Essential tools for beginning cooks

 kitchen tools

Every spring as graduation looms near, lists of essentials every young person needs when starting out on their own start popping up on news feeds. The Washington Post recently addressed the issue, with their own catalog of tools and ingredients that everyone should have in their kitchen.

The lists seem to get longer and more expensive every year, with more electronic gadgets being added along with a bevy of spices and condiments, all of which makes me wonder what 'basic' means to the writers. The comments section echoes my sentiments. Does someone just starting out really need both a rice cooker and a slow cooker - especially when for just a few dollars more, you could get a multi-function machine that takes up less space? Likewise, a stick blender is a lovely tool, but is it really an 'essential' item for a beginning cook?

When you add up the items on the "essentials" list, the total comes to an eye-popping $750, quite a stretch for a young person with their first apartment. Of course, it is unlikely that someone would purchase all of these items new, and the paper even provides the "pro-tip" of going to garage sales and thrift stores to save money. But the price tag does lead one to think that perhaps the list is a bit bloated.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think learning knife skills, starting with basic recipes that do not require fancy gadgets, and slowly becoming familiar with ingredients are essential to becoming a good cook. It's too easy to fall into a trap of thinking that great cooking is out of reach because it requires expensive tools, or that a lack of a gadger is why your biscuits didn't turn out. I know that I became a better cook when I stepped away from reliance on gadgets and focused more on technique and sensory experiences, to really understand the food I was creating. 

One area where I do promote splurging is in purchasing cookware. You don't need a huge set of pots and pans, but heavier, high quality skillets and saucepans are so much more forgiving to new cooks who may not have full command of exactly when to turn the heat up or down. Plus, items like cast iron pans are a lifetime investment. A good knife also goes a long way to avoiding frustration in the kitchen and will serve someone for many years into the future.

What do you think of the "essentials" listed in the article?
  

3 Comments

  • mfto  on  5/10/2017 at 11:25 AM

    Sometimes you don't know an item is essential until it disappears from your kitchen. The first year that I was married, I bought a wooden lemon reamer shaped like a lemon, of course. I just had to have it because it was so cute. Since my husband was in the navy, the wooden lemon followed me to many different homes. Still even though I use it several times a week, I took it for granted until 2 weeks ago when the wooden lemon disappeared. I mourned and searched but finally gave up and bought a new wooden lemon. I checked the Washington Post list, but didn't see a reamer. On my personal list, it is definitely essential.

  • veronicafrance  on  5/10/2017 at 2:11 PM

    I think it's not a bad list apart from the electrics, none of which I'd bother with apart from a handheld whisk and a stick blender (the latter is not expensive and so useful). And it's usefully divided into essential and nice to have. Though I wouldn't bother with any other type of grater than a microplane now -- I have a box one, and while expensive to buy, it's sharp forever. And a citrus juicer is an essential, not a nice-to-have IMHO. Whereas a rolling pin isn't essential, a wine bottle will do if you're an occasional baker! The biggest surprise is only one saucepan, and that a large stockpot. Quite impractical if you just want to make a small amount of sauce or heat some milk.

  • ellabee  on  5/12/2017 at 11:41 PM

    The WaPo pantry list would make more sense if it had been presented as what you want to end up with on hand after a period of cooking, not things to buy all at once to start. New cooks can shop for what's needed for the recipes they plan to cook in the short term, and keep adding that way (doubling up on items when they're confident they'll use more in order to build up a pantry). I'm also not in agreement with the cookware recs: A medium tri-ply skillet with a good-fitting lid will be a *lot* more versatile, manageable, and easy-care than a cast iron pan, particularly such a small one. And veronicafrance is absolutely right about a medium or medium-small saucepan -- much more of a priority than a big cast iron skillet. Cookware can be acquired gradually, too: bare-bones starter kit of a medium skillet, boil pot, saucepan, and baking sheet can take someone a long way.

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