Kitchen Essentials – How to Set Up Your Dream Kitchen
Whether you’re moving into your first apartment or you’re moving to a new house, the kitchen will be an important part of your new home. Our checklist of kitchen essentials has all of the tools, utensils, cookware, and gadgets you’ll need to whip up some delicious meals. Below we’ll cover the necessities you should have for your first kitchen as well as some nice-to-haves that will help expand your cooking repertoire.
Our list below is has two categories for every section – Essentials are things you shouldn’t be caught without, and Splurge items that you could consider buying if you have room in your budget, think you’ll use them, or want to up your game as a chef.
We’ve kept our budget for our essential items capped at $500, so if you’re outfitting your kitchen for the first time you won’t have to break the bank.
Shopping for quality
You’ll always need to eat, and no matter where you live you’re going to have a place to cook. When we created our list of kitchen necessities, we wanted to make sure we considered the quality of every item as well as the cost. In most cases, you’re better off spending a little more on a utensil that comes with a lifetime guarantee and is going to last for decades over a cheap product that will only last until your next move.
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of The Food Lab, is a world renowned chef and food experimenter. Many of the items on this list are recommended as part of his essential toolkit for any aspiring chef. Most of the items are under $15, are battled tested by professional chefs, and will last you for years.
Kitchen Utensils List
Utensils are one of the most used tools in the kitchen. They don’t need to be fancy or expensive, but if you’re like us, buying the right items can make your time in the kitchen much more enjoyable.
Tongs – We love OXO kitchen products. These budget friendly 9” Stainless Steel Locking Tongs by OXO are a steal at under $15, are sturdy enough to flip a steak, and have nearly replaced all of our other kitchen tools.
Spatulas – Our spatula of choice is OXO’s fish spatula. It’s slotted, which means you can drain off any liquids before transferring to a plate. It’s stiff enough to handle a thick cut of meat, but flexible enough to wedge into the nooks and crannies of your pan.
We also recommend getting a silicone spatula to use for non-stick pans so you don’t scratch the surface. Again, OXO makes a sturdy, high quality silicon spatula that we love. And we’re not the only ones – it’s rated 4.5 stars on Amazon with nearly 1,500 different reviews. At about $10, it’s a great value buy.
Ladles – For soups, stews, chili, and other liquids, you’ll want something to scoop your delicious creation out of your pot and into your bowl. Again, it’s OXO to the rescue with this nylon ladle for $7. It’s hard to argue with over 1,000 reviews rating it at 4.5 stars on Amazon.
Utensil holder – Now that you have all these great tools, make them easy to reach with a utensil holder for your kitchen counter. We think this jumbo stainless steel utensil holder looks great on our counter, but they come in tons of flavors.
Whisks – In most cases a whisk isn’t necessary, you could get by using a fork. But if you’re a baker, pancake enthusiast, or just like the convenience of a whisk, we recommend this basic 9″ whisk for $9. You only need one whisk in your life, and this one will do you just fine.
Cooking chopsticks – It might seem odd to some, but chopsticks make an excellent cooking utensil. Great for stirring, tossing, or placing food, they’re especially useful when cooking in a wok or other rounded pans. We like these 14” stainless steel chopsticks for cooking.
Skimmer – For soups & stews, we also recommend having a skimmer on hand as well, in case you want liquid to drain before scooping something up. These can also be very helpful when frying foods. There are plenty to choose from, but we like this highly rated steel strainer with a bamboo handle for under $10.
Kitchen Knives and Cutlery
There are a few basic knives every kitchen should have, and they don’t need to break the bank. When considering a good knife, we look for a sharp, sturdy blade, a comfortable handle, and durable construction. These knives will hold up through years of use, can be resharpened over time, and many come with a lifetime guarantee.
8” Western Chef’s Knife – Sturdy, sharp, and pointed at the tip, these knives are great for cutting through meat, bone, and hearty vegetables. They’re built to rock back and forth as you cut, and generally have some heft to them.
We like the J.A. Henckels Classic 8″ Knife, with it’s full tang blade and triple riveted handle. It’s has a comfortable grip with a bolster that makes it easy to maneuver while chopping. We think it’s the best chef’s knife you can buy for $50, and it comes with a lifetime guarantee.
- Precision-honed blade and laser-controlled edge
- Sigmaforge knife is forged from a single piece of special
- Traditional chef's knife, 8" Bread knife, Twin kitchen shears, Twin 9"
7” Santoku Knife – Santoku knives come from Japan, designed by chefs to slice, dice, and mince. Unlike a western chef’s knife, santoku blades are not meant for chopping through bone or hearty vegetables like carrots or squash. However, their straight, sharp edge makes them great for chopping just about anything else, and they are far more agile and maneuverable than a typical western chef’s knife. Having each style of knife in your kitchen means you’ll have the right tool for each job.
Our pick for santoku knives is the Victorinox 7” Fibrox santoku knife with it’s ice tempered carbon blade makes for a high qualify knife that handles well. Victorinox (makes of the Swiss Army Knife) includes their patented Fibrox non-slip grip on this knife, giving it a textured handle that is comfortable to use while still allowing for a firm grip.
- VERSATILE KITCHEN ESSENTIAL. Slicing, dicing, mincing -- this knife can do it all. This Santoku knife's combines the features of a cleaver and a chef's knife with a unique shape that allows it to be used as a spatula to scoop up whatever you are chopping.
- GRANTON EDGE. Featuring a Granton edge that prevents food from sticking to the blade and minimizes friction. The flat cutting edge doesn't rock, creating a highly efficient chopping motion and is ground in two directions to create long-lasting sharpness.
- EASY HANDLING. This knife features an ergonomic Fibrox Pro handle for a non-slip grip -- even when wet. This exceptional knife is weighted and balanced for easy handling and comfort.
- KNIFE DIMENSIONS. Stainless steel blade -- 7" in length. Meets the strict National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) standards for public health protection.
- TRUSTED SWISS QUALITY. Expertly crafted in Switzerland in 1884, Victorinox provides a lifetime guarantee against defects in material and workmanship. Making a lifetime commitment has never been so easy. Handle material - Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE)
Steak knives – Great steak knives are worth the investment, and shouldn’t set you back much. J.A Henckels, the maker of our pick for a western chef’s knife, makes a beautiful 8 piece steak knife set. We like these for the same reasons we like their chef’s knife – full tang blade, sturdy rivets, a comfortable handle, and a lifetime guarantee.
Pairing Knife – Bigger isn’t always better. We like this 4 in. Victorinox pairing knife for peeling fruits and vegetables or making other fine cuts.
Bread Knife – A long bread knife is great for cutting up soft breads, hard breads like baguettes, cutting sandwiches in half, or even slicing meats in a pinch. The Victorinox bread knife is great, but at nearl $50 is a little indulgent. This 8” bread knife from OXO will do the job just fine. It’s highly rated with nearly 600 reviews on Amazon and comes in under $10.
Meat Cleaver – If you’re sold on a santoku knife, but looking for an alternative to the western chef’s knife, a meat cleaver is a great alternative pairing. Handy for cutting through thick meat, bone, and hearty vegetables, but also surprisingly good when it comes to finely mincing herbs or other vegetables. A basic heavy duty meat cleaver should last you a lifetime, and for just under $10 it’s worth having in your kitchen on the off chance you need it.
We do not consider any of these items essential, these all fall squarely in the Splurge category. You may consider a toaster oven, microwave, coffee maker, or blender, but we’ve found we can get by without them. This is especially true if you don’t have a lot of cabinet storage or counter space, single function appliances are hard to justify.
However, there are two items we want to call out because they are multi-purpose, and they have changed the way we cook for the better.
We can’t help but highlight our favorite kitchen appliance to date – the Instant Pot. The Instant Pot Duo 9-in-1 won our top pick for best pressure cooker, and for good reason – this little pressure cooker has garnered itself a cult following, with nearly 500,000 people on their Facebook group and plenty of sites dedicated to Instant Pot Recipes. And it’s popular for good reason – it’s requires almost no set up, it’s easy to use, and is a 9-in-1 appliance – use it as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, egg cooker, sauté, steamer, warmer, sterilizer and it makes cake too!
On top of everything else, the Instant Pot is built to be convenient – some models can be controlled with your smart phone. This makes it easy to prep a meal before work, start the cooking process on your way home, and come home to a delicious homemade meal. The Instant Pot will be your new best friend in the kitchen.
Using a sous vide has changed the way we cook, especially for larger groups. To cook using a sous vide, you place your food in a sealed bag and use a water bath to heat it to the perfect temperature. It becomes impossible to overcook a cut of meat with a sous vide, it’s the easiest way to get juicy, tender meals with almost no stress.
It’s definitely not for everyone, but the cost of a sous vide appliance has dropped dramatically in the last few years. The Anova cooker with Bluetooth, our favorite sous vide, usually sells for $150. You can often find it on sale at Amazon, so it’s worth checking to see if you can get a deal on it.
If you decide on a sous vide, we highly recommend you try these sous vide ribs from Serious Eats.
Pots, Pans, and cookware
Of all the things you’ll buy to outfit your kitchen, the easiest place to blow your budget is with your pots and pans. With all the different sizes, shapes, metals, and types of cookware, it’s hard to know what you will need, what you’ll use day to day, and what to avoid buying.
Our picks below are enough to account for most of your cooking needs. We think “less is more” when it comes to pots and pans – you can always expand your collection over time if you find you are consistently missing something to cook a dish. But we can assure you, there’s no rush to buy that specialty paella pan right out of the gate.
Cast Iron – Cast iron skillets can’t be beat. They’re sturdy, easy to clean, they last for generations, and they don’t break the bank. If you’re on a tight budget, you can try to find these at a local swap meet or thrift store – just make sure you’re ready to go through the process of cleaning & seasoning a used cast iron skillet.
We like Lodge brand skillets for a number of reasons. We recommend the 12″ skillet from Lodge, which is big enough to make most dishes but still small enough to use in a standard size oven. Lodge pre-seasons all of their cast iron ware, which makes it easy to use and ready to cook with out of the box. At under $30, it’s hard not to love these things.
Adding a pot holder makes using a cast iron skillet much more convenient, so either buy a skillet that includes a silicone handle cover, or make sure to buy a pot holder separately.
Non-stick pans – Even though we love our cast iron skillets, it’s nice to have a non-stick pan on occasion. A good non-stick pan is a great compliment to a cast iron skillet, and comes in particularly useful for cooking eggs, sauces, or delicate meats.
Again, no need to spend big here. This Cuisinart 12″ nonstick skillet is a classic – well made, can be baked in the oven up to 500 degrees, and comes with a helper handle to make it easy to maneuver when it’s hot. It’s rated at 4 stars on Amazon with over 800 reviews, and for about $35 it’s the only non-stick pan you’ll need.
Sauce pot – A 3 quart sauce pot will be your go to for boiling water, whether it’s to hard boil eggs, whip up some pasta, or cook some sweet potatoes. They also come in handy when making sauces or small batches of soup.
Our top pick is a 3 quart stainless steel sauce pot from Cuisinart. It has a high quality build, and includes a pour spout on the side to help avoid spills. It’s a great deal at about $35, especially considering it comes with a straining lid.
Stock pot – It’s always good to have a large pot on hand for soups & stews. A basic stainless steel stock pot will handle almost anything you throw at it, no need to get splurge here.
Baking sheets – They are truly all the same. Get this great set of 3 backing sheets from Amazon for $15 and don’t overthink it.
Small cast iron skillets – We love our cast iron skillets so much we can’t help but get more of them. An 8” skillet comes in useful when you’re preparing multiple dishes at once and need a second pan, and these 3.5 inch skillets are great for baking personalized dishes that can be served in the skillet, like an egg bake or corn bread.
Cutting board – You don’t realize the importance of a good cutting board until it’s too late. For us, a good cutting board has a large work area, does not slide around on the counter, and is easy to use.
Our top pick is a 10.5” x 14.5” cutting board from OXO. It’s large, has rubberized edges to grip the counter, and cleans up in a snap. It also has a nice channel around the perimeter of the board to make sure any liquids won’t leak onto our counter (think juicy meats that you’re slicing to serve.)
Bench Scraper – Ever used a knife to scoop something up off of a cutting board? Scraping your knife blade across a hard surface is a great way to dull it or even chip it. Bench scrapers are built to scrape sticky dough off of a work surface, but they’re also great for scooping up chopped veggies or meat off the cutting board without ruining your knives.
Ramakins – We might catch some flak for considering this an essential, but ramakins are great for holding chopped food when you need to make room on the cutting board. Our favorite are sold as “custard cups”, $12 will get you 4 of them.
Mixing Bowls – Another game changer, we think this might be the best investment you make in your kitchen (next to a good cast iron skillet and some good knives.) A basic set of stainless steel mixing bowls will make your life easier when it comes time to marinate some meat, mix veggies, or toss a large salad, and they’re incredibly easy to clean. Our top pick features 6 different size bowls for under $25 – a very worthwhile (and budget friendly) investment.
Tupperware – With all this cooking going on, you’ll need somewhere to keep the leftovers. Tupperware is an area where buying cheap usually means buying a new set every few months. This 28 piece set from Rubbermaid is easy to wash, easy to store, is shatterproof, and should last you a while – for under $40 it’s a no-brainer.
Bottle Opener & Corkscrew – There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a large stainless steel bottle opener that pops a top with ease. For wine, we like this professional grade wine key, and for under $15 it comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Measuring Cups / spoons – a staple of every kitchen. No need to get fancy here – we like this stainless steel measuring cup set from Chefland. Less than $10, highly rated by thousands of buyers, and eligible for prime shipping on Amazon. What more could you ask for?
Ice cube trays – We prefer silicon trays because they’re much easier to get the cubes out of. This two pack of trays makes 20 perfect cubes per tray.
Oven Mitts – These aren’t your grannie’s pot holders (though she might enjoy these as much as we do.) The Grill Armor Oven Gloves are wearable oven mitts that will protect your hand up to 932 degrees. Are they ridiculous? A bit. But getting burned sucks, and having full use all of your fingers when handling hot items is a game changer.
Instant read thermometer – Don’t ever overcook your dinner again. Having a thermometer in your kitchen solves two problems – the fear of undercooking your meat, and the disappointment of overcooking it. This $15 instant read thermometer is the best budget friendly option. If you avoid overcooking one great cut of meat by using it, it has paid for itself.
Kitchen Scale – A kitchen scale will change the way you cook for the better. Is it nerdy? A bit indulgent? Yes to both, but it’s the best way to get precise measurements in the kitchen. This scale is a great option to test the waters with.
Garlic press – If you cook with garlic regularly, you know that mincing it with a knife is a pain. A garlic press makes this process quick and easy. An added bonus – using a press will keep your fingers from having that funky garlic smell for the rest of the night.
Salt Cellar & Pepper Grinder – A minor purchase, but a major convenience. Having these at the ready will make cooking easier, and they look great on your table as well.
Tea Kettle – If you regularly make tea, or use a french press for coffee, you might consider getting a kettle – it’s far more convenient than whipping out your sauce pot every time you need to boil water.
Colander – Our recommended sauce pot comes with a straining lid, so you could get by without one. But if you’re regularly making pasta, or want an easy way to wash and dry your fruits and vegetables, a colander or strainer could be a worthwhile investment.
A few other odds and ends:
- Kitchen rug / Standing mat
- Can Opener
- Magnetic hooks – great for hanging things off the side of the refrigerator.
- Step stool – Worth considering if you are storing your new kitchen goodies in hard to reach places.
We hope you enjoy cooking in your new kitchen. We’ve hand picked all of these items because we know they work. They’re cost effective, useful, well designed, and should last for years. Once you’ve assembled your dream kitchen, it’s time to get cooking! Didn’t see your favorite kitchen utensil? If you feel like we missed something please drop it in the comments!
If you’re in need of some inspiration, we highly recommend The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. It’s by far the most fascinating look at cuisine that we’ve seen, and the New York Times says it’s “The one book you must have, no matter what you’re planning to cook or where your skill level falls.” What better way to celebrate moving into your new home and put your new kitchen to the test?