Basic Kitchen Equipment – Kitchen Clueless Cooking Course

Feb 5, 2020 | Cooking Tips

Last week I launched my free 10-week basic cooking course “Kitchen Clueless to Food Independent“. In the first week, we defined basic cooking terms and If you haven’t seen it, check it out here. This week we are going to look at some basic kitchen equipment, how to use it, how to buy it, if you need it, and whatever else we need to know. Let’s get to it.

This is…

BASIC KITCHEN EQUIPMENT – KITCHEN CLUELESS COOKING COURSE


Knives

It should come as no surprise that I get asked a lot about knives. “What kind should I buy?” “How much should I spend?” “What are the best ones?” Here is the thing about knives, you don’t need to spend loads of money but you do want to spend a little bit. Before we get into what to look for in a knife, let’s look at what to avoid.

What to avoid when buying knives.

First of all, avoid buying knife blocks full of knives. Most typically, the knives that come in these sets are cheap and of poor quality. Yes, it may seem great that you can get a full set of knives for $100-$200 but they are going to be garbage. Within a few months of use, they will be very dull and likely rusty. If you were to buy a decent quality set of knives with the knife block and everything you would be paying a minimum of $1200 – $1400. Anything less than that and they really are not worth buying. This is true no matter what the brand name is on the handle.

What’s in a name?

Don’t buy a knife just because it has a name you recognize. Most commercial knife brands make very high-quality knives and very low-quality knives. A cheap knife with a brand name on it is still a cheap knife. When it comes to knives you really do get what you pay for.

Don’t buy a knife based on price.

Just like you shouldn’t buy a cheap knife just because it is cheap, you shouldn’t buy an expensive knife just because it is expensive. When buying a knife price should be the last thing on your mind…within reason.

What should you look for when buying a knife?

The absolute most important thing to think about when buying a knife is how does it feel in your hand? Is it comfortable? Do you want to use it? Does it have a good weight and balance to it? Is it that it feels cheap or of low quality or does it feel well built and durable? Those are the important things.

Let’s do a little thought experiment. What do you think is the better knife to buy? One that costs $1000+ is forged in the foothills of some fancy-sounding mountain in Japan by a guy whose family has been making knives for 1000 generations but that doesn’t feel comfortable in your hand and that you likely aren’t going to use. Or, a knife that cost $120, feels good in your hand, like an extension of your arm, and makes you want to use it. I think it is obvious that the $120 knife is the way to go in that situation.

Where to buy knives?

When it comes to where to buy knives I suggest hitting up the old google and searching for kitchen supply stores in your town. These are stores that supply professional chefs and restaurants but are open to the general public. There you will find by far the best selection of knives at a range of prices. Ask someone who works there if you can handle a few, ask about the differences and ask if they have anything you can cut. Whatever knife feels the best in your hand is the one you should aim to buy.

How much should you spend on a knife?

For the average home cook or even the above-average home cook, a knife in the range of $120 – $300 is all you need. That seems like a lot. But ideally, you are going to have this knife for the rest of your life. And, I would actually suggest staying on the lower end of that price range. Any more and you are paying for status and style rather than usability. A $120 knife will probably last you the rest of your life if you maintain it well.

What knives do you need?

One of the other problems I have with buying the knife block set is that you get a pile of knives you don’t need and will probably never use. In all seriousness, you need 3 maybe 4 knives. That’s it.

First of all, you need a good all-purpose Chef’s knife. A Chef’s knife can be anywhere from 9-14 inches and its what you will use most. You need a good paring knife. Actually when it comes to paring knives the $10 grocery store ones with the colourful handles are fine. They are of okay quality and are cheap enough to throw away if they get too beat up. You will likely want a serrated knife for slicing bread and stuff, $50 – $100 is more than enough to spend on this. Finally, you may want a utility or fillet knife depending on how often you cook and the types of things you cook. A utility knife looks like a chef’s knife that has been shrunk in half.


Pots and Pan

When it comes to pots and pans, what you have is probably fine. However, if you are in the market for a new set plan on spending between $250 – $1000. You could spend way more than that but you don’t really need to. I recommend a good quality set of stainless steel pans. (They go on sale very often) Don’t worry about non-stick, don’t worry about gimmicks or special coatings. Stainless steel will outlast just about everything.

I currently have two sets of pots. I have a stainless steel KitchenAid set which was probably around the $300-$400 range. I’ve had that set for at least 13 years and other than a dent in the frying pan (I dropped it), a little discolouration, and the silicone on the handles peeling a bit, they are in great shape and have gotten a lot of use out of them. I also have a set of stainless steel Lagostina pans which are the ones in the picture above. I got them on sale for around $250, use them for work, and love them so far.


Types of peelers

The importance of a good quality vegetable peeler can not be overstated. I prefer the Swiss-style (the one on the left). I like the Swiss-style because they are more comfortable to hold and use. They stay sharp for years, the blade comes off to clean, and they are cheap ($6-$10).

The more standard style of peeler can run between $25 -$45 dollars. I find these much more difficult to use than the Swiss-Style. I also find that no matter how much I spend on this style of peeler, they only stay sharp for a year at most. I’ve had the same Swiss-Style peeler for over 3 years.


Measuring spoons and Cups

A good set of measuring spoons and cups will last a lifetime and will help you to cook more accurately. I prefer stainless steel measuring cups and spoons over plastic ones for a few reasons. I find the steel ones to be more accurate, easier to clean, and the measurement is etched into the steel meaning it will never rub off like the stamps printed on the plastic ones.

The stainless steel measuring cups in the picture above are most typically used for dry ingredients like flour and sugar. The pyrex measuring cups in the picture on the right (I think every mother from the 1980s forward has had a set of these) are used for measuring wet ingredients. A good set of both is all you need.

The steel measuring cup/spoon set in the picture above is in the $40 range and the pyrex set is on sale on amazon.ca for $15.99 regularly $39.

Mandoline

A mandoline is a manual slicer used for slicing very thin-cut vegetables. It also comes with few different blades including a julienne of a few different sizes. There are a few different types of mandoline but I prefer the Japanese style in the image above. I actually have the exact mandoline as the one in the picture. It costs $37 and will last a very long time.

Two things about mandolines.

First of all, you do not need a mandoline. This in no way is a mandatory piece of kitchen kit. However, it is a very useful tool. If you cook a lot it may be something to think about.

The second thing about mandolines is that they are very dangerous. The way it works is you slide food across a very sharp knife blade set to the desired thickness. If your hand slips or your fingers get in the way there will be blood, and a lot of it.

Again, you do not need this tool. I will say that it is a very valuable piece of my kitchen kit. As you cook more and more you may start to see some value in it for yourself.


Cutting Boards (wood v. plastic)

I have written a very detailed post about the difference between wooden cutting boards and plastic cutting boards and why wooden is better. Because of that, I’m not going to go too in-depth about it here. You can check out that post at this link.

The big take away is that a good quality cutting board that you take care of will last you the rest of your life. There is a pretty wide price range but a few hundred dollars will do you. Dinner With Ben (my weekly Facebook live cooking show) is sponsored by Ashwurks Cutting Boards which if you are in the market for a cutting board I can’t recommend highly enough. You can check them out here.


Tongs

One of the most underrated pieces of equipment in any kitchen is a good pair of tongs. By good I mean solid, and easy to handle. In professional kitchens, if we don’t have a knife in our hand we probably have a set of tongs in our hand. We use them to stir, toss, pick up, and to flip foods, and for just about everything else you can imagine. At home, I use them the same way.

A good set of tongs should cost no more than $25 and will last a few years or longer. Look for a set that is heavy and made of solid metal. Avoid silicone or plastic-tipped tongs.


Spatula

The term spatula can refer to a lot of different things. There are what we call rubber spatulas (no matter what they are made of) they are the type of spatula you use to scrape a bowl (pictured on the far left). As a side note, I just bought those rubber spatulas (they are made of heat rated silicon with a metal core) and they are awesome.

When buying spatulas I always try to find ones that come in one piece. Otherwise, moisture can get in and mould can grow. This is true of all small kitchen equipment actually.

There are egg flippers, also known as a spatula. This are used for flipping eggs, lifting cookies off a sheet pan and lots of other things. A nice thin metal spatula is all you need. If you use non-stick pans, a silicon spatula is probably a good idea too.

There are also fish spatulas (pictured on the right) which as I’m sure you figured out is used for flipping fish. It is much thinner and more flexible than a regular spatula. You don’t need one of these but if you do cook a lot of fish, you may want to invest the $20 in one. It will be worth it.


Sheet Pan

You know them as cookie sheets, baking sheets, or sheet pans. It’s just a thin rectangle of metal used for baking cookies and lots of other things. I use them mostly for roasting vegetables. I recommend stainless steel pans if you can get them. Aluminum will corrode. You can see this if you wipe them with a paper towel after washing. The paper towel will have silver dust on it. That stuff gets in your food. However, good quality aluminum pans likely won’t do this. $20-$30 per pan.


Food Mill

If you read this blog regularly you will have seen me talk about food mills before. These things run from about $32 to $80 and are worth every penny. The one I have I bought on sale at stokes for around $30. I use it every time I make mashed potatoes, for puréing tomatoes, soups and lots of other things. It is such a valuable tool.

You don’t need one of these but you won’t be upset you bought one.

The way a food mill works is by forcing food through tiny holes. There are generally three different size holes that you can use. Whenever I’m doing a dinner at someone’s house and I pull the food mill out to do the mashed potatoes I always get lots of questions and oohs and awws. Again, worth every penny if only for the mashed potatoes.


Roasting Pan

Roasting pans are typically used for roasting meat or chicken however they can be great for roasting vegetables as well. I prefer the style on the left which is stainless steel with a rack. The one in the picture is around $70 however Ikea has a very similar one for $30 which is the one I have and I love it.

The version on the right like the pyrex measuring cups can be found in kitchens all over the place. They are really good but I feel like the stainless steel version will get more use. It can be used for a wider variety of things from roasting, to baking, to braising.


Vacuum Sealer

Vacuum Sealers are not a need but they are generally worth the money. Why? Well, vacuum-sealed food will last in the freezer a lot longer than food sealed in ziplock bags. If you are the kind of person who buys foods in bulk, this is something you are going to want. However, in terms of basic kitchen supplies, this is not a need. Put it on the want list though.

I have the model in the picture above and I love it.


Trivet

Imagine you have a hot pot, you just took it off the stove, you put it down on a piece of cork or metal, that is called a trivet. Once you start cooking more and more you will find trivets even more useful. I prefer these cork ones because they are cheap and last forever. These things will save your countertop and your cutting boards from hot pans.


Immersion Blender

Immersion blenders are good for lots of different things and they are cheaper than blenders. I use them mostly for puréing soups and for making salad dressings but they are great for lots of other things. The one in the picture above is about $50. I haven’t used that one specifically but I’m sure it is of good quality.

I will say that this isn’t a must-have but it is definitely pretty close.


Food Processor

Food processors are much cheaper than they used to be. You can get a small one that will last a few years for around $100. They are great for making things like guacamole, hummus, pesto, and the like. They usually come with a few different blades including a cheese grater. In all honesty, I only ever end up using the main blade to make dips and sauces.

It seems to me that food processors don’t get used as much as they used too, but I do think they still have value. I think about $100 is a fair price to pay for one.


Ladle

We all know what ladles are for. I like to have a few different sizes. Other than that make sure you have a ladle for soups, sauces, and other liquids.


Slotted Spoon

Slotted spoons are used mostly to pick up food that is cooking in a liquid. For example if you were making a broth-based soup and you want to check and see if the vegetables were cooked. You would use a slotted spoon to pick the vegetables up, let the broth drain away.

These cost anywhere from $5-$20. Just make sure they are nice and sturdy and one piece.

Wooden Spoons

Along with my knife, and tongs, wooden spoons are my most used tools in the kitchen. I use wooden spoons for pretty much all of my cooking. They are cheap and they last a long time. What’s not to love about them?


Conclusion

There are some things on the list that are must-haves and some that aren’t. Even if you don’t have some of the “must-haves” don’t go out and buy them all at once. Spread the cost over a long period of time and build your tool kit gradually. Are there any must-haves that you think I missed? Tell me about it.

This post marks the end of the super wordy linear posts in this series. Next week, we are going to start looking at basic knife skills and you will even have some homework.

Remember to share this post on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. And, subscribe to the blog so you never miss a post.

Thanks for reading and see you Friday.

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Great list. I use my whisks a lot, two sizes. A colander is a must in my kitchen, as is a lettuce spinner. My ice cream scoop gets used for muffin mix as it pours just the right amount of mix into a muffin cup. My folding metal steamer for veggies is a well used item in my kitchen. I use my metal rasp for lemon zest and mincing ginger. And I have a small citrus juicer that measures the amount of juice squeezed from the fruit in the bottom part of the juicer that I find very helpful.

    I look forward to hearing what others find helpful tools in the kitchen.

  2. Chef Ben Kelly

    You have mentioned a lot of things that I absolutely should have had on this list. Thank you very much.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Basic Cooking Course Week 4: UnderStanding Ingredients pt. 1 – - […] that you have enjoyed this lesson. If you have yet gone over weeks 1 through 3 you can do…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!