I had a friend contact me the other day. Her daughter is getting married soon and is starting to create her wedding gift registries. My friend – God bless her – does not cook. She told me once that in college, she literally used the oven in her small apartment to store her purses! So she called me to ask if I could put together a list of kitchen essentials so her daughter could add them to her wedding registry.
I spent a few days making the list because I wanted to see what I really use when I cook. Let’s face it. There are some gadgets that look really cool and you just have to have them! You bring them to your kitchen, use them once or twice…and then they get shoved into the back of a cabinet and are never seen again. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. Everybody’s done it.
The items on this list are items that I really, truly use on a daily/weekly basis. I honestly use them often enough that I consider them essential.
I’m going to post links for each item so it will make it easier for you to purchase them, if you choose to. In as many cases as possible, I’ve posted the exact item that I personally own, because I can personally say that these items work and do a great job.
I’m going to divide everything into categories. That will make it easier – for all of us.
I don’t know how anybody can cook without a good set of measuring cups. I mostly use mine for baking. A lot of baking is very specific and you have to get the measurements right. I can usually eyeball a cup of peanut butter or mayonnaise because they hold their shape a little more. But sugar? Flour? I have to measure those!
I seriously use my measuring spoons on a daily basis. Whether baking or cooking, I measure a lot. Don’t get me wrong. I often use a “palm full” as a measurement and I eyeball a lot of things, but there are times when you really need an exact measurement. I actually have mine hanging on a little hook on the inside of a cabinet door. That way, I always know where they are.
Push-up measuring cup
Oh, my gosh! I love this little guy! Perfect for measuring slightly sticky stuff. Peanut butter, honey, shortening, mayonnaise – just pack it in and push it out!
Glass measuring cup
I know I already said you need a set of measuring cups, but I really believe you also need a 2-cup glass measuring cup. It great if you need to heat a little water in the microwave or if you just need to measure more than a cup at once.
I know. I know. You’re thinking that you don’t make candy and you don’t need a candy thermometer. Please go ahead and invest in a candy thermometer. You never know when you’re going to need it. You can also use it if you’re deep frying and need to get your oil to a certain temperature. Get one. Put it in a kitchen drawer and dig it out when you need it.
I have two kinds of meat thermometer. I have one that I use to check the temperature while/after grilling or baking. I have another that I can actually insert into the meat and leave it in while I bake. You really do need at least one of these. Chicken and pork, in particular, can be dangerous if you don’t cook them to the right temperature.
A scale is a great tool to have in your kitchen. There are some recipes that use weight measurements instead of cups or spoons. And it you’re on a specific eating plan, having a way to measure your food comes in handy.
POTS & PANS:
10- or 12-inch skillet
You’re going to use a skillet for so much! Frying or scrambling eggs, sauteing vegetables, making a stir-fry. So many things require a skillet. I prefer a non-stick skillet, but you may like a plain stainless steel or aluminum one. If your skillet doesn’t have a lid, don’t worry! I’ve used a pizza pan or cookie sheet as a lid before. Now, I know that the one in the picture is a little pricey, but when it comes to skillets, you get what you pay for. If you find a nonstick skillet for $15, trust me. You may as well refer to it as a disposable skillet because it’s not going to last very long. The one in the picture is a Calphalon. They last forever! And this one can even go into the oven.
Cast Iron Skillet
A lot of people are intimidated by cast iron. Don’t be! Just make sure you never put it in the dishwasher. When I finish cooking with mine, I wipe it out, rinse it with warm water (only if necessary), use a paper towel to rub a little vegetable oil on the inside, and then stick it in a 450 degree oven. I then turn off the oven and just leave the skillet inside. This bakes away any moisture and prevents the skillet from rusting. I use mine mainly for making cornbread or biscuits, but you can use it for anything! I even use mine to start steaks on the stovetop and then transfer them to the oven to finish. Nothing conducts heat like cast iron.
You’re going to need a basic saucepan. You’ll use this to warm up canned soup or make boxed mac & cheese. I use mine to make rice, too. I have a couple of sizes – a 1-quart and a 2-quart. I use them all for different things. A 2-quart is a great place to start. I really like this one because of the pour spout.
I use my stock pot for so many things! Jambalaya, baked beans, taco soup, pasta. This is a great pot to have for bigger dishes. I have this 5.5-quart stock pot and I use it all the time.
Baking dishes (9X13 & 8X8)
You will use these all the time. For cakes, brownies, casseroles…they are just indispensable. You’ll want an 8X8 for smaller dishes and a 9X13 for larger ones. I like a nonstick for the 8X8 because that makes getting smaller things out. For the 9X13, I prefer a glass pan. The one pictured is awesome because it comes with a lid. Great for taking somewhere – or just for putting it into the refrigerator.
This is what many of us refer to as a “cookie sheet.” In restaurant terms, this is a “half-sheet.” Remember those big, honking sheet pans the lunch ladies used in the school cafeteria? That’s a full sheet. This baking sheet is half that size. I also have a couple of quarter-sheet pans, but I think the half-sheet is something you’ll use more. I honestly think you need two – especially if you’re a cookie baker. You’ll want to have one in the oven and a second ready to go, full of scoops of cookie dough.
Silicone baking mat
This is one of the best kitchen inventions EVER. On cooking shows, you’ll hear them refer to it as a “Silpat.” Silpat is a brand. They are a little pricey for me, so I found an alternative. Put one of these in the bottom of your sheet pan and you don’t even have to use baking spray. They just don’t stick! And I mean it! Cheese, caramel, balsamic glaze – it does not stick! This is a three pack – 2 half sheets and 1 quarter sheet. They’re really affordable – around $15. And I’ve had mine for three years and they have never failed me! I’ve even put one on the counter and used it to roll out dough!
Round cake pans
Not a cake baker? That’s okay. These are also great for making cinnamon rolls – homemade or straight from the can. Biscuits do well in these pans, too.
I am not ordinarily a bread maker, but I have made bread like everybody else during the pandemic! Elizabeth makes a spectacular vegan banana bread. But I honestly have made more meatloaves in my loaf pans than anything else.
I use my muffin tin so much! Yes, of course, I use it for muffins – homemade or mixed from a package. But I also use it for mini frittatas ( I have a great recipe for those: http://mamacanilickthespoon.com/a-week-of-make-ahead-breakfasts/), but I also make meatloaf in my muffin tin. It’s great because they cook so much faster than a regular meatloaf and they are a perfect portion! Now I’m a little bit of a muffin tin nut and I own a 6-cup, a 12-cup, and even a 24-cup. I make a lot of muffins and other things in my muffin tins. I think the 12-cup is the most versatile.
I use my pizza pans a lot – for heating pizza, for making pizza, for making cookie cakes, for making fruit pizzas, for making breakfast pizzas, loaded scrambled eggs breakfast wreath, king cake, and lots of other things! You’ll find lots of uses for a pizza pan.
This is one of those things that you don’t think you need until you have one. I didn’t have one for years. And then, one day, I decided to buy a set of cooling racks. The ones I have actually fit inside my half-sheet baking sheets. This is very convenient because I can place one into a baking sheet and the food gets crispier than when you just lay the food onto the surface of the baking sheet. Chicken nuggets, chicken strips, french fries. They all get crispier if you use a rack. The racks are also great when used for what they were made for. When I’m baking cookies, they come out of the oven and go straight onto a cooling rack. This is far superior to just laying them on a plate. Allowing them to cool on a rack makes the bottoms a little crispier and just makes for a better texture. I also use mine when I’m frying. I place paper towels into one of my baking sheets and then put the cooling rack on to of that. This allows the food to drain without getting soggy.
In my next post, I’ll talk about small appliances, tools, and bowls & such. I just think it would be best to divide this information into two posts because it can be a little overwhelming. Check out Kitchen Essentials, part two. See you next time!