Let’s say an interdimensional rift suddenly opened in your kitchen and sucked away all your precious cooking and coffee-brewing equipment before disappearing. (I admit, I’ve been reading a lot of comic books this week.) How would you start over?
This guide can help you get back on your culinary feet, or perhaps give you some ideas on upgrading the gear you already own.
A common mistake people make is overloading their kitchens with skillets of all shapes and sizes. You really only need two to cover your bases, though: A cast iron skillet — which we’ll cover in a bit — and a good stainless steel pan.
For the latter, the All-Clad 12″ fry pan is our recommendation.
Cooking with cheap stainless steel is too much of a pain — especially on gas burners — because food usually ends up sticking to the sides. With the All-Clad and a little skill you won’t have that problem. (And even if you do, they have a lifetime warranty plus awesome customer service that will get you fixed up in no time.)
Sandwiched between two stainless steel layers is an aluminum core that encompasses the bottom and sides of the pan (whereas cheaper skillets only have it on the bottom), allowing heat to distribute more evenly. The skillet as a whole is just heavy enough to retain that heat a while, but not so heavy as to be cumbersome. It’s a little harder to clean than a nonstick pan, but totally worth the extra effort. Sear a steak in it and you’ll see what we mean.
There’s a reason the All-Clad fry pan is the skillet professional cooks use at their restaurants and in their home kitchens.
No kitchen is complete without at least one cast iron skillet around — they just cook food so perfectly and only get better with age. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to receive the gift of a decades-old skillet, you can’t go wrong with a pre-seasoned skillet from Lodge instead. These guys have cast iron down to a science, and their products are always highly recommended by other cast iron enthusiasts.
These skillets come in all sorts of sizes – from 3.5″ to 15″ – but we’d say the best one for most purposes is the 12″ model. Although it comes pre-seasoned, you’ll still need to know how to maintain it throughout the years, so be sure to read our guide to cast iron care, which also includes recipes and useful accessories for cast iron cookware.
It’s a bit more work than just using an everyday nonstick pan, but there’s something very Zen-like about the maintenance process, and it’s quite rewarding when done properly. Also, you don’t have to worry about those nonstick chemicals getting into your food.
P.S. Don’t forget a skillet handle mitt.
If you’re going to be cooking in the skillets above, you’ll want a metal spatula that doesn’t suck. You want the Hell’s Handle fish turner/spatula from Mercer Culinary.
Despite its name, this spatula isn’t just for flipping fish; it works just as well with burgers, steaks, stir-fry, cookies, casseroles, lasagna, and more. The combination of its shape, thinness, and flexibility allows it to wriggle underneath foods without disfiguring them, but it’s also strong enough to lift relatively heavy foods with no problem.
As The Sweethome notes, you might want to pair the Mercer fish spatula with the LamsonSharp Easy-Entry turner if you enjoy smashing foods — think burgers, grilled cheese, etc — or if you ever use your spatula to cut up a pan of brownies. The latter is better designed for those types of things.
Meal Prep & Cleanup
A single, well-maintained chef’s knife that can do 90% (or more!) of everything you ever need to do in the kitchen is way better than owning a bunch of overly-specialized or redundant knives that eventually get tossed into a drawer and forgotten. Thus, it’s important to choose the right one.
Now, a high-quality chef’s knife could easily run you $150 or more — and it would be well worth the money — but if you’re just starting out you can’t go wrong with the quite affordable Victorinox Fibrox 8″ chef’s knife. At just $33, this knife punches way above its weight, and it’s got the reviews to back it up.
Kevin Kelly of Cool Tools described it nicely:
The Victorinox is a hybrid of a thin Japanese blade with a 15-degree edge (western knives have a 20-degree edge), but with the longer, broader blade of European knives. It is lightweight, nicely-balanced, and lethally-sharp. It has a comfortable, grippy handle that won’t slip even when wet.
What this means is that the Victorinox works on a level with more expensive (though still excellent) options like the Wusthof Classic 8″.
While an 8″ knife is suitable for most people’s needs, some may feel more comfortable using a larger model. Luckily, the Victorinox Fibrox also comes in a 10″ size.
End Grain is when the individual boards of wood are arranged so that the grain of the wood (the growth rings) runs vertically (up and down). This puts one end of each board up so that the cutting surface is actually the end of many individual pieces of wood. With the grain aligned in this manner (up and down), when the knife strikes the surface during cutting, the grain of the wood actually separates and then closes when the knife is removed. This accounts for the self-healing aspect of the end-grain surface. The wood itself is not cut, but instead you are cutting between the fibers.
In a way, these boards are like a well-maintained piece of cast iron — if you take care of them (more info on this here), they can last a lifetime or longer! Pass one on to your grandchildren someday and it will be just as useful to them as it was you.
Here’s a video of the manufacturing process behind each of these cutting boards:
The boards are available in a number of shapes and sizes:
- Small ($160)
- Medium ($220)
- Large ($270)
- End curve ($140)
- 14″ square ($210)
- Carver’s board w/ juice moat ($320)
Joseph Joseph’s comprehensive (and colorful!) 9-piece nesting food prep + measuring set not only has everything you need to mix, measure, and drain foods, it’s especially great for anyone living in a small place without a lot of storage space.
The set includes:
- 10.5″ mixing bowl
- 9″ colander
- 7.5″ sieve
- 6″ bowl with interior measurements (milliliters/fluid ounces) and a spout
- 1-cup measuring cup
- ½ measuring cup
- ⅓ measuring cup
- ¼ measuring cup
- 1 tablespoon (with a line in the middle indicating teaspoon)
If there’s one stand mixer you should have in your kitchen, make it the KitchenAid Artisan.
While it isn’t meant to tackle the sorts of large mixing, whipping, and kneading jobs professional kitchens have to deal with on a daily basis, it’s more than capable enough for a home kitchen’s needs. With the Artisan you can produce awesome cake batters, cookies, frostings, egg whites, cream, and even bread or pizza dough from time to time.
Available in a wide variety of colors, the tilt-head Artisan mixer comes with a few attachments: A nylon-coated flat beater (which can be replaced with a metal one if you’re concerned with the nylon flaking off), a nylon-coated dough hook, a wire whip, and a pouring shield which can be easily removed during operation.
The front-facing power hub at the top of the unit allows you to expand what the mixer can do with attachments like the pasta roller/cutter for spaghettic and fettuccine, or the meat grinder (which is also useful for grating cheese).
In the market for a new set of kitchen towels? Look no further than this set of 12 professional-grade towels (six of which are pictured above) from Keeble Outlets.
Where a lot of so-called “kitchen towels” out there actually repel water rather than absorb it — I’ve been “gifted” several of that sort myself — these towels are made from high-density cotton woven in a herringbone pattern for maximum absorption. This same construction also helps keep the towels from disintegrating in the wash or leaving lint all over your dishes.
Be sure to read the company’s washing tips on the Amazon store page to ensure your towels stay in great shape.
For anyone just starting out with brewing coffee from home, we highly recommend the AeroPress. It’s relatively inexpensive, surprisingly versatile, and extremely easy to clean up. You can use fine or coarse grinds, brew it either right-side-up or inverted — this flexibility allows for many different types of brews — and even toss it into your bag while traveling.
Some may look at the Baratza Encore’s $129 price tag and raise an eyebrow about it being a “starter” option. We totally understand. Go any lower than that though, and you’re getting into blade grinder territory — and, well, yuck. Trust us, a decent burr grinder is worth the expense and you’ll thank yourself when it’s still going strong years later.
The Encore grinds surprisingly consistently for an entry-level model, at pretty much all 40 of its grind-adjustment levels. Hardcore espresso enthusiasts might not be 100% impressed by even the finest grind settings, but in our experience, coffee grounds from an Encore can produce a pretty good shot. We at T&T are generally pour-over coffee drinkers anyway, and the Encore is more than capable for our needs.
If there’s one quibble we have with the Encore, it’s that it doesn’t run as silently as we’d like. Well, that and the fact that the hopper doesn’t have its own locking mechanism (which we learned the hard way after removing the hopper while it was full of beans).
But considering the great build quality and Baratza’s famed customer service, those are tradeoffs we’re willing to make.
If there is one kettle we would recommend owning, it’s the Bonavita variable-temp gooseneck.
Not only does it sport a gooseneck spout for surprisingly fine pour control — the kettle looks deceptively unwieldy at first sight — it also comes with an electric base that lets you set your own temperature (°F or °C) or use one of the six presets available, then have the kettle hold that temperature for an hour. There’s also a count-up timer to help you brew even more accurately. One nice feature is that since the kettle’s heating element isn’t exposed, you can set it directly on a countertop or table, even while hot.
Needless to say, if you want to take your pourover coffee game to the next level, this is the kettle to have. As The New York Times once put it, “It’s like picking up a drafting pen after only writing with Magic Markers.”
- Don’t care for fancy temperature control, or simply want to save a few bucks? Check out the variable-temp’s non-adjustable counterpart ($60).
Anyone who wants to get serious about coffee preparation — especially with pour-over brewing methods — needs a good kitchen scale. This one accepts up to 4,000 grams and displays in 0.5-gram increments. More than adequate to cover most peoples’ needs until they want to move up to something more professional.
For more awesome cooking gear recommendations, check out our “Kitchen” category archives.