Kitchen Design

Calling All Cooks: How Should I Stock My First Kitchen?

June 30, 2015

Calling all home cooks! I just moved into a new apartment with a tiny, empty kitchen—my first! What kitchen equipment should I start out with, and how should I decorate?

My new kitchen is either "a sink with a mini-fridge" or "a culinary palace," depending on how much time you've spent living in Manhattan.

At some point between signing the lease on my new apartment and beginning to move in this past week, I realized that I own nearly no kitchen equipment. While I cook every night, the majority of my first apartment had been furnished by my roommates' parents (with the exception of a mug I'd inherited from my college dorm room). Over the course of a year there, I'd accrued a Dutch oven, four cloth napkins, an apron, and a pie stand—an acceptable collection for cooking on the prairie, but a measly set of tools for making nightly dinner.

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Now that I'm moving out of my galley kitchen and into an apartment that has—hold your breath—counter space (in the form of an Ikea butcher block), I'd love to know: What are the necessary items I should furnish my kitchen with? Here are the facts: There will be two people living in the apartment (including myself), I cook fairly frequently, and I have limited storage space (hello, Manhattan). I'd like to have a fully functioning kitchen, but the tools I stock it with will have to be afforable and compact. What are the appliances I should splurge on? What are the items I can probably skip? Do you have any anecdotes from furnishing your own kichen?

Please share your suggestions in the comments! I'll report back with some of your best tips and how it all works out.

Help me in the comments below or email me at [email protected]! The fate of my kitchen depends on you.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Melissa
  • Sam1148
  • Victoria Maynard
    Victoria Maynard
  • Hannah Wilken
    Hannah Wilken
  • Tami
I eat everything.


Melissa February 26, 2016
For anyone interested in getting the Thermomix (which really is the most amazing kitchen appliance you have ever seen), it is finally for sale in the US, having just launched in Nov '15. Contact me at [email protected] if you want more info.
Sam1148 July 1, 2015
Magnetic Knife Rack for the wall.
A ceiling mounted pan rack to hang pots sure to get someone to mount it that knows how to find a stud and drill it. (ahhh...hum).
Leslie S. July 2, 2015
Will definitely be getting a knife rack for the wall and will see if I can figure out the ceiling-mounting!
Victoria M. July 1, 2015
I got this tiny kitchen cart and topped it with a cutting board. For $40 you get more storage and prep space!

If you have some more space and more money, this cart is great. I pull up stools to use it as a dinner table too.

Leslie S. July 1, 2015
Ohhh love the looks of both of these! Thank you!
Hannah W. July 1, 2015
Leslie, my boyfriend and I have a table in our (small kitchen) that's attached to the wall and folds up when you want more space!
Leslie S. July 1, 2015
Oh I was thinking of that too! I had one in my old apartment but I'm always afraid of putting weight on it because I'm afraid it'll pull out of the wall!
Tami July 1, 2015
I would first buy a small rolling table ( for extra storage, breakfast bar and prep room and place it like an island on the left wall. If you like to cook, I would install wall hanging planters to grow herbs. These mason jar examples are pretty nice ( As for the kitchen, I would recommend that you spend the money and buy proper pots and pans because they will last. All Clad Cookware - 3qt saucer, 0.5qt butter warmer, 10" frying pan and 4qt braiser pan. They should all fit into the braiser pan which you can store on the kitchen island. I think everyone else has it covered.
Leslie S. July 1, 2015
Love the project with the mason jars! I definitely want to put in hanging wall planters for some herbs and this looks like a great way to do it!
Mat T. July 1, 2015
I've had to cull my kitchen several times before arriving on my current less-than-cluttered kitchen. It can be pretty hard to arrive on the certain quantity of things that help you get whatever you want done.

First, I cannot stand cast iron. I've read tons on it, seasoned a couple pans and every time, I found the same problem. It's not any more non-stick than stainless steel. It requires a lot of fat/oil to work and cook properly. It's heavy and finicky. For that reason, if you have only so much space, I recommend 1 non-stick pan and if you have the space, 1 tri-ply stainless steel pan and at least one lid. Between the two, you can pan fry anything you'd need, be able to use in the oven, stir-fry (albeit in batches), make eggs and pancakes easily and generally cook whatever.

I think the saucier is overlooked, but I prefer a saucier over a saucepan as it makes whisking so much easier. I think a 2qt. or 3qt. is best for a general purpose liquid boiling pan.

Finally, I think the 7qt. dutch oven is absolutely necessary for any soup or stew one would need/want to cook.

The above three would be my go-to items to get if I needed to stock a new kitchen.
Mat T. July 1, 2015
Also, cast iron pans are heavy. You won't need to handle stainless steel with two hands to clean in the sink. Plus you can flip food single handedly, not requiring any spoon, spatula or flipper (saving time and dishes)
Leslie S. July 1, 2015
True! Do you think that the stainless steel works as well for braising as cast iron does?
Mat T. July 1, 2015
No, I don't believe it does. A proper braise needs a consistent application of heat. Ironically, iron's deficiency in thermal conductance (i.e. transferring heat from the heat source to the food and to itself) is tremendously beneficial to a braise (as well as stews, chilis, sauces, etc). The inability to quickly conduct heat tends to make it stay at temperature consistently. This is in stark contrast to the aluminum clad pans that tend to conduct heat so much quicker, which can lead to hot spots, or too-rapid cooling. This, in and of itself, isn't a huge deal, but it tends to force the cook to fiddle with their oven's dials way more than with cast iron.

For braising, I think a 7qt enameled cast iron dutch oven is perfect for the job. I've owned several varieties of pot/dutch oven including a bare iron dutch oven. The bare iron dutch oven is dreadful for even the most basic stew. It can be a bear to season and the seasoning can get stripped after you try to scrub the first sticky liquid dish you make (e.g. Baked Beans). Whereas my enameled dutch oven is easily scrubbed clean.

That said, cast iron is pretty heavy. My 9 qt. Le Creuset Dutch oven is close to 20 lbs. Plus, water weight, that can be up to another 18 lbs makes it a burden to clean. I have significantly lighter 5 and 7 qt pots for more basic dishes that require a large volume, like soup.

As an aside, If I were to also suggest a middle ground between the smaller saucepan and the larger dutch oven: the All-Clad "Essential Pan" (sold at Williams-Sonoma). I picked one up with the express purpose of clearing out my kitchen of a bunch of pans. I, too, use an Ikea butcher block/shelf unit and I found myself stuffing it full of junk. I purchased a 4qt. variety and it's basically like a fry pan with tall walls. I purchased it with the intent of discarding my wok, a smaller wok-style frying pan, my saute pan and adding a slightly larger saucepan to my repertoire. It's a jack of all trades, while a master of none, but it works very well as a fairly high quality large pan that can both fry and boil. I've made a few "one skillet" dishes, fried rice, pho, etc.
Leslie S. July 1, 2015
Thank you so much for such a thorough response! I'll take this all into account!
Kath July 1, 2015
I'd strongly suggest you buy tefal pans 3in 1 with a clip on handle- I love the fact that they don't take up space. Same goes for a set of nesting bowl, a set of 2 cutting boards, a collapsible strainer, alle the things you need for prepping veggies/ peeler, small knife, a whisk, masher, spatula, tongs, plane grater, multi tool handblender with whisk and blender attachments, a set of plates, bowls, 4 water glasses, mugs, wine and champagne glasses. As for spices and herbs, omit the rack, get a box that you can slide in and out of a cubbie, fill it with the basic spices you need- dill, bay leaves, oregano, parsley, basil, onion or garlic powder, atock cubes( take up less space). As for essentials best are tinned tomatoes, palm hearts, beans, rice, pasta, 2 types of oil- oo and veg oil, breadcrumbs, flour, balsamic vinegar, mayo, mustard, hot sauce, sugar, that you can keep on the top of the cubbies in bigger plastic boxes( ikea has great white plastic onesin many sizes). I lived in a shoebox for a few years and this is a great set of nessecities that allow you to produce anything you need:) good luck!
Leslie S. July 1, 2015
Thank you for this list!!
Corrie July 1, 2015
I found this article that I really liked:
I would make sure that the saucepan and probably also the skillet have lids. Also I think that although the big pasta/soup pot on the list is essential, I rarely use mine, so I'd just get a cheap version. I'd also add a bread knife to the list. I also have a set of nesting pyrex bowls with lids. These can be used for mixing, for salads, for storing things in the fridge, and for taking things to potlucks, and they don't look terrible on a table. I got some magnetic spice jars- they stick to my fridge- and they are awesome for a tiny kitchen (look on Etsy, I believe the seller is Gneiss Spice). I'd like to second the slow cooker, it's a really nice thing to have and you could store it on top of your cabinets.

The things to spend on here are really the chefs knife and the large skillet.

I will say too...if your fridge is magnetic you can use the sides for organizing, like you can get a magnetic paper towel holder, magnetic hooks for potholders and other things you want to hang, etc.
Leslie S. July 1, 2015
Oh good idea about the fridge magnets!! Thank you for your tips!
ds14248 June 30, 2015
One of the things I found most useful in my tiny kitchen was a large cutting board that fit on top of my stove burners. That way, I could use part of my stove for cutting during prep and didn't take up counter space. I know you mentioned the Ikea butcher block, which is great, but for more involved meals you will need more counter space than that and keeping a nice looking wooden cutting board on your stove eliminates the need to store it (and you can put it on top of the fridge when you need the whole stove). I also put wall mounted spice racks on the wall above my stove so that I had more room in my cabinets and kept all of my spices there. Also, I love my baking sheets with edges (as opposed to the completely flat ones). Because I have these I rarely use my glass casserole dish and they take up less room. Finally, if you want a larger appliance (I personally recommend a slow cooker) remember that you can always store it under your bed and take it out when you need to use it! That is what I did when I lived in NYC because I used my slow cooker a lot. Your rice cooker could go there too.
Leslie S. July 1, 2015
That's a really good idea! Do you have a cutting board that you recommend? Do you use the baking sheets with edges in place of a casserole dish? Thanks for the tips!
ds14248 July 1, 2015
I do use the baking sheets with edges in place of a casserole dish...not to make casseroles but to do things like roast vegetables and bake fish. The only thing I use my casserole dish for is to make brownies and actual casseroles and I do that rarely.

I unfortunately do not have a cutting board that I recommend, but if you google it you won't have trouble finding one. It will all depend on your stove size. I completely forget where I got mine from, I think that my mother may have purchased it for me. Sorry not to be able to help more!
Poonam June 30, 2015
I had a similarly tiny NY kitchen (but no space for a butcher block!). We used these rails (+hooks!) from ikea for pot storage on a nearby wall, they also proved useful for hanging kitchen towels from!

Off the top of my head I think our kitchen tools were: A teflon coated 12" frying pan, a 3 qt dutch oven, a roughly 1 qt saucepan from ikea, a tea kettle from the le creuset outlet, a 9" square pan for brownies or baked chicken for 1, 1 baking sheet, 2 mixing bowls (pyrex), a microplane, 2 good chef's knives from century 21, a citrus squeezer (just the simple ones that come in lime/lemon/orange sizes - I think we got ours from Broadway panhandler), 3 white plastic chopping boards from Ikea, a big stack of 12 dish towels (you will use more than you think always!), a set of measuring cups and one of spoons, and a fine mesh strainer.

we did buy a small rice cooker (one of the simplest possible ones from chinatown for $25) because rice was a cheap and filling food! but if you don't eat a lot of rice/oatmeal/quinoa, it's probably less worth it.
Leslie S. June 30, 2015
Love the idea for pot storage! Also I feel like you could grow herbs in there to have on hand!
And thank you for all the tips—and I'm thinking seriously about a rice cooker so I might be making a trip to Chinatown this weekend per your recommendation!
Kevin June 30, 2015
Get a friend from Canada to purchase a Thermomix on your behalf and ship it to you. Vorwerk, the company that makes them, doesn't sell them in the US, but the Canadian models work just fine in US kitchens. These devices are wildly popular around the world in places where kitchen space is at a premium. Having one outright obviates the need for a blender and food processor, and can also save you from needing a stand mixer. A Thermomix also does things that none of these appliances can, e.g., cook the things that you're mixing, blending, or stirring. They're not cheap, but, they're compact and super versatile. If I were starting a kitchen from scratch, it would be the first countertop appliance that I bought.
Leslie S. June 30, 2015
Oh interesting! I've never heard of that brand but I'll look into it! Thanks for the tip!!
Clayton June 30, 2015
Hi Leslie,
I highly recommend the lightweight, nesting metal mixing bowls that Bowery Kitchen Supplies sell in Chelsea Market. They are inexpensive and don't take up much space. Multiple bowls are especially helpful when you have limited cooking space and need to get a lot of your prep done before starting cooking.

Secondly, a high quality 8" chefs knife is essential. I have a Wusthof classic set which includes one, but there are less costly versions that will serve you well if that's a consideration (also, you could consider a Chinese cleaver-like chefs knife - my friend Will Horowitz of Ducks Eatery uses one, and it's great for veggies too - also sold at restaurant supply shops for $30-$50).

A cast iron pan should be next on your list. I've got the 18" inch skillet, which is classic and fantastic all around. However, I just invested in the 12" Pro-logic with curved edges for omelettes and other smaller jobs. Enameled cast iron is pretty, but expensive and can chip - not the way to go in my opinion.

Finally, measuring cups and spoons.

Other than that, the equipment reviews from America's Test Kitchen on YouTube are fantastic guides for purchases, you can check them out here before y'all start conducting your own:

Hope we get a picture when you're all finished, and congrats on the new space!

Leslie S. June 30, 2015
Oh! I walk past there all the time but haven't gone in—I guess it's time! Thank you so much for all of your specific advice—I'm definitely going to look into that chef's knife and the equipment reviews as well!
Clayton June 30, 2015
I should add that I have Pyrex mixing bowls too, but they're quite heavy - which can be tough smaller kitchen space. I'd start with just one or two of their bowls if you're looking for non-reactive prep ware.
Leslie S. June 30, 2015
Noted! And is there something that makes Pyrex much better or would any glass mixing bowls work just as well?
Clayton June 30, 2015
It's their durability and tolerance for heat that makes them special. They're quite difficult to break too. For example, you can use them to make a double boiler over a pan for melting chocolate or making other sauces. Regular glass will become brittle and break after expose to higher temperatures.
Leslie S. July 1, 2015
Great- thank you for the advice!! Looks like I'm going to have to splurge and get some!
Catherine J. June 30, 2015
I'm in a similar situation! I would love if you could do a post with a kitchen necessities/basics list after you figure it out to help :)
Leslie S. June 30, 2015
That's the plan!! Once I collect all of the responses, I'll write another post and list them out along with what I purchased from the advice!
lindsay |. June 30, 2015
I second Sophia's comments. Skip most appliances for now and put together a streamlined kit of quality tools. For the most part, I think it's best to avoid sets of cookware and buy things like pans and knives individually, so you get exactly what you need. However, a set of Pyrex mixing bowls is a must. If you buy a matching set, they'll nest together and take up less space than mismatched bowls. Also, Pyrex is non-reactive and heat safe, so you can use them to mix just about anything and also set over a pan of water to create a makeshift double boiler.
Leslie S. July 1, 2015
Good idea! So many people have Pyrex- I feel like it's a must-use! If you were to suggest one appliance though, what would it be?
Miriam June 30, 2015
Here's what I'd consider the basics: a skillet, pasta pot and a saucepan or two, plus a baking sheet. Maybe a Pyrex baking dish if you're a casserole kind of person. A chef's knife, serrated knife (for bread and tomatoes) and a paring knife. A cutting board, two if you cook with meat. A wooden spoon, slotted spoon, whisk and spatula. A fine mesh strainer to double as a colander. A set of stacking prep bowls. A pair of kitchen scissors. Measuring cups and spoons. Some containers for leftovers. And for God's sake, don't forget the cheese grater.
laurenlocally June 30, 2015
YES! microplane for cheese and citrus. Of course @miriam.
Leslie S. June 30, 2015
Are Pyrex baking dishes worth it if I'm not a huge casserole person or can I use other pans/ my Dutch oven to do double duty? And thank you for the advice! Was just thinking yesterday that I need some kitchen shears!
Miriam June 30, 2015
The baking dish will also come in handy if you are a brownie person... Unless you get a cast-iron skillet, which will do double-duty for brownies once well-seasoned.
S June 30, 2015
Pyrex bakeware is more convenient today than thirty years ago because today's pieces come with plastic lids. That means you can go from oven to refrigerator very easily (once things have cooled, of course).

Sure, you can use a dutch oven or cast iron skillet, but you may be tying up a key kitchen asset. If you bake brownies in a cast iron skillet/dutch oven/whatever, that pan is out of action until the brownies are all gone (and you can't pan fry that ribeye or pork chop, or start a shoulder for pulled pork), or you transfer the brownies to a storage container, wash the pan and start over. At that point, you might as well ask yourself if you should be using a Pyrex dish, so there's one less thing to wash. Same thing if you make potato gratin, enchiladas, lasagna, etc.

Plus, Pyrex is inexpensive. Online stores sell starter Pyrex sets for less than twenty bucks.

I roast a lot of vegetables, so Pyrex bakeware is quite helpful, as well as stuff like roasted potatoes, potato gratin, cobblers, etc.

Often I'll use Pyrex bakeware pieces as prep containers, knowing that I'll be cooking/baking with them later. That reduces the number plastic/glass/metal prep bowls I need to clean.

Again, a lot of these decisions really depend on what/how you cook the most frequently.
amysarah June 30, 2015
Cheap, decent looking kitchen storage/counter/chopping board - very stable - important for safety - and easy (looked at it for one of my kids not long ago): You can also find simple, well made John Boos islands pretty cheaply at restaurant supply places, to make a 'peninsula' - for instance: I'd use that space above your upper cabs to store things you don't often use - there are good-sized baskets/bins from IKEA, Container Store and such that can "make them go away" if it looks too cluttered.
Leslie S. June 30, 2015
Ohh both of these look great!! And good call on the above-cabinet space! I've stashed some cookbooks there for now, but they only take up about half the space so I like the idea of putting things in baskets to utilize the rest of it!
S June 30, 2015
After you've done reading the comments here, I suggest you go to the library.

If you tossed all the cookbooks with "basic equipment lists" into the ocean, they'd create a 100-ft high tsunami. Professional chefs and cookbook authors thoughtfully compile these lists before putting them in print. Note that each equipment list is geared toward a certain type of cooking, so you will have think carefully about what sort of food you cook most frequently. Read some of these cookbooks, many of the answers lie within.

As for appliances, I strongly suggest you not to buy any at this time. Think back to your old apartment and recall what tools you used. You wouldn't be asking this question if you already were thinking "I need a stick blender for emulsifying cream sauces," "I need a stand mixer for my frequent baking," or "I need a rice cooker for my weekly sushi."

Since you basically own nothing, I suggest basic kitchenware/cookware sets from places like IKEA. If you break a cheap wood spoon that cost less than a buck from IKEA, it's not a big deal: you have four more like it. You can add additional items that are geared toward your particular cooking, but again, these answers will come from you, not us.

Having fewer gadgets will force you to learn how to do more manually anyhow. There are plenty of great cooks on this planet with very few tools.
Leslie S. June 30, 2015
So true!! I'll have to take a look at the cookbook intros from my collection (see fridge.)!

And that's a really interesting idea! I did borrow my roommates' appliances though so there are some things I may need. I'm thinking of getting a Cuisinart—but might not need anything like a rice cooker, you're right!

Thank you for your advice!
Sophia June 30, 2015
A dutch oven an a non-stick frying pan (either cast iron or I love this toughened non-stick: will serve you well. A few wooden spoons and silicone spatulas / spoonulas are a must. The biggest cutting board you can fit on your counter (love epicurean: and a quality sharpened chefs knife. Excellent sheet pans - believe these were chosen by Americas Test Kitchen: And some good mixing bowls. In a small apt, I'd say most small appliances are optional - pick 1 or 2 that are super multi taskers!
Leslie S. June 30, 2015
Oh yes!! I have a cast iron Dutch oven that I love but that cutting board looks great!! And I'll take a look at those sheet pans—thank you for the tips!!
laurenlocally June 30, 2015
In my small, NYC kitchen, I loved my collapsible silicon items including a collapsible colander, collapsible measuring cup set, etc. Also, a mini-prep plus cuisinart is a must!
Leslie S. June 30, 2015
Ohhhh collapsible! Good idea!
Evan F. June 30, 2015
I've done a similar 'custom' island building as @TheFritschKitchen, it's held up for 5 years of daily use. You could even make a lower section a bookshelf instead of stacking the books on top of the refrigerator (I did the same thing pre-island).

As far as other necessities, a sharp 8in chefs knife, ~3qt saute pan, a set of silicone spatulas, tongs, and thermometer with a timer.

As far as stocking everything
Leslie S. June 30, 2015
For now, I've put the books on top of the cabinets since there's just enough room for them! It involves a little bit of counter climbing but they look nice!

And I'll add those to my list—thank you!