What constitutes kitchen basics is going vary from person to person. There’s the absolute basics, and then what I’d consider to be a comfortably stocked space. For the most part, I’m going to write this list for the comfortably stocked kitchen with notes on things that could be omitted if budget dictates. The price and quality of everything on this list can really differ. Nearly everything -could- be found at the dollar store. And I have cooked for years with the basics from my local Dollarama. However there are times when you’ll want to opt up for real quality.
Some examples? The knife, it’s worth spending money on a quality knife and keeping it sharp. Nothing is worse than trying to prep with something as dull as a butter knife. Also your pots and pans. Buy them one at a time, heavy bottomed, stainless steel. Take good care of them.
In general the farmer’s market is a great place to get your produce. Prices are reasonable, and the quality is unmatched. The fresher your vegetables, the longer they’re going to last. Which to me is worth the sometimes slightly higher price because it means less waste.
- chili flakes
- garlic powder
You don’t have to buy the fancy McCormick (or other named brand) spices, in the pretty glass bottles. Personally, I bought some small mason jars, printed some nice labels onto sticker paper, and filled them with spices from the bulk section and called it day. If you’re really looking to do this on a budget, you can also find spices at most dollar stores.
During the summer, visit the farmer’s market and buy yourself bunches of herbs. You can then freeze them in ice cube trays with some olive oil and store in a ziploc baggie for use all year. I also buy/grow bunches that I dry.
- set of measuring cups
- measuring spoons
- liquid measuring cup
- a sharp knife (never underestimate the magic of a sharp knife)
- cutting board
- saucepan (3QT is a good size)
- frying pan
- mixing spoons
- mixing bowl (the biggest you can store, as it’s always a pain when something doesn’t fit!)
- vegetable peeler (can also use a paring knife)
- potato masher
- baking sheet
- 9×9/8×8 pan
If you’re not planning to do a lot of baking, you can omit the items in italics. Again, you can get these items at the dollar store, or Wal-Mart, or pretty much anywhere. Personally I shy away from non-stick as they get scratched up and start peeling. I like a good stainless steel pan. Well, truthfully I love cast iron, but they’re a bit more work to get going than regular kitchenware. The potato masher and vegetable peeler aren’t strictly speaking necessities. However I enjoy mashed potatoes a lot.
- olive oil
- vegetable oil
- basmati rice
- flour (all-purpose)
- sugar (white and brown)
- vinegar (white and balsamic)
- diced tomatoes
- tomato paste
- tomato soup
- baking soda
- baking powder
- yeast (only if you plan to make your own bread, which you really should!)
The non-italicized items on that list will last a very, very long time. Especially when stored properly. With just those items in your pantry you can add a simple protein and pull together a meal in no time.
I usually keep two things of oil around. A general vegetable oil for your basics. And then a quality bottle of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil for when your dish just needs a splash to take it to the next level.
Now, the follow items are definitely things you COULD live without. However I use each and every one of them on a regular basis, and many of the recipes on this site will wind up using them at one point or another. Where possible, I’ll mention ways to work around it.
True story, I can’t cook rice on the stove. Every time I try it fails. It’s my curse. So now I don’t bother. I have a combination rice cooker/steamer and I love it. One thing that mine has that I love is the ability to delay the start. So I can set it in the morning to turn on later that day. This means it doesn’t have to sit for hours at the warm setting, which is preferred. Warm setting is nice, but has a tendency to overcook the edges of the rice.
In my mind, this one isn’t even optional. I use it for SO many things. Especially as I tend to have energy in the morning, and then not so much by dinner time. Great for when I know we’ll be out a lot of the day, but don’t want to do take-out for dinner. Get a size that works for you – for my family, I have a big one, but for a single person the 7QT is going to be too much. What you really want, is one that has a timer. Something where you can set it to low or high for X number of hours and it will automatically switch to the warm setting. This is a non-optional feature in my opinion.
There are two options for blenders. First, the traditional stand up one. Very handy, especially for making soups/sauces/etc. Look for one with a glass jug, a lid that has a removable section (for adding things like oil without splatter!), and a wide base. The other option, is the immersion blender. I really love mine, because it means I don’t have to be messing with boiling hot liquids and can leave everything in the pot. You can get them for as cheap as $12 at Walmart. If you’re not planning on making many smoothies, you can omit the traditional blender and go for the immersion. A feature mine has which I get a lot of use out of is that the blade part is removable, and dishwasher friendly. It also has a whisk attachment that is convenient, especially if you don’t want to buy another kitchen gadget.
This is probably the most optional of the list. A hand mixer is nice, a stand mixer is better. In truth, you can do pretty much everything without. But, in the quantities I do, and with the fading strength in my hands, I couldn’t live without my KitchenAid. For years before I had my KitchenAid I had a Sunbeam mixer with a removable, offset bowl. Loved it, worked really well for the basic kitchen. However on occasion I do something crazy like bake 200 cookies, or cater a wedding. And that poor little engine just couldn’t take it. My new KitchenAid has a 1HP engine and an 8QT bowl and I don’t know that I could ever go back. DO NOT buy it full price. Watch for sales (they have lots) and refurbished ones from the factory. You can save lots, I mean… 70-80% or sometimes more.