What is essential in a basic kitchen?

I’m in a transition phase right now where I no longer desire to eat as much fast food as I usually have, and I’ve been cooking dinner more often. I’m not interested (yet) in doing anything culinarily significant – my best achievement to date has been cooking a pretty tasty top sirloin – but it would be nice to have a decently stocked kitchen to make simple, fast meals that consist of a bit more than a slab of steak.

As it stands, my kitchen is severely underequipped. I don’t have a lot on hand to throw stuff together, and what I do have isn’t necessarily nutritious. Being a neophyte cook, I know there are essentials one should always have on hand (tools, spices, ingredients) that are necessary to make a majority of simple meals, but I don’t really know where to start.

Toolswise, I have a rice cooker, two cutting boards (one for veggies/fruit, one for meat), a good non-stick skillet (though I’m considering looking for a cast-iron), and a few random pots and cookie sheets. Ingredients-wise, I’m clueless and usually don’t have much in stock.

I know there’s plenty of experienced cooks and chefs around here. What would you all suggest is necessary to always have on hand in the kitchen?

I’m not big on cooking and have no advice on what else you need, but I’m in a “getting healthy” transition right now and here’s my advice on breakfast:

You gotta fuel up on protein and carbs in the morning and some fiber would be great too.

I scramble up some egg whites every morning with a yolk or two thrown in. I then eat a small bowl of Kashe GOLEAN with a cup of skim milk. I get plenty of protein, complex carbs and insoluble fiber this way. Oatmeal’s great too as a source of complex carbs with heart healthy soluble fiber, but I hate the instant stuff and it’s easier to pour a bowl of the Kashe GOLEAN.

Oh, and if you have a grill, making Beer Can Chicken is an easy way to make sure you have some tasty chicken in your fridge during the week that you can serve up with brown rice and veggies made with your rice cooker.

Utensil wise. . .a pot, and a pan. A chef knife, a paring knife, and two cutting boards.

Stored food: I always have rice, pasta, cans of beans, cans of stock/broth, cans of tomatoes, tomato paste. But, you might want the big herbs. . .oregano, basil, thyme.

Freezer: I always have frozen beef, chicken, and fish. Frozen peas, corn.

Spices: I have everything, but I put it together over years. Salt and pepper are “essential”. If you’re making a new dish, and you don’t have “cumin”, get cumin, then you’ll have it. If you have an Indian or Asian grocer near you, get spices there. Much cheaper.

And then, olive oil, vegetable oil, a couple kinds of vinegar, honey. For making salad dressing.

Always have onions, potatoes, peppers, garlic.

Mustard is the most useful thing I keep in the fridge for salad dressings, marinades, etc… I have 3 or 4 different kinds of mustard in the fridge.

I’m recently separated, and would also be interested in the OP’s question, but would appreciate even more basic info, as my list of kitchen hardware is as follows:
[li]coffee maker[/li][li]4-slice toaster[/li][li]paring knife[/li][li]6" chef’s knife[/li][li]round pan that, thank Jebus, was in the oven when I got there and fits fropi nicely[/li][li]pizza cutter[/li][li]1 smallish spatula[/li][li]2 large cooking spoons[/li][/ul]

First of all, invest in a little cast-iron. It’s cheap and versatile. One skillet and a dutch oven can be purchased for less than $20 total. The dutch oven works as a crock pot as well saving you a pot there.

Other pans that you’ll need: two sauce pans (I’d say a two-quart and a three-quart) and one stock pot with tight fitting lids and thick, sturdy bottoms. Two casseroles, one large one small. A large ceramic or glass baking dish.

And while I’m thinking about this, don’t worry about getting sets or matching equipment. Quality rarely matches and you can pick up very good deals in second hand stores.

For appliances I would say get a small, two cup Cuisinart. I find that most of fast chopping and processing jobs are small and I prefer this to my bulkier food processor.

I’ve been assembling this list and it occurred to me that I have several books that have pre-made “essentials” lists in them. Cook books that teach technique rather than recipes seem to always have these lists. The easiest to get would be Alton Brown’s Im’ Just Here For the Food. I have another one by Frugal Gourmet that I just can’t remember the title of…

I find that a good Wok is an essential element. There are many good healthy meals that can be prepared in a Wok. Good glass ware is also helpful. You should also get a cuisinart or other chopper it really cuts down on the prep time. I cannot stress how important it is to have a good high quality set of pots and pans.

Don’t have time to make a big list right now, but get a CrockPot.

Good thoughts, all. The Cuisinart is especially notable; I’m recalling now how many Good Eats episodes I’ve seen where Alton throws something in a processor to blend.

Check out thrift stores and other people’s kitchens before blowing the big bucks. Find out if you really are going to use the item–I bought a state-of-the-art coffee maker and used it twice before deciding it was too expensive to make coffee for one.

An iron skilllet. Definitnetly. My best friend. You can make stews, you can use it for stir fry…you can cook hamburgers.

I use it for everything.

Ohter than that, what Trunk said. Need some onions, tomato paste, pasta, garlic, basic spices, and the the rest will follow.

Oh and a colender.Get a colander.

Like I said, I’m clueless on this stuff. What are the basic spices? Oregano, basil, and thyme, as Trunk said?

I’ve got my bacon salt, so I’m at least armed with that. :slight_smile:

You don’t need an iron skillet. Some people like 'em, but they’re not a necessity.

You need a pot big enough to boil pasta.
You need a frying pan.
You can do without the frying pan if you have a skillet. I like mine with tall straight sides.
You need a few decent knives.
You need a couple spatulas.
You need spoons.
You need a collander.
You need a cookie sheet.

I think those are most of the cooking necessities. It all depends on what you cook.

The basics for me are salt, pepper, parsley, bay, basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. The further down my list you go the less likely that you’ll actually want a supply handy.

Not to get into this too far, but there’s a huge difference between dried and fresh spices. If you are cooking for the flavor of the spice there is no option other than fresh. If you are adding a little taste to a sauce then to my own tastes dried is acceptable (and my opinion on that could start an argument; there’s a fair number of people who feel that dried is never acceptable). You’ll want a pepper mill of some kind and those are available cheaply.

For an absolute beginner start with the dried stuff. Fresh herbs don’t keep more than a few days and tend to be expensive (I have to pay $3 when I want fresh basil so I’m careful to use it all).

And on that subject don’t buy expensive salt until you’re ready for it. Different salts do have a little bit of a different taste because of the trace elements but standard iodinized table salt is what you need for getting started. Kosher salt is nice for larger applications but not for serving.

Bosstone, oregano, basil and thyme are herbs (usually dried leaves). Add to that list bay leaves - you put one or two in a stew, sauce or gravy while it’s cooking, and remove before serving.

Spices tend to be seeds; stock up on coriander, cumin, tumeric, cinnamon, carroway and fennel seed. A pestle and mortar is good for crushing up any of them that aren’t already ground. If they’re powdered they lose their flavor quicker.

Apart from that, I recommend pretty much everything Trunk does. The only thing I personally wouldn’t do is freeze the meat - I always buy it fresh.

You do too need a cast iron skillet. Essential.

Good knives. No, better than those. And keep them sharp.

Basic spices differ from cook to cook, depending on style and preference, but a bottom-level spice rack should have: thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, Gebhardt’s chili powder, cumin, cayenne, sage, allspice, cinnamon, celery salt, seasoning salt, cloves, ginger, fennel, mustard powder, paprika, and maybe others. You should also have vanilla, whole nutmeg, fresh peppercorns and a pepper mill, kosher salt, several vinegars, several oils and no-stick spray in the cabinet. Basil, oregano and other herbage is best when bought fresh. Wash, dice, and place measured amonts in an ice cube tray. Fill with water and freeze, then store in a zip-lock bag. To use, drop a cube or two into whatever you’re cooking.

So the plastic disposable knives I’ve been using don’t cut it? :stuck_out_tongue: I’ve been avoiding dishes that require knifework as much as possible, but yes, I definitely need better knives than what I have now.

That is a heck of a list and a neat idea. Thanks!

That is a neat idea. Do you ever have problems with watering down whatever you throw the cube into?

Disclaimer: It’s a neat idea I learned from the Food Channel. Alton Brown, I think. So far, no problem with excess water. I just cook the food a little longer until the water boils away. It’s really only a tablespoon or so.

Knives should definitely be purchased new. You can get good deals on just about everything else at thrift stores but knives can go wrong so you want ones that are all yours.

For 90% of applications you need three knives: a pairing knife, a chef’s knife, and a long serrated knife (usually a bread knife). Do not get serrated pairing or chef’s knives. That would be extremely bad. I find that the best length of a chef’s knife for me is about 10-inches. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you but you want it long enough to handle large objects while short enough that the tip doesn’t go out of control. For a beginner do not get something expensive. Go to a restaurant supply house if possible and accept the fact that you’ll probably be getting a plastic handle. You’ll want to feel the blade in your hand and try some chopping motions (they probably won’t have anything handy to chop :slight_smile: ). You can get an acceptable stainless steel knife for less than $50 (probably less than $30, actually but I haven’t priced the basic stuff lately).

The reason to go cheap is that you are going to ruin this blade. Until you are confident in handling and maintaining it stick with the cheap stuff. You should get a honing tool and learn to use it. Learning to use mine was a huge step for me. And whatever you do, no matter how dull it feels, do not use an electric sharpenern on it. You’ll ruin the blade even faster.

What’s thyme for?