Cooking Tools And Equipment
The Well Stocked Kitchen
Everyone can relate to taking up a new hobby and going out and buying the most expensive, top of the line equipment, only to find it shoved in the back of a closet collecting dust just a few short months later. The same is true with cooking and cooking equipment. As fun as it can be to stock up on the infinite styles, shapes, and colors of specialized kitchen equipment, most are superfluous and not required for a well functioning kitchen.
It is a good idea to invest in quality, but this does not mean that you must purchase the most expensive equipment because price is not necessarily a reflection of quality and there are plenty of very good tools priced in an affordable range. While fancy home cooking stores are popular and are set up in a way that makes you feel like you must own even the silliest of gadgets, restaurant supply stores are usually more affordable and in most cases the best place to purchase kitchen equipment.
If you are just starting to equip your kitchen, it makes sense to start small and add to your collection as your interest, skill level, and need dictate. A simple selection of cooking vessels, utensils, and appliances is the best place to begin.
The variety and selection of cooking vessels available for purchase today is vast and it is not uncommon to purchase far more than you can ever possibly use. The best plan is to start out with just a few and buy more if the need presents itself.
Must Have Kitchen Tools
Sauté pans, or frying pans, are distinguished by size, what they are made of, and the angle of the sides of the pan. The most practical pan is one that has a large, flat bottom and sides that angle outward. Most cooks can get along fine with 3 sizes of pans--an 8", 10", and 12".
- Copper pans are at the top of the list as far as quality and consistent heating goes, but they are also the most expensive to purchase.
- Stainless steel pans are a good choice because they conduct heat well and are durable, but they too can be quite expensive.
- Aluminum pans are a good choice because they are less expensive than stainless steel and do an acceptable job with heat distribution; their downfall is that they have a tendency to warp and dent easily and can sometimes react with certain ingredients, which gives an off taste to your food.
- Cast iron is a wonderful cooking medium and offers a sturdy, consistent heating source. Cast iron pans are comparatively inexpensive and if treated right can last indefinitely. They are, however, much heavier to lift than other pans and can react in a negative way when cooking acidic foods.
It's always useful to have one non-stick pan in the house, but generally speaking, these pans do not last long, their surfaces are easily scratched, and they can not be used at high temperatures. Regardless of which pans you purchase, you should be sure to buy pans with riveted metal handles and appropriate sized lids.
Saucepans and Pots
The numerous options available for sauté pans are also available for saucepans and pots. Copper is the top of the line, but also the most expensive. Stainless steel is your best bet and aluminum follows as a more affordable second choice. As for size, three smaller pots--1 1/2, 3, and 5 quarts--can be used for basic needs. You should also have one very large pot--10 quarts--for cooking pasta, braising meats, and making large batches of soup. Tight fitting lids are important as well.
If you are someone who finds themselves making meal decisions at the last minute, a pressure cooker might be a worthwhile investment. Available in many sizes and price ranges, these pots function by cooking food under intense pressure which causes the boiling point to increase and allows foods to cook in a fraction of the time. With a pressure cooker, you can cook a beef stew in about 20 minutes and other dishes, like soups and chicken, are ready in far less time than that. If you are an organized person who has little time to cook at the end of the day, a slow cooker might be a better investment. Ingredients for a slow cooked meal can be placed in the pot in the morning and at day's end you can have a complete meal waiting for you.
Baking or Roasting Pans
Baking or roasting pans are an important component of every kitchen. Purchase a metal 9x13" pan and a 9x9" square pan and you should be set. You might find that a rectangular, glass 9x13" pan can come in quite handy as well. If you intend on doing any type of baking you should have two 9" round cake pans, a 12 cup muffin tin, a loaf pan and a 9" or 10" glass pie plate. You should have at least three or four baking sheets as well. Restaurant supply stores often sell these as half sheet pans, which fit into standard sized ovens and are thicker and sturdier than most store bought cookie sheets.
Mixing bowls are indispensable and you will find numerous uses for them that you never previously considered. Stainless steel bowls are preferable because they are durable, multi functional, and relatively inexpensive. A set of five or six nesting stainless steel bowls in varying sizes is all you should need. It is also handy to have a set of four or six very small bowls, or ramekins to hold salt and small quantities of other things such as chopped herbs.
Utensils and Gadgets
So many different utensils and gadgets are available that just thinking about it is daunting. Put the following on the short list of basic utensils that are really vital to a well supplied kitchen:
- Wooden and slotted spoons
- Rubber and metal spatulas
- Sturdy set of tongs
- Rolling pin
- Wine and bottle opener
- Can opener
- Grater, zester, and peeler
- Colander and a fine meshed strainer
- Meat thermometer
- Pastry brushes
- Citrus reamer
- Kitchen shears
- Measuring spoons
- Clear measuring cup for liquids and a set of metal measuring cups for solids
- Two cutting boards--one you use only for raw chicken and one for everything else. Plastic and wooden cutting boards are equally good and which one you buy is really a matter of preference.
Purchasing knives can be an overwhelming task because there are so many makes, sizes, and styles to choose from. Most cooks are perfectly supplied with three basic knives--an 8" or 9" chef's knife, a serrated knife, and a 3" or 4" paring knife. Look for knives made from high carbon steel because they don't stain or discolor easily. Most knives come with plastic or wooden handles and come in a range of prices. Your best choice is the knife that feels most comfortable in your hand and is easy for you to work with. Buy a honing steel at the same time so that you can clean up the edge on your knife in between sharpenings.
A few electric appliances will enable you to perform just about any task you desire.
- Food processors have an infinite number of functions and are at the top of the list when it comes to practicality and usefulness. You should purchase one with a large volume capacity and a powerful motor that can hold up to extended use.
- Standing mixers are invaluable if you spend any time baking bread or making desserts. If you are not going to be kneading dough, you might want to opt for a hand mixer that costs much less still performs many of the same functions as a standing mixture.
- Blenders are handy for making beverages, vinaigrettes, and for blending soups and sauces.
- Toaster ovens, particularly those with convection options, are great for cooking and heating smaller quantities of foods.
If you're someone who really enjoys cooking then an ice cream maker, a panini press, and an immersion blender might all be worthwhile purchases as well.
The Recipe for Cooking Success
While there is no right or wrong way to accessorize your kitchen, factors like cost, storage space, and whether or not you'll use an item are all things to consider before you begin. Check out the recipes to the right for simple ways to begin using some of these basic tools!
About the Author
After receiving degrees from the University of Wisconsin and the Culinary Institute of America, Andrea Rappaport moved into a full-time career in the restaurant business. For over 12 years, she worked in various culinary jobs, including as a cook for Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and ultimately as the executive chef and partner of the highly revered San Francisco restaurant Zinzino. For the past seven years, Andrea has worked as the private chef for one family in the San Francisco area, and continues to expand her culinary portfolio by catering, teaching, and consulting.