Get in the kitchen and start cooking … this kitchen essentials list has everything you need to create a delicious meal!
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Last week I shared some of my favorite tips for recipe success, and that got me thinking about my must have kitchen items list. You know, all that stuff you need to cook a great meal!
How you ever stopped to think about what items you truly need to set up a kitchen? With graduation season coming up, it seemed like a great time to create a kitchen essentials list.
I love cooking and had a ton of fun putting this list together. Just when I thought I was done, I’d think of something else … ha!
I’ve covered everything in this kitchen essentials list, from the basics to appliances to my favorite cookbooks. Like I mentioned, this checklist is great for new graduates, but it’s also helpful for anyone moving into their first apartment, couples registering for their wedding, and even more seasoned cooks who need to replace an item here and there.
Enjoy reading and let me know if you think I missed something!
Kitchen Essentials List: The Basics
The first part of my kitchen essentials list covers the basics. These are the items you really need when setting up a kitchen.
Cutting Board – A good cutting board is a must for preparing any meal. I love this affordable bamboo set. The multiple sizes are handy, plus if you’re working on a big meal, you can use them all. These boards are also attractive enough for serving appetizers or cheese and crackers.
Knives – Cooking is sooo much more pleasant when you have a sharp knife! Knives can be expensive, but it’s 100% worth investing in quality knives. Avoid sets! They may seem like a bargain, but for the same price you can get exactly the knives you need, but at much better quality. All you really need to get started is a high quality chef’s knife (good for chopping pretty much anything), a paring knife (great for smaller jobs), and a serrated knife (perfect for slicing bread and tomatoes). If you can only afford one good knife, get a chef’s knife.
Kitchen Utensils – Trying to determine what kitchen utensils to purchase can be overwhelming … there are so many options. That is why I love this OXO Good Grips 15 Piece Cooking Utensils Set (there are smaller sets, too). It’s not the cheapest, but it has literally everything you need to get started, and it’s all that great OXO quality. Plus, once you add up the cost to purchases these items separately, it’s actually a bargain. This set comes with 2 turners, 12-inch tongs, 2 spoons (one slotted), grater, peeler, ice cream scoop, potato masher, can opener, balloon whisk, spatula, meat tenderizer, and a pizza wheel, plus a holder to keep everything organized!
If you have a few extra bucks, I would also get:
- Kitchen Sheers – Great for opening bags, chopping delicate herbs, and even cutting pizza.
- Wood Spoons – A super basic tool, but one that I use every day! Wood spoons won’t scratch your nonstick pans or melt, and they’ll last forever.
- Microplane Zester and Grater – This little tool is so handy! Hold it over your pasta to grate some Parmesan cheese, use it to zest citrus, or easily grate nutmeg. Tip: turn it upside down when grating or zesting, and the tiny shreds will be caught in the tool instead of scattering over your work surface.
- KitchenAid Silicon Spoon Spatula – I have a couple of these, and I LOVE them. It’s like a spatula and turner in one, and since it’s made of silicon it won’t melt if it gets too hot. I use mine every day.
- Garlic Press – I love garlic, but I’m not a fan of chopping it. A garlic press does all the work for you with no mess.
Pots and Pans – This is one area of your first kitchen checklist where less is more. Again, avoid wasting money on a set! Here’s what you need to get started: a large dutch oven (for soups, stews, and pasta), a small frying pan (works for omelets, toasting nuts, cooking eggs, and for making smaller recipes), a large frying pan (excellent for making sauces, curries, sauteing veggies, making pancakes, and more), and a medium sauce pan (great for sauces, warming up soup, and cooking smaller recipes). Personally, I love Calphalon, which is what I’ve linked to. The quality is great and the prices aren’t crazy (as long as you stick to their Classic line).
If you want to splash out a bit (or a lot, actually!), I’d definitely recommend getting a Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast Iron 5.5-qt. Dutch Oven. I love everything Le Creuset, and if I could afford it, my kitchen would be outfitted top to bottom with these sturdy, colorful pots and accessories. This size is perfect for making a big batch of soup or stew, and you can even throw it in the oven.
Colander – A colander is essential for draining pasta and other items, like steamed or boiled veggies. I like this mesh colander, because there are no large holes for your pasta to escape through. It would be great for rinsing or draining fine items, like grains, too.
Measuring Cups and Spoons – You’ll need two sets of measuring cups: one for liquids; and individually marked cups (1 cup, 1/2 cup, etc.) for dry ingredients. Plus, you’ll need a set of measuring spoons. I like this Pyrex Glass Set for liquids, and this Measuring Cups Set for dry ingredients (it also contains measuring spoons, so no need to purchase those separately!).
Mixing Bowls – A set of mixing bowls is essential for baking, as well as for making salads and other recipes that require mixing. I love this stainless steel mixing bowl set. It’s coated with silicon on the bottom (the bowls won’t skid around your counter), plus it has lids, which is so useful!
Baking Dishes – Do you love baking? This Calphalon Nonstick Bakeware Set has almost everything you need to get started at a great price: cake pans, baking sheet, muffin pan, loaf pan, and a 9×13-inch baking pan. I would also add a square cake pan, and a pizza pan wouldn’t hurt either! To cool your delicious baked goods, make sure to get a wire cooling rack, too.
Pepper Grinder – Freshly cracked pepper makes any meal better. This OXO Pepper Grinder is adjustable and easy to use. And kosher salt is a major step up from regular table salt … it’s sure to improve your cooking as well.
Potholders – Don’t burn your hands! This two-piece potholder set comes in lots of fun colors.
Dish Towels – Whether you have a dishwasher or not, you’ll surely hand dry a dish or pot here and there. This affordable 12-piece dish towel set will ensure you never run out!
Does this seem like a lot of stuff? If you’re just starting out and have a tight budget, then here’s a basic kitchen needs list: cutting boards, chef’s knife, dutch oven, large frying pan, KitchenAid Silicon Spoon Spatula (use it as a spoon, spatula, and turner), can opener, measuring cups and spoons set, potholders, and dish towels. Then, you can slowly add more items as your budget allows.
Kitchen Essentials List: Appliances
When it comes to appliances, you really don’t need a lot to get started. Here are the appliances that I consider essential for the kitchen:
Mixer – If you enjoy baking, you’ll need a mixer. I love my KitchenAid Classic Plus 4.5-qt. Stand Mixer. This mixer is a serious work horse, and I use it to make everything from cookies to bread to macarons. You can also purchase attachments for all sorts of things, like grinding food or making pasta. It is expensive though! If your budget is tight, this KitchenAid Hand Mixer is a great substitute.
Coffee Maker – Every kitchen needs a coffee maker. My Ninja Coffee Bar Brewer is amazing! You can use it to make carafes of coffee or individual drinks (no pods required). I love that it brews my iced coffee right over ice, no chilling required. Plus, it comes with a frother so you can easily make coffee house style drinks at home. It’s not cheap though. If you want a single cup coffee maker that’s super affordable, get the Bella One Scoop One Cup Coffee Maker, which is what I had before I got my Ninja. It’s super easy to use, and again, no wasteful pods required.
Blender – A blender is perfect for making everything from smoothies to batters to dips. This Oster 10-Speed Blender is a dependable and affordable option.
Food Processor – We never had a food processor when I was growing up, but I got a KitchenAid Food Processor for my wedding, and it’s still going strong 10 years later. I use it for everything from hummus to pie crust. It’s a favorite. I actually use my food processor way more than my blender. So unless you make a lot of blended drinks, you might prioritize getting a food processor over a blender if you can’t afford both.
Toaster – A toaster is essential for making easy breakfasts and lunches (like avocado toast). This Hamilton Beach Toaster is a great affordable option.
Microwave – Thankfully, my apartment came with a microwave, but many don’t. I can’t imagine living without a microwave! You’ll need it for everything from making quick meals to reheating leftovers, and yes, for cooking frozen dinners.
Non-Essential, but Fun to Have – I’m not a huge gadget person, but there are some other appliances that are not exactly essential to include on your first kitchen checklist, but they’re still fun to have. A slow cooker is perfect for busy weeknights. I also love my ice cream maker! It’s so fun and easy to make homemade ice cream and frozen yogurt, and I use mine all the time.
Kitchen Essentials List: Other Items
Here are a few other items I had to include on my kitchen essentials list:
Water Filter / Dispenser – If you’re trying to live a healthy life, you probably drink a lot of water. I’ve used a Brita filter system since I was in college, and it definitely makes the cut on my basic kitchen needs list. I love having cold, filtered water on hand, which is why I love my Brita UltraMax Water Dispenser … it holds 18 cups of water! Which is perfect if you drink water constantly, like I do. This dispenser holds a lot of water, but doesn’t take up tons of space, even in tiny apartment sized refrigerators. But if space is super tight, you can always get a classic Brita Pitcher which still holds 10 cups.
Storage Containers – When you enjoy cooking, you need something to hold your leftovers. I prefer glass over plastic, because I don’t have to worry about toxic chemicals leaching into my food (yum!). This glass food storage container set is a great choice.
Kitchen Timer – If you’re anything like me, when you forget to set the timer, your food is going to burn. Ha! This Digital Timer is a cheap option if your stove doesn’t have a timer or if you need an extra one. I’ve had mine a few years now, and it’s still going strong (even though I’ve dropped it repeatedly). You’ll definitely want to add one to your list of kitchen essentials for a new home.
Strainers – Fine mesh strainers are much more versatile than the standard big-holed type. They’re perfect for rinsing tiny foods like quinoa or bigger ones like canned beans. I also use mine for recipes that call for separating solids from liquids, like apple butter. This Stainless Steel Fine Mesh Strainer Set is an affordable option.
Chip Clips – Okay, this is kind of a bonus thing that falls under the nice to have category (but perhaps not 100% essential). I picked up a pack of Joie Fresh Twist Bag Clips recently, and they are so handy. Just fold down your bag, add a clip, and your food stays fresh. Plus, they’re so much cuter than your standard chip clip!
Kitchen Essentials List: Cookbooks
If you want to learn to cook, a great cookbook is an excellent place to start. I have a lot of cookbooks, but these are the ones that I’ve cooked my way through and keep coming back to:
- Joy of Cooking – Has every recipe you could ever need (from simple to complex). I refer to it often and think it should be in every kitchen.
- How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (not shown) – This is basically the vegetarian version of the Joy of Cooking, a great reference cookbook. If you’re not a vegetarian, you’d might prefer How to Cook Everything which includes meat-based recipes.
- Vegetarian Suppers and Vegetable Soups – Both of these books are full of simple, delicious recipes that don’t take a lot of fuss to make.
- Vegetarian Classics – This is another great vegetarian resource filled with classic recipes. Jeanne Lemlin, the writer of this book, is actually my favorite cookbook author. I have most of her other books, too.
- Vegetarian Planet – A super fun and creative cookbook that I bought years ago and still use. I also love her book Entertaining for a Veggie Plant.
Loved this Kitchen Essentials List and want more?
Here are a few other posts you may enjoy:
- Tips for Organizing a Small Kitchen
- 10 Tips for Recipe Success
- How to Clean Your Kitchen into 15 Minutes
- 5 Tips for Making the Most of Small Kitchen
I hope this kitchen essentials list has gotten you started on your own list and inspired you to get cooking!
What are your top kitchen essentials?