The Minimalist Kitchen: What You Need (and Don’t Need) to Set Up Your First Workable Home Kitchen

our kitchen is small by allie pasquier on Flickr!After Mark Bittman mentioned my post about minimalist food selections in his popular New York Times food blog, I was inundated with questions about minimalist cooking. Thoughts about kitchen setups, basic equipment, and other such questions were shared and requested, and eventually I came to realize that it’d be useful to write a follow-up article outlining what goes in a basic kitchen setup for those getting into cooking at home. While I’ve addressed this in the past, I felt a more complete and detailed list was in order.

Cooking at home is the most effective way to minimize your food budget. Almost every meal you cook at home will be less expensive (and often quicker) than a similar meal out on the town. Doing it consistently will not only save you money consistently, but it’ll build up your skills in the kitchen.

The only problem? The setup cost is usually quite stiff. You do need quite a number of items. Fortunately, you don’t need quite as much as you think, and most of the stuff you do need is cheap. Here’s the equipment I’d get for a basic kitchen.

An oven and stove top and a refrigerator These are the basic appliances you’ll need to even attempt cooking at home. Without them, this article is moot. If your apartment/home comes with them, just use the ones already there until they wear out. If you must buy new, buy durable. Do the research, check out Consumer Reports, and follow their recommendations. Energy efficiency is also vital – use the Energy Guide stickers and look for the EnergyStar logo when comparing models. I also strongly encourage you to avoid getting a flat-surface stove top if you’re unfamiliar with cooking, as you will have many boil-overs as you learn and the top can be nearly impossible to clean.

NO microwave “Blasphemy!” many will shout. I argue that a microwave stunts your ability to learn to cook at home by making it very easy to pop convenience foods in the microwave instead of actually preparing something. It’s a crutch at first, though it can definitely become a tool later on. Challenge yourself to no microwave for a year and see how much you learn. Even better – do it right off the bat and you don’t have the initial cost of buying a microwave.

Tip #1: If you can see only a few situations for using it, don’t buy it
So many kitchen items have one use. Take, for example, the cheese slicer. It slices cheese. Period. Use a knife, or if you grate or slice a lot of things, get a four-in-one box grater. Don’t waste your money on a cheese slicer unless you slice five pounds of cheese a week. Any item that does not have uses with a wide variety of foods should be looked at with a very discerning eye.

Basic flatware and eating dishes Don’t sweat this a bit. Go to your local department store and go for the low-end stuff for now. Later on, if you want to “upgrade” to something “classy” (meaning spending far more for essentially the same functionality of an item), go for it. Just don’t waste your money right out of the chute on hundreds of dollars of flatware.

A cutting board Get the cheapest one possible – probably a rectangular chunk of plastic for a buck or two. The entire purpose is to keep your knife from damaging your countertop.

A vegetable peeler This is one of the very few kitchen “gadgets” that’s worth its salt. Although you can peel potatoes, zucchini, squash, and so forth with a knife, a vegetable peeler is incredibly efficient at its task. You can use a knife and/or a box grater in place of this item, but it’s very inexpensive (any old one will do) and the efficiency it adds to many food preparations (especially in a vegetable-heavy diet) is immense.

Tip #2: Be creative in finding workable substitutes
There are countless clever little items for the kitchen that seem like a good idea, but can usually be substituted for easily if you think outside the kitchen a bit. A meat tenderizing hammer? If you prepare meat every day of the week, sure – otherwise, just use the rubber mallet out in the garage with your meat under paper or plastic.

A large pot, a small pot, and a skillet You need three pots, that’s all. The large pot’s for cooking stews, boiling beans and pasta, and so forth. The smaller pot’s perfect for making sauces, boiling small amounts of vegetables, and so on. A single large skillet will be your primary stove top cooking tool. Don’t skimp and get teflon-coated pans or else you’ll just be tossing them in a couple of years when the teflon begins to chip off. Instead, invest now and get some hard-anodized aluminum ones, especially the small pot and the skillet. You’ll still be using good ones when you retire.

Two very simple baking pans Get a 9″ by 13″ cake-style pan and then a French oven or casserole-style pan. 90% of the time, you can get by with just one of these (I’d get the latter one), but that other 10% will leave you aching, when you need to have two items in the oven at once.

A box grater You can get a metal box grater for a buck, and there are all sorts of little uses for it – slicing and grating cheese or vegetables, making breadcrumbs out of an old loaf of bread, and so on. Amazing little utility item for just a few pennies.

Tip #3: Just starting out? This stuff makes perfect gift requests
Almost everything on this list makes for a perfect bridal shower, wedding, or graduation gift. If you have a registry for any such purpose, put these items on it and get gifts that are actually useful instead of just tossing stuff on there without thought or pattern.

Two knives and a honing steel A paring knife and a chef’s knife will handle almost every cutting need you’ll have in your kitchen. Go to your friendly local department store and grip each one. Find the one that fits best in your hand, regardless of price, and buy it. Different hands grip a bit differently, so it may be that the most expensive knife is the best fit for you or the cheapest knife is the best fit. Just get the chef’s knife that fits your grip the best and the paring knife that fits your grip the best.

You should also snag a honing steel. It’s easy to use and makes a world of difference in keeping your knives usable. It does not sharpen your knife, but it does keep the edge on your knife from warping over time. Just use the honing steel twice on each side before you use the knife.

A magnetic knife rack This is basically just a long magnetic strip you can hang somewhere high. Since it’s a big magnet, it’ll attract the blades of your knives and allow them to hang there, without the edge touching anything at all. This reduces the slow wear on the blade of your knife. It’s cheap and definitely the right way to go if you’re childless – if you have children, though, this may be an unsafe temptation for the little ones.

A baking sheet Something to toss things on when you bake them in the oven, from pizza and vegetables to cookies and bread. Again, just get the cheap one – an air bake one is a nice $4 extravagance, but not vital.

A loaf pan If you’re going to bake bread consistently or like to make meatloafs or other small casseroles, a loaf pan is perfect and costs only a buck or two.

Tip #4: Keep the food basics on hand, always
What about the food? I recommend keeping plenty of olive oil and a well-stocked spice rack on hand, no matter what. Both are very cheap and both are used in almost anything you make.

A food processor This is the least essential item on this list, but it’s incredibly useful, particularly as you move more towards cooking consistently complex meals at home. A good one can retexturize almost anything, from chopping and grinding to juicing and pureeing. I favor the KitchenAid KPF 750, as does Consumer Reports. This is a great housewarming gift for someone genuinely interested in cooking.

Plastic reusable leftover containers – and masking tape For food storage in the fridge (leftovers, stuff prepared in advance, etc.), just get a bunch of low-end reusable storage containers and a roll of masking tape. You can use the tape to identify the contents and the date of preparation on the lid so you don’t have to wonder what forgotten mystery item X is in the fridge. We still use the ones we got for a wedding gift more than five years ago.

Tip #5: When in doubt, always go cheap
If you’re standing there trying to choose between two similar items, always go for the cheap one. For starters, you don’t know for certain how much you’ll use the item, so an expensive one may be a complete waste of money. For second, unless you know the item cold, the quality difference is likely pretty unclear to you. Third, if you do decide that you use the item a lot and can actually see a compelling reason for the higher quality version, you can always upgrade later. So save your money now and go for the cheap one.

These items are all you’ll need to prepare, eat, and store almost anything that’s realistic in a home kitchen. If you do come up with additional needs, don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little bit before you turn to the store – you’ll be surprised at how many nifty solutions you have around the house.

The real key is getting started – don’t just buy this stuff to have it on hand. Use it. Try starting with very simple things, like scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches, then progress on to things like rosemary chicken. To keep it cheap, start with inexpensive basic foods and master their variations. You’ll find that before long both your wallet and your palate are happy.

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102 thoughts on “The Minimalist Kitchen: What You Need (and Don’t Need) to Set Up Your First Workable Home Kitchen

  1. Sara says:

    You really don’t need much. But I would add a spatula and whisk, as well as a set of sturdy mixing bowls and measuring cups.

  2. jb says:

    Hmm… I’ve never considered my kitchen “minimalist”, although its nothing fancy either. But I don’t have (and don’t think I need) a food processor, loaf pan, or a magnetic knife rack.

    Regarding the microwave… If your goal is being frugal, making it easy to reheat leftovers and warm things quickly seems worthwhile — and potentially much more energy efficient. (I would actually choose a microwave *over* an oven if I had to choose.)

  3. Meg says:

    I’ve lived without a microwave for a bit over a year and I don’t miss it. I had started more from scratrch cooking and noticed all I used it for was melting butter and such. So I got metal measuring cups and just melt butter on the stove. Also getting rid of the microwave netted me more counter space, which I appreciate far more. It’s easy to reheat things in the oven if I need to (I generally do 300 degrees for 10-20 min depending).

    I’m not much of a minimalist otherwise, the kitchen is one of my splurge areas.

  4. Jenzer says:

    Thrift stores usually have piles of dinner plates, cereal bowls, salad plates, and other eating dishes at very low prices. Plus, you can see how these pieces have withstood use in others’ kitchens. Brand-new, inexpensive department store dishes can chip the first time you use them. A patient search of resale shops likely can yield a set of higher-quality dishes for a better price than brand-new pieces from Target.

  5. Good points all. However (and you knew there had to be a however, right?), I’m going to take exception to the “no microwave” rule. While it’s true they can be a temptation for the lazy and the inexperienced cook, microwaving is also the most energy efficient method of heating food in the modern kitchen.

    I’m working on a modest project to learn how to use the microwave to cook at least a few staple items. I’m a professionally trained former chef. So this isn’t out of laziness. In fact, I spurned the microwave for years as good for only melting butter or reheating leftovers. Now, I’m determined to find out empirically what it can do well. There have GOT to be some dishes that turn out just fine in a microwave. And if I can save a quarter in energy costs by using the microwave instead of the oven or stove top, then it’s worth it to me to do the research.

  6. Katie says:

    Can I add, plastic, glass or stainless bowls, measuring cups and spoons and a mixer. Even just the cheapest hand held mixer will really open up the possibilities for someone who wants to make any kind of batter, puddings, desserts, etc… One swap I would make: a blender vs. a food processor. You can do most of your processes in the blender as well as make shakes, soups, and dips easier. I second the thrift store idea for dishes, casseroles, small appliances, etc… I also agree its easy to live without a microwave but a toaster comes in handy. A toaster oven is even more convenient, allowing you to keep the oven off for small jobs, and is about as cheap.

  7. Katie says:

    @ Kate Re: Microwave dishes

    Baked potatoes(and baked sweet potatoes) and steamed veggies are GREAT uses of the microwave. Thats probably 90% of my microwave use.

  8. Zoe says:

    The boyfriend and I eat at home 5 days a week if not more. Fridays are date night and the only night we don’t cook. We were fortunate enough to recieve most of our kitchen-ware from various Christmas and birthday gifts . My only additions include

    *Spice Rack…for obvious reasons.

    *Garlic Press…it might seem frivolous, but if you spend as much time in the kitchen (and make as many dishes that require garlic) as the boyfriend and I do it will save you time in the end.

    and lastly a

    *Strainer…or when buying your big pot get one with the steamer attachment that can be used as a strainer. Or get a plastic one from the dollar store.

  9. mister worms says:

    I disagree about the flat top stove. Boil overs, spills and other messes are infinitely easier to clean up from a flat, sealed, glass surface than they are from electric coils or gas burners.

    I agree about the microwave, however. A good toaster oven (some have convection heat) is a much better appliance to have and can act as an oven for smaller baking duties (6 muffins, a small to medium-sized roast chicken, 9″ quiche or pie, etc). I never used the oven in my apartment and in my house the toaster oven still gets more use than the full-size oven.

  10. Andy says:

    You should also consider cast iron for the skillet. Maintenance is slightly more involved than anodized aluminum, but if you want something that will really last a lifetime, that is it. Non-stick anodized aluminum can still scratch and lose its coating (I think), although I agree that it is a good choice.

    This is nit-picking (that’s what commenters do), but I would toss in a colander (rinsing vegetables and draining pasta) and a wooden spoon or two. Mixing bowls and measuring cups are also a pretty good idea I think, and won’t cost much more.

  11. kz says:

    @ Katie re blender vs food processor:

    I completely (and respectfully!) disagree. My husband came into the marriage with a blender he loves (i.e. I can’t get rid of it) but I NEVER use it. I received a great food processor from my MIL and use it for tons of things, including soups and dips. You can’t slice or shred things with a blender, so making things like zucchini bread and hash browns would be much more difficult if I only had the blender. I’d have to grate by hand and my cooking time would increase significantly. I also use it to mix small batches of dough, for cookies or even bread. Very, very handy.

  12. Colleen says:

    Many good points here, but I also take issue with the no microwave suggestion. I’m (involuntarily) without a microwave right now, and I miss it terribly. That doesn’t mean I’m a reluctant cook; in fact, I cook almost every meal we eat. I used my microwave for reheating leftovers for lunch and for steaming vegetables in the serving bowl all the time, though. I think the time and dishes saved (plus that extra time for washing all the additional pots and pans for stove-only cooking) is more than worth $40-50 for a low-end microwave. If that’s not enough argument, consider this: A microwave doesn’t heat up the kitchen in the summer, important when you can’t afford or don’t have air conditioning and can’t have an outdoor grill, like many just-starting-out apartment dwellers. Poor microwaves, they never get any respect. :-)

  13. Debbie M says:

    That’s a nice list, shorter than most I’ve seen.

    In a pinch I have used a hot plate instead of a stovetop, a toaster oven instead of an oven, and a cooler instead of a refrigerator. (Those are handy substitutions for people who are remodelling the kitchen.)

    My mom learned to peel vegetables with a knife and was faster with that than with a vegetable peeler. I have used a blender or cheese grater instead of a food processor (actually, I’ve never owned a food processor and don’t want to have to clean one, since I don’t have a dishwasher). I have used a knife instead of a cheese grater. (I have used a knife instead of a can opener, but do not recommend this at all.) You can use your 9×13 baking pan as a cookie sheet (though it is annoying trying to get the cookies out–you just have to move the pan around to have room to get to the different cookies).

    I would add a big mixing bowl, a can opener, measuring spoons, measuring cups, and a spatula to your list, though.

    I’ve noticed that different people have different cooking styles. Some people cook mostly with a wok (making mostly stir-fries). Others, mostly with a frying pan (mostly searing big hunks of meat). I mostly use a saucepan (mostly making things you stir). So, many people could probably leave out additional things from your list. And most people could probably add a few things (like you’ve added a food processor) to make their lives a lot easier–I love having a cheese grater and an electric griddle (to reduce pancake-making time).

  14. Kate says:

    My one addendum to this list…
    As far as plastic containers go: cheap is good, but don’t go TOO cheap. I like Gladware and Ziploc containers, but I got a bunch of those screw lock top containers at the dollar store, and all the oil in my pasta salad leaked all over my lunch bag that day. So at least get a name you in that department.

    $3/set vs. $1/set isn’t going to set you back that much, and you won’t have to clean your lunch bag nearly as often!

  15. Johanna says:

    In my experience, it’s more important to pay attention to quality with a vegetable peeler than with a knife. I’ve gotten blisters and sores on my right hand from peeling vegetables with a cheap peeler, and I’ve gotten cuts on my left hand when the peeler slipped and cut me. But I don’t think I’ve ever injured myself with a kitchen knife, and I’ve used some pretty low-quality kitchen knives.

    And I second everyone else’s comments about using a microwave to heat up leftovers. If you make it hard for yourself to heat up leftovers, and they end up going bad and getting thrown away, how frugal is that?

  16. Frugal Dad says:

    I don’t know, I sure like my microwave! I do agree things taste better reheated in an oven, or in the pan, but when it is 100 degrees outside in the summer it is sure tempting to reheat that leftover pizza in the microwave and be done with it.

    I have started reheating leftover casseroles and dishes like spaghetti in a pan on the stovetop. We’ve found that it tastes much better than nuking it in the microwave, even if we have to wait a little longer.

  17. Love the pic. I have a cooking blog – yet see here for the size of my actual kitchen:
    http://lagourmandemodeste.wordpress.com/qui-est-la-gourmande-modeste/

  18. Carrie says:

    I used to be very very bad at cooking at home and eating leftovers, until I gave my fridge a makeover. I got rid of all of the plastic jugs, tupperware, and ugly bottles and re-decorated with nice clear glass jars, pitchers and vases. It’s so much more appealing looking now & it was very cheap at the thrift store.

  19. cv says:

    You left cooking utensils off the list. Nothing fancy – a couple of wood spoons and a spatula will do, though I also use my large serving spoon and slotted spoon all the time. A colander is a must for a frugal beginning cook, since pasta is one of the easiest things to start with. I bought mine for a buck 5 years ago, so you don’t need to go high-end.

    I got a 3-piece knife set of pretty good quality as a gift. The knife I use most by far is my 4-5″ knife, not the little paring knife or the big chef’s knife, so it may depend on the person.

    I vote for Pyrex for the casserole dish/cake pan. I’ve had a series of cheap nonstick metal ones, and they corrode and even rust pretty quickly. The glass isn’t much more expensive, but it will last much longer and won’t flake off into your food.

  20. Funder says:

    Heh, I am living this situation right now. I put about 80% of my stuff, including most of my kitchen stuff, in storage and moved into a tiny apartment for six months. I’m doing just fine with about what Trent recommends. Here’s a few more tricks:

    Don’t spend a lot of money on plastic food storage containers. Reuse the containers you already buy – sour cream, olive bar, margarine (ugh), etc.

    Drink water. And coffee. And if you’re tired of water and coffee, buy a can of powdered Gatorade and make your own. It boggles my mind to think that I used to buy 2-3 12-packs of Mt. Dew a week.

    Consider a small crock-pot. They’re about $15, you can slow-cook a lot of food, and the ceramic liner is a wonderful Dutch oven.

    It’s a good time to buy plates. Drug stores and grocery stores have heavy duty melamine type plates (for “outdoor living”) on sale right now.

    And for those who have cats but want to make no-knead bread – you *will* need a microwave. As an enclosed box, to let the bread rise. Trust me on this one. ;)

  21. uri says:

    2 points I would disagree on:

    (1) A food processor as a must-have? I’d say you’re looking at some pretty advanced recipes (or some pointlessly-processed simple ones) before you’re in real need of an actual food processor,
    and
    (2) Olive oil (that’s worth using) and “well-stocked” spice rack for cheap?! Show it me, now.

  22. Brent says:

    Has any body else noticed that the mircowave changes the taste and/or the consistancy of the food when you cook/reheat with it?
    I never noticed until my wife mentioned it. Then she started doing things with out the microwave so I could compare and I have to admit she is right.
    Maybe there are secrets to microwaving, more than just popping it in and hitting the button?

  23. Bonnie says:

    I’ve never owned my own microwaves. My husband has one and loves it. I like microwave popcorn–and that’s about it.

    For those who don’t like the idea of having to reheat in a full oven. My “splurge” on my first kitchen was a toaster oven. It wasn’t quite as nice for toast but I loved toasting bagels. It was also pretty great for quickly heating stuff. It didn’t heat up the house either.

    Also, don’t think that you can’t reheat on the stove on low temperatures.. It tastes better too.

    Oh and I HATE my flat top stove but my husband loves it. His is the primary pay check so we have one. He likes that flat tops tend to be more energy efficient–also have you looked at stoves? It’s getting harder and harder to find non-flat top ones. I just tell him he has to clean up my messes on it… :).

  24. Trent,
    Not everyone drinks it, but if you don’t have a coffee maker on this list, it is incomplete. You don’t NEED, but may WANT, a cappuccino/espresso maker, but at the very least a drip machine.

    Also, where is the corkscrew? Another vice of mine, but a good wine is not only good for you (in moderation and if you are not driving), but can be done on the cheap with so many great brands under $6/bottle. I love the expensive stuff as well, but the inexpensive stuff works very well with the right foods and atmosphere…

  25. Johanna says:

    Another thought on the microwave:

    Most convenience foods can be heated on the stovetop or in the oven, as well as in the microwave. (And there are plenty that you can’t/shouldn’t heat in the microwave, like frozen pizzas.) If the temptation of convenience foods is a problem, getting rid of the microwave isn’t going to solve it. Instead, why not get rid of the conencience foods? Just don’t buy them, don’t have them in the house.

  26. Trent says:

    Measuring cups are a great one that I forgot. A mixing bowl or two isn’t a bad idea, either. I will likely add a brief addendum later listing the essentials suggested by readers.

  27. liv says:

    I might be biased, but I think you should own a wok. They’re awesome for stir fry. I’ve seen people attempt to stir fry in a larger pan and botch it up real bad. You could also use it for most of the same stuff you use a skillet for. Promise :)

  28. By the person you linked to/from: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/dining/09mini.html?ei=5090

    I have built my kitchen up slowly, starting with a couple of cheap things, and better and more stuff as I progress.

    I really have just one chopping knife (and some steak knives), but I’m missing a sharpener.

    I want a food processor, but at $172 for the one you linked to, it is surely not minimalist. VERY nice and helpful, but not minimalist. (I do have a cheap blender. I would think you’d need something for making solids into mush, but a food processor really shines when it helps to chop, slice, dice, etc..)

  29. Gwen says:

    A cheap baking sheet? No. Cheap ones rust. I’d argue to go beyond the airbake sheets to a bit of a larger one and add a silicon baking sheet. This cuts down on the number of swaps into the oven as well as more even cooking.

    Overall, my opinion? If you’re goign to use it on or in the oven, spend money on it. If it’s a mixing bowl, measuring cups, etc., the basic cheap ones are perfect.

  30. Beth says:

    One thing I started using years ago when I was in an apartment and also for camping is the Portable Kitchen: http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs/pdfs/ui360.pdf

    Lots of basic kitchen utentils that can be stored in a very small space.

  31. Thomas says:

    I moved out from my parents and have now stayed at my dorm apartment for two years and the one thing I have enjoyed the most is the peeler my parents gave me: It was expensive but it has never failed me once, the blade is sharp, works with both hands/directions which lets you peel away from yourself for safety/convenience.
    Thank you mom and dad! And my recommendation is: Don’t be too cheap on your kitchen utensils!

  32. Tony says:

    Doing away with microwaves is in direct conflict with frugality. What about leftover meals? How do you heat them up? The oven? Takes too much time and doesn’t do an effective job. And a microwave can be had for $20 or free on Craigslist. Not having one just creates more work and wasting of leftover food.

  33. BonzoGal says:

    I’ve found that you can get excellent quality, highly durable baking sheets at restaurant supply stores. Same with utensils, flatware and pans.

    For cookbooks (another essential for me), go to the library and get stacks and stacks first. Then copy your favorite recipes into a cheap binder. Takes up less room.

    It’s amazing how little you can get by with if you have to- I lived in an apartment above a garage with only a tiny microwave, mini-fridge and bathroom sink. I wasn’t turning out gourmet meals, but I managed. (Wouldn’t want to do it again, but if I had to for some reason, I know I could!)

  34. I avoid spending any money on plastic storage containers by simply reusing containers from salsa, sour cream, yogurt, etc. It’s cheaper AND much better for the environment (reduce, reuse, recycle, yo!)

  35. Carlos says:

    This list strikes me as a lot of “do as I say, not as I do”…

  36. Anne K says:

    I definitely recommend going for stainless steel bowls for mixing stuff. And one ceramic/porcelain bowl for acidic things like tomatoes or salads with dressing. The stainless might dent but won’t break, plus, they’re cheap, plus they’re light compared to glass or ceramic. Wooden spoons are cheap and last for a very long time, and don’t transfer heat like fancy metal utensils. No need to wear a mitt or wrap a towel around the utensil. A Pyrex 2-cup measure can double as a bowl. A silicone spatula is a great investment because it’s mostly heatproof- won’t melt when used to stir something hot. I’ve been using Ziplock-type bags to keep leftovers in because the hard plastic bowls with lids stain, get icky, and are very bulky.

  37. Nick says:

    I’ve started switching to all glass containers instead of plastic. The glass lasts forever (so long as you dont drop it). I also find things heat up better in glass. Heating things up in plastic containers leaches too many chemicals into your food. Lemonade out of a glass container just tastes great!

  38. Doug D says:

    I’m amazed I’m the first to point this out, but regarding the microwave oven, give yourself 10 minutes to Google ‘microwave hazards’ or ‘microwave dangers.’ Or read about the destruction they do to food and people at http://www.relfe.com/microwave.html – and ask yourself if you want one of those things. After extensive research, Russia banned their use back in 1976, but appears to have lifted it now.

  39. Kim says:

    Agree that a corkscrew is an essential – even for the minimalist kitchen.

    Also agree that a microwave is not necessary except as an pricy popcorn maker and food heater-upper. We haven’t had one for over 15 years and have never missed it.

    A wok is the ultimate minimalist cookware that will substitute for just about any pot, pan, or skillet. The most versatile kitchen utensil ever invented.

  40. Bob Waldrop says:

    In 2005, we did an Extreme Green Renovation of our 1929-era house, and I didn’t have a kitchen for 2 months, including November. However, I was able to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner using an electric roaster, crock pot, hot plate, electric frying pan, and toaster oven. I cooked many other meals with this minimalist equipment. I got everything used at thrift stores, flea markets, and swap meets except for the electric roaster, which IIRC was about $45 at Ace Hardware.

    During the summer, I cook outside to keep the heat out of the house, and most of my cooking is done with these small appliances on my porch.

    I use them a lot in the winter too, as they use less electricity than my standard electric range.

  41. Nicole says:

    I just did a whole post about kitchen appliances last week. I’ve narrowed what you need as far as those to ten items: http://breakingeven.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/06/food-stuff.html

  42. Pushing30 says:

    Great list! A small a food processor would definitely help complete my kitchen. I think you should also add a glass Pyrex measuring cup. These are great for hot or cold measuring, which is essential for those who rely on recipes. Oh and a pair of metal tongs. A must have!

  43. Foxie says:

    I have quite a bit on this list, but I must confess my kitchen is full of stuff I really don’t use… When I moved out, my Mom sent me off with quite a bit, and even bought my husband and I a rice cooker. (That, sadly, has yet to be used… Perhaps one of these days I’ll change that, though.)

    I found your simple suggestions rather ironic… Over the past two weeks, my favorite things to make for myself has become scrambled eggs with ham and cheese and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches… I’d love to learn how to make some better things, but for now, these things beat spaghettios every day. :)

  44. Michael says:

    We did not replace our microwave when it broke nine months ago. We miss the easy heating of leftovers, but we have learned to enjoy cold food when oven heating is impractical.

  45. beth says:

    I certainly wouldn’t consider the food processor to be critical, but after buying my first one in 10 years, you wouldn’t be able to pry it out of my hands. It makes up for the $30 or so I spent on it at a big box store by cutting vegetable prep time down to seconds. (Stir fry, zucchini bread, peach muffins, salad, hash browns…)

    Definitely have to second the Pyrex measuring cup! I can use it hot or cold, I can heat water in it in the microwave, and I can cover almost any larger-than-a-spoon measurement in it that I’d ever need. That said, a cheap set of measuring spoons it totally invaluable.

    Only other things I’d agree with other posters on or add on my own? The mixing bowls– the large plastic ones with snap-on lids are great because you can also store large amounts of leftovers or pre-prepped food in them. Wooden spoons, slotted straining/serving/mixing sized spoon, a good flat-edged spatula (or pancake flipper, depending on where you’re from), tongs, a ladel, a whisk, a colander, and a crock pot. The crock pot is so handy for large, tough hunks of cheap meat, chili and soups, & baked potatoes ready and waiting when you get home from work… frugal meals all. I’m also very partial to my pasta spoon– makes stirring and scooping spaghetti so much easier.

    But that’s pretty close to all I’ve kept in my kitchen for about 15 years now.

  46. Megan says:

    Living in a college dorm, I notice my roomates always forget the spatula before they try to scramble eggs. And the mixing bowl. The take out the eggs and frying pan and then wonder where everything else is.

  47. Scott says:

    Cheese Slicer replacement
    Agree with the sentiment you don’t need a cheese slicer; however knives don’t always slice well. I use a 3-4 inch piece of dental floss (longer as needed). Cuts through very well and you can cut very thin slices. Best of all, my dentist gives a roll away at each visit so it’s free!

  48. For mixing bowls, you might also consider pyrex mixing/storage bowls. I got a set of 5 (2 small, 2 med, 1 large) they have lids with an openable vent (for microwave reheating), can be put in the oven for casserole cooking (lid is plastic so not oven-safe).

    I agree that you have to have a spatula/flipper, measuring cups and spoons (although now you can buy those all-in one measuring cups and measuring spoons).

    Appliances, by their nature are designed to make jobs easier, everything you can do with an appliance you can do by hand.

  49. Jenn says:

    You should share this with http://www.unclutterer.com. It’s right up their alley. Thanks!

  50. BonzoGal says:

    @Carlos (comment #35) “This list strikes me as a lot of “do as I say, not as I do”…

    How so?

  51. Hmmm….

    I’m a big veggie addict, but I can’t remember using my peeler. It’s nice to have I guess, but it’s not really an essential unless you peel veggies a lot — which I don’t, because I like the peels and they’re healthy, too.

    Avoid those plastic containers and get a decent Pyrex set, one that includes the baking dishes and the mixing bowls. You can use the mixing bowls for mixing, or to keep leftovers, or even for serving since they’re nice enough. My husband and I have two of the mixing bowl sets and we love using them for leftovers. We also save glass jars store smaller bits of food in the fridge.

    As much as I love cooking on our gas stove top, I also love our microwave for quick breakfasts and reheating leftovers. Being able to mix up some couscous in the bowl I’m going to eat it out of in less than a minute — awesome. Even my steel cut oatmeal comes out great and in much less time than on the stove top. And trying to reheat leftovers on the stove top just means making more of a mess, and it usually doesn’t taste as good, imho.

  52. Oh, and my microwave takes less money to run than the stove top or oven — and doesn’t heat up the rest of our house (not a good thing this time of year).

  53. michael says:

    Frugal Dad said: “when it is 100 degrees outside in the summer it is sure tempting to reheat that leftover pizza in the microwave and be done with it.”

    I live in Las Vegas, and couldn’t agree more. Any excuse to NOT turn on the oven/stove is a good one.

    The microwave is also MUCH more energy efficient (particularly since I don’t have gas). I’d rather just heat the food than heat half my house, which I then need to pay to cool.

  54. nbpetts says:

    a wooden cutting board (cheap one), I find, is always worth it over a plastic one. They are not just there to protect your counter, but also enhance the performance of your knives.

  55. Mikee says:

    Another caveat to consider is what cuisine you usually cook. For example, in asian cuisine you’d also want a rice cooker, and either a big skillet or a wok. You’ll also need a big wooden spatula (for stir-fry’s) and a rice serving spatula.

    If you’re a big steak or meat eater, you’d want to have a cast-iron skillet to sear with.

    If you like making pasta type dishes, then a colander is an important tool. It’s also useful for noodle dishes and/or newly washed vegetables.

  56. Mikee says:

    Hello michael! i also live in las vegas and know exactly what you mean…with how hot it is now, it’s such a pain to turn on the oven indoors especially when we’ve got the ac running all the time. and that’s programmed to 85 degrees! Eeek…trying to save on my electric bill now so it sucks if you make it hotter indoors with the oven.

  57. Sharon says:

    Can I send you a picture of my soon to be kitchen so you can see what a REALLY small kitchen is? Microscopic practically. Fortunately there is a pantry a few feet away that is about twice the size of the kitchen, so hopefully it will all balance out.

  58. And for the busy mom, the slow cooker! Definitely couldn’t live without mine :)

  59. Steve says:

    It’s funny, I moved abroad last year and had to set up a kitchen from scratch for the first time in years.

    Your list is almost exactly what I bought.

    The only things I would add:
    measuring cup and spoons
    a good rubber spatula/scraper
    mixing bowls (if they have lids even better)
    corkscrew

    The only additional things I’ve added since:
    ramekins
    a zester (I use it weekly)
    meat thermometer

  60. mike says:

    To save even more money, try shopping for certain “consumables” (cheaper products) designed as impulse buys. I found some inexpensive plastic storage food tubs (Rubbermaid!) for 75 cents for four because they had orange lids. Apparently, orange is only useful for Halloween.

    Also, if a person isn’t getting a microwave, they should at least get a toaster oven to reheat food. I prefer the microwave, since it’s easier to make double batches of food on the stove and reheat it throughout the week.

    You also forgot a strainer. Comes in handy when making Mac ‘n’ Cheese or other noodles.

  61. Claire says:

    Trent, I would love to see more of your frugal recipe ideas. You’ve mentioned some of your meatless ones before, and some crockpot, so how about some more?

  62. Pam says:

    A few comments:
    (1) I like nonstick pans, but would not cook any kind of food directly on aluminum of any kind. You don’t want aluminum in your food (especially acidic stuff like tomatoes). Use stainless steel pots and pans. A lot of people are saying that ingestion of aluminum may be linked to Alzheimer disease.

    (2) I know that cast iron does great things, but personally I find it kind of a pain in the neck to keep it seasoned. My stove top works okay, but my oven not so well (need to have the landlady replace it).

    (3) Spices/spice rack… buying spices at retail is very expensive. This is one area where I find it worth while to go to Costco/Sam’s Club and buy bigger. I have the usual salt and pepper, but I also use spice blends, such as lemon pepper or rosemary and pepper, Tone’s brand at Sam’s Club. A small container of one of these might cost $4 to $6 (for only a few ounces) at a grocery store; but you can get a really big container at a warehouse store for maybe $6 to $8, and it will last you literally for a year or more. Smart and Final is another good source for spices, though not as cheap as Sam’s or Costco.

    (4) I’ve been out on my own a long time now, so I have a lot of kitchen gadgets.

    (5) I got Cutco knives a long time ago, and they are good and durable. I tried to sell them and didn’t do well, but in doing that I got a low price on my sample set, which I was required to buy. You can also get them second-hand on eBay.

    (6) For any kind of plastic food container where you need a good seal, don’t go too cheap. I can’t afford Tupperware, but you can often find Rubbermaid sets on sale at places like Big Lots. For maybe $10 to $15, you might get a set of 24 to 36 pieces. Good deal. Before it closed down, we also had a Grocery Outlet which (one time) had individual Rubbermaid containers marked down very cheap–25 to 50 cents per item.

    (7) Check out all the discount and overstock places you can, and don’t buy until you’ve checked the prices at Big Lots, 99 Cents Only Stores, or other overstock stores, etc.

    (8) This may seem like a splurge, but we got one of those portable ice makers. The ice tastes good (plastic ice trays eventually make bad-tasting ice cubes), it saves freezer space, and eventually it will pay for itself. We filter our own water too. The main reason we got this item was because, like Trent, we also work at home, and we keep cold drinks near the computers at all times.

  63. Tom says:

    Damn, that’s a luxury kitchen with all the stuff you stated as being “basic.” My Italian grandmother got buy with a knife and a pot…

  64. Sarah Beam says:

    When it comes to learning how to cook at home, online resources are a no-brainer for free recipes (blogs, cooking magazine websites, etc). Cookbooks are exorbitantly expensive, but I have found that you can get these at yard sales for $1 each (if you’re happy with general cookbooks and aren’t looking for special ones), and I go to Ebay and Amazon for used copies of the ones I am desperately searching for.

    Also, joining a CSA and attending farmer’s markets can yield vast savings in produce and fresh eggs. The quality beats that found in the supermarkets and with prices these days, buying locally can actually be cheaper than going to the store. Then, of course, there is the backyard vegetable garden…

  65. Dawn says:

    The knife rack is poor Feng Shui, consider a block to hold them.

  66. Mandi says:

    I would venture to argue that good cast iron skillets are better than a Teflon pan. I pick them up extremely cheaply at the local farmer’s market. Though, perhaps, that’s just personal preference. In addition, I can leave the cast iron on my woodstove in the winter to keep a hot soup simmering all day. :)

  67. rachel says:

    One kitchen tool I never want to be without again is an electronic scale. Mine is a cheap-ish postal scale I got at Office Max (I think). It makes measuring quicker, cleaner, less cluttered (fewer measuring cups and spoons on my counter and in my sink) and more consistent, and it measures in metric and standard US units.

    This is my recipe for muffins:
    Pre-heat the oven to 375 F (190 C) and coat the muffin pan with butter or oil spray. All ounce measurements are by weight, not volume.

    Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl:
    15 oz. all-purpose flour
    7 oz. sugar (I usually use granulated sugar, but brown sugar is good for spice muffins.)
    1 tbsp baking powder
    3/8 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp salt

    Whisk in a medium bowl:
    12.5 oz. yogurt
    2 eggs

    Melt in a heat-proof bowl or measuring cup:
    4 oz. butter

    Fold the yogurt/egg mixture into the dry ingredients until just barely mixed, and then fold in the melted butter.

    Divide the batter equally among the muffin cups and bake until golden and a toothpick comes out clean (25~30 minutes). Rotate the muffin pan halfway through baking if your oven heats unevenly.

    Let the muffins cool in the pan 5 minutes them cool them on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes more before eating. I usually let them cool all the way, and then freeze them for a quick breakfast on the go.

    And here are just a few variations:
    1.Chocolate chip muffins: Add 1 cup of chocolate chips to the batter.
    2.Chocolate muffins: Substitute 3 oz. of the flour for an equal amount of cocoa.
    3.Double chocolate muffins: Do both. (My husband loves these!)
    4.Mocha chip muffins: Add 3 tablespoons instant espresso powder to the wet ingredients and 1 cup of chocolate chips to the batter.
    5.Fruity muffins: Add 4 or 5 oz. of small pieces of dried fruit (raisins, craisins, dried cherries, chopped dried apricots…) to the batter. You may also add the zest of 1 orange or lemon or 1 tsp almond extract.
    6.Apple-spice muffins: add 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg and 1/8 tsp ground cloves to the dry ingredients. (You can add more if you like spice a lot.) Substitute 8 oz. thick, unsweetened applesauce for the same amount of the plain yogurt, add 4 oz. minced dried apple pieces to the batter.
    7.Banana muffins: substitute 8 oz. mashed, ripe banana + 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for the same amount of yogurt. (Optionally, add 4 oz. of chopped nuts.)
    8.Blueberry muffins: add 1 1/2 cup of blueberries to the batter.
    9.Jam muffins: fill each muffin tin halfway, put in a tablespoon of your favorite jam, and fill them up the rest of the way before baking.
    10.Corn muffins: substitute 1/3 of the flour for cornmeal and cut the sugar in half.
    11.Savory corn muffins: In addition to substituting 1/3 of the flour for cornmeal, cut the sugar to a few tablespoons. Add 4 oz. shredded strong, melty cheese (such as sharp cheddar or Gruyere), a few slices of bacon (fried crispy, drained and crumbled), and a handful of thinly sliced scallions.

    Also: I use my vegetable peeler to slice cheese.

  68. Jon says:

    I’m going to second the recommendation for cast iron cookware. Cast iron is very cheap compared to high quality steel or aluminum and especially “sandwiched” products with a copper core.

    Once the pan is well-seasoned it becomes non-stick with a surface that does not scratch or chip due to heat or metal utensils.

    Oh, and they don’t warp, which is really important for electric stove surfaces (compared to natural gas).

  69. ACaminante says:

    Can anyone get a little more in-depth for me about the value of food processors? What are some more examples of dishes that a food processor saves time on and how does it save time?

    I recently got married and we cook most meals at home. We still have several gift cards left over, and I’m considering a food-processor because I’ve read here and elsewhere about it being a huge time-saver. BUT neither of our families used food processors and neither of us would know what to do with it. My wife is vegetarian, and she loves to make broccoli stir-fry with tofu. Could you just stick the broccoli in the food processor without having to chop it by hand? We haven’t forayed into baking our own bread yet but I want to experiment with Trent’s recipe soon. FYI we do have a blender but no box grater.

  70. Mel says:

    While I agree with you about not getting the flat surface cook top I disagree with you about the reason. It can be cleaned very easily, with a Magic Eraser. I know, we have the same rule, in our haouse, never buy anything with Magic in the name – but in this case, it is really magic. It will clean a glass cook top perfectly, with a little hard work. I don’t recommend electric at all but if that’s what you have to work with, it can be cleaned. Also, don’t throw out your stainless tea kettle or pots when they’re stained (stainless is not an accurate description…) Take the Magic Eraser to them, it really does work miracles.

  71. sillygirl says:

    And a third for cast-iron. I use my skillet almost every day – I also found a cast-iron pot (thrift shop of course) that is my second most-used – and I do cook tomato things in them. Wash and scrub with hot water and put back on the burner for a minute and they are ready to go again. I also have never had a nuker – been cooking for 60 years – toaster oven toasts and reheats and cooks things better.

  72. atarah says:

    I’ve found quality name, ovenproof eating dishes at the $.99 only store. Handy if you already have a kitchen full of mugs and only want the dinner plates/salad plates/bowls. Service for four for $12. Ovenproof is a must if reheating in the oven/toaster oven.
    Also, I prefer glass pyrex dishes for storing left-overs (and these, again, are ovenproof for reheating).

  73. DivaJean says:

    My partner existed with a kitchen that consisted of a microwave and an electric frypan for cooking before we met. SHe had lived like that for almost 3 years and was managing fine.

    She had figured out how to boil, steam, fry or bake in the electric pan- or the microwave.

    I was almost the exact opposite- I hadn’t EVER had a microwave to use for cooking except for when I had been in nursing school at the dorm. And that one was such a mess from 20 girls sharing it- who ever wanted to touch it? EEk.

    What I find to be the epitome of irony in the US is that those with the biggest, fanciest kitchens use them the least. We have a smallish eat in kitchen and almost never eat out or get take out.

  74. Carol says:

    Hello, I would like to add that I really like my immersible blender which works great for blending hot vegetables, etc. for making soup right in the pan. Also good for making smoothies right in the glass.

    Agree with DivaJean regarding those with grandiose kitchens and never using them. So true!

    A good use of the microwave is to make rice – use 1 part rice to 3 parts liquid, salt and butter in a glass bowl – cover with plastic wrap and make a small slit – microwave for 12 minutes.

  75. Lenore says:

    For me, it’s proven more cost-effective to accept that I’m lazy and inept in the kitchen. When I buy unusual or perishable ingredients for recipes, the unused portion takes up space and inevitably goes to waste. If I dirty a bunch of dishes and surfaces preparing a “real” meal, I get tired and frustrated long before clean-up is through. Clean-as-you-go is a great philosophy, but it’s hard to live by when cooking itself taxes all your mental and physical dexterity. When messes fester, I get depressed and end up wishing I’d nuked something in a box or ordered takeout instead. There are lots of microwave meals that cost about a dollar and plenty of canned foods for even less. Maybe that’s not the greatest way to feed a family, but for singles or couples, it’s easy and economical. If I had to live without a microwave, I’d probably dine out 90 percent of the time. I’d also be lost without a toaster oven and crockpot. I spent a bundle on a set of Ginsu-type knives years ago and have never used most of them, so I think what constitutes a kitchen “essential” varies widely from person to person.

  76. Dave Clark says:

    One of the things Alton Brown on Good Eats (Food Network) emphasizes is having as many multitasking items as possible. The only ‘monotasker’ he endorses is a fire extinguisher. Everything else should be capable of doing double duty or more so as not to take up space or cost.

  77. Mel says:

    A comment on microwaves; we heat almost everything in a pan on the stove or in the toaster oven; it only takes a few minutes more and unless you’re a brain surgeon, a few minutes of your time won’t kill anyone ;) If you absolutely have to nuke food in a microwave, do it in glass or using a real plate/bowl, that way you won’t get lots of dioxins in your food from plastic. I have a ceramic plate at work so that I can reheat food there without using plastic as well. It’s easy and isn’t your health worth it?

  78. Jessica says:

    Gosh, I am also suprised about the negative responese to Microwaves. My husband and I got rid of ours a little over a year ago. Microwaves are extremely hazardous to your health and change the moleculor structure of your food. We have found that there has been little to no impact on our lives at all. Heating up leftovers takes the same practically the same amount of time and it tastes way, way better.

    Microwaves are a hazordous luxury item, not a necessity.

  79. katy says:

    Beautiful post, Trent, but I want to add that NEW is not always necessary. Restaurant supply stores have industry, heavy-use, gauge equipment that is often better. (If you’re able to get to a restaurant supply store). Check the phone book and of course the internet to get make/models. Shipping will kill you, though, so go directly to the store.

    Great post

  80. starrycynthia says:

    I disagree with Trent that the sole purpose of a cutting board is to protect the countertop. It is also to help protect your knives which still need professional honing every couple years, even when you hone they regularly at home. I love bamboo boards and think they give great knife edge protection. Just my 2 cents’ worth.

  81. starrycynthia says:

    I disagree with Trent that the sole purpose of a cutting board is to protect the countertop. It is also to help protect your knives which still need professional honing every couple years, even when you hone them regularly at home. I love bamboo boards and think they give great knife edge protection. Just my 2 cents’ worth.

  82. I disagree with the “cheap” on the baking sheet. After having items thrown around the oven when my cheap baking sheet warped from the heat, i’ll buy the bigger ones.

    Actually, I am looking at a cast iron baking pan, and/or a larger flat cast iron griddle that I can also use for baking. If you want cheap and durable, cast iron is the best. I can get buy with my cast iron skillet, my cast iron dutch oven, and my stainless steel stock pot for my cooking utensils.

  83. michael says:

    “Microwaves are extremely hazardous to your health and change the moleculor structure of your food. ”

    HAHAHAHAHA! That’s why you should always wear your tinfoil hat while operating a microwave (or using a cellphone).

  84. Astrokook says:

    NO microwave “Blasphemy!” — how else are you going to melt together your partially used deoderant sticks? ;)

    http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2007/11/05/nine-ways-to-maximize-your-personal-hygiene-dollars/

  85. Nancy says:

    RE: Microwaves and plastic or glass

    Microwaves heat with friction: they speed up the molecules of the food, which generates friction, and finally, heat. They don’t, however, change the molecular structure of food.

    Plastic containers are known to generate hazardous substances–ones we can’t even see. Heating foods in plastic containers also heats up the plastic, which in turn can give off hazardous gases. It’s best when using a microwave to use glass or ceramic cookware.

    @ Brent: There are some great microwave cookbooks. One I own is called Easy Livin’ Low Calorie Microwave Cooking, by Karen Kangas Dwyer.

    Some super-easy things to cook in the microwave are fish (the easiest), ground beef dishes (Mexican casseroles, spinach lasagne), and of course soften butter at 10% power for 2 minutes for one stick.

  86. Sharon says:

    There is NO credible information suggesting that microwave ovens are hazardous except in the rare event that the door seal is malfunctioning.

  87. Michele says:

    A “save or splurge” note would be great with this list, like MSN does for consumer products. Which items can you skate by with a discount version, and which you should shell out the extra for.

  88. Pete says:

    Some great cost effective ideas. I think there are many aspects where we can go minimalist in our lives if we can just win the battle in our heads.

    http://www.yinvsyang.com

  89. I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with the idea “when in doubt buy it cheap”… If you want to save money for the long haul, buying cheap on one occasion isn’t what’s going to do it, it’s the fact that you’re cooking at home as opposed to going out.

    My cheap (read: not frugal, but CHEAP) ex boyfriend had these disgusting old pans and cookie sheets when we first got together. It was quite clear to me that they were dollar store finds from 3 or 4 years ago and they were flat out gross (you could see the burn marks from cookies past). I’d rather have the $4 airbake cookie sheet that’s going to last me 20 years than have to buy $1 pieces of crap that burn stuff every 3 years.

  90. @ACaminante,

    How useful one is depends a lot on on what you like to eat and what functions it has. Some do slice, dice, and chop — plus do other things that a blender does.

    I just have a small blender, but I really like it. I use my Tribest blender to purée a lot of things. I make guacamole, salsa, gazpacho soup, hummus, and a lot of other things like that. Some people use them to grind coffee, crush ice, make smoothies, make apple sauce, make nut butter, etc.

    If I did more slicing and chopping, I might get a full function food processor, but right now, the blender I have does more than enough.

  91. Sharon is right — so far as I can find, there is no credible scientific evidence that microwaves are bad for your health. Any molecular change is the same as you get from heating food by other means. I wouldn’t want to be cooked in a microwave, but there don’t seem to be any unique lingering effects on the food. (It has been argued, of course, that cooking food is bad in general, but I have no plans to become a raw food vegan yet.)

    There is, unfortunately, a lot of confusion about the word “radiation”. The word has a lot of negative connotations because of issues with nuclear radiation and radioactive decay, but there are different types of radiation that we generally regard as benign such as light and radio waves. Of course, all things in moderation ;)

    And if by some chance anyone was swayed by that spam mail about microwaved water killing plants, please see: http://www.snopes.com/science/microwave/plants.asp Even if the experiment was true, it’s a very poor excuse for a scientific experiment, as it lacks proper controls and the number of subjects is ridiculously low. The fact that so many people would give up their microwaves after reading that email — yes, including people I know personally — astounds me.

  92. dawn says:

    I feel the need to add to what some people have said about a toaster oven. I picked one up for $17 at Walmart and it’s the best $17 I’ve ever spent. For one person, it’s much more convenient than heating a full-sized oven up for a handful of whatever you’re making. And the food is generally much tastier than in the microwave. I use mine at least twice a day. You can use it to re-heat food, to roast vegetables, to cook frozen foods, to toast bread, and for just about anything you can think of. One of my favorite snacks is to toast tortilla shells in it and then dip them in salsa (much tastier, healthier, and more economic than chips!). This is the first time I’ve ever owned one and I can’t believe I lived so long without one! Everyone should have a toaster oven!

  93. Rob O. says:

    You can’t go wrong with a set of those Pyrex clear tempered glass baking dishes. I have an assortment of cassarole & loaf pans that are mostly hand-me-downs from relatives that are darned near indestructable and work like a charm! Likewise, the Pyrex measuring cups that come in those sets are a great, very inexpensive addition to your kitchen. You can measure, cook, and even refrigerate in ‘em!

  94. the new york times did a fascinating article on what is actually needed in a kitchen as well. it would be interesting to sit down and compare your notes with his. you can find the link right here: http://becomingminimalist.wordpress.com/2008/06/27/a-minimalist-kitchen/

  95. Rando says:

    I agree with many points you make about setting up your first kitchen, but I STRONGLY disagree with your comments about a smooth-top range. First of all, they cooking elements are much more energy efficient than coils. And contrary to your article, they are exceptionally easy to clean! Either you did something wrong or you didn’t give the smooth-top range a good try. I came to one by default – kicking and screaming and I was not happy with the situation, but after cooking on mine for 2-3 weeks, it’s actually faster than gas! And, again MUCH CHEAPER! So, I ask all readers to not take your advice about smooth-top ranges, because, frankly, you’re wrong.

  96. Jen Brister says:

    This is a great article. I would recommend it to anyone who is just starting out.

  97. John says:

    I would also recommend at least one pizza cutter with a nice big wheel on it. They are really useful for cutting a variety of things besides pizza. Also, the new microplan zesters work AWESOME! I didn’t think i would use mine nearly as much as I do. They work great on fruit, nutmeg nuts, hard cheeses, ginger, garlic…

    One comment about the box grater: Make sure it is big enough to fit your hand inside when you want to clean it otherwise they can be a real big pain in the neck to clean.

  98. WilliamB says:

    Trent, great list! Particularly your knife recommendations: chef’s knife, paring knife, honing steel, knife keeper (you opt for a magnetic strip). The magnetic strip is also a safety feature – many knife cuts are from rummaging around in a drawer to find the sharp knife. All excellent and true and lovely to see.

    Three additonal knife points. One, for safety’s sake keep your knives sharp. The risk of a dullish knife slipping off the food and cutting you is much greater than a sharp knife brushing your fingers and cutting you. Two, knives labeled “ever sharp” or “never needs sharpening” can’t be sharpened. They get dull and stay dull. My recommendation is to buy two inexpensive knives to start with. Three, if you decide you’ll keep on cooking, upgrade your knives as soon as you can. A good chef’s knife costs $70-120, a good paring knife $20-30. They will last you decades even if you abuse them.

    That the only purpose of a cutting board is to protect your counters, is not true. (Sorry.) A cutting board also protects your knives. The least expensive good option is an opaque plastic one. Wood is also good, clear plastic terrible (they chip the knife edge).

    I’d add to your list a set of measuring cups & measuring spoons, a silicon spatula (the kind resistant to high heat), and a mesh colander. The colander can be a colander, a sifter, a steamer basket (prop it on a tuna fish can).

    A lot of the list can be found at Goodwill. Actually, just about anything but the appliances, knives, and (maybe) blender.

    The final thing I’d get is a how-to-cook video from the library/netflix. Jacques Pepin had a great series, but there are so many out there.

  99. HugoR says:

    I realise this is quite an old post by now, but nevertheless still great. I especially like the “no microwave” part. I’ve lived with no microwave for my entire life, and so far, I haven’t missed it a bit. In fact, I refuse to eat anything that comes out of a microwave. Not only does microwave food taste awful (in my humble opinion), but at the same time, microwaved food is actually harmful for the body! So, I can only recommend “real” cooking – it always tastes great, and can be just as quick if you do it right.

    Once again, thank you for your great post!

  100. deRuiter says:

    Don’t bake meatloaf in a loaf pan, it poaches the meatloaf in grease. Mold the meatloaf in the loaf pan if you like (I form it with my hand on a baking sheet with a lip, or a large roaster, and the fat bubbles out of the meatloaf and the meatloaf isn’t greasy.
    Buy all your kitchen stuff at yard, house and estate sales. Buy vintage cast iron for the velvety smooth surface, clean rusty pans with steel wool, wash in hot soapy water, rub with a rag and a little olive or corn oil, and bake pan at 350 F for an hour when you’re baking something else anyway. New cast iron is cheap and the cooking surfaces tend to be bumpy, no matter how long you season the bumpy surface, they will not get silk smooth. Preowned is great, cheap, evnironmentally sound and you can get superb quality for pennies on the dollar.

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