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The Tools You Need to Make Almost Any Recipe

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When I moved into my first apartment and was faced with the reality of outfitting a space of my own on a New York budget, I resisted buying anything I didn't absolutely need.

And so once I purchased super-cheap cookware and a knife set on sale at a big department store, a 19-piece Pyrex set (mixing bowls, leftover containers, a pie pan), and a plastic cutting board, I was done.

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My restrictive kitchen equipment was often frustrating (sawing through carrots, washing the cutting board 30 times in one night, eating pasta out of mixing bowls), but it helped me to stock my kitchen carefully, each piece at a time. I only bought "bonus" items after I had proven to myself (multiple times) that they really would improve my cooking life: The rolling pin came after I'd rolled pie dough with an empty wine bottle three times; the salad spinner after we found a living cicada in our "washed" kale.

So here, from someone who stocked her kitchen very, very slowly is a list of the essentials I know that I need (and that I think you need, too).

Disclaimer: This is not what my kitchen looks like. At all.
Disclaimer: This is not what my kitchen looks like. At all. Photo by James Ransom

For "Roughly Chop" or "Finely Dice"

You'll need a knife set that has an all-purpose chef's knife, a serrated knife (for bread and tomatoes), and a paring knife, at least. (You'll also need somewhere safe to keep them.)

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And for using those knives, you'll need a cutting board or two. I like to confine the chopping of onions, garlic, and other alliums to one cheap-ish plastic cutting board in order to avoid onion-flavored apples. You might also consider having separate cutting boards for meat and non-meat.

More: Find the right cutting board for you, then take good care of it.

End Grain Cutting Board

End Grain Cutting Board

From $60
End Grain Cutting Board with Plate Cut-Out

End Grain Cutting Board with Plate Cut-Out

$150
Rounded Edge Teak Cutting Boards (Set of 3)

Rounded Edge Teak Cutting Boards (Set of 3)

$72
Extra Large End Grain Carving Board

Extra Large End Grain Carving Board

From $135

For "Stir Till Well-Combined," "Whisk to Incorporate," or "Spread Evenly"

Try preparing two days-worth of meals without a whisk, wooden spoon, or spatula. Q.E.D. You need these.

Whisks, if only for vinaigrette. Wooden spoons, if only for Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies (40 strokes with a wooden spoon!). And heat-proof spatulas, if only for soft scrambled eggs—and 5 million other things (like marshmallows!).

Extra points if you get a crock or jar to store these in.

Essential Whisks (Set of 3)

Essential Whisks (Set of 3)

$65
Fresh Soil-Dipped Wooden Spoons (Set of 3)

Fresh Soil-Dipped Wooden Spoons (Set of 3)

$29
Silicone Spatulas (Set of 2)

Silicone Spatulas (Set of 2)

$26
Baker's Dozen Wooden Spoons (Sets of 13)

Baker's Dozen Wooden Spoons (Sets of 13)

From $80

For "1 Onion, Chopped" & "In a Medium Bowl, Stir Together"

It might look artsy to have all of your ingredients in neat piles on those cutting boards you invested in—but it's less cute when you're totally out of board space and the raw vegetables are toppling onto the counters. You'll need small bowls to hold your mise (why, of course!) and larger bowls for—well, you know what you need bowls for.

Bonus! Pretty mixing bowls double as serving bowls for those of us (ahem, hello!) who do not (yet) have the funds for fully-intended serveware.

Margrethe Nested Tower Mini Prep Bowls (Set of 4)

Margrethe Nested Tower Mini Prep Bowls (Set of 4)

$40
Porcelain Enamelware Nesting Bowls (Sets of 5)

Porcelain Enamelware Nesting Bowls (Sets of 5)

$130
Borosilicate Glass Nesting Prep Bowls (Set of 4)

Borosilicate Glass Nesting Prep Bowls (Set of 4)

$78
Food52 x Mosser Chelsea Glass 3-Piece Mixing Bowl Set

Food52 x Mosser Chelsea Glass 3-Piece Mixing Bowl Set

$65
Pantry Mixing Bowls

Pantry Mixing Bowls

From $46
Mason Cash Mixing Bowl

Mason Cash Mixing Bowl

From $35

For "Line Baking Sheet with Parchment Paper" & "Butter a 3-Quart Casserole Dish"

Roasted vegetables? Galettes? Roasted vegetable galettes? If you have a reliable rimmed baking sheet, you're ready to take on the oven! (Also, cookies.)

But wait. For soupier, meltier dishes (casseroles, stews, pot pies) that exceed the shallow baking sheet, you'll need an oven-ready dish. There are workarounds (I know this because I just got my first ovenproof baking dish): In a pinch, use cake pans, loaf pans, or ovenproof saucepans.

American Made Aluminum Baking Sheet Set

American Made Aluminum Baking Sheet Set

$42
Pillivuyt Ulysses Deep Lidded Casserole Dish

Pillivuyt Ulysses Deep Lidded Casserole Dish

$150
Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Baking Sheets

Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Baking Sheets

From $26
Staub Cast Iron Rectangular Roaster

Staub Cast Iron Rectangular Roaster

From $149

For "In a Small Saucepan" & "In a Non-Stick Skillet Over Medium Heat"

For soups, for fried eggs, and for all of those things you make yourself when you don't feel like cooking, a saucepan and a frying pan are indispensable.

I like an oven-safe saucepan (you can transfer it straight from the stove to the oven to keep food warm at a low temperature; you can use it in the place of a casserole dish; you can even bake bread in there!) and a non-stick frying pan, for easy clean up (I hate scraping off the stuck egg bits).

Demeyere Apollo Saucepan with Lid

Demeyere Apollo Saucepan with Lid

$149
Zwilling Madura Plus Nonstick Fry Pan

Zwilling Madura Plus Nonstick Fry Pan

$49
Mauviel M'steel Round Fry Pan

Mauviel M'steel Round Fry Pan

From $40
Demeyere 5 Plus Saucepan with Lid

Demeyere 5 Plus Saucepan with Lid

From $89

For "Store Leftovers in an Airtight Container" (& For Your Onions)

You need a holding place for those leftovers before they reach their final destination. You can repurpose plastic takeout containers, of course, but I feel more excited about eating yesterday's dal when it's packed away in shiny, sleek containers. Since they don't pick up smells or stains, I can store my onion halves and turmeric-spiked curry dregs freely.

You'll also need some sort of vessel for holding the products and produce that don't get refrigerated: potatoes, onions, lemons, garlic, fresh bread—all the ingredients that seasoned home cooks just seem to have on hand all the time. You can arrange them on your counter in some sort of neat-ish assemblage, but a metal basket will free up your brain and kitchen (especially if take advantage of vertical space with a hanging basket).

Modula Stackable Storage Container Starter Set

Modula Stackable Storage Container Starter Set

From $50
Reusable Storage Bags (Set of 2)

Reusable Storage Bags (Set of 2)

From $29
Hanging Two-Tiered Ceramic Fruit Basket

Hanging Two-Tiered Ceramic Fruit Basket

$90
Modula Defrosting & Marinating Tray

Modula Defrosting & Marinating Tray

$43

For Dessert

Not everyone bakes, but for those who do, a scale is critical. If you won't listen to me, listen to Alice Medrich. She claims it will change your life.

You'll also need a rolling pin (this is coming from the person who used olive oil bottles, wine bottles, and water bottles to roll out pie crust for a very long time—no more, I say!); baking pans (I find the rectangular and square ones more useful because you can use them for bar cookies, casseroles, baked pastas... and adjusting your cake recipe to fit a rectangular pan is easy); and measuring implements (spoons, cups, and liquid-appropriate).

Wooden Rolling Pin

Wooden Rolling Pin

$65
Pewter Measuring Spoons

Pewter Measuring Spoons

$42
Vintage-Style Kitchen Scale with Removable Bowl

Vintage-Style Kitchen Scale with Removable Bowl

$50
Nordic Ware Round Cake Pans (Set of 2)

Nordic Ware Round Cake Pans (Set of 2)

$32

And don't forget these!

Splurge on oven mitts. I spent the first year in my apartment dreading every time I had to open the oven because our plastic (yes, plastic) oven mitts were so terrible. Learn from my mistakes. Owning quality oven mitts has made me less scared to cook.

Unless you want undercooked/overcooked/not attractive food, you'll also need an oven thermometer (here's an earnest plea to buy one, and an argument for why it's your most important tool).

Get yourself a pepper grinder to make even your laziest meals feel somewhat special and, of course, go to the bookstore and get a copy of Genius Recipes.

Flour sack towels are ultra-absorbent—great for cleaning up messes and drying lots of dishes—and a colander comes in handy for the always-reliable, ever-faithful pasta (and for washing vegetables, when you choose to eat them).

Double Oven Mitt

Double Oven Mitt

$42
Peugeot "Paris" U'Select Pepper Mill

Peugeot "Paris" U'Select Pepper Mill

$42
Range Smart iPhone / iPad Thermometer

Range Smart iPhone / iPad Thermometer

From $60
Signed Copy: Genius Recipes, by Kristen Miglore

Signed Copy: Genius Recipes, by Kristen Miglore

$35
Flour Sack Tea Towel (Set of 3)

Flour Sack Tea Towel (Set of 3)

$39
Stainless Steel Conical Colander

Stainless Steel Conical Colander

$50

For the "Expansion Pack"

These are other things that are either a) pretty necessary but expensive (i.e. appliances), or b) nice to have but not absolutely essential:

- Food processor
- Stand mixer
- Blender or immersion blender
- Salad spinner
- Mortar and pestle or small coffee or spice grinder
- A piece of vintage copper cookware.... Hey, I can dream, can't I?

What's missing here? And do you want to buy it for me?

This article originally ran in 2016, but we brought it back to help us refresh our cooking arsenal.

Tags: tools, cooking, storage, shopping