Deciding what tools are most useful for a first-time kitchen isn’t easy. Naturally, there are the barebones basics, such as a can opener or wooden spoon. But what about pans and other items? We polled experts at five popular cookware stores across the country to get their recommendations. Given the thousands of products available, we were surprised to find our pros had a good deal of consensus. As Owen Mack, owner of Kitchen Arts in Boston, said, “You probably don’t need as many things as you think you do.”
Two Knives With an 8-inch chef’s knife and a 3 1/2-inch paring knife, you can tackle just about any cutting task. The chef’s knife can chop, plus it has the weight and heft to cut through hard items such as thick-skinned squash. Use the paring knife, says Mack, for everything from trimming broccoli to deboning a chicken.
3- or 4-Quart Saucepan This will be a workhorse in your kitchen for making sauces, simmering potatoes or rice, steaming vegetables or simply heating a can of soup. Because you’ll reach for it so often, it’s worth buying the best, say our experts.
10- to 12-Inch Lidded Sauté Pan This versatile pan looks like a frying pan with straight sides—and that’s the key to its usefulness in the kitchen, says Mary Anne Samsa from Kitchen Kaboodle in Portland, Oregon. “It does almost everything a frying pan does—burgers, frittatas, sautés, stir-fries—but because of the straight sides and the lid, you also can use it for stews and braises.”
Professional-Grade 12-Inch Locking Tongs A good set of tongs should be made of sturdy, easy-to-clean stainless steel and have a firm grip that enables you to pull corn cobs out of boiling water or turn steaks with ease. Look for one with a strong spring-style lock, which helps keep the tongs compact for storage, says Mary Moore, from The Cook’s Warehouse in Atlanta.
Jelly-Roll Pan The staff at Cooks of Crocus Hill in Minneapolis find multiple uses for jelly-roll pans (also called half-sheet baking pans)—as a roasting pan or a cookie sheet and, of course, to make jelly-roll cakes. You can also line it with foil and place a rack inside it for broiling. The half-sheet size fits most ovens. Look for a heavy-gauge, professional-weight aluminum one that resists warping.
Silicone Spatula It can double as a turner or stirrer, and it’s flexible enough to scrape batter from a mixing bowl. “They’re also heat-resistant, so you can use them to flip burgers,” says Samsa.
2-Quart Ceramic Mixing Bowl A mixing bowl “should be big enough for all kinds of tasks,” says Renee Behnke from Seattle-based Sur La Table. It can be used for everything from mixing batters and dough to tossing salads or doubling as a serving bowl. Another plus: A ceramic bowl can go into the microwave.
Measuring Cups and Spoons It seems obvious, but many kitchens lack a full set of these critical tools. Guessing on measurements can result in failures, especially in baking. Behnke notes that you should have a separate set of measuring cups for liquid (2- or 4-cup capacity) and dry ingredients. “You don’t need fancy brands, as long as they’re accurate and you use them properly,” says Behnke.
Large Cutting Board “The bigger your cutting board, the better,” says Moore. “The more space you have to work on, the safer you’ll be.” A good size is 18x12 inches. Wood or plastic? Both have their advantages: Wood is a little easier on knife edges, while plastic boards are lighter and can be tossed in the dishwasher for cleaning. If you choose wood, “get one that’s a least 1 inch thick so it doesn’t warp,” suggests Moore. Another option is bamboo, which is lighter and more durable than wood.
Nonstick Frying Pan “It’s wonderful for omelets and for cooking delicate fish fillets or breaded things,” says Mack. “However, you won’t get the deep browning and nice finish that comes from using a standard frying pan.” A 10-inch pan gives you more versatility, but a 6-inch size is ideal for eggs.