Top 10 Kitchen Essentials: Cookware, Bakeware, Knives & Utensils
Moving into your first apartment? Starting over with new items after a renovation? Whether you're a cooking novice or a culinary connoisseur, this kitchen essentials list will help you make great meals with ease.
#1 Pots & Pans
Every home cook needs a set of pots and pans that works with their culinary personality and storage space. These seven pieces should satisfy your basic cooking needs:
- 6"-8" skillet
- 10"-12" skillet
- 1-quart saucepan
- 2-quart saucepan
- 5-quart pasta/soup pot
- 2 or more lids, to fit multiple pans
You can get by with five pieces—one skillet, one medium saucepan, one pasta pot and two lids— if you only cook basics. Or upgrade if you cook multiple courses at every meal for a large number of guests.
To choose the best pots and pans for you, first assess your circumstances. Look at your cabinet space. Ask yourself how much time you plan to spend in the kitchen or entertaining. Be honest with yourself about how well you like to clean or take special care of objects.
Adonized aluminum is the ultimate nonstick choice. These will look similar to other nonstick pots and pans, but they're a little harder and have a bit more sparkle because of their oxidation. There are a wide range of adonized aluminum options for every budget.
Two popular materials that look great in a kitchen are ceramic and carbon steel (a hybrid of cast iron and stainless steel). Both are non-stick and have a pleasing veneer. They range from basic to professional levels, so you can find a brand that best suits your needs and satisfies your price level.
Ceramic or Carbon Steel
An alloy of iron and chromium, stainless steel has long been a popular cookware option. This nonstick material is best for skilled home cooks who want sturdy, long-lasting cookware.
Heavy-duty cast iron cookware is a staple for experienced cooks. These heavy-duty cookware items can withstand super-hot temperatures and move from stovetop or grill to oven and back again.
Bonus Pans: For the Advanced Chef
Invested cooks who aim to experiment in the kitchen and use global recipes should look for the following. Keep in mind that some of these specialty pans will need to be seasoned before use.
- Enameled Dutch ovens
- Clay or terracotta casserole dishes such as cazuelas, paella dishes and tagines
Basic bakeware isn't just for cakes and cookies—you'll find that the essentials are handy for savory dishes, too. Just like posts and pans, bakeware comes in many materials, from aluminum to silicone, and may feature nonstick coatings.
A baking sheet (or cookie sheet), is great for any kind of food where you need a long, rectangular space to lay it out, whether or not you're going to put it into the oven.
Baking sheets may have rims or be perfectly flat, which is useful if you need to slide your finished bake off the tray. They also come in different gauges, or metal thickness—a heavier-gauge pan may be less likely to warp in a hot oven.
Made from aluminum (nonstick, anodized or not), stone, glass or silicone, cake pans are not only for cakes. The standard square 9-inch and rectangular 9x13 pans are must-haves for basic cooking and kitchen usage.
Different shapes work for different things:
- Square 9-inch pans (brownies or casseroles)
- 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2 inch loaf pans (quick breads or meatloaf)
- 9 x 13 inch rectangular pans (sheet cake or lasagna)
- 10 inch Bundt pan (Bundt cake or monkey bread)
#3 Cutting Boards
Cutting, chopping and carving boards—you'll probably want more than one. You might like:
- A mix of colorful, flexible, nonslip silicone mats for cutting vegetables and smaller proteins
- A large wooden or bamboo board for carving meat or slicing bread—choose one with a well around the edges to catch juices and crumbs
- A slate board for serving cheese or charcuterie
Wash your wood, bamboo and slate boards by hand instead of putting them in the dishwasher in order to keep them in good condition.
#4 Mixing Bowls
Many mixing bowls come sets of three, and if you're a novice cook or baker, that's all you'll likely require. Three bowls are necessary for baking:
- One for mixing dry ingredients
- One for mixing wet ingredients
- The third for adding them together (or holding extras like nuts, raisins or chocolate chips).
It's helpful when these bowls have special features such as:
- Lips or spouts to aid with pouring
- Grips or handles for holding the bowl still while stirring
- Silicone feet or rings on the bottom to grip the counter
More experienced home cooks find that a variety of bowls in different sizes is also necessary. Setting up prepped ingredients is the secret to successful cookery, and that requires a bowl for every measured ingredient, sauce, oil, and spice.
#5 Dry and Liquid Measuring Cups
Speaking of measurements, a set of metal or plastic measuring cups are absolutely essential. They usually come in sets of four:
- 1/4 cup
- 1/3 cup
- 1/2 cup
- 1 cup
These are best only for dry ingredients. To measure liquids, you should have a glass or plastic liquid measuring cup (or a set of them in different sizes) that gives you a clear and accurate view when measuring milk and cream, oils, acids and more.
#6 Measuring Spoons
Experienced cooks may simply eyeball an amount of spice or salt for a savory recipe, but it's important to measure the correct amount of baking powder or baking soda for a cake. Most sets include:
- ¼ teaspoon
- ½ teaspoon
- 1 teaspoon
- 1 tablespoon
#7 Kitchen Knives
Invest in a kitchen knife set with multiple knives for different needs:
- Chef's knife for slicing and dicing
- Paring knife for cutting and peeling smaller fruits and vegetables
- Serrated knife for bread
- Set of steak knives
If you don't want an entire butcher block filled with blades, a balanced chef's knife (or a Santoku, which has a thinner blade) and a paring knife can take care of nearly every task.
#8 Cutlery (Flatware)
Generally, cutlery comes in sets, and you might get by with a set of 16 pieces at minimum, four of each of the following:
- Butter knives
- Soup spoons
#9 Serving Ware
The word "cutlery" also extends to serving ware, which sometimes come as extras in nicer sets. This may mean a larger spoon or two or a fork-and-spoon set. Items such as ladles, tongs or cheese knives are also worth considering.
#10 Cooking Utensils
Tongs & Whisks
Tongs come in handy for everything from placing ice in a cocktail glass to twirling a fancy twist of linguine. In addition to whipping eggs, whisks are are excellent for mixing vinaigrettes, sauces and batters.
Optional Kitchen Tools
Kitchens are better equipped with these cooking tools for specific tasks:
- Wooden spoons for stirring, tasting and serving
- Silicone spatulas for everything from wiping the bowls of food processors to safely flipping over pancakes in your nonstick adonized aluminum skillet
- Metal mashers for potatoes