Making the move from a dorm or your parents’ house to your first solo place can seem intimidating, especially when it comes to outfitting the kitchen. Yes, you’ll have to put some money into it – although maybe not as much as you think. In fact, if you spend wisely, you’ll save money on eating out and have kitchen equipment that will last for years – and maybe even someday end up in your future offspring’s first kitchen.
Pro tip: Check out yard sales for kitchen equipment – you can find amazing bargains on everything from dishware and cutlery to skillets, blenders and handmade rolling pins.
PANTRY INGREDIENTS: $150
Your pantry setup will lay the foundation for everything you need to feed yourself from a pre-workout breakfast to a late-night snack and even Sunday brunch at home with friends.
A few basic staples provide the basis for pasta, stir-fry, curry, chili and soup.
– Olive oil
– Vegetable oil
– Sesame oil
– Soy sauce (low-sodium, dark)
– Vinegars (white, balsamic, red wine)
– Honey or light agave syrup
– Canned tomatoes
– Tomato paste
– Chicken/vegetable broth
– Coconut milk
– Mustard (Dijon, whole-grain)
– Hot sauce
Easy shelf-stable proteins
Fill your larder with both canned and dried beans – canned for when you need a super-fast meal of rice and beans at the end of a long day, and dried for making more luscious soups and stews. Raw nuts can be pureed into pesto, tossed onto a salad or sauteed with veggies for a burrito filling.
– Dried/canned beans (black, kidney, navy, etc.)
– Dried lentils
– Raw nuts: cashews, walnuts, pine nuts
– Canned tuna in oil (look for an Italian brand, like Cento)
Starchy bases and additions
Stock up on super-thin capellini pasta when you want to cook dinner in 10 minutes flat, and grits (or polenta) make a great base for eggs and roast chicken alike. Different varieties of rice are often sold in bulk.
– Rice (basmati, jasmine and brown, but also bamboo, black (forbidden) rice, arborio, etc.)
– Pasta (wheat, rice, etc.)
– Panko bread crumbs
Spices and other flavor-enhancers
A few dashes of spice, even just salt and pepper, can totally change the flavor of any dish, along with a squirt or two of lemon juice. Start with these basics, but expand your spice and flavor pantry each time you shop, picking up two-ounce quantities of ginger, smoked paprika, nutmeg, tarragon, thyme and whatever else strikes your fancy.
– Chili powder
– Vanilla extract
It’s incredibly easy to whip up a batch of biscuits or chocolate chip cookies, so don’t be afraid to flex your baking muscles. Nothing will make you more popular with friends and neighbors than freshly baked brownies.
– All-purpose flour
– Sugar (white and brown)
– Unsweetened cocoa powder
– Baking powder
– Baking soda
– Fast-rise yeast (store in the freezer to extend shelf life)
Good tools in the kitchen can mean the difference between success and failure, so start with the essentials, and then add more items as your skills grow and you’re ready to tackle new recipes and techniques.
The essentials: $150
– Dry measuring cup set, preferably stainless steel
– 16-ounce liquid measuring cup
– 1/4 cup plastic measuring cup (our favorite is the Mini Angled Measuring Cup by OXO, $4.99)
– Measuring spoon set, preferably stainless steel
– Stainless steel mixing bowls (three graduated sizes)
– Large colander
– 9-inch metal tongs (locking)
– Wooden spoon (any kind)
– Silicone spatula (good for mixing batters or to use in a nonstick pan)
– Thin metal spatula
– Peppermill (try the chef’s favorite, Unicorn’s 6-inch Magnum Peppermill, $31)
– Antibacterial cutting board or mats
Good to have: $130
– Handheld citrus juicer (Chef’n FreshForce, $19.99)
– Box grater
– Long-handled fine-mesh strainer
– Wooden cutting board (12-inch or larger)
– Parchment paper (roll or half sheets)
– Instant-read digital thermometer (ThermoPop, $29)
– 12-inch stainless steel French whisk
– Potato masher
– Microplane grater
Every cook needs a few good knives, like a basic eight-inch chef’s knife and a small paring knife. A set of kitchen shears is handy for breaking down a chicken, snipping herbs and cutting off those pesky heavy-duty rubber bands binding the broccoli.
The essentials: $75
– 8-inch chef’s knife
– Serrated paring knife (Victorinox’s four-inch Swiss Classic Paring Knife, $7.69)
– Corkscrew (the winged corkscrew is practically foolproof for a novice, but a waiter’s corkscrew is a classic)
Good to have: $35
– Kitchen shears
– 10-inch serrated bread knife (great for slicing bread, cake, tomatoes and eggs; try Chicago Cutlery’s Walnut Tradition 10-Inch Bread Knife/Slicer for $16.99)
POTS AND PANS
Pots and pans can be a big expense, but most cooking can be handled with a skillet, a stock pot and a sheet pan. Yard sales are a great place to look for cast-iron or enamel skillets and Dutch ovens, which can often be easily reconditioned at home at a small fraction of the cost of purchasing new.
The essentials: $100
– 6-inch cast-iron or nonstick skillet (ovenproof)
– 12-inch cast-iron skillet
– 9-by-13-inch baking glass baking dish (a half-sheet-pan-size stainless steel hotel pan can also be a good budget option)
– Rimmed baking sheet
– 6- to 8-quart stock pot
Good to have: $75
– Dutch oven (Lodge’s 6-quart Enamel Dutch Oven, $49.99, or Cuisinart’s 5 1/2-quart Chef’s Classic Enameled Cast Iron Oval Covered Casserole, $56.89)
– 9- or 10-inch nonstick saute pan (ovenproof)
There is a dizzying array of appliances that could easily fill up an entire kitchen, but there are a handful that can be useful on an almost daily basis. Use an immersion blender for everything from smoothies to soup; a scaled-down food processor frees up counter space and speeds up chopping veggies or whipping up hummus.
– Immersion (stick) blender
– Mini food processor
– Rice cooker (dish up rice and steamed vegetables for a quick meal in 20 minutes; try Black & Decker’s 6-cup cooker, $19.99)
– Slow cooker (come home to ready-to-eat chili and stews; try the KitchenAid 6-quart slow cooker with standard lid, $89)
BAKING ESSENTIALS: $80
Once you get bitten by the baking bug, it’s easy to obsess over handmade French porcelain pie pans and high-end stand mixers – which someday may be worth investing in. Until then, a simple rolling pin – if it’s not tapered, it’ll be easier to roll out dough evenly – is a must-have, and a bench scraper is useful for other tasks besides baking, like scooping up chopped ingredients to throw into a hot pan.
– 9-inch round cake pan
– 8 1/2-inch loaf pan
– 9-inch pie glass plate
– Rolling pin (Ateco’s 19-inch maple wood rolling pin, $7.99 at webstaurantstore.com)
– Bench scraper
– Kitchen scale (baking requires some precision, so invest in an Escali’s Primo Digital Kitchen Scale, $24.89)
– Handheld mixer