Minimalist Kit for the Beginner Cook

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The fall is near, students are going off to college, and young adults are moving into their first apartment.

Outfitting a kitchen for the first time can be daunting: there’s so much stuff available in cookware stores, what does one really need?

I have put together a selection of (what I consider to be) kitchen essentials for beginner cooks, allowing them to spread their wings and begin their cooking life on a solid foundation.

You will notice that I did not select the cheapest option for each item, but rather I picked models that will last a lifetime.

Certainly each cook will have to adapt the selection to their financial constraints and see what they can afford. But if you’re the parent, the big sister, or the older friend who wants to get them something nice as a housewarming present, this is what I would wholeheartedly recommend.

You’ll be giving them the gift of learning to cook with equipment they can trust, and these are pieces they’ll take with them from one apartment to the next.

They’ll hold that saucepan in their hand for decades, remembering the pasta days of their youth.

For the experienced cooks among you: is there anything you would add to my list? If you had to start again from an empty kitchen, what would you get?

The Essentials

Nice to Have

See also:

Minimalist Kit for the Traveling Cook
Inside Earlywood
Best Gifts for French-Loving Cooks

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  • Margret Johanna Johannsdottir

    You are missing a can opener :o)

    • Ha ha good point! I actually recommend buying preserved foods in jars rather than cans. :D

      • Pia maria

        Interesting! We can’t really get a lot of things in jars (unless we go super high end quality) in uk, such as beans , tomatoes and tuna.

        • Terramom

          We don’t have that many things in jars here in the States either, unless we go to very high end stores also, or pay premium prices.

        • In French organic stores, they are moving away from canned vegetables and legumes.
          Tuna remains in cans, but usually they have the little loop to open.

  • Tammy Young

    I would definitely add a balloon whisk, and a really good silicon spatula.

    • Thank you Tammy! These would both fall into the baking essentials, which I plan to cover soon.
      Or do you use a whisk and a silicon spatula in cooking as well? I never do, so I’m curious.

      • Tammy Young

        I use a whisk when I make scrambled eggs, but yes, definitely when I bake. I use a spatula for sauces also.

  • Pia maria

    I’d recommend also, a wooden spoon and a whisk.They come in handy for all sorts of recipes.And I’ll second the tin opener.

    • I’ve noted the tin opener and will add one to the selection!

      I have my Earlywood spatulas that I use exclusively now, so I’ve donated all my wooden spoons.

      And the whisk, to me, falls into baking essentials, which I will cover soon. Do you use the whisk in cooking also?

  • stuart itter

    A raw copper bowl for whipping egg whites for mousse is critical for the new cook.

  • Lesley

    The salad spinner made me smile. I grew up in England, and managed to muddle through a quarter of a century without knowing such a thing existed

    • How did you dry your salad leaves?

      • Lesley

        We didn’t. To put it into context, we hadn’t heard of aubergines, artichokes or garlic either. If it hadn’t been for de Gaulle we’d probably never even have heard of France ;-)
        It wasn’t too bad though: we had Spam and tinned spaghetti hoops.

  • Andreas

    A plate whisk – takes up little space and is so very useful!! A flexible silicone spatula – preferably spoon shaped is another tool I would not want to be without.

    • As written to a previous commenter, to me these are baking tools, which I will highlight in a different post — do you use those in cooking also?

      • Andreas

        Absolutely – I use them in cooking all the time – the plate whisk is great for making mayonnaise a and whisking salad dressings and sauces, and I use the silicone spatula for sweet and savoury!

  • Jenny

    I can’t see the pictures ! (I use Firefox)

    • Thank you Jenny.
      The photos are showing up on my Firefox. Perhaps you have an ad blocker that’s interfering with the display?

      • Jenny

        I do have an ad blocker but I deactivated it for C&Z and it’s still not showing the pics.

        • Sorry about that — if you have a different browser installed, it would be interesting to know if it displays properly there!

  • Rose Marie Burke

    My daughter is off to uni this year, and it suggested a wok as an all-purpose pot. Smart!

  • rachelsloan79

    That’s a great list. My only addition (apart from the wooden spoon and spatula mentioned in the other comments) is a knife sharpener or a whetstone – I got mine for next to nothing from a charity shop years ago and it’s been keeping my knives in good shape ever since.

    • You know, I have seen too many knives ruined by improper sharpening, so I prefer to take my knives once a year to get professionally sharpened. It’s really not very costly and I sleep better. :)

      • Annabel Smyth

        But how do you manage between times? I sharpen my knives nearly every time I use them!

        • I find that if the knife has been sharpened professionally, it keeps its edge much much longer than if I do it myself. Can’t explain the science of it, but it’s true!

  • Sandra Hughes

    Excellent list! When I moved to my recent apartment – I had too many one use only items and no space. I knocked it down to the basics and other than a few baking items – turns out you dont really need all the ‘stuff’. I would add 2 items: a really nice stock pot for chili and stews and a quiche pan!

    • Thank you Sandra! If you get the Instant Pot, that’s the chilli covered. :)

  • Sundee Koffarnus

    I am a minimalist myself, currently in a studio apartment with little space for storage. I’d trade the colander with a fine mesh food strainer — I’ve also used the salad spinner insert as a colander :) And I’d add a pair of tongs and a small electric coffee bean grinder (for coffee or spice grinding.

  • LauraG

    I would trade the vegetable peeler for a “y shape” vegetable peeler; they are amazing! I think I’d also trade the heavy duty expensive large baking dish for a cheap pyrex one; maneuvering and rearranging are part of life in starter or small apartments and bulky things just don’t get used sometimes. I love the rest though and totally agree with “get things with lids!”

    • I think the world can be divided into “Y-peeler” people and “straight peeler” people. :)

      • Annabel Smyth

        I’m a both person – I use the straight peeler for potatoes and carrots, and the y-shaped peeler for everything else, especially butternut squash.

  • Pelin ISINTAN

    the can opener is mentioned already so a bottle opener and a tire-bouchon combo is a must! I second the whisk, ı use it to make eggs mostly although a nice fork would do the job.

    • What difference do you make between a bottle opener and a tire-bouchon ?

      • Annabel Smyth

        Bottle opener for things like beer bottles – I know some screw off, but not all do – and tire-bouchon for wine corks (again, screw tops are common, but not ubiquitous).

  • Su Su Ngui

    I would add a ladle and a large spoon to this list. It would take a long time to spoon soup from a pot or scoop rice from a pot with a normal spoon.

  • Kelly Koutahi

    I know this is a minimalist kit, and it would make an awesome gift for someone just starting out in their very own kitchen. But since you asked . . . :) . . . I would add a 5 qt. Dutch oven to the necessities; perhaps because I am cooking for a family, I use this pot more than any other. I also use an 8-in nonstick frying pan frequently, for eggs, grilled sandwiches, sauteing small amounts of ingredients. Also a nesting set of mixing bowls because often you have to mix components separately in small bowls before adding them all together in one big bowl.

    • Thank you for these suggestions, Kelly! I plan to do an “reader addendum” section when I get a chance. :)

  • annette barbasch

    Nothing shows up in blue field!

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