A Complete Kitchen

One question that I'm often asked is what kind of things I think every kitchen needs. While the person most qualified to answer that question is you -- after all, you're the one doing the cooking -- I'll try to answer that question in a brief overview form here.

I've split the kitchen necessities into four simple categories: Cookware - pots and pans; Utensils - everything from spoons to spatulas; Safety and Health Tools - helpers for preventing and dealing with kitchen dangers; Kitchen Helpers - those tools that don't really fit into the others, but you couldn't live without. Now, I realize that I've left out the food, but that's a whole other article! This one focuses on the tools.

While there are many useful items that can be used in your kitchen, I've tried to limit the choices to help conserve space. If you have a huge kitchen, feel free to add other items of your choice. However, having lived in the New York metro area for four years, I know that some people out there have kitchen space that would be jealous of many people's closets! Therefore, when possible, I've suggested alternative uses for one kitchen item. Doing this helps save space and money -- two things we all seem to value now more than ever.


When it comes to good stovetop cookware, I rely heavily on the thump test. What's the thump test? Next time you’re shopping for that perfect stock pot or frying pan, flip a potential buy over and thump the bottom. A good pan should thump -- not ping. This all translates to a simple rule: Buy stovetop cookware with a heavy bottom. If you buy a pot that sends out a resounding ping, you are setting yourself up for uneven cooking, burnt food, and a short lifespan for your pot. Of course, it's true that cookware with proper bottoms do usually cost more than their pinging counterparts. However, there are many kitchen and home warehouses that stock such finds at reasonable prices. Also, in the long run, they save you money by reducing burnt food and lasting much longer.

What's the best material for your cookware? That's a question that you need to answer based on your needs, desires, and budget. You can stock your shelves with everything from copper pots to glass skillets to stainless steel pans. Some cookware comes with special Teflon coatings to reduce sticking. These require plastic utensils to avoid scratching it. Once you've introduced a fair number of scratches into such a pan, you're likely to have more problems with sticking and even the coating flaking into your food. If this is happening, it's time to replace your cookware again. Some cookware has no coatings and can be as nonstick as Teflon coated pans, but requires more diligence from the chef. What's my favorite cookware material? I'm a sucker for a good stainless steel pan with no coatings. They heat well, wear well and I can use any type of utensil I want on them! But, like I said, get the cookware that fits your lifestyle.

What if you're just starting out and don't have the budget for accumulating a full cookware set? Never fear. Everyone has to start somewhere and I have a few suggestions on what you can start with if your shelves are bare. First, for your stove, you can go a long way with a good stock pot or Dutch oven, a 12-inch deep skillet with a lid (if you're lucky, the lid from the Dutch oven might fit both), and a 1-quart saucepan. These three items will accommodate most meal requirements and are, overall, exceptionally flexible. Some other kitchen cookware you should have on hand include:

  • An oven-proof casserole dish with lid (choose the size that fits your lifestyle -- 2 quart is a favorite)
  • A loaf pan for making breads, meatloaf, and warming your favorite leftovers
  • A jelly-roll pan that can double as a cookie sheet (or a smaller cookie sheet if you have a tiny oven)
  • A 9x13-inch baking pan
  • An 8-inch square baking pan
  • A 9-inch pie pan
  • A few assorted glass mixing bowls (for preparation, cooking, and serving)

When buying ovenware, I try to find Pyrex. It's easy to clean, heats evenly, and can be used in the microwave as well as the oven. Some pans can be purchased with plastic covers for storing. You can invest in these if you often have large amounts of leftovers or transport food on a regular basis.


The utensils you purchase should always be indicative of the type of use they will undergo. If you have coated cookware, plastic utensils are a must. Also, be careful to make sure that they are heat resistant; otherwise, you might find yourself replacing them every few weeks!

Rather than go into materials and such (the rules that apply to cookware are similar here), I've discussed the types of utensils that are most useful in a basic kitchen. For simplicity, I've grouped them into three basic categories: preparation utensils, cooking utensils, and serving utensils.

Preparation utensils include tools that are used for preparing food that is not being cooked on the stove, in the oven, or in the microwave. Your most important set of preparation utensils are your set of knives. These should be of the highest quality affordable. If you try cutting corners with knives, you will end up with more headaches than you can handle and a danger in your kitchen besides. While all knives do pose a safety hazard, ones that are well kept and sharp will, inevitably, cause less harm. At the very least, you will want to have a good carving knife, a chef's knife, and a few good paring knives in assorted sizes. I also suggest you have a set of steak knives for the table. Of course, you can add to your collection as you see fit, but these will give you a good start.

You'll want to keep some wooden and plastic spoons for mixing and such on hand in your kitchen. Mine are stored alongside some of my most important kitchen helpers: spatulas! I suggest you invest in at least two kinds: one large spatula with a long handle for big jobs and one small version for tight squeezes. No kitchen should be without them. A word of warning though: Don't use your spatulas on the stove! If you do, you'll find yourself having to throw out your food and your spatula. The plastic used in them does not resist heat well.

Which brings us to the second kind of utensils: cooking utensils. Depending on the kind of cookware you have, you will need special utensils. You can find out more about what is required by referring to the information provided with your cookware. Some cooking utensils that I would not be without are:

  • At least two large mixing spoons (one is never enough!)
  • One spoon with slits to allow drainage
  • A good old fashioned pancake flipper
  • A soup ladle
  • A heavy fork (for flipping those broiled steaks)

Get cooking utensils that resist warping and are comfortable to use. These tools will get a lot of use and abuse, so choose carefully.

Safety and Health Tools

No kitchen is complete without some tools for preventing accidents or illness and a first-said kit should one occur. Now, a first-aid kit doesn't necessarily need to be right in the kitchen. However, everyone should be aware of where it is located and the location should be easy to reach in an emergency. If this isn't the case, make it so. Safety should never be overlooked.

One of the simplest weapons against illness is soap. Make sure you have hand soap in the kitchen. A friend assured me that she had plenty of hand soap in a nearby bathroom. I asked her how often she took the time to make the trip to the bathroom to use it when cooking. Her answer? "Ummm..." Keeping a small dispenser of anti-bacterial hand soap by the kitchen sink helps remind you and makes it easier to wash your hands before preparing food, when switching from handling one food product to another, and when you've finished.

Also, have your dish soap handy. If you cut raw meat on a cutting board, clean it thoroughly before using it again. This is a rule that should never be broken. More people experience food poisoning as a result of breaking this rule than you can imagine. It's simple, really. When you're in the kitchen, don't cut corners when it comes to safety and cleanliness. It really is a life or death decision.

Kitchen Helpers

Everyone has at least one in their kitchens. They're those little items (some don't even have names) that make your life easier. While they're not really kitchen necessities, they do help a lot. And, after all, if you can improve your cooking experiences, why not?

Have you ever had a hard time opening a jar of tomato sauce or jam? What's your solution? For some, it's finding the nearest muscle man and thrusting the offending jar into his hands. But, what if you could keep your solution in that tiny drawer next to the frig? You know, the one holding rubber bands and packets of kool-aid. A piece of highly-textured plastic can work wonders on the hard-to-open jar. These simple gadgets range from 4-inch circles with local ads on them (most of these are free) to 5-inch square meshes (you can buy a pack of 4 for less than $1). Fold it up, put it in your drawer, and next time a jar decides to stick, you can open it!

Cooking spray has found its way into most kitchens. But have you ever used it to keep your spaghetti from boiling over? Spray a little over your pot of boiling noodles to decrease the surface tension (that means fewer bubbles and no mess). If you have non-stick pans or heavy cast iron ones, spray a light mist over them and wipe gently with a paper towel. The oil keeps them from rusting and helps prevent scratching while storing.

If you are a coffee lover AND a seasoned cook, you probably already know how useful a coffee grinder can be. Some people invest in two and use one for grinding and blending your own spices and the other for making that perfect cup of joe. I, however, have one. After grinding spices in it, I add 1/4 cup of rice and blend thoroughly. The rice cleanses the grinder and makes a nice thickening agent in a pinch.

An item I would be lost without is my trusty blender. I've made everything from sorbet to soups to sauces with it. If you like canning vegetables, use your blender to puree tomatoes and can your own homemade tomato juice -- move over V8!!!

Do you have a kitchen helper that isn't mentioned here? Share it with our other readers by filling out the "Feedback" form at the bottom of this page.

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