What equipment should novice cooks start with?

Well, that’s a good question. And I’m sure several cooks, ranging from professional chefs, to home enthusiasts, and all in between will have their own opinions.

When I first started to learn to cook (read: had to, because I needed to learn when I moved from home) about 6 years ago, I had some equipment that was left when my family moved. It was decent, but the knives were somewhat dulling, and the pots/pans were good, but were also showing their natural wear and tear. It was then that I started to replace bits and pieces as often as I could, especially with those things that fit my preferences.

Of course, I was working part time at a grocery store way back then and was also going to college, so I couldn’t exactly drop a boatload of money on new cooking equipment. Also, I was not as into it as I was now. That was something that came with time and practice, and lots of food network shows to provide inspiration and spark my curiousity in cooking.

As I earned small surpluses in money here and there, I got my first “grown up” knife, a Global 7-inch santoku knife. Not exactly cheap, or even necessary for many cooks, but as I mentioned, it was my preference after researching good brands. Later on, I purchased a replacement saute pan and fry pan (Calphalon One Infused Anodized I believe), and it took off from there. Then came baking sheets, springform pans, Silpat baking mats, a Kitchenaid Mixer, small food processor, more Global knives, etc…it’s an expensive hobby, that’s for sure, lol. But all of this stuff isn’t necessary for the cook who is just starting out.

So what do you all think? What’s essential for someone who wants to start learning to cook, or who is interested in planning out their tools? Certainly you’ve seen people on TV who have their dream kitchens with all the bells and whistles, and all the latest and greatest equipment, and can’t even boil water. Like I said above, it’s just not worth it to run out and get all the best gadgets and equipment without learning first.

I’d say that you don’t need a whole lot to start with, just a few basic pieces.:

– 1 good chef’s knife  (The best you can afford at the time, you’ll get what you pay for, but many big brands have good starter knives for decent money. Good brands are Wusthof, Henckels, and Global on the mid-range to higher end, though Wusthof and Henckels do offer lower priced starter sets as well. Regardless of the brand (names aren’t everything), you’ll probably find something that fits your skill level, need, and budget. Try the knife out if you can, you’ll want something that fits your hand and feels good when you use it. Something to look for in the knife is that it has a “full tang”, meaning the metal runs from the handle to the end of the knife, and try to find knives that are forged rather than “stamped”)

– 1 paring or utility knife (smaller knives for tasks smaller than the chef’s knife is needed)

– Cutting boards: get at least 2, one for vegetables and one for proteins. It’s best to try to get separate boards for separate tasks or proteins, to avoid cross-contamination of foods. For example, there are sets sold with a fish board, meat board, poultry board, and vegetable board. Plastic is okay, and wood is good as well. But AVOID glass or hard cutting boards. They will send your knives straight to the trash heap, or less dramatically, to be sharpened frequently because the hard surfaces dull the knives.

– 1 medium sized saute pan (3 qt)

– 1-2 skillets (10 & 12 inch) – These depend on your experience and/or preference. Non-stick is a good starting point, as long as you use non-metal utensils. Moving up the chain are aluminum or stainless steel pans, which require more patience and experience to use sometimes. Also, non-stick will be good for things like eggs or other foods that will be ruined if they stick.

– Saucepans: 1 & 3 quart to start

– Cooking Utensils: Spatulas (silicone ones are cheap and flexible/heat resistant), Spoons (wooden ones are good for non-stick and won’t react to foods), turners, etc.

– Other basics: Peeler, Can Opener, measuring cups (1 set for dry goods, 1 for liquids), baking sheets, etc.

Did I miss anything? Did I set the bar too high for beginners? Does anyone have any other feedback, or disagree with what I think people should start with?

Comment if you have anything to contribute so that readers can get other peoples’ ideas as well. I kind of thought of this just now, so it’s definitely possible that I left things out. I’m also not saying that you can’t buy all the cool things that you want, this is just a basic list for people who are not sure what is necessary in the beginning.

Take care, and for all you new cooks, best of luck! Cooking is a fun experience, and also something that can bring friends or family together.

– Anthony


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