Thank you so much for your patience while I worked to get this post up. This is Part 4 of a series on saving money by cooking at home. Cooking at home can lead to a huge savings in your budget, but you can’t cook if you don’t have the right equipment. If you’re an experienced home cook, most of this post won’t be new to you, but you might enjoy checking out some of the links for information.
In general, I would recommend not buying any expensive equipment until you have gained some experience and have some idea of what pieces you use every day and are worth investing in. Top-of-the-line cookware, knives and appliances can cost hundreds of dollars, so you definitely don’t want to invest that kind of money until you know what you really want and need.
- Chef’s Knife – A good quality chef’s knife can be the difference between a pleasurable cooking experience and a miserable one (I’m speaking from experience here). You’ll probably use your chef’s knife more than any other knife (it’s the default tool for chopping, cutting and slicing). I have an eight-inch Henckels Five-Star chef’s knife, which works fine for me, but I’m not recommending it here because I don’t love it. The blade never seems to stay sharp, but it has a nice heft to it that makes it comfortable to hold. I also don’t recommend the Henckels Eversharp chef’s knife, which I hate. I’ve heard good things about Wüsthof knives, but I’ve never used one. When you’re buying a knife, try to find a store where they will let you hold the knife. Buy one that feels comfortable in your hand. A few years ago on Cooking Live, Sara Moulton often talked about how much she loved her 10-inch chef’s knife, but when I looked at a 10-inch knife in a store, I decided it was way too big for me. Click here for tips on how to use and sharpen your knife. Also, remember not to leave your knife in the sink because the tip may snap off.
- Other Knives – Other knives you may want to have are a paring knife for peeling produce and a serrated knife for slicing bread and other delicate items. Click here for more information.
- Frypan or Sauté Pan – A frypan has sloped sides, while a sauté pan has straight sides. I think most beginner cooks would find it easier to use a frypan. Ten inches is a good, all-purpose size. You can use this pan for almost any recipe that calls for a skillet. I would recommend a nonstick pan to start. It’s also nice if the pan has an ovenproof handle in case you want to bake something in it. I love this pan, which I got from Amazon.com for less than $20, but it appears to no longer be available. Bed Bath & Beyond has a similar pan for $29.99.
- Stockpot – You’ll need a stockpot to cook pasta and make soups. A good, versatile size is 8 to 10 quarts. I like my stockpot to be nonstick because I make a lot of one or two-pot meals, and it makes clean-up a lot easier. Unfortunately, I had quite a difficult time earlier this year finding a good-quality nonstick pot under $80. After about one month of constant searching, I finally found one on clearance at Macys.com for about $30, including tax and shipping. I am planning to buy a Dutch oven soon, which won’t be cheap but is perfect for meals that need to go from stovetop to oven.
- Baking Pans – My parents always had a 13x9x2 glass Pyrex baking dish in the cupboard, and I am constantly using mine. It’s great for casseroles, of course, but also for cakes, double batches of brownies, and pasta bakes. I also recommend an 8x8x2 dish for smaller recipes. Sometimes I use nonstick baking pans, but I find that if I remember to spray the glass dish with nonstick cooking spray, clean-up is usually not a problem. Read more about pots and pans here.
- Measuring Tools – A basic 2-cup measure for liquid ingredients is all that’s really necessary (get one that’s microwavable). You’ll also want a set of dry measuring cups and a set of measuring spoons. If your measuring cups and spoons come with a ring to keep them together, take it off. There’s no reason to have to wash all of your measuring cups or all of your measuring spoons because you used one. For a quick review of measuring cups, click here.
- Cutting Board – You’ll need one to do all of your chopping on. Experts recommend having at least two, one for meats and another for everything else, to avoid cross-contamination. Wooden boards look nice but require special care. I’m partial to the relatively inexpensive plastic boards (about $10) that can go in the dishwasher.
- Other Utensils – I recommend having a wooden spoon for stirring and mixing, a medium-sized whisk, and a vegetable peeler to get those vegetable skins off quickly. You may also want to pick up a microplane grater for zesting citrus. (I use my microplane to grate garlic and onion instead of mincing them.)
As you cook more, you’ll undoubtedly notice that recipes you’re interested in making call for equipment you don’t have, so have fun adding to your collection according to what you can afford and what you can afford to store.