Moving out on your own for the first time is equal parts daunting and exciting. Most daunting and most exciting of all is the opportunity to outfit your kitchen with everything you need in order to be an effective home cook.
If you’re just starting out in your first apartment and you’re faced with the task of fully equipping a small but functional kitchen, you may be wondering which of the hundreds of kitchen tools and gadgets out there you really need to own and make room for.
Below is a list of items that you will find indispensable in the kitchen. Although this list is by no means comprehensive, it is an excellent checklist for those who want to make sure they have all the tools they need to start making delicious meals in their own apartment.
Most of the tools recommended here are sturdy and multipurpose, the kind of tools that you can use for multiple jobs and that will last a long time.
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Cookware and Bakeware
Because a saucepan and a skillet are so similar, and because some skillets are referred to as frying pans, there is understandably some confusion about the difference between these two essential items of cookware.
The main difference is that the saucepan has straight sides that meet the bottom of the pan at a right angle, rather than the slanted sides of the skillet. The saucepan is also deeper, can carry more liquid, and often comes with a lid.
A medium-sized metal saucepan with a lid is a vital part of any kitchen.
The skillet is a pan with slanted sides that is perfect for searing, browning, and frying foods. When people think of a skillet, they often think of the classic cast iron skillet, but this useful kitchen tool comes in a variety of materials.
While cast iron is a great material for cooking, it requires some extra knowledge and labor when it comes to upkeep. It’s also very heavy!
If you have a small apartment kitchen and not a lot of room to spare for multiple skillets, then you should go for a more modern, all-purpose, nonstick frying pan.
For some, a wok is an absolutely necessary part of any kitchen. If you are at all interested in Chinese cuisine, you should invest in one of these incredibly useful tools. The wok is all about cooking with speed, which makes it a great choice for when you want a fast and delicious meal.
Like cast iron skillets, woks require more upkeep and attention than you might be used to giving your cookware. Remember to properly season your wok and immediately clean and dry it after each use.
There are many cheap, mass-produced woks out there, so do your research and choose a reliable and sturdy model. Most quality woks have a round bottom, are made out of steel that needs to be seasoned, and come with a lid to trap steam and cook tender veggies.
As the name suggests, the stockpot is excellent for making stock in, but this large and versatile pot can also be used for any number of soups or stews or large batches of food that need to be simmered for a long time. Like a good saucepan, a good stockpot should come with a lid.
A stockpot is also essential for cooking dried pasta at home. Even small amounts of dried pasta need a fairly large amount of rapidly boiling water, so a stockpot that is around 20 quarts is a great investment.
A baking sheet is a large rectangular piece of metal with a slightly raised edge — it is a versatile surface for cooking on and can be used for baking dainty desserts like macarons as well as for roasting up a layer of veggies under the broiler.
You will want to make sure that the baking sheets that you purchase aren’t too large for your oven. A couple of half-sized baking sheets will fit comfortably in most standard-sized ovens, although be aware that some apartments do come equipped with smaller, three-quarter-sized stoves.
Baking dishes are a little different than baking sheets. Rather than being made of metal, baking dishes are usually made of glass or sometimes ceramic and have higher raised sides than baking sheets.
Baking dishes are great for making certain baked goods, like cornbread and brownies, as well as for savory pasta bakes and lasagnas.
Some baking dishes come with plastic lids that can be placed on top once the dish has fully cooled, making it incredibly easy to store whatever it is you’ve just made!
Dutch Oven/Casserole Dish with Lid
A dutch oven is a deep, lidded dish, traditionally made in cast iron. The dutch oven differs from the casserole dish in that it can be used on the stovetop as well as in the oven. This makes the dutch oven incredibly useful for braised dishes where the food needs to be seared first before being covered and then slowly roasted in the oven.
A casserole dish is great for slow-cooking things in the oven, but any food that needs to be seared first will have to be done in a frying pan as the casserole dish is not made for stovetop cooking.
Loaf pans are not just for making sandwich bread. Consider this another baking dish that you can use for a variety of different purposes. The loaf pan is great for both yeasted breads and quickbreads like banana bread or pumpkin bread. You can also use your loaf pan to bake up a meatloaf or, if you’re looking for a vegetarian option, a savory lentil and bean loaf. Between a loaf pan and a good-sized rectangular baking dish, you should be able to bake rustic versions of most cakes.
It’s usually a good idea to get a pair of pans because many basic bread recipes out there are written with quantities intended for a pair of loaves. You can either freeze your extra loaf or extend the good energy of fresh bread and share some with your neighbors!
Food Prep Essentials
Cutting boards are essential not only to protect your counter from your knife but to protect your knife from getting dulled against your counters!
The best cutting boards have rubber grips on the corners that will keep them from slipping on your counter.
A slippery cutting board is a dangerous thing; if you find your cutting board is on the move at all, then place a wet, neatly folded dish towel underneath it to keep it steady.
If you regularly prepare raw meats, it’s a good idea to have a separate cutting board designated specifically for this use.
No matter what ingredient you’re preparing, always thoroughly clean cutting boards between uses to avoid cross-contamination and potential foodborne illnesses.
It’s known as a chef’s knife for a reason, and that reason is that this versatile knife can handle almost any task in the kitchen and seems to function as an extension of the chef’s hand.
A standard chef’s knife is around 8-9 inches long and has a slightly curved blade that makes mincing ingredients as easy as making fine, uniform brunoise cuts.
A good chef’s knife can be costly and it’s a tool that you should respect and take good care of. Always hand wash your knives and have them regularly professionally sharpened.
While the chef’s knife can be used for most chopping and cutting tasks in the kitchen, it can be a bit too large and cumbersome for precision jobs like cutting a bad spot out of a potato.
That’s where the paring knife comes in. The paring knife can also be used for peeling fruits and vegetables, although you need a practiced and mindful grip to do this.
As with other cooking knives, paring knives should be hand washed to avoid getting dulled in the dishwasher. Treat your knives with respect, have them professionally sharpened on the regular, and always practice good knife safety habits.
Scissors in the kitchen are for more than just opening all that superfluous packaging that seems to imprison most of our ingredients when we bring them home from the grocery store — although they are undeniably useful for that as well!
Scissors can be used in place of a chef’s knife for certain jobs like cutting fresh herbs. If you need some roughly chopped chives as a finishing garnish for a dish, it can often be quicker and more efficient to grab a pair of scissors rather than your chef’s knife.
When shopping for kitchen scissors, look for the kind that easily detaches into two separate pieces — this makes for far easier cleaning and also makes it easier to disassemble the scissors for sharpening.
For most peeling tasks, a simple and lightweight Y-shaped peeler is your best tool. Held in the right way, it is an incredibly speedy and safe way to peel most vegetables.
Peelers come in many different sizes and a couple of different shapes. After the Y-shaped peeler, the most common is a straight peeler. Depending on your task and your own personal preference, you may want one or both of these peelers in your kitchen drawers.
As with other kitchen blades, the peeler will dull over time, although you can extend its life by using a small nail file to sharpen it.
Graters come in a few different sizes and shapes and are geared towards different tasks. An ideal grater for a small apartment kitchen is a box grater that comes with both larger holes as well as finer perforations.
The larger holes are excellent for grating vegetables and fruits and for shredding certain cheeses like cheddar and mozzarella; meanwhile, the finer perforations can be used for zesting citrus and grating hard cheeses like parmesan.
A good set of stacking mixing bowls is an irreplaceable part of any kitchen. These can come in any manner of materials, and you will want to take into consideration the many different tasks they can be used for.
Although they aren’t microwave safe, a set of stainless steel mixing bowls is often your best choice because they are very lightweight, durable, and easy to clean.
You may want to consider having mixing bowls in either plastic or glass as well, depending on what kind of prep work you expect to use them for. It is especially a good idea to have a couple of large bowls for big tasks like tossing a salad or mixing cookie dough.
A good sieve should have a fine metal mesh and a handle or handles that allow you to place it on top of bowls and pots. It is great for washing rice and legumes, as well as for straining liquids.
A simple metal sieve is also your best option for sifting dry ingredients like flour and baking powder; sifting is a requirement in quickbread recipes and it ensures your baked goods can have their best possible texture.
Every kitchen needs at least one quality sieve, although more is recommended if you’re a regular baker.
A colander is like a sieve, but larger and perforated with holes rather than having a fine mesh. A colander is great for washing fruits and vegetables and any larger food items that won’t slip through the holes.
Colanders come in different materials and shapes, but the best are usually metal with a base that keeps the bowl of the colander elevated above whatever it’s seated on. Because you will also want to use your colander to drain cooked pasta in the sink, it’s a good idea to get something sturdy and able to withstand the heat of boiling hot water.
If you have chef-like grace in the kitchen already, you are perhaps comfortable with deftly folding a couple of dry dish towels and using these to protect your hands as you pick up hot pots and pans.
However, for the less deft or just the extra cautious who want to make sure they have a good, flexible grip, oven mitts are a must-have in the kitchen.
Oven mitts will also protect far more skin, saving you from those classic baker’s burns that come from knocking the back of the hand or forearm against the hot oven.
A can opener is a requirement in any modern kitchen. It might not seem like the most refined culinary tool, but it is invaluable. If you’re like most people in their first apartment, you’re probably cooking on a tight budget, and we all know the value of canned beans in these austere times.
When shopping for a can opener, look for something sturdy, washable, and rust-resistant. There are a lot of cheap and flimsy can-openers out there and nothing is more frustrating than having one of these come apart in your hands right as you’re trying to open a can for dinner!
Those who are new to the world of rolling pins might feel overwhelmed by the different kinds of pins, feeling unsure which type best suits their needs.
The classic French rolling pin can be the best choice in most circumstances. Because this rolling pin is all one piece, it is easy to clean. The tapered shape gives it a high degree of maneuverability and gives you a lot of control over direction and pressure — the downside is that it takes more skill to get your dough to a uniform thickness.
If you are at all interested in making pies, flatbreads, crackers, or cookies, you will need to have a rolling pin on hand.
There are certain meals that simply must be accompanied by a bottle of wine. And there are some cooking jobs where you simply must crack open a cold beer and enjoy it as you work. For these reasons, having a quality corkscrew and bottle opener is a necessity.
For space-saving reasons, it’s a good idea to get a single multi-use tool that comes equipped with a corkscrew, a bottle opener, and even a small knife for cutting off the foil that is found around the top of champagne bottles.
After all, you will want to be able to properly toast your first apartment kitchen!
Having several clean, dry dish towels on hand when you’re cooking is incredibly important. You will likely need a couple during each cooking session just for drying off all the cookware that you keep using and then washing (although letting things air dry is better if you can!).
If you’re careful to always use a completely dry and clean dish towel, they can also work as makeshift oven mitts in a pinch. A thin dish towel can also double as a fine strainer in place of cheesecloth if necessary.
Sponges and Cleaning Cloths
Clean as you go — it’s one of the most important cooking rules and a mandatory part of the whole cooking process in any professional kitchen. Any good chef will tell you that the job is almost half cleaning, and this applies in a home kitchen as well.
If you want your home cooking adventures to run as smoothly as possible, you need to figure out a workflow which includes time, space, and appropriate tools for cleanup.
Cleaning cloths and sponges are a breeding ground for bacteria, so make sure to keep yours clean and change them often. Fortunately, there are a number of eco-friendly options out there that can be composted once they’ve reached the end of their work life.
Dish Drying Rack
Not all of us are lucky enough to own a dishwasher, and even those of us who do will eventually find ourselves needing to handwash and air dry some piece of cookware or delicate glassware.
A good dish drainer, particularly a collapsible one if counter space is at a premium in your small kitchen, is a must-have.
Dish drying racks are made out of a variety of materials, with plastic, metal, and bamboo being some of the most widely used.
Most recipes you find out there contain within their list of ingredients something that is measured in teaspoons or tablespoons. Whether it’s a teaspoon of baking powder in some muffins or a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper in some soup, you really don’t want to be guessing with these measurements!
The best-measuring spoons are metal with the measurement clearly embossed onto the handle — this will save you from squinting at a set of plastic measuring spoons whose labels have been rubbed off by many washings, trying to figure out which size is which!
In addition to your spoons, you will also want to get a set of clear measuring cups.
The material does not matter as long as it is transparent or translucent enough for you to clearly see the volume of what is inside.
A microwave-safe material is also preferable. Both glass and clear plastic work well.
Is there any cooking tool that is more universal and iconic than the simple, long-handled wooden spoon?
There is a reason that the wooden spoon has remained a central and versatile part of the cook’s kit.
Unlike metal spoons, wooden spoons aren’t at risk of scratching up your cookware, a particular concern if you have a pan with a non-stick finish.
Wood also does not conduct heat like metal does, and so you can use a wooden spoon to continually stir a simmering pot of food without the handle becoming uncomfortably hot.
The ladle is a spoon that can hold a lot of liquid and is shaped so that it can easily be dipped into a large, deep pot to scoop up and portion out the food within.
Ladles often come in specific sizes, such as the 6-ounce ladle, making them useful for measuring and portion control.
Whisks are designed to quickly and efficiently mix together different liquids, particularly if those liquids are prone to separating and need to be vigorously mixed to emulsify them.
Before electric food processors made the job much easier, a whisk and a chef’s strong arms were the only way to make mayonnaise, a classic base element of French cuisine.
Whisks come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and styles. Some modern whisks are made of silicone, which is useful if you are whisking a cooked sauce in a pan with a delicate non-stick coating.
However, for most whisking jobs, a sturdy all-metal French whisk is your best choice.
Just to be confusing, these turner tools are also sometimes referred to as spatulas, especially if they are made out of a plastic-based material.
You will also see variations on this tool called a fish flipper or turner. Some types are solid, while others are slotted to allow excess liquid or fats to drain through.
Whatever its name, the purpose of this tool is to slide under a piece of food, often something delicate like a fillet of fish, and then turn it over in one piece. The best turners have a very thin edge and are a little flexible.
The serving spoon is used for precisely what the name suggests – serving!
If you’ve just cooked up a delicious paella and you’re ready to scoop some into your bowl, you’ll want to reach for a serving spoon.
Serving spoons, like other kitchen utensils, come in a variety of different materials. A simple heat-resistant plastic is your best choice as it’s affordable, easy to find, and won’t scratch or damage delicate cookware.
Slotted spoons are most commonly used to retrieve a solid piece of food during cooking while leaving any liquid behind in the pot.
This is most obviously useful if you’re boiling a pot of fusilli and you need to scoop out a single noodle to check if it is that perfect al dente texture yet.
When you pick up a pair of tongs it’s difficult to resist the urge to briskly click them together, overcome with the feeling that you’re really ready to get cooking.
It is usually a good idea to have both silicone and metal tongs in your kitchen.
The silicone tongs are delicate enough to use when tossing salad greens and the edges of the tool also won’t scratch up your cookware.
Metal tongs, however, have greater precision and a sturdier grip, making them better for turning large pieces of meat while searing.
Despite its name, the bread bin can be used for plenty of other items besides bread.
The bread bin is a good storage solution for any item that needs to be kept covered at room temperature with just a slight amount of airflow.
This means many types of fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, apples, and tomatoes, benefit from being kept in a bread bin.
Storing bread sealed in a plastic bag often quickly leads to mold growth, which is much less likely to happen if the bread is stored in a bread bin.
The bad news is that your loaves will tend to dry out quickly in the bread bin. The good news is that dry, stale bread makes excellent bread pudding or French toast.
A set of stackable lidded containers is essential in any kitchen, especially in a small kitchen with very little space in the cupboards.
These containers can be used to store dry goods at room temperature, as well as to keep ingredients in the refrigerator.
Good quality reusable containers can also handle the hard temperatures of the freezer, making it easy to store certain foods for weeks, even months later.
Reusable Freezer Bags
Although they are labeled as for freezers, these sturdy reusable bags can be used for many different storage purposes, including for storing bulk dry goods.
However, they are perhaps most useful for freezing large loaves of bread or big amounts of fresh fruit and veg.
You never want to be without a roll of aluminum foil in the kitchen.
Quickly lining a baking sheet with aluminum foil can make clean-up so much easier when you’re cooking up some veggies under the broiler.
You can also use aluminum foil to cover and store certain foods.
If you are fortunate enough to not be addicted to coffee, then this won’t be one of the essentials that you need to make room for in your small apartment kitchen.
But if you’re like the rest of us, then the coffee maker is something you simply need to find the counterspace for.
There are a million different coffee makers out there, but it’s usually best to stick to the basics and get something simple. Choose something that is compact.
Avoid models with glass carafes, as these are prone to breaking and then you need to replace them; instead, choose a model with a metal carafe.
If you’re a regular baker, you will often find a good set of scales far more appealing than your measuring cups.
Measuring ingredients like flour by weight is much more accurate than by volume and results in greater consistency and control over your baked goods.
Scales come in a variety of styles and sizes, but for a small apartment kitchen you’re best off choosing a small, lightweight digital model.
A microwave is one convenience item that you won’t want to be without, even in a small apartment kitchen where counterspace is in short supply.
A microwave is indispensable for quickly defrosting any ingredients immediately prior to cooking with them.
If you’re watchful and patient (and use the lower energy setting) you can also use the microwave to gently warm ingredients for baking and to melt butter, coconut oil, and other solid fats.
And, of course, you will want a microwave to quickly and efficiently reheat your leftovers!
Electric kettles might not have the same whimsical aesthetic as the whistling stovetop kettle, but they are fast and efficient and sometimes that’s what you really need in the kitchen.
A good electric kettle should be easy to move around and easy to clean.
One of the best ways to clean your kettle is to quickly boil water mixed with strong white vinegar in it.
Just make sure to rinse it out thoroughly with cold fresh water afterwards so you don’t get any vinegary surprises in your next cup of tea.
The food processor is such a time and labor saver that it can almost feel like a lifesaver. It’s especially useful for making hummus and other dips and mixtures. With its sharp and fast blade, the food processor can easily double as a blender for making smoothies, saving you on counter space.
It’s a good idea to purchase a model that comes with an attachable grater — while your box grater is good for small shredding jobs, you probably don’t want to be grating several pounds of carrots by hand. And that’s why the food processor is so essential.
First Time Apartment Kitchen Essentials Checklist Summary
This was quite a list of kitchen must-haves.
Equip yourself with the kitchen gear above for the best cooking experience. And now you can easily impress your friends and family when you host your flat warming.