The Right Stuff

I was having a conversation with a friend… about writing a recipe and realizing that not everyone has the same kinds of utensils and pans at their house as I do in mine and how I needed to write more intricate directions for those who have to transfer the food from the pan that cannot go in the oven to one that can, and then transfer the contents of the pan, sans the actual entree itself, back into another pan to make the sauce that finishes the dish…. Whew. That explanation was exhausting…. just like writing the recipe.

Many of the things in my home kitchen were purchased at restaurant supply houses, or specialty knife retailers. I have restaurant size cutting boards and stock pots. I have tongs and peelers and graters and knives that I wouldn’t hesitate to take back into a professional kitchen and use. But, there are people out there reading cookbooks and food blogs who don’t have the tools that will make cooking like the pro who wrote the book a real breeze.

I can tell you the pans and utensils you use to create food can make your time in the kitchen much more productive and pleasant, and you can tackle dishes that are a little more complex. It’s not like you have to spend a lot of money to equip your kitchen. There are some sources where pricing is more reasonable than say, a high end purveyor like Williams Sonoma. And, besides restaurant supply, some box stores have decent stuff. I got a really great Cuisinart stainless steel sauce pan with a cool touch lid for twenty bucks just the other day at Macy’s. My favorite saute pan came from Linens and Things and has Emeril’s name on it. It was twenty bucks too.

So, when you think about buying cooking equipment, think about it like you think about your wardrobe, or music players, or even the car you drive. What do you really need, and what purpose does it serve? If you don’t plan on cooking six quarts of anything, a large stock pot is a silly thing to have. If you only want to scramble eggs on occasion all you need is a pan, a spatula, a whisk, and a bowl in your cupboard.

If a pan can do double duty, it’s far more valuable than one that only does one thing. You save money to buy other cool stuff. A saute pan that has a metal handle can go from the stove top to the oven. Tongs that don’t have plastic tips or handles will stand up to the heat and last for years.

I think these things are necessary if you plan on doing any kind of real cooking at all:  you should have a large and small sauce pan, both with a lid. You need a good medium sized stock pot. A colander is nice, as is a good peeler and micro grater. I finally broke down and bought a stand mixer but still don’t have a regular size food processor. I do have a small electric chopper that does the duty of a processor.  I usually like to chop by hand or use a mandolin or box grater instead of some fancy contraption.

For hand tools, you need least two wooden spoons, a rubber spatula, and a good non-electric juicer. I like the glass ones with a boat of sorts below the knob that removes the juice from the fruit. I have whisks in several sizes. A ladle is a good thing and you need a slotted spoon. A set of stainless mixing bowls is a good investment. You need some things to cook in, if you do anything more than fry stuff.  I suggest a cookie sheet, oblong cake pan, and a square baking dish as a good starter kit.

As to knives, I recommend having the five basics; paring, utility, boning, bread and a eight-inch chef’s knife. With this combination there isn’t much you can’t tackle. If you host the family for the major holidays, I would suggest you invest in a carving set so no one gets hurt trying to cut the bird or roast beast. Some families pass down carving sets from generation to generation. I have a really nice deer antler handled set that belonged to my Pops.

If money is tight, and you have time to drive around town, garage, yard, and especially estate sales are great places to pick up bargains. I’ve found Corningware glass mixing bowls for a dollar a piece, a set of four brand new plastic storage bowls with matching lids for a dollar, and a set of baking dishes for just a bit more than that. Get some used, and then you can splurge on something else.

Now that you know what tools to buy, here’s another suggestion.  The kitchen can be messy, greasy, and dirty. I’ve ruined a bunch of my favorite shirts standing over the stove. Because stains happen, I recommend going online and getting some simple chef’s aprons so you have a place to hang a towel and protect your clothes. There is no law against buying a couple of inexpensive chef’s coats that are made to take the beating.

Cooking is a way of sustaining life, creating meals
you will remember, and sharing time with those you love. With the right tools you will make cooking a breeze.


About jaicarney

I am a culinary artist, writer, dreamer and urban farmer dedicated to teaching people to eat and live well. I love my chickens, my garden, my friends, and this mother we call Earth.
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One Response to The Right Stuff

  1. Beth says:

    Nice piece and some great tips! I have some super metal mixing bowls and stainless serving utencils from IKEA, which is a great source of cheap and sturdy kitchen items. Some of my things are 10-15 years old and look great. Ross is another great place for things for a fraction of the price. I have seen high-end Kitchen Kaboodle things for next to nothing.

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