The 9 Pieces of Cookware You Need to Make Almost Anything
In a time like this, it’s more important to support your local restaurants than ever. That being said, you should still be cooking regularly. Eating out a few times a week is doing your part for the community. The rest of the time you should be in the kitchen. Not only will it save you quite a bit of money in the long run (something a freelancer should be cognizant of) it’s far better for your health both physical and mental. It builds an important skillset (everyone should be able to cook a decent meal) which gives you a sense of mastery, and it teaches you where food comes from. Many, despite the fact they know it is cheaper in the long run, don’t want to make the initial investment, or effort, to assemble a well-stocked kitchen. Well, your kitchen doesn’t really need to be all that “well-stocked” to make most food. This isn’t a Michelin-starred restaurant, you just need a few basics, and don’t worry about what brands are good. We’ve covered that too.
Generally, before food is cooked, it is cut into smaller pieces. Are you following? Hopefully you’ve used a knife before, because a basic chef's knife will cover a huge array of tasks in the kitchen. Though if you want to be able to keep pretty much anything, you need a little more than just one knife.
Chef’s knives can come in a variety of shapes and sizes but all you need is a classic 8-inch knife. The only real consideration is whether to get a German style or a Japanese style Chef’s knife. The two main differences are shape and maintenance. A German style blade has a slightly more bowed shape making it better for rocking back and forth when you cut. A Japanese style blade has a straighter edge making it ideal for a classic up and down chopping motion. Whichever cutting style you prefer will be determined over time as you cook, but right now that doesn’t matter because the second differentiator makes all the difference. German blades won’t get quite as sharp as Japanese blades but they require less maintenance and will keep their edge for longer. For a starter knife, you want ease (and the blade will still be plenty sharp). For that reason the excellent J.A. Henckels Classic Chef's Knife is the knife for you. It has the heft, shape, and performance of a splurge-worthy chef's knife but comes at a much nicer price point. It's a quintessential, all-purpose tool that does a great job of blitzing parsley into dust, dicing onions, or deboning a chicken.
Despite the “all-purposeness” of a Chef’s knife, it isn’t made for literally every purpose. When it comes to slicing breads, cheeses, certain fruits, and charcuterie, a serrated knife is what you need. The classic straight edge of a Chef’s knife has difficulty with the springy textures of these foods whereas the serrated edge cuts through bread like butter. Even better, simply having a serrated edge makes all the difference here which means you don’t need a particularly expensive serrated knife. The Mercer Culinary model is an excellent bread knife at a bargain price. You can choose the plain black handle, however, they also offer handles that have colorful stripes on their sides. The latter have more textured dots all over the handles and are much more grippy which is always nice.
Now that you’ve got devices for cutting, you need a surface to cut on. You should, under no circumstance, be cutting directly on your kitchen counter or on a plate. You will permanently damage your counter/plate and quickly dull your knife. You need a cutting board. The best cutting board materials are plastic, rubber, and wood. The former two are cheaper and require less maintenance, but we’d recommend a wood cutting board. Not only do they last longer, but the biggest issue many have with cutting boards is that they move around. When you’re cutting you can put a lot of pressure on a board and cause it to slide. That’s obviously not ideal which is why you need a heavy cutting board. Those are much easier to find in the wood variety. For a professional-grade wood board, Boos is perfect. This 20-pound board is widely recognized within the culinary industry for its durability. Wooden boards also “heal” themselves which prevents germ-harboring grooves from forming and keeps them in good shape for longer (plastic, on the other hand, gets irreparably scuffed). Wood is also higher maintenance than plastic and rubber to clean and care for.
Some people get easily overwhelmed in the kitchen. The reason: a lack of organization. If you go into a busy restaurant kitchen, people aren’t running around looking for ingredients yelling at each other because they can’t find the Parmesan cheese. When you cook you should have all your ingredients laid out in front of you. To do that properly you need things to put those ingredients in. A bowl maybe. They have many uses, and there are few types you should invest in.
Bowls are bowls, how could there be a bad bowl? Certainly their design is harder to screw up but you can still get a slightly better one. The Cuisinart Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls with Lids are sturdy, well-made, and perfect for immersion blenders or hand mixers as their depth keeps whatever is inside from splattering everywhere. They also have snug-fitting lids for storing leftovers or taking food to potlucks. The bowl’s brushed stainless exteriors and rolled-edge lips provide ample traction and grip to hold and maneuver the bowls with one hand. The Cuisinart bowls are sold as a set of three (1½, 3, and 5 quarts).
Even though bowls can certainly be used as Tupperware, it’s useful to invest in some actual Tupperware as well. The Glasslock 18-Piece Container Set includes lids that seal to prevent spills and will survive multiple drops from counter height for the klutzes out there. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and sets that store super well in the fridge or a cabinet. Plus, they are safe to use in an oven, microwave, freezer, or dishwasher.
Counterintuitively, you also need a bowl with holes in it. There will be plenty of instances where you need to drain the liquid out of something (cooking pasta, washing vegetables, etc.) and having a strainer makes it a hell of a lot easier. Strainers come in a few different types but we recommend buying a sieve. It is the finest type of strainer available (short of a cheesecloth but you don’t need to mess with that) and will work perfectly whether you’re strainer something big or small. A regular size strainer won’t work if you’re straining something small like rice as they will fall through the holes. This $10 set of three mesh strainers is all you need. Sieves can be a bit annoying to clean, but these pro-level tips from the BA test kitchen ease the pain.
We may have said that you can cut pretty much anything with only two kinds of knives. Well not unless you need to liquefy something. No amount of chopping will get you there. The same goes for turning something into a paste. Sure a knife might do the job, but it just won’t turn out nearly as good as it would with a high-powered machine. For certain tasks you need the power of modern technology, i.e. a blender/food processor. Ninja makes some of the most popular blender food processor combos on the market, including their super versatile BN801 Professional Plus system. Powered by a 1,400-watt motor, it comes with a large, 72-ounce blending pitcher, an 8-cup food processor, two 24-ounce single-serve cups, and a bonus dough blade that can help you make up to two pounds of dough.
For many dishes, the food needs to be heated up, or “cooked” as the pros say, before eaten. Lucky for you, this isn’t the Flintstones so you don’t need to cook things over an open fire. You cook things in vessels like a pan, which makes the whole “being near fire” thing much less scary. All you need to cook nearly anything are three types of these vessels.
You could cook nearly anything on a stove top with a non-stick pan, but we’re recommending it here for more specific reasons. One of the biggest issues with cooking almost any food is its tendency to stick to the thing we’re cooking it in. Sure there are techniques to help avoid and minimize this, but nothing works quite as well as a non-stick pan, especially for things like eggs. The Tramontina 10-Inch Professional Restaurant Fry Pan has thick cast-aluminum construction to distribute heat more evenly than other nonstick pans, and thanks to its flared edge lets you easily scrape the corners with a spatula and slide omelets onto a plate. This lightweight pan is easy to maneuver and has a comfortable removable handle. With proper care, the Tramontina’s nonstick coating should stay slick and scratch-free for at least four years.
On the other end of the pan spectrum is cast iron. It’s heavy, difficult to maneuver, and can certainly get food stuck to it without proper care. So why are we recommending it? Because cast iron just hits different man. Something about cooking in cast iron is just superior to all other material. It’s ethereal and hard to explain but true. It’s the most versatile of materials because of its durability and makes just as good a baking dish as it does a stovetop pan. Plus, if you take good care of it, it will last you forever. Literally forever, like you’ll be passing that pan on to your kids. Lodge is a giant in the cast iron world, and for good reason. Founded in 1896 by Joseph Lodge in Tennessee, the company has gained a dedicated following over the decades because of its quality but affordable cast iron cookware. For most cooks, the company's standard 12-inch skillet is the everyday essential guaranteed to become a family heirloom. Big enough to roast a whole chicken or sear multiple steaks at once, it features both an assist handle and a silicone holder that protects from heat up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is exactly what it sounds like, a big sheet of metal to stick in the oven. Whether you’re cooking something big like a turkey or you’re cooking a high volume of something like cookies, a baking sheet is what you need. They are super easy to maintain, incredibly durable, and long-lasting (again, they’re just a sheet of metal what do you expect?) When it comes to quality and price, Nordic Ware is a crowd favorite that can’t be beat. It’s weighty (but not overwhelmingly so) and doesn’t warp at high heat. Like other bare aluminum sheet trays, it conducts heat efficiently, which means food cooks evenly and the sheet itself warms up and cools down fast. While aluminum is prone to staining and scratching the Nordic Ware pan is easy to clean.
All in all these items should cost you about $600 altogether and will allow you to cook pretty much anything you need to for nearly a decade.