My sister is getting married next July, and she just called to ask me what I think she should register for. I’ve gotta put together a list anyway, so I figured I’d share it with all of you readers out there. Here’s my list of all the stuff you need to be a great home cook.
Most, if not all, the items below are best purchased at your local restaurant supply store. When you buy stuff meant for restaurants, it’s gonna be high quality, durable, and cheaper than stuff meant for home kitchens. It may not look as pretty or have fancy brand names, but who cares? If you’re in Birmingham and haven’t been there, take a trip to Bresco and kick yourself for overpaying on kitchen stuff all these years.
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• Half-sheet pans. You probably need two of these pans, which are perfect for roasting anything, baking anything, toasting bread for crostini, and a thousand other things, especially when used with…
• Silpats. A silpat (it’s a brand name, but you don’t need a Silpat-brand silpat) is a heatproof, nonstick silicone mat that fits perfectly into a half-sheet pan. You don’t need parchment paper or cooking spray or anything else if you’ve got a silpat.
• Muffin tin. You’re gonna make muffins or cupcakes once in a while, right?
• 9 x 9 square baking dish. Perfect for a pan of brownies or cornbread, or to roast a small bird or cut of meat.
• Cake pans. You need two, because every cake has two layers! And in a pinch, you can use a cake pan in place of a pie dish.
• Roasting pan. For when you need make, well, a roast.
• Cooling rack. Not only good for cooling cookies and the like, you can also use it to drain fried foods.
• Stockpot. Because you’ll always be making stock from the carcasses of all those chickens you’re roasting, right? Also good for cooking pasta. Try to find one that’s oven-safe so you can use it for braising or stews too.
• Saucepans. You need two, both nonstick, with lids.
• Le Creuset. Le Creuset makes very heavy cast-iron pots coated with enamel that makes them pretty much nonstick. They’re gorgeous, and expensive, but splurge and get one nice one. It can go on the stove or in the over and is completely indestructible. You’ll pass it on to your kids.
• Nonstick sauté pans. At the very least, you want one big one with sloping sides and one big one with straight sides. A small one for making omelets couldn’t hurt either. Try to find pans that fit your stockpot or saucepan lids. (Pans with lids are useful, but too many lids clutter up the cabinets real bad.)
• Non-nonstick sauté pan. You need one copper or stainless-steel pan you can use to sear and brown stuff, and to make good pan sauces. Make sure the handle is metal too, so it can go from stove to oven.
• Knives. At the bare minimum, you need two: a serrated knife to slice bread and a chef’s knife for, well, everything else. (If you want more, get a second chef’s knife to use when the first is dirty, and maybe a paring knife for fine precision.) Your knives need have two, and only two, characteristics: They must be incredibly sharp and feel comfortable in your hand. Definitely buy knives at a restaurant supply store—brand names and trendy shapes and high prices are completely meaningless.
• Cutting boards. You want ’em large, numerous, and cheap. Plastic is best, though a nice (not-cheap) butcher-block cutting board is a thing of beauty. Never get glass, ever. They dull your knives, and break.
• Metal mixing bowls. Stainless steel mixing bowls come in tons of sizes, can handle both heat and cold, and can even go in the microwave (provided your microwave is less than about 20 years old). You need lots of these. I have two small, two medium, and one large, and that’s sometimes not enough. Get ones with flat bottoms, not round—they’re more stable.
• Plastic mixing bowl. You need exactly one of these, for mixing acidic ingredients (i.e. when a recipe calls for a non-reactive bowl). Get a big one. You could use glass too, but glass breaks if you drop it.
• Microplane grater. One of very few brands I’d recommend specifically. Microplanes are extremely sharp and great for zesting citrus, shaving Parmesan, and lots more.
• Kitchenaid mixer. The other of the very few brands I’d recommend specifically. If you’ve ever whipped egg whites or creamed butter by hand, you know why you need one. If you can, get a bowl-lift mixer—it’s easier to attach and detatch the bowl than one where the bowl twists into the base.
• Stick blender. Why move the food to the blender when you can move the blender to the food? These are needed for smooth, creamy soups. The photo is of my Cuisinart, which has served me well for almost five years.
• Measuring spoons and cups. Get at least two sets of each.
• Thermometers. You need three: an oven thermometer to make sure your oven’s calibrated properly, a meat thermometer to make sure your meat’s done, and a candy thermometer, which doubles as an oil thermometer for deep-frying.
• Kitchen scale. Get a digital one with a tare button. Invaluable.
• Wooden spoons. Don’t pay more than a dollar per spoon. You’ll probably go through hundreds of these in your lifetime. Won’t scratch your pans when you cook with ’em.
• Tongs. A pair of metal tongs is the only tool most professional cooks use when cooking stuff on the stovetop. They make ones with silicone ends, or that can lock closed, but you’re just wasting money if you buy those.
• Heatproof spatula. You need one of these silicone jobbers to flip your pancakes and fold your omelets. A plastic one will melt, and a metal one will scratch your pans.
• Whisk. You’re gonna need to whisk salad dressings, eggs, and a bunch of other stuff. Get a metal whisk with a nice solid handle.
• Wire strainer. A plastic pasta strainer can only strain pasta. A wire strainer can do that, and also strain soups, sauces, frying oil, and more.
• Scissors. Get a good heavy pair of scissors and use them for kitchen stuff ONLY.
• Lemon juicer. Get one of those metal hinged ones. They can juice lemons, limes, or oranges.
• Rolling pin. A rolling pin is good for rolling out dough, as well as for flattening meats and crushing spices. I prefer aFrench rolling pin, one single tapered piece of wood with no handles.
• Delitainers. These durable, reusable plastic containers make Tupperware look useless. They hold leftovers, organize your fridge, and are so cheap that you can send guests home with ’em and not worry. (Five bucks for 24 here. Don’t forget to buy lids too.)