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Kitchen Equipment Basics: Knives, Pots, and Pans

Assembling the basics for a new kitchen can be both time-consuming and expensive, whether you’re new to cooking, or you’re a more experienced cook putting together a new set of kitchenware. The list of recommended items in cookbooks can be endless, and is not necessarily compatible with your actual cooking needs or style.

Keeping that in mind, I went through my kitchen and made a list of what I think are essentials—and why. Your list may differ, because everyone cooks differently. Let’s begin with knives, pots, and pans. See my other article on Kitchen Equipment Basics for smaller kitchen tools.

Knives

Eight-inch chef’s knife: This is a good all-purpose knife, great for both slicing and carving. Buy the best knife you can afford—it’s a good investment. A high-quality knife will last for years, if you treat it properly and have it professionally sharpened once in a while. Shop around and see what brand fits your hand well. Personally, I like the Henckels and Wusthof knives, but there are many fine brands out there.

Small utility knife, such as a mini chef’s knife: It’s useful, easy to store, and good for chopping small amounts of anything. OXO Good Grips makes a nice, inexpensive version.

Straight-edge paring knife (not the curved type): Good for topping and tailing veggies, or cutting/slicing anything.

Serrated knife, eight-inch or longer: Really good quality is not necessary in this case, because a serrated knives can’t be sharpened, so once it’s dull it should be replaced. Serrated knives are not only good for cutting bread, but also for slicing fragile fruits and soft veggies, like tomatoes.

Kitchen scissors (with blades that come apart for easy cleaning): Good for a multitude of uses, from opening frozen food packages to opening your mail! Some come with a bottle opener integrated into the handle, which is a useful feature.

Knife block for storing your knives: If you can afford it, buy one. Then you won’t cut yourself while digging through a drawer trying to find your knives. A wall-mounted magnetic strip also works well for knife storage.

Pots and Pans

Look for well-made, heavy pots and pans. Heavier pans conduct heat better, making cooking easier. Buy the best quality you can afford—but you don’t have to go overboard. There are some good starter sets available, but beware—you’ll probably end up with two frying pans! And bear in mind that you gain no practical advantage in buying a matching set. A set that matches looks pretty all right, but it’s an unnecessary expense if you end up with pots you won’t use. I like stainless or hard-anodized pans, but look around and see what hits your fancy. My essential picks are:

Eight-inch frying pan: It’s not a bad idea to get a nonstick version, as it will be easier to use when cooking eggs.

Six-quart pot: Good for boiling pasta, soups, stews—you name it.

Three-and-a-half- to four-quart pot: smaller version of the item above.

If you want (and can afford) one more piece, I would add a twelve- to fourteen-inch two-handled chef’s pan/everyday pan. You can use it on the stovetop or in the oven, and then transfer it to the tabletop. Very useful and practical.

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