When you choose kitchen tools, look for multi-purpose items.
Yesterday on Instagram, two people sent me messages asking how to equip a kitchen from scratch. One was moving to a new apartment. The second? The Camp Fire had razed her home in Paradise, California.
I can’t imagine losing my home in one of these mega-fires—the panic to get out in time versus the desire to grab a couple of things before you lose it all, rounding up pets and then trying to figure out which direction to go in as you drive along a highway surrounded by flames.
But Ginger and her husband have an amazing attitude. She told me that they see the fire “as an opportunity to start from scratch in the most minimalist sustainable way as possible.” I can only hope that I would have a similar attitude. It’s inspiring.
A ZWC Fundraiser to Help Victims of the Camp Fire
I’ll teach a special online sourdough starter class on Sunday, December 2nd at 1pm Pacific Time via Skype. All proceeds will go to Camp Fire relief charities (
minus I’ll cover the PayPal fees). I will choose the charity from this list complied by Charity Navigator, a good site to do research on the reputations of charities.
I don’t like to brag but I’m raising money here so the Canadian modesty has to go. I’m really good at teaching this stuff. Think of me as the doula of sourdough starter—I’ll help bring your sourdough starter into this world. And you’ll help fire victims.
I have 10 spots in this class. Donate $25, $50, $75 or $100 to secure a spot. If you have a friend who would also like to attend with you at your computer or phone, they can do so at no extra charge. Or bring your class along and project the Skype call on a screen for everyone to watch.
You will need flour and very basic kitchen tools for this class. Here is the list of materials.
UPDATE 11/17/18: People have been having trouble registering. When the buttons below take you to PayPal, you may also see a fire relief donation button from PayPal. That’s not my class. If you have trouble registering, please send me your email address here and the amount you would like to donate and I’ll email you a PayPay invoice. Thank you!
Sun, Dec 2nd: 1pm to 2:30pm Pacific Time SOLD OUT!
UPDATE 11/18/18: I’ve added a second class!
Sun, Dec 2nd: 4pm to 5:30pm Pacific Time SOLD OUT!
Now for that list of kitchen gear…
What to Buy
This list of kitchen tools could suffice for most single people or couples. What you choose depends on how you cook and eat and the size of your family.
1. One cast iron skillet
Look for a 10- or 12-inch one. Use it to sauté vegetables, make pancakes, fry eggs if you eat eggs, sear anything, roast vegetables in the oven, make a pie if you don’t have a pie dish and on and on. I use my cast iron pan almost every day. They are so easy to care for. (Here is a blog post on that.)
Season cast iron well and you won’t need—or want—Teflon coated pans. (Here’s a post on why I avoid Teflon anything.)
2. One Dutch oven
Consider your very expensive Dutch oven as an investment. These versatile pots are a joy to cook with. My neighbor gave me two Le Creuset pots and one pan because he said they weigh too much. I also have a huge 6 3/4 quart Le Crueset Dutch oven that I received for my birthday several years ago. And my brother bought me a small Le Creuset saucepan for Christmas a few years ago. I am a big fan.
Cuisinart makes much less expensive Dutch ovens. I bought my daughter one when she went to university in Canada in 2013. She uses it constantly. Lodge also makes Dutch ovens without the enameled surface. I like the enamel because it cleans up so quickly and easily but I also love cast iron (see #1)
I use my Dutch ovens to make soup, dal, chili, sauces, broth, baked beans, pasta sauce, rice…so many dishes. I also bake my bread in my large one. Use your Dutch oven as a saucepan and you can postpone buying an expensive stainless steel one indefinitely.
3. One 9” x 13” Pyrex or ceramic baking dish
Use this for roasted vegetables, lasagne, macaroni and cheese, pot pies, casseroles, brownies or cakes or bar cookies or granola bars (let’s admit it, these are also bar cookies), fruit crumbles and so on. I also have a 9” square baking dish that I use often but if I had to choose, I’d get the larger one. The cast iron skillet I recommended above can often serve as a substitution for a square baking dish and you can clean it much more easily than you can clean glass.
4. Tea kettle
I probably use my tea kettle more than anything else in my kitchen. I guzzle tea and my kids drink it too. I use it to heat up water for my bread and sometimes to heat up water to add to whatever I’m cooking to speed things up. I found my All Clad kettle at the thrift shop Savers for $10. One of the best finds ever.
5. French press
If you had a Keurig and lost it in a disaster, good riddance. Get a French press. It works so well. It’s easy to clean. It costs less to use than coffee pods. Use a bit of soap and water to wash it, take the plunger apart after every few uses to give the metal filter a good scrub and you’re done. Toss the spent grounds on your plants outside. I started to do that this year and my roses looked beautiful. Apparently they love coffee grounds.
6. Pressure cooker
I use my pressure cooker at least once a week. I love it. I use it to cook soaked beans, whole pie pumpkins and beets, for example, in mere minutes. The pot also doubles as a large saucepan. I could make do without it though. If my home burned down, I could cook beans in the Dutch oven I recommended at the beginning of this post. They take much longer to cook though. So this one may be optional (but not for me!).
7. One good knife
In his best-selling memoir Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain recommended buying one good chef’s knife rather than a giant wooden block full of knives that you’ll never use. I use my 7” chef’s knife every single day. I also use my paring knife and bread knife daily. But if you buy only one knife for now, start with the chef’s knife.
The three gadgets I use most in my kitchen are:
I can never have too many jars. I covet peanut butter jars and Bonne Maman jam jars the way some people covet shoes. If you haven’t already, start collecting as many jars as seems rational—and then collect that same amount again.
I use jars for:
- Shopping for food
- Storing dry food
- Freezing food
- Packing lunches
- Eating from
- Drinking from
- Fermenting food
- Rolling out dough
- Storing produce in water (herbs, asparagus, celery)
- Starting a sourdough starter
- Making vanilla extract…
9. Glass bottles
You’ll likely want some of these if you make kombucha or natural sodas. Some of mine came from friends who buy the ginger beer at Trader Joe’s, which comes in a 24-ounce green glass flip-top bottle. If you do brew, you’ll also want a funnel to fill your bottles. And you may want a bottle brush to clean your bottles if, like me, you don’t have a dishwasher.
10. One largish wooden cutting board
Chop vegetables, knead bread, shape pastry and more on a large cutting board. With only one cutting board to chop everything, you might worry about transferring odors like garlic. Try this trick from America’s Test Kitchen to remove odors with some shredded potato or apple.
11. Three wooden cooks’ spoons
These preserve the finish of enameled cast iron, they don’t heat up like metal spoons and they look better with age.
12. One grater
Use this to grate cheese, vegetables for sauerkraut, garlic, ginger and so on. My economical stainless steel 4-sided box grater will likely outlast me.
13. One large mixing bowl
Use it to make cookie dough, cake batter, bread dough and all the other recipes you would make in a mixing bowl. This can double as a salad or serving bowl.
14. One 4-cup glass measuring cup
If you can find an 8-cup measuring cup, that can also serve as a mixing bowl. One of these days, I will find my dream 8-cup measuring cup. I bought a nice 4-cup measuring cup at Saver’s on the weekend. I like the raised markings on it. They won’t wear off like the printed ones.
15. One bamboo scraper/spatula
I have a silicon spatula from the old days and once that wears out (if ever), I’ll replace it with a bamboo scraper.
16. One metal spatula
Don’t use this in enameled cast iron, however.
17. One metal ladle
Or wood. Use this to serve soups, stews, sauces and so on.
18. One set of tongs
I have stainless steel tongs that I bought over 20 years ago. Use them to grip food while you cook it or serve it.
19. One pepper mill
I use my bamboo pepper mill every day. Fresh ground pepper tastes best and I can buy bulk peppercorns at many stores near me. If and when my salt shaker breaks, I won’t bother replacing it. I buy my salt in a glass jar and when I salt a dish I’m cooking, I just reach into my jar with clean fingers and grab pinches of salt to sprinkle on.
20. One vegetable peeler
I feel that this one is optional. But if you don’t have a paring knife, you may want a vegetable peeler. They make quick work of peeling vegetables and remove less of the skin than a knife might.
21. One ice cream scoop
If you don’t eat ice cream, don’t buy one. But if you do eat it, you can scoop it much more efficiently (and frustration-free) with a scoop rather than say, a flimsy metal soup spoon.
22. Two cookie sheets
I use mine for crackers, for roasting vegetables and occasionally, for cookies.
23. One muffin tin
I realized composing this list that I actually don’t have one of these. I think I must have given away my old Teflon pan a long time ago or someone borrowed it. But they are handy for baking muffins, cupcakes and anything else you want to cook in a muffin shape. As I wrote at the beginning, everyone’s list will differ. I make a lot of quick breads and use a loaf pan rather than making individual muffins. I don’t like greasing muffin pans. That’s just me.
24. One or two loaf pans
I have both metal and ceramic. I like the ceramic one because it doesn’t have a Teflon coating and cleans easily (my bread pans are some of the few Teflon pieces I haven’t replaced). But if I drop it, it’s toast. I’ve had my metal loaf pans for about 15 years. They last forever.
25. One to two glass or ceramic pie plates
If you buy the cast iron pan (see #1), you can use that to bake a pie or crumble. I don’t bake pies often, but when I do, I like to bake two at least.
26. Two cooling racks
In addition to providing a spot to rest your hot cookie sheets and pans, a cooling rack can double as a dish drainer in a pinch. I had been without a dish rack for several years. Maybe longer. I don’t actually remember having one… I only recently found a very nice chrome rack on the side of the road and started to use that. A cooling rack works pretty well to stack washed dishes onto.
27. One set of dry measuring cups
I bought my stainless steel cups 20 years ago. They last forever.
28. One set of measuring spoons
My stainless steel measuring spoons match my measuring cups.
29. Six to 12 tea towels
I think you want at least this many. Otherwise you’ll do laundry constantly.
30. Six to 12 cloth napkins
Again, you don’t want to become Sisyphus lugging a laundry basket.
31. Six to 12 cloth produce bags
I use these for many tasks in the kitchen:
- Freezing and storing bread. People ask often how I store bread. I store whole loaves in these bags in the freezer. I don’t freeze bread for very long—a couple of weeks maximum. I store bread on the counter in these bags also.
- Packing lunches. The smaller bags work well for a sandwich (unless it has lots of juicy pickles).
- Produce. I usually take at least five with me to the farmers’ market. Leafy greens keep really well stored in these bags in the refrigerator.
- Salad spinner. Wash greens, place them in a bag, take the bag outside and twirl it around a bunch of times to dry the greens off. Store in the crisper in the damp bag. If you have lost your salad spinner, try a cloth produce bag instead. It will take up no space in your kitchen, unlike a salad spinner.
You should be able to find all of these at a thrift shop. The ones near me have shelves and shelves and shelves of dinnerware. Of course, if you live with more than three other people, you’ll want more than this.
32. Four dinner plates
33. Four salad plates
34. Four soup bowls
35. Four mugs
36. Four pint-size mason jars to use as glasses
37. Four-place setting of utensils
Small Appliances and Electronics
I would avoid most of these. The majority of small appliances tend to sit in a cupboard, unused and taking up precious space. My refusal to own a microwave (i.e., leftovers reheater) used to bother—or maybe embarrass—my kids. “Why can’t we have a normal kitchen?” my daughter asked several years ago, looking at the jars of kombucha and SCOBYs lining a shelf. I have about as much space as I have desire for a microwave—meaning zero.
I do have two small appliances that I use frequently—a food processor and a stand mixer (it actually belongs to my daughter). I bought a secondhand blender through Craigslist for $10 or $15 (I forget how much I paid exactly) for my daughter. She uses it often.
Where to Shop
If you’d like to save a fortune on this list of kitchen tools, search for many of these items secondhand. You’ll have to be patient for some, like the cast-iron skillet. You may find some items for free through:
- The Buy Nothing Project. Check for a Buy Nothing Facebook group in your city. If your city doesn’t have one, you could set that up.
- Craigslist, Nextdoor, Freecycle and other community websites.
- Community swap meets (click here for a post on organizing one). I hosted one of these last weekend and had so much fun. At these swaps, not only do we unload still-useful items, we build community.