So you want to cook with the Kitchen Bitch, but your kitchen just isn’t ready yet? Never fear, the KB is here with a list of must-haves every cook should have in the kitchen. When my friend Emily decided she wanted to start doing some serious cooking a few months ago, I took her to all my favorite culinary outposts around Chicago and made sure she had all the kitchen basics. What took me many months to amass, Emily collected in just one afternoon, for less than $400 I might add. Here’s the list of 25 items the serious cook or baker just shouldn’t be without.
1. Sharp knives: Every cook should have at a paring knife, bread knife, and chef’s knife, although I prefer a Japanese Santoku knife to a chef’s knife. A Santoku knife ranges in length from 5 in. to 7 in. (shorter than a chef’s knife) and features a scalloped edge along the blade to help with thin, even slicing. It is possible to find a decent stocked knife block for around $100, or you can slowly but surely purchase quality knives from a reputable vendor and add knives to an empty block as you go. Personally, I’m working on my collection of CUTCO knives. CUTCO offers a FOREVER guarantee for its products; if your knives lose their edge, simply send them back and CUTCO will sharpen and return them to you.
2. Tongs: A decent pair of tongs is a must in the kitchen. They need to be comfortable, easy to grip, durable and precise. Silicone-tipped tongs that are heat resistant to at least 400˚F is the way to go if you can find them. These ones from Progressive International on Amazon.com are resistant to 600˚F.
3. Mixing bowls: A set of deep, high-sided bowls is best so that ingredients don’t get all over the kitchen while you’re mixing, but I also love Pyrex’s set of nested mixing bowls because they come with lids for easy fridge or freezer storage. Plus, you can use them as the top half of a double boiler when you need to melt chocolate or make custard.
4. Silicone spatula: Like tongs, it’s best if these are silicone and heat resistant to at least 400˚F. Believe me, you don’t want your spatula melting into your caramel. Have at least one or two sizes lying around for different jobs, like folding egg whites or making a small batch of herb butter. This set of four is going for $10.49 on Amazon.
5. Turner: A flexible turner is a great addition to the kitchen for flipping burgers, pancakes, or vegetables. Buy a non-slotted turner for when you don’t want all the juices to fall back into the pan.
6. Microplane: This is an absolute kitchen staple. I use my Microplane to zest lemons, limes or oranges, grate fresh nutmeg or Parmesan cheese. Invert the cover of the zester so that you can easily measure what you’ve grated. A Microplane with a handle would be an even better purchase.
7. Cheese grater: This KitchenAid box grater is the best grater I’ve ever owned. It’s four-sided and comes with a 3-cup lidded storage container that you can grate directly into. It’s listed at $20 on Amazon.com, but I found mine for $10 at HomeGoods.
8. Lemon reamer: I got this cute yellow one from Crate & Barrel for $3.95.
9. Dutch oven: Having a kitchen stocked with French Le Creuset cookware is every home cook’s dream, but alas, this Bitch is broke. Good cookware does come at a cost, but it’s not necessary to spend $300. So, what makes a Dutch oven a Dutch oven? A Dutch oven is any heavy-bottomed, thick-walled cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. It usually comes in cast-iron, and most models have a chip-resistant porcelain coating in bright, lively colors. We found this lovely one in Polenta Yellow by Mario Batali at Crate & Barrel for $90. What’s great about Dutch ovens is that they easily move from the stovetop to the oven to the table.
10. Nonstick skillet – Every cook should have at least one nonstick skillet, preferably two, one for small jobs like frying an egg and another for large jobs like making omelets or sautéing veggies.
11. Stainless steel sauté pan: Or really any deep, high-sided stainless steel pan with a heavy bottom. These can go from stovetop to oven and are great for making pan sauces. In my opinion, bigger is better cause you can use it for multiple tasks.
12. Apron: If you’re messy like I am, you definitely need an apron. I found this amazing 1950s style cherry apron at Gethsemane Garden Center here in Chicago. Pockets are a necessity for holding thermometers or other tools while you’re moving around the kitchen.
13. Wooden Spoons: Doesn’t matter whether you buy cheap ($3 for 3) or expensive ($25 for 5) ones, but do buy them! You will use them for EVERYTHING. I promise. And since wood doesn’t conduct heat, you won’t be burning yourself or your utensils if you leave them in the pan on the stovetop.
15. Saucepans: Have at least two or three of different sizes for different jobs like making rice or pasta sauce, steaming veggies, or boiling water for pasta.
16. Whisks: Cooks use whisks to blend ingredients until smooth, like in a pan gravy, or to incorporate air into a mixture, as in whipping egg whites or dry ingredients for a cake. I keep a small one around for making salad dressings and a bigger one around for more heavy-duty baking jobs like making a custard or filling.
17. Cutting Boards: While I keep a number of cutting boards on hand, most home cooks only need two: a wood or bamboo cutting board for vegetables and other non-meat tasks, and a high-quality plastic board for raw meat. Why use a plastic board specifically for meat? Well, mostly because it’s more hygienic. Wood boards often have nooks and crannies in the grain that can trap bacteria if they’re not cleaned properly, and plastic boards can be safely washed in the dishwasher, saving me time and back pain and ensuring cleanliness. If a cutting board is designated raw meat only, the chances of bacteria from the meat spreading to any other part of my meal are greatly lessened. Never use ceramic boards—they will dull your knives beyond repair. Ask my mother.Wood boards are great because not only do they are sturdy and easy on your knives, but they also look nice, so you can leave them on the countertop. This set from Totally Bamboo looks lovely.
18. Sheet pan: It’s for all those basic baking and oven needs, includes baking cookies and potatoes, and reheating frozen foods in the oven. Have at least one on hand.
19. Glass baking dish: It’s easy to clean, doesn’t rust like metal, and lasts forever.
20. Roasting Pan: For when you want to roast a chicken, turkey or other large piece of meat. I suggest buying one with handles for gripping and a rack so that you don’t have to cook the meat in the fat drippings. A rack also makes it much easier to get large pieces of meat in and out of the roasting pan.
21. Bread pan: A 9 x 5 bread pan is perfect for making zucchini bread or pound cake.
22. 9-in. Nonstick Springform pan: A baker’s best friend for making cheesecakes and other cookie-crusted delights.
23. Cakes pans: Keep either two 9-in. or 8-in pans on hand for making single or double layer cakes.
24. Brownie pan: An 8 x 8 in. square pan is perfect for thick, chewy brownies and can be used for other oven jobs.
25. Electric mixer: An electric mixer outfitted with both beater and whisk attachments makes mixing ingredients or whipping cream a snap. Look for models with a slow first speed so that the ingredients don’t fly all over the kitchen when you turn it on. Once I made a red velvet cake with a mixer that didn’t have this feature, and when I was done my kitchen looked like I had butchered an animal there because the red food coloring was everywhere. One that has a case is a big plus for easy storage.