The posting of this article over on LifeHacker has led to a healthy flood of comments. First, the article is written very poorly. It is not easy to figure out which items are the good or the bad. You have to read each description and discern the author’s intent, and his intent is sometimes unclear. Second, there’s the inevitable debate of where the author was right or wrong. In this vein, I offer up my own kitchen essentials list.
It’s worth noting that I rarely cook, and when I do cook, it’s likely to be breakfast or a fast meal. Thus, my list of kitchen essentials focuses on breakfast and speed.
THINGS TO HAVE:
- Mini Food Processor: If you have the space for a big one, more power to you. But, if you’re like me and countertop space is at a premium, get a mini. I use mine for making twice-baked cauliflower mash, latkes, and for making a very fine grate of red and green pepper for use in omelets. It’s a huge timesaver, and it doesn’t take up much room.
- Toaster: It’s the fast hot breakfast of champions. Get one with a bagel setting to have perfectly toasted bagels or to fine-tune the toasting of your pop tarts. (I prefer a true toaster to a toaster oven, but if you’re in a smaller space (e.g., dorm room), a toaster oven is a multipurpose gem.)
- The Kapoosh Universal Knife Block – Knife sets are just stupid. Most of us will never need half the knives that they give you. Give me a solid Japanese Santoku knife or two, a small paring knife, and a pair of good kitchen scissors, and I’m good to go. Problem is, most knife blocks force you to have the set that they want you to have, not the set that you need. Enter the Kapoosh. You put the knives in however you want, whatever knives you want. It’s perfect. If they’d had the red when I bought mine, I’d have the red version. Oh, and the instructions are hilarious.
- Stick Blender: I use this more than just about any other gadget in my kitchen. It makes whisking eggs a breeze. Tired of having crusty goo at the bottom of your drink mixes? Give this a spin or two, and it’s perfectly mixed. It’s great for making marinades and sauces, but I rarely use mine for that purpose. It’s a super-fast whisker for me.
- Good pans: My preference is the Calphalon Copper Tri-Ply (outer surface is copper, inside is aluminum core, interior surface is steel). I have a large cooking pan and 2 omelet pans. (And again, NEVER buy a set. A set gives you crap you don’t need that will just clutter up your kitchen. Buy just the pans you need.) Some people prefer cast iron. Some people want the easy care of a nonstick variant. It’s up to you, but this is something to blow a wad on versus going cheap. My quality-of-omelet tripled once I had a good pan.
- Grill (a Foreman-esque one for the winter and a propane one outside for the summer): Grilling is the best kind of cooking. I grill burgers, chicken, pork chops, veggies…you can grill anything. When it’s too cold outside to fire up the propane, keep an electric grill handy. I’m not a fan of the George Foreman grill line, but there are some great variants out there. (For the record, my grief with the George Foreman grills is that they do not have removable grilling surfaces. I want to be able to run the grill surface through the dishwasher.)
THINGS TO SKIP:
- Expensive corkscrew: Unless you’re into wine, you just don’t need this. If you’re like us, your wine comes in a box or with a screw-off cap anyways.
- Mortar and Pestle: I don’t care how good it tastes. Who has time to grind their own herbs?
- The ubiquitous spice rack: They tease you by making them so pretty, but you don’t need this. The spices you want to use all the time are going to be on or near your stove. Whether you like it or not, that’s where they’ll end up. The ones you use less often are better stored in a cabinet (or sometimes refrigerator) than in a rack that gathers dust in a corner.
- Fondue pots, smores makers, and the like: Yeah, I’ve fallen for this one, and I have a cabinet of them collecting dust to show for it. If it only does one thing, and you don’t do that one thing ALL THE TIME, it’s not worth it. My stick blender may mostly get used for whisking eggs, but I do that every bloody weekend…I make smores about twice a year, and guess what? I have a gas oven. I can make them right on the burner. ::sigh:: I will say though that I’ve gotten alot of use out of the little ceramic ingredient holders that came with my smores maker, as well as the smores forks.