When you first start cooking, it’s difficult to know what sort of equipment you need to buy. I’ve put together this list based on what I find most useful in the kitchen, and on the techniques and recipes I’m planning to teach.
Since you’re on a cooking blog, I’m assuming you have a fairly standard kitchen with a stove, a sink and a microwave. I’m also assuming that you have some basic crockery (cups, bowls, and plates) and cutlery (knives, forks and spoons), so I haven’t included any of these things on my list.
Here are my top ten pieces of essential kitchen equipment:
1. A good, sharp, knife
It can be very tempting when starting out to buy a bargain set of five knives AND a knife block, but you’re actually better off starting with just one good quality knife.
I recommend a knife with a handle about the same length as your palm, and a blade of similar length. It should feel comfortable in your hand and you should be able to grip it firmly. I personally find that I use just one lightly serrated blade for chopping pretty much everything, however some people prefer a smooth blade. My mum’s advice is to get one of each.
2. A saucepan (or two)
A good saucepan (with a lid) lets you cook a lot of different dishes on the hob. Most beginner’s sets come with four different sizes and a frying pan, but you don’t need that many pans! Not only is it very difficult to keep track of four different pans at once, you’re likely to find that you have one pan that is the right size for almost all your dishes.
I recommend starting out with just one saucepan – our favourites are about 20cm (8”) across. If you can, find a good quality pan with a glass lid. (It’s great to be able to see what you’re doing, after all.)
3. A wok
This isn’t a standard beginner’s tool, but to me it’s invaluable. Naturally you can make all sorts of dishes from East Asia in a wok, but you can use it to cook pretty much anything. The large size is perfect for holding all your ingredients at once, and the rounded shape makes it a lot easier to stir during cooking and clean afterwards.
If you can’t find a good wok (with a lid), you can substitute a large, deep frying pan.
4. A metal sieve
I prefer to use an all-metal sieve instead of a colander for draining and rinsing vegetables, rice and pasta because it drains better and doesn’t let little bits escape with the water.
And, if you can find a metal sieve that neatly fits into your saucepan, it can even double as a steamer!
5. A (set of) silicone spatula(s)
I find that a silicone spatula is the single most versatile kitchen implement I own. You can use it for stirring or turning food, and scraping out jars and tins. This is one of the few things on this list I would recommend you have more than one of!
Not everyone likes silicone tools, though, so as an alternative you might want to consider a wooden spoon or spatula, a metal spoon or a fish slice.
6. An oven-proof dish
A good oven-proof dish can be used for pretty much anything that you bake in the oven – this includes things like casseroles, pot roasts, and pasta bakes.
My personal favourite is a pyrex dish, because you can easily see what you’re cooking, but you can also get ceramic dishes, or metal ones (which tend to be lighter).
7. A baking tray (or two)
A flat metal tray that goes in the oven is a good kitchen staple. I would definitely recommend a tray with sides as opposed to a baking sheet, as it stops your food falling off the edges. You can use a baking tray for a variety of savoury dishes, and of course for baking!
8. Oven gloves
If you’re going to be taking hot dishes out of the oven, you need a pair of oven gloves! There are a couple of different designs – two-handed mitts can be useful for handling large pots, while gloves with opposable thumbs can be better for handling trays. Most people will have a personal preference, so why not try them on before you buy.
9. A measuring jug
A measuring jug is very useful for making sauces and gravies, and (my personal favourite) pancake batter. I would recommend a pyrex jug as it can handle hot and cold liquids, and can be heated in the microwave. Although, if your budget’s tight, a plastic jug works just fine for most things.
10. Storage boxes
It’s a shame to waste any food, and it’s great to have leftovers at hand when you don’t feel like cooking. A good set of storage boxes is a really good investment, though they needn’t be expensive. In fact, I’ve found some of the most useful storage boxes are the ones that takeaway comes in!
You may also want to consider tin foil (which can be used for cooking as well as storage), plastic bags, and cling film.
These ten pieces of equipment should be plenty to get you started in the kitchen. Read on for ten more pieces of equipment that you might find useful, but you can make do without.
1. A kettle
A kettle is useful for boiling water, but you can use a saucepan with a lid just as well. (A kettle is easier to pour though.)
2. A chopping board
A chopping board helps protect your worktop from your knife, and it can be easily washed for good food safety. The flat shape of a chopping board can make it easier to use, but you can use a normal dinner plate too.
3. A box grater
A grater is often the easiest way to chop up food very finely, and it’s great for cheese. I recommend a box grater because it has different fineness settings. If you struggle to grip a knife firmly, you might want to consider using the widest setting on a box grater to slice your vegetables.
4. A pair of scissors
Although you can cut pretty much anything with a knife, some things are definitely easier to cut with scissors. Remember, you don’t have to buy your kitchen scissors in the kitchen department! As long as you wash them up before you use them, any scissors with metal blades will do.
5. A tin opener
A lot of tins these days come with ring-pulls or other built-in opening mechanisms. However, if you buy food in plain old-fashioned tins, you will need a tin opener.
6. A frying pan
A pan specifically for frying things can be useful because of the lower sides – this makes it easier to turn food over during cooking, although hot fat can jump and spit at you more easily too. If you do want a frying pan, you might want to consider a lid or fat shield for it too.
7. An apron
An apron is a great kitchen accessory for messy cooks like myself, especially if you’re trying something out for the first time. They help to protect your clothes, and they can look pretty great too! If you can’t find an apron that you like, you could wear an old top over your clothes instead.
8. A funnel
Funnels are very useful for making sure you don’t spill liquids everywhere. I wouldn’t call them a kitchen essential, but if you’re a bit clumsy (like me) it might be worth considering.
9. A mixing bowl
Although you can use all sorts of things, including a normal bowl, measuring jug, or cooking pan, a good large bowl just for mixing your ingredients can be very useful. Mixing bowls come in a variety of materials, including metal, glass, plastic, and ceramic, so it’s good to think about how heavy and heat-resistant you want your mixing bowl to be.
10. A food processor
Food processors can be pretty expensive. I’ve put them on this list mostly for people who have limited time or energy for cooking, because a food processor can help you save both. A food processor is kind of a kitchen investment, so if you want one I would recommend shopping around to find a decent quality machine that does everything that you want it to.
And that’s it! My top ten essential and useful pieces of kitchen equipment. There are of course many other tools out there, especially if you want to try your hand at baking too. As you become more experienced in the kitchen, I’m sure you’ll find your own favourite tools. I wonder, if you wrote your top ten list, how would it be different to mine?