Guess what? You don’t need ten different pans and multiple sets of knives to cook—just a few versatile tools will let you cook dishes even Gordon Ramsay would approve of.
By the time I found this out, it was too late. I had already loaded up on pots and pans of every shape and size. It was too heart-wrenching to throw most of them away, so I kept them on a shelf where they collected dust. Don’t end up like me; get useful stuff for your kitchen.
Here’s my list of the tools I use on a daily basis, the essential kitchen equipment to get started cooking. There are only twelve items total in this list, so they’ll fit in even the smallest of kitchens. I’ve also done the legwork of researching brands and have linked to the models I currently use. First, the short list:
Pots and pans
- A 12-inch tri-ply straight-sided lidded saute pan. (Amazon link)
- A 18″×13″ sheet pan, also called a half sheet pan. (Amazon link)
- A 10-12 inch nonstick skillet. (Amazon link)
- A 3 gallon stockpot. (Amazon link)
Things for cutting
- An 8 to 10-inch chef’s knife or a 6 to 8-inch santoku knife. (Chef’s knife Amazon link) (Santoku knife Amazon link)
- A large wooden or plastic cutting board. (Amazon link)
- A Y-shaped vegetable peeler. (Amazon link)
- A 12-inch honing steel. (Amazon link)
- Instant-read thermometer. (Amazon link)
- Wooden spoons. (Amazon link)
- Tongs. (Amazon link)
- Stainless steel mixing bowls. (Amazon link)
Now, I’ll dive into each item in more detail.
Pots and Pans
1. A 12-inch tri-ply straight-sided lidded saute pan. (Amazon link)
I use a saute pan for 90% of things I cook on the stove. If you get a decent one, you can use it for life! I get a lot of questions about this pan so here’s a quick FAQ.
Q: Why straight sides and a lid?
Straight sides mean that I can easily stir-fry multiple bunches of vegetables at once without worrying about leaves flying everywhere when mixed. Also, a lid lets me steam veggies that take longer to cook (e.g. broccoli) and simmer down tougher cuts of meat.
Q: Why 12-inch? Isn’t that big?
Typically, cooking in a pan that’s too big is a lot easier than cooking in a pan that’s too small. A 12-inch pan is just big enough to fit on most stoves while being large enough to hold plenty of meat and veggies. I use this pan to make the perfect amount of stir-fried veggies to pair with a tray of roasted chicken thighs.
Q: What’s a tri-ply pan?
Tri-ply pans have three layers of metal on the bottom of the pan (the part that touches the stove): a layer of aluminum sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. These pans are the best of both worlds. Stainless steel is very easy to maintain but is a poor heat conductor, leading to hot and cold spots on the pan as you cook. Aluminum is a great heat conductor but doesn’t retain enough heat to sear meats and erodes when cooking with acidic ingredients (e.g. wine and tomatoes). Tri-ply pans are both easy to maintain and heat evenly for consistently great results.
Q: Doesn’t food stick to stainless steel pans?
Yup, you’ll want to avoid using a stainless steel pan for cooking sticky foods like eggs. I usually use this pan for vegetables since I like using the oven for proteins. However, there are lots of times where you actually want your food to stick a bit to get a crust, like when you sear a steak. The browned bits left behind from meat seared in a stainless steel pan taste amazing when reduced into a sauce or cooked into vegetables. As Gordon Ramsay would say, “That’s flavor money can’t buy!”
2. A 18″×13″ sheet pan, also called a half sheet pan. (Amazon link)
Also called half sheet pans, I use these daily to roast meat or veggies. I suggest getting pans without a nonstick coating since high-heat roasting and broiling tends to vaporize nonstick coatings. Having two pans is convenient for roasting lots of food at once, and getting slightly thicker pans avoids warping. The sheet pans I’ve linked satisfy all of these requirements.
3. A 10-12 inch nonstick skillet. (Amazon link)
Nowadays, I pretty much only use my nonstick to make egg dishes (and the occasional pancake). Eggs are so cheap and tasty, however, that I think getting a nonstick is totally worth it. Remember: don’t use high heat (most nonstick coatings vaporize past 500˚F), don’t use metal utensils (they’ll scratch off the coating), and wash by hand (dishwashers tend to be harsh on the coating).
Unfortunately, no nonstick pan will last forever—the coating will wear off eventually, although modern coatings last quite a while with proper care. I suggest getting something in the $20-$40 range since you’ll avoid the cheap, poorly made coatings without over-spending.
4. A 3 gallon stockpot. (Amazon link)
Having a big ol’ stockpot to dump ingredients into is extremely handy when you have a crowd to feed, or if you just want to meal prep for a week. I use my stockpot to make soups, porridge, curry, and pasta in bulk. A cheap one will do since all you’ll care about is that the pot holds a lot of stuff without spilling.
Things for Cutting
Honestly, this is the only knife I use. This knife is the perfect size to slice strips of meat, dice veggies, and mince garlic.
Q: What’s the difference between a chef’s knife and a santoku? Do I need both?
The main difference between a European-style chef’s knife and a Japanese-style santoku knife comes down to the motion used for cutting: a chef’s knife has a curved edge for a rocking motion while a santoku knife has a flat edge for a chopping motion. See this video for a demonstration. I personally prefer the santoku but feel free to pick whichever you’d prefer; you don’t need both types of knives.
Q: What about those knife sets?
Don’t need ’em. They look like good deals until you realize you just need a chef’s knife.
Q: Do I need an expensive knife?
You don’t need an pricey knife to get started; the ones I’ve linked should do just fine. More expensive knives will give you sharper edges and a more balanced blade. Since you can use a good knife for a lifetime, I suggest upgrading to a good knife (e.g. a Wusthof) once you find yourself cooking a bunch.
Q: Aren’t sharp knives dangerous?
Actually, dull knives are considered more dangerous than sharp knives since you have to apply a lot more force to cut using a dull knife (reference). Once you learn proper knife technique, you’ll never look back.
Q: What’s proper knife technique?
Make sure your knife grip is right and you’re using the claw technique with your other hand to avoid injury. Here’s a good video for knife technique. You’ll probably be chopping things every time you cook; learning the right technique goes a long way.
2. A large wooden or plastic cutting board. (Amazon link)
Trust me, you’ll want one as large as possible (at least 12″×24″). A small cutting board means that your vegetables will fly everywhere and your meat will leak juices onto your counter.
Only wooden and plastic cutting boards are recommended nowadays because most other surfaces are too hard and will dull your knife.
3. A Y-shaped vegetable peeler. (Amazon link)
A y-shaped vegetable peeler is more comfortable than the traditional stick-shaped peelers, letting you peel potatoes, carrots, and radishes with ease.
4. A 12-inch honing steel. (Amazon link)
Most stainless steel knives are actually made out of a relatively soft metal, so their edge will go slightly out of alignment after a few hours of use. A honing steel straightens out your knife’s edge, letting it slice more smoothly. I hone my knife before each day’s use. Note that a honing an knife merely realigns the edge while sharpening a knife typically requires an abrasive surface (like a sharpening stone) to create a new edge. See this video for honing technique and the difference between honing and sharpening.
1. Instant-read thermometer. (Amazon link)
The thermometer is the secret to cooking well. Why did your chicken breasts come out too dry? Their internal temperature was too high. Why did your chicken thighs end up raw? Their internal temperature was too low. The first time I cooked chicken breast to its correct temperature (150˚F) I couldn’t believe I could make anything so juicy and tender. You don’t need tons of spices and seasonings to make food taste great; just cook it to its right temperature!
2. Wooden spoons. (Amazon link)
What else would you use to stir-fry veggies? These are safe for nonstick pans too, making them my tool of choice nearly every time I work on the stove. The one I’ve linked has a corner on one side of the spoon which helps when scraping the bottom of a saute pan or pot.
3. Tongs. (Amazon link)
Get a good pair of these to flip steaks, chicken breast, and pork chops. I recommend the OXO brand I’ve linked here since the extra grip on the handle helps a ton when you’re working with oily foods.
4. Stainless steel mixing bowls. (Amazon link)
You’ll need these to wash vegetables and hold chopped food before cooking. I prefer stainless steel over plastic since plastic bowls sometimes collect odor or get stained. I don’t recommend getting glass bowls since they’re heavier and break more easily than stainless steel or plastic.