercial kitchens, and I’ve found that their stainless steel bowls are thick, won’t rust, and sit flat on the counter. Choosing stainless steel means you can microwave in them, use them over a double-boiler, or toss them into the oven. Versatility at its finest!
So, with the exception of miscellaneous spoons, spatulas, cutting boards and towels; these are my kitchen must haves. Pin these and share with your friends. It’s a great way to get those “gifts” you’ve been wanting 😉
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!
**This post contains affiliate links. To find out what that means to you, please read my disclosure page**