Whether you love to cook, or hate it with a passion, having the right tools will make all the difference in the world on what you experience in the kitchen. It can easily become frustrating if you don't have what you need, which is why I made a list of essential items to make your experience as easy as possible. Most of these items are both affordable and great quality; you don't have to spend a lot to have good products, just the right ones!
Spoiler alert: many of the items are OXO brand because they are very high quality, affordable, and can be found anywhere. They also have the best grips and rubber to help you hold on to your tools as you use them.
The Ultimate Toolkit
1. Chef Knife - 8 or 10 inch - with full tang (This means the metal of the knife goes all the way to the handle) - These can get pricey but a good knife will last a lifetime. Wusthof and Henckels are some of the oldest and most reliable brands of knives out there, and are on the higher end. I have both sets for over 18 years and it is still in excellent condition. Victorinox is a great affordable option and are made with plastic handles but are high quality.
2. Cutting Board - I have one regular size one for daily quick uses, and a large one when I am preparing large meals or cutting multiple things at once. The rubber edges grip well to the counter so they won't slip and they have grooves to catch any liquids from falling over. The plastic is also safe for when you are cutting meats. Wood is heavier, and more difficult to properly sanitize whereas these can be thrown into the dishwasher.
3. Mixing/Tossing/Salad Bowl - look for a set that have rubberized bottoms to stay put while mixing or tossing. I use these to make salads, toss wings and fries, and to marinate food.
4. Kitchen Shears - Shears are a great all around tool. They make light work for cutting the backbones from a chicken for spatchcocking, chicken wings, butchers twine, or vegetables and that annoying clamshell packaging.
5. 8 inch and 10 inch Nonstick skillet - I wish I could offer a specific brand that has long lasting nonstick skillets, but that doesn't exist. I've had dozens of different brands and none of them last more than a year or two tops, no matter how much you spend. That's why I stopped spending on expensive brands and buying the economy versions, which usually do just as good a job. I have found Tramontina offers both decent quality and are cheap.
OXO also makes a great nonstick skillet set which is a newer product they launched. You may be able to find some of these items for cheaper if you have a Costco/Sam's Club membership.
7. Cast Iron or Carbon Steel Pan - I just told you to get nonstick skillet, so why would I recommend another pan!? Well, cast iron can simply do anything and everything. You can throw them over a fire, into your grill, oven, and it will take a beating and keep going. If you properly take care of them, they will also last a lifetime and will stay non stick if you show them some TLC and season them well.
The issue with cast iron is that you can't really use it every day for every meal, unless you are Popeye. Carbon steel is a great alternative and still has the same properties as cast iron but is lighter and thinner. Look for pre-seasoned products which already have a good coating on them, but also follow instructions to re-season them so you have a long lasting coasting.
I use the griddle to heat up tortillas, scramble eggs, or make bacon and it sits out on the stove 24/7 for everyday use.
8. Measuring Cups and Spoons - look for measuring cups with flat bottoms so you can place them on the counter and they won't tip over. The cups and spoons should have a flat top so you can scrape off any excess to get an exact measurement. I have also found that a measuring cup for liquids is pretty useful so you don't have to keep going back and forth to get 4 cups of water.
9. Silicon Spatula - A good spatula can handle most tasks in the kitchen, whether its mixing, stirring, cooking eggs or even flipping items. OXO and DI ORO make great quality products. Look for products that are solid one piece spatulas and fully coated.
10. Metal Tongs with Rubber grips and plastic/rubber head - A good set of 9 and 12 inch tongs will be useful for when you need to reach deep into the oven or get something out of the fryer, or grill and not burn your hands, arms, or hairs. The rubber/plastic head will save your pans from getting scraped from bare metal and should withstand high heat temperatures. The rubber grips keep them comfortable in your hands if you are moving things around a lot.
11. Enameled or Cast Iron Dutch Oven - These are great all around items to have and the enameled versions allow you to use them for more cooking options like tomato based sauces, and are somewhat easier to clean. You can use these for simmering sauces, stews, roasting, and frying and they will maintain even heat throughout and with the lid they are great at retaining moisture for baking or roasting.
12. Colander/Strainer - if you can get the right strainer, you can end up using to strain your food, shake flour/sugar, and use it as a makeshift steamer basket. They are also great to use if you want to soak something like eggplant in salt to release the water.
13. A good whisk should be all you need to whip up a frittata, whipped cream, pancake batter, the list goes on. If you get one coated in silicon or made of high temperature plastic, you can also use them in your pan/pot for sauces and making fluffy eggs.
Good Deals on Sets:
OXO Spatula, Turner, and Tongs