Cooking 101: Your Essential Kitchen Tools

This is a post from NF Rebel Chef Noel Fernando.

Long gone are the days where sharpened rocks, sticks, and fire were the only tools we needed to prepare a meal. Though that set of equipment might be an easier list to make, I’d much rather be living in today’s world of sharpened knives and heat resistant spatulas. Life as a modern day cook is pretty good.

If you’re new to life in the kitchen, or you’ve just ventured out on your own, making a variety of dishes – especially healthy ones – can be frustrating if you don’t have the right tools. Today we’re going to learn about the 11 tools we feel are most essential to get you from 0 to 1 in the kitchen, so that you are ready to go on the quest of making your first first home cooked meal.

Now my dear friend, don’t read this list and panic. You don’t have to buy all of these things at once. You can totally accumulate kitchen equipment over time, slowly switching out crappy equipment for new stuff. Building up a set of tools that feels comfortable for you can take time and depends on your preferences and budget. Choose wisely.

To give you a little head start, we’ve provided you with Amazon links where you can pick up some of this equipment. We’ve tried to find you some inexpensive tools with the best reviews. These are affiliate links, so feel free to search for these items yourself on Amazon. We just want your kitchen to be equipped for success!

Let’s get to the good stuff!

Chef’s Knife (our recommendation)

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The biggest game changer for me when I started cooking was a nice, sharp knife. Have you ever tried to cut a sweet potato – or god forbid a spaghetti squash – in half with a dull, flimsy knife? I have, and it’s terrible. Not impossible, but using a crappy, dull knife makes preparing your meals tedious, time consuming, and downright dangerous.

It may be tempting to buy an entire block of knives or several different shapes, sizes, and edges… and if that floats your boat, feel free. But if you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, I’d go with the simple chef’s knife. It’s great for cutting just about anything you might need to as a beginner. Plus, it keeps your kitchen simple and minimalist until you truly need the variety.

Cutting Board (our recommendation

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If you want to take care of your knives (and your counter tops), you’ll need a cutting board. This makes transferring food from where you cut it to your pan and pot super easy (just pick up the board with your meat/veggies on it and walk over to your stove). And it keeps your knife sharper for a longer period of time.

Go with a plastic, bamboo, or wood cutting board. Not glass or stone! Glass and stone boards will dull your knives much more quickly than the soft surface of a plastic or wood cutting board. Also, the sound of a metal knife rapping against a glass cutting board is just plain awful. We selected a very simple white cutting board.

Non-stick pan (our recommendationOR Cast Iron Skillet for a level up (our recommendation)

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Some people prefer stainless steel. Others like non-stick. I prefer cast iron. Though they take a while to heat up and they need to be seasoned first, cast iron skillets can be used for a variety of different things: cooking bacon, scrambling or frying eggs, pan seared pork chops, stir fries, sauteed veggies… the list goes on. This skillet is sort of your “do it all.”

Next to your knife, your skillet is likely going to be your most used item in the kitchen. The reason I prefer cast iron is because they are tough, they last forever, and because they’re made entirely of metal. You can use them in the oven, on the stove top, or even on a grill. And because it’s so heavy duty, you can even use it to add weight to your goblet squats or to defend your home from intruders (please don’t do this).

The size of the skillet depends on how much food you’ll be cooking, but a 10 inch skillet should work great for most people.

If you have no idea what seasoning means, but a cast iron skillet has piqued your interest, check out Nom Nom Paleo’s article on how to season and care for a cast iron skillet.

HOWEVER, for some kitchen newbies, the thought of caring for and seasoning a new cast iron skillet is a little too much work. For you folks, I’d suggest a good quality non-stick pan. Preferably one without Teflon. (Teflon is bad for the environment and it releases fumes that aren’t great to breathe if you heat them up past a certain temperature. Plus you have to replace them often because the Teflon comes off – more than likely in your food.)

If you’re making stir fries, eggs, sautéed veggies, etc., a non-stick pan is great because it’ll do all that with minimal cleaning. The only caveat is that you can’t put these suckers in the oven (especially not Teflon) because most of these types of pans have plastic or rubber parts (Some have silicone that you can put in the oven up to a certain temperature. Know what type of pan you have before you do this!). So if you opt for a non stick pan, you’ll need a baking sheet to cook your steak or chops in the oven as illustrated in this recipe.

Sauce Pot (our recommendation)

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A small sauce pot is essential for making things like soups and sauces and boiling or steaming vegetables. Something small will do. If you’re cooking for a large family or doing a lot of meal prep, you could probably choose a larger soup pot, but if neither of these applies to you, a smaller 1.5 quart pot will be fine.

Meat Thermometer (our recommendation)

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This might seem like a somewhat excessive tool, but it could be one of the best investments you make.

When I was growing up and learning how to cook, no one ever cooked with a meat thermometer. But when I moved out on my own and started cooking for myself, I was afraid of giving myself food poisoning by undercooking my food. When you’re starting to learn, how can you be sure you won’t undercook your meats and make yourself sick? Especially if you don’t know what meat *should* look like when it’s done?

The simplest and “stress-free” way of doing this is to know the meat’s temperature.  If this is an aspect that you don’t want to worry about, do yourself a favor and get one of these.

Aluminum Baking Sheet (our recommendation)

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These are the sheets that most people use to bake cookies. But they’re not *only* good for making cookies. They’re also great for roasting vegetables and baking things like chicken and fish. Roasting adds a wider variety of flavors and textures to your daily veggie intake. (You are eating vegetables every day, right?)

Want to level up your baking sheet experience? Do yourself a favor and buy some aluminum foil while you’re at it. Lining your baking sheet with aluminum foil makes clean up approximately 1793% (.333 repeating of course) easier.

Measuring Spoons and Cups (our recommendation)

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If you’re following recipes and you don’t have measuring equipment, how on earth are you going to make sure you’re putting the right amount of Chemical X in your recipe for perfect little girls?

Professor Utonium didn’t use measuring cups and he ended up with super powered, crime fighting children. Okay, maybe on second thought, that isn’t the best story to warn you against not using measuring utensils, but really – especially when you’re first starting out – if you want food to taste good, use those measuring spoons and cups. I know your grandma never uses them, but that’s because she’s been cooking for the last 60 years. When you’ve got that much experience under your belt, I give you permission to stop using them.

Tongs (our recommendation)

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For the longest time when I first moved out on my own, I didn’t have a pair of tongs. I’d try to use two forks, chop sticks, or a spatula to flip my food. And though it worked, it made these tasks so much more difficult. I dropped things, I splashed my clothes with grease and sauce… basically it made an even bigger mess than I was already making. If you’re ever going to grill anything, turn baked chicken, or cook bacon, you’re going to need a decent set of tongs. You’ll thank me later.

Heat Resistant Rubber Spatula (our recommendation)

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The rubber spatula is the ultimate mixing tool in my humble opinion. Great for mixing just about anything, and if you leave it in your pot/pan by accident, it won’t melt into your food and ruin it. (To be honest, it’s probably best to get into the habit of not leaving spatulas in hot, cooking food though.)

Metal Turner (our recommendation)

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Killer for turning burgers on the grill, flipping fried eggs, and in a pinch, scrambling… well, scrambled eggs.

Oven Mitt, Hot Pad, or Kitchen Towels (our recommendation

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Protecting your hands is a must in the kitchen. I’d venture to guess that two of the most common kitchen injuries are burns and cuts. Having a sharp knife will help prevent you from cutting yourself, and having proper protection for your hands when pulling food out of the oven or touching the handle of a metal skillet is going to be essential. Please make sure to never use a wet towel or oven mitt to touch a hot surface. The liquid inside the fabric will boil and evaporate, and you’ll steam-burn your hand.

Now, which of these you decide to buy depends entirely on your preference. For the lazy cooks out there or you minimalists, I’d suggest the simple kitchen towel. It’s multi-purpose and perfectly functional. Just make sure it’s not wet, and you fold it enough times to protect your hand from the hot pan!

That’s it!

Kitchen

Those are our 11 kitchen tools we feel are essential for the aspiring cook. They’ll make your life so much easier when you’re learning to make your own delicious food.

To recap, if you’re somebody that just wants to put all of these things in your shopping cart and kickstart your kitchen, here ya go:

Like I said before, you don’t need all of these items right away. Choose one that will help you make that recipe you’ve been eyeing. And look for sales or discounted items at places like Target, Wal-Mart, Amazon, or Home Goods, so you can build that kitchen on a budget!

Remember, we’re not talking excess here. When I first started cooking and following recipes that seemed interesting to me, I was disheartened because almost everything seemed to require specialized equipment – like a fancy blender, food processor, or slow cooker. Those things are fun to have, don’t get me wrong. They greatly expand the dishes you’re able to make, but they’re absolutely not necessary.

If you’re thinking about one of these items, I’d suggest you borrow and take them on a test drive first.

  • Do you have any questions about these 11 items?
  • What is your favorite tool to use in the kitchen?
  • Experienced cooks, what would you add to or remove from this list?

Let us know in the comments!

###

-Noel

Pictures: Lunch: Kenny LouieKnife: Jos Tampes, Cutting board: Emily, Cast Iron Skillet: Bruce, Pan: Flikr, Meat Thermometer: Wyn Lok, Measuring Spoons: Julie Margo, Spatula: Yoshide Nomura, Turner: Jean Etienne, Oven Mitt: Mr.TinDC, New Kitchen Knife: Song Zhen

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  • Daniel Mattison

    I love my non stick ceramic pan. Especially for eggs. I will never go back to teflon. And don’t let an iron skillet intimidate you…it’s actually very easy once you figure it out and have a routine. The key is completely drying it after cleaning and not using a lot of soap. Still, cleaning out the rust and reseasoning it is not hard. Just a little time consuming. When you cook a steak in that, though, wow!

  • Melissa

    Buy a crock pot at a thrift store or yard sale. Easiest way to cook ever and always tasty and tender. I use mine about 4 days a week and toss whatever meat I want for the next few days into it. Sprinkle some seasoning, if that’s your thing and forget about it.

  • Mark D

    One thing I’d add: A GOOD knife sharpener to keep that chef’s knife sharp. I like the little Lansky sharpener that has carbide and ceramic sharpeners, and a diamond rod. They run about $10 on Amazon.

  • DrFeelgood

    Having recently spent a couple of months in a corporate apartment in the midst of a cross-country move while all my kitchen gear was packed up I can offer the following additions that I had to purchase in order to round out the rudimentary apartment-provided gear: 1. A large mixing bowl, something microwave and dishwasher safe (I like glass); 2. Storage containers with lids for packing follow-up meals (I take leftovers to work for lunch every day, and I use a 4-cup Pyrex container with plastic lid to do it); 3. Colander, useful when blanching/shocking vegetables; 4. Cheese grater; and 5. A blender for making smoothies (if part of your diet plan).
    The very first things I went out and bought? Kitchen knife, cutting board, and cast-iron skillet. 😀 I would add that the cutting board should be large enough for the knife that will be used on it.

  • http://www.twitter.com/fians4k Captain McAwesome

    I have everything, except for the “Meat Thermometer”, which I would never use because I rarely cook large pieces of meat, nothing that I can’t judge how cooked it is based only on how it looks.

  • http://www.twitter.com/fians4k Captain McAwesome

    A must-have.

  • Justin Chaloupka

    Only other item to recommend, and more for speed/convenience than anything else, would be a mandolin slicer. Alternatively, if you want to start looking at Tier 2 gear (i.e. power tools) then a food processor with a slicing disc would work well instead.

  • Max Wasatch

    It is not just for large hunks of meat. I probably use mine the most on things like steaks and chicken. I want it done enough to be safe but not much beyond that. It is so much better to cook a chicken breast to 165 than 170. I have cooked a lot of meat over the years, and though I can guess that it is done enough to be safe, I can rarely guess that is is done just enough to taste best.

  • Diana Burke

    Would you mind linking to one? There are quite a few by that brand and look quite different from one another. Thanks!

  • http://www.untilextinction.com Satan’s Undershorts

    Mandolins are hard to play once you’ve sliced them.

  • Erin

    I’d suggest a crock pot or slow cooker and a microplane for zesting citrus, as well, and I love my wooden spoons. That said, this list is pretty exhaustive!

  • Kevin Day

    The biggest thing I would add even for the most basic toolkit is a good wooden spoon or even a few different sized wooden spoons. I would actually replace the rubber spatula with the wooden spoons but that just has to do with what I tend to cook and my specific cooking technique.

  • Mark D

    Certainly, I just bought three of these (one for the kitchen drawer, one for the tool box, one for the fishing tackle box):

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0085PPSIQ?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00

  • Diana Burke

    Thanks!

  • Phi

    I second this. Toss everything in before work, come home, and supper is ready. I have 3 crock pots of various sizes, all purchased second hand, and under 15.00.

  • Phi

    I would forgo the non stick pan and the plastic cutting board altogether. They both seem to “shed” their surfaces sooner or later. Plastic cutting boards stain and I never seem to be able to get them clean enough for my taste.
    Seasoning cast iron is very easy!

    Most everything on the list can be had at Dollar Tree!

  • Michael Leonard

    No Cassarole Dish or Dutch Oven!?!? A cassarole dish allows you to make a 1-dish meal that is balanced and can be cleaned up and/or stored for leftovers with minimal work. Get a good cast iron one and you can saute your meats in the dish and get cooked through meats mixed with perfectly done veggies and starches. And nothing beats a corner piece of just about anything.

    My reccommendation: https://www.lodgemfg.com/dutch-ovens-and-casseroles/4-6-qt-dutch-ovens.asp

  • Michael Leonard

    I’ve managed to almost food poison my wife enough that every time I cook chicken I temp out the food. Doesn’t matter if it’s a whole bird or a drumstick, I poke it with the thermometer.

  • Michael Leonard

    And a friendly reminder to use the finger guard while slicing.

  • Jessica Williamson

    Instead of the cast iron pan it would be healthier to get one that doesn’t leach iron into all the foods it cooks. I got some ceramic skillets from Walmart about a month ago that are amazing & don’t stick. Green Life brand, no chemicals. 7-in & 10-in for $30. Ridiculously easy to clean. Also, there is an online cooking “school” that is amazing as well. It has video lessons that explain all the how’s & why’s. Rouxbe.com. It is $5 a month if you have a promo code. Different companies sponsor the tuition fee to get people to make healthier foods & use their products. I used the promo code GARDEIN. If that doesn’t work it tells you who else is sponsoring, if you go to their website you should be able to get a different code.

  • Mark D

    Indeed. A mandolin is PLENTY sharp enough to cut right through the nail on your little finger and into the finger. Guess how I know that.

  • Michael Leonard

    you bent for a twang?

  • amandamarieg

    Third. You don’t need a fancy one, but being able to “set it and forget it” will change your life.

  • amandamarieg

    Glass casserole dish. Size is up to you, but you can get a cheap set of pyrex dishes for $10 if you look around, and you’ll usually have a 9×13, 8×8, and loaf pan in there. Cookie sheets are great for baking, but sometimes you just need something with sides to prevent your food from falling out/over.

  • K.

    Nobody needs THREE silicone spatulas unless they bake frequently. Oven mitts can be had way cheaper (and slip on/off easier) than those weird $20 gloves you linked. And you said not to buy nonstick, then linked to … a nonstick saucepan. (Stainless steel measuring cups, however, are a smart choice.)

    I would also suggest measuring your oven before buying a baking sheet that large. 1/2 sheet size won’t fit in older ovens.

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  • http://energymizerutah.com/ energymizer

    It is an option. All ceramic cookware is chemical free.

  • the_shed_man

    G’day Jess,

    I’m in favour of cast iron as, properly seasoned, it doesn’t leech iron into anything! It’s non-stick, easy to clean, cooks evenly, is no more costly to heat than thinner utensils as one can turn off the gas before one’s finished cooking and use the residual heat in the cast iron to finish the job. Economy! And healthy. But I agree that ceramic pots etc. are much better for you than non-stick. I never trusted them, on the basis that if it were non-stick, how do they stick it to the metal of the pan? 🙂 Seriously, though, I was put off by the look of those which had been overheated during cooking, and that is apparently easy enough to do, as there was obviously some fundamental changes to the coating. My question was: Where did the chemicals go? Into the food was my only answer!

    I’ve been cooking with [and eating food from] cast iron Camp Ovens, Frying Pans [skillets, I think, for you Americans] and saucepans for 50 odd years and the iron content in my body is perfectly normal!

    Each to his / her own, though. Keep learning, but.

  • the_shed_man

    I agree with the above list, almost, and with most of the comments below.

    My only extra suggestion is to buy a stainless steel putty knife, about 2″ wide at the end with a nice wooden handle, at your local hardware store. Gently round off the corners [I did that on some handy concrete] and you’ll find it very useful for cooking in pots, frying pans, roasting pans, baking trays [sheets] and so on. Much handier than the larger metal turner shown in the photograph. IMHO.

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  • rodgerM

    Cast iron is great, and the older the better. Check yard sales, Goodwill (or other thrift stores) for “experienced” pans; a well-seasoned cast iron pan should be dark black. I don’t use dish soap, nor do I put them in the dishwasher; rather, lightly scrub with a plastic scrub pad & rinse with warm water. For REALLY stuck food, soak the pan for an hour or so. Once clean, dry thoroughly and very lightly coat the interior of the pan. I keep a papertowel in the shortening container for this. 1/2 tsp of olive oil works well, too, if vegetable shortening is “too evil” for you. 🙂

    If you have a ceramic cook-top, try to find pans that are flush on the bottom. Some pans have a circular ridge around the bottom, preventing good contact with the cooktop.