I started off in my first real kitchen with some hand-me-down utensils, a smattering of silverware, a tired hot pot and some old butter bowls. I also had two cheap pans and a baking sheet that I found in a dorm somewhere. It was bleak, but it made chicken nuggets, grilled cheese sandwiches and fried eggs, and that was about the extent of my culinary repetoire.
As I moved from apartment to apartment, I lost some kitchen implements and gained others. When my husband and I combined households, we found we had a heap of hand-me-downs, pans that have seen better days, and silverware bent in interesting ways. A lot of it was avocado green. Most of it was barely functional. I shudder to think of the carcinogens leaching out of those pans.
Our wedding registry offered the opportunity for an upgrade, but overwhelming is an understatement. Which pots? Which pans? Will people think I’m nuts for asking for a $500 pot and pan set? Answer: Yes. Do I need a potato ricer? What about an egg slicer? Immersion blender or regular blender or both?
Do I need an ice cream machine? Will I be making that much ice cream? What about ice cream bowls? What’s a butter bell and is a French one better than a regular one? Answer: Who knows? Silicone bakeware or metal? Do I really need 101 cookie cutters? Answer: No, not until you have children. Even then, they aren’t used as cookie cutters.
Recently, a friend got engaged and faced the same conundrum I did 10 years ago. She has infinitely more sense than I did and asked for help. With a decade of experience under my belt, I made a list for setting up housekeeping.
1. A good set of pots and pans. They should be heavy for their size and have a copper bottom. I like stainless steel with glass lids. I don’t like nonstick.
2. Unless it’s for eggs. I have one nonstick saucepan that I use for eggs and any other sticky stove-top wicket.
3. A good set of knives. One where the steel runs down through the handle. Have a range of sizes and keep them honed and sharp. I like a set that comes with good kitchen shears.
4. A large stockpot and a roasting pan. And a roasting rack for that pan, so that your must-impress-momma Thanksgiving turkey doesn’t boil in its own fat.
5. Two baking sheets with a lip and two without. Being able to slide a baked good off the sheet and onto a serving dish is something you didn’t know you needed until you are stuck trying to airlift some fragile delicacy over the rim of a baking sheet. While you’re at it, get some silicone baking mats for those pans.
6. Metal cooling racks. Beyond cooling your cookies, these sheets can be used to bake or broil items you want the fat to drain off of, like chicken thighs; to make superior oven-baked grilled cheese sandwiches; to drain fried foods and keep a solid, crispy crust all the way around.
7. Bakeware, to include two 9-inch cake pans, a bundt pan and springform pans.
8. Basic utensils, to include spatulas (I like high-heat silicone for my spatulas), a heavy stainless steel whisk (that will get nowhere near that nonstick pan), tongs, a pasta spoon, a large slotted spoon, a ladle, and a set of mixing spoons (I like sealed bamboo). Also, measuring cups and spoons, and two heavy glass liquid measuring cups, one 4-cup and one 2-cup.
9. Kitchen electrics: An immersion blender, a rice cooker/steamer, a slow cooker with a removable crock, and, for a big-ticket item, a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. I normally avoid advocating for one brand over another, but I love my Kitchen Aid. Like, really love. Like, if my house were on fire and all the living creatures in my care were outside, it’d be the thing I’d grab.
10. Double-duty bakeware/serveware, like a starter set of Pyrex or Corningware. I like the sets that come with lids.
I’d love to hear your ideas. I imagine my friend wouldn’t mind them, either.
Beth Colvin is The Advocate’s assistant Food editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.