The A.G.’s Guide To Equipping Your Kitchen

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So you’re getting married, moving into a new house with your betrothed and people are asking: “What should we get you?” You can register at a store like Williams Sonoma or Bed, Bath & Beyond but when it comes to the kitchen you don’t know where to begin.

That’s the very situation my future sister-in-law, Tali, finds herself in now that she’s marrying my brother. She recently asked me what she should register for and I said: “Tali, why would I tell you that over the phone when I can blog about it for all the world!!!” There was an uncomfortable silence and she said, “Ok, that sounds good.” What follows, then, is my advice to Tali and anyone else who needs to equip their kitchens.

First things first, don’t overdo it. A co-worker at Food Network had a bridal shower recently and she got TWO food processors: one big, one small. That’s overdoing it!

Look, the truth is that a good, efficient cook can cook with very little equipment. I think it’s better to have fewer, higher quality gadgets than a million cruddy gadgets that you’ll never use. So here’s what you should ask for:

(1) A really good skillet/saute pan, preferably All-Clad. I have two pans: one non-stick, one all-metal. Each one was approximately $150 and I use them ALL THE TIME. They’re fantastic and really can do anything. Use the non-stick to make scrambled eggs or to sear scallops (see recipe below). Use the other for anything from making pasta sauce (tossing the pasta in there at the end of cooking) to braising monkfish. Two really good, high quality 10-inch pans are better than a cheaper set of pans of all sizes, most of which you will never use.

(2) A big pot and a small pot. It doesn’t really matter what brand you get or even, really, the quality. I think I got mine from Target in the late 90s. I still use it all the time and I never say to myself, “I wish I had a nicer pot.” Probably because I don’t use it to brown anything or to sear anything, I just use it to boil liquids–a process that doesn’t require sophisticated gear. If you think you’re going to take cooking seriously, you may also want to get a stock pot–serious cooks make stock.

(3) Instead of a knife set, register for three really good knives: one large chef’s knife (approximately $100), one really sharp, high-quality paring knife and one serrated knife. Those are the three knives I use most often; I also frequently use kitchen shears, but it’s not worth getting a knife set just for the shears. Get those separate. The point is that three high quality knives are better than 15 mediocre, not very sharp knives. As far as brand, I recommend Wusthof or Misono. But ask the people at Williams-Sonoma, I’m sure they can recommend others…

(3-a) While we’re on knives, get yourself a rubber cutting board. They sell them at Williams-Sonoma and they are big and pliant and easy to clean and, most importantly, they don’t hurt your knives when you cut. It’s what Bubba recommended to me in Chapter Three of my book…

(4) A roasting pan. It doesn’t need to be fancy or super expensive. I got mine on sale for $50, but a roasting pan you will use again and again for chicken, leg of lamb, or any other large meats that need lots of space and love in the oven.

(5) A Le Creuset Dutch Oven. It may be pricey (I forget how much mine was–I got it online from Canada) but you will use it ALL THE TIME. You will use it to braise, you will use it to deep fry. In fact, I can’t image making a stew or fried chicken without it. Mostly, though, it’s sturdy and reliable and heats evenly and will produce magical, wonderful food that your guests will rave over for the rest of your married life.

(6) Generally: two cake pans (9-inch), one springform pan (also 9-inch), one loaf pan, a cupcake/muffin pan that makes 12 muffins, two cookie sheets (preferably without sides for flatter, more evenly cooked cookies), one with sides for roasting vegetables, a hand mixer if you’re just starting out baking (see below for more serious cooks), a flat rolling pin (no handles, which forces you to put pressure on the middle), measuring cups (preferably OXO brand), measuring spoons, a nice wooden spoon, a nice whisk, a sifter, mixing bowls, a strainer, a cheap juicer (doesn’t need to be electric, unless you’re really into juice), a microplane (for zesting citrus), a grater (for cheese), a thermometer (for testing meat) and a pastry brush.

That’s all you need to equip a standard kitchen for a standard, casual cook. If you want to go further; if you’ve been cooking for a while, and you want some nice gear and/or to take advantage of the kindness of your friends and relatives you should get:

(1) A KitchenAid Mixer. This is the big kahuna, the gadget that will elevate you from hobbyist cook to gourmet titan. Its uses are endless–beat egg whites, assemble cookies, knead bread–and, like adding RAM to a new computer, you can upgrade your mixer with pasta-making and meat-grinding components that’ll make you a titan among titans. I love my mixer to death; it’s probably my favorite kitchen gadget because it makes the most laborious kitchen work a cinch. Plus I love to bake.

(2) A food processor. I don’t think you need a food processor if you’re just starting out; most of what can be accomplished in a food processor can be accomplished by hand. But if you do decide to get one, I don’t think you need a super high quality one. I have a crizappy food processor, also from Target, that’s 80 years old and is cracked on the top. It still works, still gets the job done. It’s a great tool for making hummus and other spreads/dips; it also shreds carrots and cabbage for coleslaw quicker than you can say “yo mama.” If I had to do it all over again, I’d get a Cuisinart. If you’re getting married, take advantage….

(3) A salad spinner is nice to have.

(4) So is a pasta maker (if you don’t get the attachment for your mixer.)

(5) A coffee grinder guarantees flavorful potent coffee and also serves to grind spices.

(6) A hand blender is awesome for making soup (much better than transferring the boiling liquid to a blender and risking your life when you push the button).

And that’s it! I think I covered the bases. They key, again, is choosing fewer, higher-quality items than giant sets that offer too much for too little. If you have any specific questions, please ask them in the comments and maybe my generous readers can chime in too. I think kitchen equipment ultimately comes down to the passions and particulars of the cook; Alton Brown’s kitchen probably looks very different from Marcella Hazan’s. But equip yourself with the basics, get yourself started, and soon you’ll be able to advise your own future sister-in-law with your own idiosyncratic list.

By the power vested in me, I now pronounce your kitchen fully equipped.

42 comments

  1. Food Blogger Barbie! Great suggestions, though my Cuisinart processor is something I use almost daily. So is a sharpening steel for the knives.

  2. Food Blogger Barbie! I can’t see her laptop though, it must be behind that cookie jar on the counter. Great suggestions, though my Cuisinart processor is something I use almost daily. So is a sharpening steel for the knives.

  3. Love Barbie in her kitchen!

    This post will help a lot of people, Adam. I’m glad you did it because it is SO easy to register for a bunch of stuff that’s fun and novel (Ahem) but impractical when you consider what you actually do in a kitchen.

  4. I couldn’t have put together a better list, though I *might* have added a flat-bladed wooden spoon which is awesome for scraping the fond off of that 10-inch stainless All-Clad, and can substitute for a standard wooden spoon for stirring.

    I think the philosophy is key – make the most out of the few things you really need, and insist on high quality. Heck, that’s good advice for the marriage too :-)

    Junglesirl, you were looking for the laptop in Barbie’s kitchen – we’re trying to figure out how to build a “laptop shelf” into a kitchen remodel, or maybe a remote LCD screen. I think a “kitchen laptop” may be on wedding registries in the future.

  5. Instead of blowing the bank on a A Le Creuset Dutch Oven I would recommend getting a different brand enameled cast iron dutch oven. There are several out there that are nearly as good for 1/2 the price. Most people will not know the difference when cooking and even if the LC is a little better, its not 120 dollars better) I have a Batali one that I bought for like 100 bucks (less than half the price of Le Creuset which was 220) and it works awesome. Use the 120 you saved for a nicer knife and some other goodies.

  6. I love my hand-held immersion blender. Great way to make bean soups creamier without adding cream (calories).

  7. my only question would be what size of dutch oven? I drool over the Le Creuset line all the time….haven’t quite managed to drop the cash yet though…..all the rest of your suggestions are spot on….and I LOVE my KitchenAid mixer — use it for almost everything I do.

  8. Thank you so much for all the great advice. I agree with getting fewer, good quality items. I didn’t think about the hand blender…..good idea for soup. Thank you future brother-in-law.

  9. I’ve had a number of Forschner Fibrox knives for years and really love them. Unlike other inexpensive knives, these have a solid, balanced feel, and take and hold an edge quite well. The Fibrox grib also is much friendlier to wet hands (and the dishwasher, but don’t tell anyone!) than many other knives.

    I’m not one who takes my knives lightly, and own a high-quality Japanese and Wustoff chef’s knife, but the 8″ Fibrox Chef’s knife is my day-to-day workhorse, and my wedding gift of choice.

    Otherwise, Adam makes some good recommendations. 5.5 quarts is a nice size for a dutch oven, and a saute pan of 3-4 qts.

  10. Great list! Yes, larger is good for a dutch oven, though not so large you can’t lift it. I have 6-quart oval that I cook everything in, from braises to bread. Also seconding the All-Clad pans. Plus a cast-iron skillet.

    I’d say the salad spinner is a must. The OXO one is so easy to use and makes washing herbs and greens so much easier.

    I have a little food processor and a big one (bought the first, inherited the second), and I find I do use the smaller one a lot more. I can do a batch of hummus in it or other grinding more efficiently.

    A couple small, square baking racks (metal grids) are also handy for cooling things, and can also be wired together to make a roasting rack.

    Happy shopping!

  11. What site did you order your Le Creuset Dutch Oven from? I’m in Canada so I figure it won’t be too expensive to ship to me if I order it from a Canadian site. Thanks. This post was really helpful.

  12. I’d recommend a few more things for day to day cookware:

    1. a small roasting rack for chicken (example here: http://www.amazon.com/Chicago-Metallic-2-piece-Non-stick-Roasting/dp/B000N53CZC/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_k2a_2_txt?pf_rd_p=304485601&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-2&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B00004WYJK&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1ADET0KEVSK2GAXAV2C5)

    2. a few Pyrex pans like the 9 x 9 and 11 x 14.

    3. lots of small and very small prep bowls. (Think ones that will hold a few tablespoons of salt, 1/4 cup oil, etc). Great for getting prepped for a big meal or one with multiple ingredients.

  13. I second Julie M’s pyrex pan /prep bowl idea. Sometimes you just need those things. Especially if you want to make a lasagna or casserole. However, just because they aren’t married yet doesn’t mean their kitchen isn’t somewhat equipped…most likely they already have these items, which are usually pretty inexpensive. Every pyrex I have owned has been from a sale at a grocery store.

    I often wish I had another large pot around the house.

    A rice cooker, if you don’t already own one, is a great buy. Very cheap (you can get a perfectly fine one for around ten to twenty dollars). Making rice on the stove is a lot of work. You can get way better rice for a small investment. Unless you hate rice.

  14. Great list! Food processors are great not only for chopping veggies, but also for making biscuits! I use mine that way almost every Saturday morning.

    When we got married, my husband and I ended up deciding not to drop the wads of cash required for All-Clad. We found out that Kitchen Aid has a line of 5-ply stainless steel, and got five pots/pans for a fraction of the All-Clad price. I’ve been thrilled with them!

    What about corningware or some other type of casserole dish?

  15. I agree with the all-clad saute pan but for a non-stick you don’t need a $150 pan. Just go to a restaurant supply store and get a $30 non-stick. You’ll be happy you did when that coating eventually starts coming off and it’s time to replace it.

  16. I agree with the all-clad saute pan but for a non-stick you don’t need a $150 pan. Just go to a restaurant supply store and get a $30 non-stick. You’ll be happy you did when that coating eventually starts coming off and it’s time to replace it.

  17. Looks like a great list, especially for people who are receiving the things as gifts. But I agree with other commenters that if you want to save money, you don’t need an expensive knife, but just a high carbon steel one that you keep sharp, and I think a cast iron skillet could probably replace the $150 All-Clad and work nearly as well. I actually made an absolute minimum list on my site as well, but I didn’t add any roasting pan or dutch oven. I think one of those is probably necessary at a minimum.

  18. This is a wonderful post, AG. With all the weddings just around the corner, it works well for both brides/grooms and guests!

    I would add a set of mixing bowls:

    http://www.hugthecook.com/detail.aspx?ID=5324&prod=Stonewall-Kitchen-Mixing-Bowl-Set&code=572896

    and measuring cups:

    http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Good-Grips-Angled-Measuring/dp/B0000AYLNR

    to the guide.

    BTW, I echo AG’s approval of Wusthof knives – I got a set and they are incredible. They are lightweight, easy to handle and cut through everything like buttah. I’ll get a rubber cutting board for sure now!

  19. Wow. This is the most incredible timing. I have a bunch of engaged friends who are all coming to me asking me to do their kitchen wedding registry FOR THEM! It’s amazing how overwhelmed they are by the kitchen. They can handle the bedding, the bathroom towels, candlesticks, and the rest. But they run to me for the kitchen. I am sending this post to all of them! Thank you!!!

  20. Great suggestions Adam, esp the dutch oven.

    The one thing I can’t live without in my kitchen is the simple balloon whisk.

  21. Great suggestions Adam, esp the dutch oven.

    The one thing I can’t live without in my kitchen is the simple balloon whisk.

  22. Great list AG, but I’ve gotta ask…no love for the humble vegetable peeler?

    Once I got one with a comfy grip I started using mine all the time–great for making vegetable ribbons for salad among other things.

  23. Ok, first things first. This is a fabulous list of essentials for people who want to actually cook, as opposed to those who want to reheat prepared foods.

    While a cast iron frying pan is essential, it will NOT replace the stainless steel All-Clad pan. You can’t cook acidic foods in cast iron without making the food taste metallic, and in some cases it will actually change color. I had a friend who made lemon curd in cast iron and it turned green.

    When you get the roasting pan, make sure it’s big enough to hold a turkey. If you want something of real quality (and I hope you do) get the All-Clad lasagna pan. It’s practically the same as the roasting pan and almost half the price.

    For the measuring cups, spend the few extra bucks and get a set that includes the 3/4 and 2/3 cup measures. If you get smooth bottomed stainless steel, it will last a lifetime. The smooth bottomed part is for smoothing things in a pan, like Rice Krispy treats, for example.

    Go ahead and drop the big bucks on the Le Creuset. It’s a good investment and will last long enough for your grandchildren to pass down to their children. In other words, nigh on to forever. I have the big ‘un. Twelve and a half glorious quarts– plenty big enough to make stock. Now, I want a smaller one, too. Beware of cheaper enamelware. It may be made in China and is likely to have a high lead content.

    Speaking of stock, if you want a cheap stock pot, look at a Mexican/Latino market for a stainless tamale steamer. You can get a three or four gallon pot for under $40.

    If you go with a Kitchen Aide food processor, you get both small and large processor bowls.

    Also, the Kitchen Aid mixer is truly made of teh awesome. They come in a rainbow of colors, I only wish I could have chosen the Komen pink way back when I got the white. There are attachments for virtually every purpose and you can buy decals to personalize them. There is even an ice cream maker attachment. That being said, I don’t like my Kitchen Aid pasta attachment. I GREATLY prefer an Atlas pasta maker. You can get the model that is hand cranked but that can later be upgraded by adding an electric motor.

  24. If you don’t want to request a food processor (they do take up a fair bit of space after all) you can get a hand blender with small food processor attachment. mine’s braun but i think there are other version. it is fantastic for finely chopping things, making spice pastes, hommus, pesto, although it can’t shred.

  25. I’m so happy to see this post. I was wondering if you had posted a guide in the past. These are great recommendations. Thanks Adam!

  26. The Le Creuset is worth the investment, they have outlet stores around where they have a “color of the month” where you can get anything in that color for 30% off … find a store and wait for your color … only use wooden spoons in these and they will last forever. The enamel will absorb some color over time, a little bleach water will bring it back to its original beauty.

  27. My boyfriend, for our first Christmas together, got me the truly insane and amazing gift of a complete set of Le Creuset— big Dutch oven, long-handled saute/saucepan, cast-iron skillet, roasting pan, and grill pan (I already had a small Dutch oven, which I still use the most when cooking for one or two). He got it on Amazon for $450 and it included shipping–saved about $250 and I use every piece, so I think this is one of those things that could make sense to buy in a set (they have a bunch of combinations). Plus, then you can display them in a big glorious gorgeous-colored row and everyone who visits your kitchen assumes you are very classy and glamorous.

    Random other things I use all the time–pliable silicone spoontula, vegetable peeler, KITCHEN TONGS, and ice cream maker for both ice cream and the ever-important frozen margarita.

  28. Meghan, I hope you marry that man!

    I have long coveted the Le Creuset line, but like many others can’t bring myself to part with that much cash. I know it’s a good investment, but…

    Great list, Adam! I think I’ll pass this on to some friends who are getting married soon.

  29. Nice Post. About the knives. I think that all you really need is a good chef’s knife and you can use just any cheap knife set for other things.

    As for the kitchen aid: I love mine in every way possible to the human race but I think a food processor is way, way, ,more useful. I can not live with out it.

  30. Great post AG! I was elated to see that I already have all the essentials and even the extras you recommend (minus the All-Clad). I got a refurb mixer from KitchenAid on ebay and it works splendidly. Their stick blenders are awesome for soups and smoothies.

    Also, Cook’s Illustrated makes great recommendations for all the basics. Top of the line and “best buy” options.

    My only problem now is that I have no idea what to ask for if I ever get married. I suppose that’s a nice problem to have.

    Do you have any recommendations on cutting boards? (like those huge wooden ones you see on most FN shows?)

  31. Great post AG! I was elated to see that I already have all the essentials and even the extras you recommend (minus the All-Clad). I got a refurb mixer from KitchenAid on ebay and it works splendidly. Their stick blenders are awesome for soups and smoothies.

    Also, Cook’s Illustrated makes great recommendations for all the basics. Top of the line and “best buy” options.

    My only problem now is that I have no idea what to ask for if I ever get married. I suppose that’s a nice problem to have.

    Do you have any recommendations on cutting boards? (like those huge wooden ones you see on most FN shows?)

  32. wow… barbie is in the kitchen again

    interesting

    thanks for the quick how to not burn steak recipe

    LOL xD

    from feLLow food lover,

    A.G.

  33. wow… barbie is in the kitchen again

    interesting

    thanks for the quick how to not burn steak recipe

    LOL xD

    from feLLow food lover,

    A.G.

  34. Great Suggestions! I’m only 22 and have most items on the list (including the Creuset- I spoil myself), and I find that having a few good quality items to be well worth it. Perhaps some all clad pans will be in my near future.

    I would only add a set of nesting mixing bowls (metal perhaps) and a nice set of Tupperware to keep those left overs fresh (it’s sometimes hard to scale down recipes for only 2). I’ll also second the cast iron pan suggestion. I use mine all the time for bacon or doing a piece of meat stove-top and finishing it in the oven.

  35. This is a great post and I will be sending the link to my daughter who now has her first apartment(all her own). She loves to cook, and feels like she wants everything all at once. Although based on your recommendation I will suggest she reward herself(she just became a Nurse Anesthetist) with a Kitchenaid!

  36. Hi there, love your site and love the stories… BUT there’s this annoying thing happening where the first half og each entry is obscured by an advertisement… maybe a technical hitch that needs fixing?? I’d love to be able to read the whole of your stories…

  37. Great post Adam! OK we ended with two of most things when we got married too. The full Le Creuset set was great. One thing worth remembering is that they are SO heavy to stand somewhere in the kitchen. We later bough the Le Creuset pot stand which hangs them up by the hole in the pot handles. A great space saver and looks good too.

    Also a magnetic knife holder. We got Global knives which are mid range but work and sharpen well. Great space saver and shows of our now matching set of blades :)

    All the best Joanne (UK) x

  38. I would recommend going with the better brand name for things. We registered for All-Clads and, even the non-sticks carry a lifetime warranty, so we theoretically never have to buy pots and pans again because we can just send them back if they wear out. We do still pick up pieces though if we see them on a good enough sale. The Le Creuset is beautiful and I am hoping to get more use out of it in the future. With knives, I do not recommend Wustof. Shun knives, I feel, are sharper and just overall higher quality. I love my Kitchen Aid mixer, but don’t use it as much as I’d like to! Definitely, though, all engaged couples should register for All-Clad cookware – awesome investment, and they are made in the USA!

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