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Kardamom's avatar

What are some good cooking gadgets, appliances and tools for a young cook just starting out?

Asked by Kardamom (28468points) July 27th, 2014

One of our young Fluther members is interested in learning to cook, and has limited space. What items would you suggest for our young chef?

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44 Answers

Kardamom's avatar

I would suggest a decent sized toaster oven with a rotisserie like This One

A Rice Cooker

A Crockpot.

This Cookbook

A Cookbook Stand

I’ll shut up now and let everyone else have a chance to answer.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I think that if this is a young person, just starting out, he should probably stay away from gadgets and appliances as much as possible. Most of these are unnecessary, and will take up valuable space in a kitchen that has “limited space”. At the very least, he should know exactly what he is going to do with (to take one of @Kardamom‘s examples) a crock pot before buying one. If he doesn’t have a specific plan to use it, he should not buy it.

What he needs initially is a set of good knives, and some decent pots and pans, a cutting board, and probably just good advice. My first tips:

— Keep your knives sharpened.

— Don’t clean your non-stick pans too aggressively. If you treat them well, they will last a very, very long time. If you don’t, they’ll be garbage within a couple of months. They do not need scraping, brushing, or scouring. If you manage to overcook food in one, soak it briefly, and wash it clean.

— Some things should not be left soaking in water for very long (i.e., not overnight). This includes any wooden items and your non-stick pans.

— Learn to use fresh lemons, freshly-ground pepper, and a little vermouth. Almost anything is made better with one or all of these ingredients.

ibstubro's avatar

A decent set of non-stick cookware, “The Joy of Cooking” and a couple sizes of crock pot.

Some glass bake-ware with reusable (preferably glass) lids. Oven to fridge to microwave.

Michael_Huntington's avatar

A good cast iron skillet is essential
As for tools, a quality German knife set will serve you well. As @dappled_leaves said, keep them sharp. Don’t buy a ceramic knife.
Actually, I’d stay away from most kitchen products from infomercials

dappled_leaves's avatar

To add to the knife advice, try to avoid those big blocky sets that have a bunch of knives you don’t need. They’re usually crappy, and take up a stupid amount of space. You’ll probably want three in different sizes: one to chop, one to slice, and one to smash garlic with. This is very satisfying.

Oh, and if you have a tiny kitchen, install something like this so that you can hang your pots to make more space. They have the added benefit of looking really cool.

ibstubro's avatar

I agree with @dappled_leaves admonition to steer clear of gadgets, generally. However, I still recommend a crock pot. They can be bought second hand very reasonably, and you need to try one to see if it works for you. I tend to go at crock pot in fits and starts, but for a college aged, inexperienced cook, I would definitely say, ’Try it!

I don’t recommend spending a lot of money on anything at the outset. It’ll only intimidate them. I have an Ekco knife that I bought in the early 1980’s because I worked in a restaurant kitchen and we (lol) had to provide our own knives. It’s still my knife of favor, used almost daily and kept sharp with a product similar to this that I bought in the sporting goods section at Walmart.

Buy second hand, and if you like it, upgrade. If you don’t, pitch it or gift it. I’d never have a toaster oven or electric skillet, yet I can see how they might be invaluable.

Pachy's avatar

Collapsible steamer (kind that fits inside different sized pots)
Kitchen towels
A good can opener (I prefer non-electric) and cheese grater
Heavy-duty oven mitts
An all-round cookbook like The Settlement Cookbook

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

A really good set of knives and some time invested in learning how to keep them sharp.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

I don’t like clutter in the kitchen, so I use few small appliances. The one that I will not do without is my cordless kettle. I not only use it daily to boil water for tea, I use it when I need just a bit of warm water; my water heater is in the basement and it takes forever to get warm water to the kitchen. That’s a waste of water and I just don’t do it.

Strainers are a must too, sized from one cup to large enough to strain a pound of pasta. A nice set of high quality stainless steel strainers would be a nice gift.

A good garlic press is important to me, as is a good hand cheese slicer.

janbb's avatar

I agree about good pots and pans, very few single application appliances and some good knives. (It’s not hard to make rice in a saucepan.) Measuring spoons and cups. If you can get an older edition of The Joy of Cooking that’s a great place to start.

Kardamom's avatar

Here are some good old regular stuff that any decently stocked kitchen would have:

Several different types and sizes of mesh strainers. I like This One because it’s expandable and has handles that make it easy to use over a sink. I also recommend a set of different sizes of This Type and some of These I don’t like to use plastic strainers, or even mesh strainers that have plastic rims, because they break down and get gross if you wash them in the dishwasher.

A set of different sizes of Rubber Spatulas

A Box Cheese Grater and a Hand Held Cheese Grater with smaller holes for doing Parmesan cheese and/or lemon zest.

Some Wooden Spoons

A Vegetable Peeler

A potato masher, either This Kind or This Kind
Dish Towels I use one specifically to keep my hands dry (I wash my hands frequently before, during and after cooking) one or two layed out on the counter so that the counter, itself doesn’t get filthy, and one to dry my washed fruits and veggies. I used to use a lot of paper towels, but I’ve been getting dish towels from garage sales and I use those instead, and just throw them in the laundry. I have tons of really cute ones.

A good old fashioned Egg Timer

A set of Pot Holders

A Soup Ladle

A set of Mixing Bowls

A set of Glass Measuring Cups (1 Cup, 2 Cups, 4 Cups) for liquid measure.

A set of Collapsible Measuring Cups for dry measure.

A set of Measuring Spoons

Several different kinds of tongs for different jobs. These have non-metal tips For flipping meat in a nonstick skillet and these Non metal tongs for retrieving toast out of the toaster and These for flipping bacon in a regular frying pan or griddle, or for turning roasted vegetables in a roasting pan in the oven, or This Kind for flipping bigger pieces of meat like steaks on a BBQ or skillet, and for tossing salads.

A Salad Dressing Cruet with measurments.

A set of Whisks

A set of non-metal Utensils for use in non-stick pans.

A good Knife and Fork set for carving meat.

A set of Paring Knives

A Bread Cutting Knife and a Dedicated Cutting Board

A Dedicated Meat Cutting Board

Flexible BPA-free Cutting Mats for veggies.

And if you’re feeling extra ambitious:

A Stick Blender which is nice, especially if you’re blending hot soup on the stove. Saves you the step of having to pour boiling hot soup into a free standing blender. It’s also great for making smoothies.

A Cake Frosting Spatula

A Ball Whisk

A reversible, stove-top Griddle/Grill

A Roasting Pan with a Rack

At least one Heavy Duty Rimmed Baking Pan which is good for baking cookies, roasting vegetables or making pizza.

A Pizza Cutter

A Pizza Stone

A Cake Pan with Cutter

A Bundt Cake Pan

Cooking Parchment Paper

A Citrus Juicer with a Cup.SL1500.jpg

A Muffin Tin which you can see in this picture, is also good for cooking eggs or making individual quiches.

A simple Citrus Juicer with a lidded storage bowl.

An electric Hand Mixer

janbb's avatar

wooh – I’m tired already!

ibstubro's avatar

I don’t have ½ that stuff in MY kitchen, and I cook.

Coloma's avatar

A can opener. haha

canidmajor's avatar

I’m with @ibstubro. I have about ⅓ of that list, @Kardamom, and I cook a lot. Not just for me and mine, but large, varied holiday meals, dinner parties that are themed around different countries, stuff like that. I appreciate the desire to have so much stuff, but not the need. The chef I used to live with had a “less is more” philosophy. Good knives (each one hand-picked, no “sets”, quality pots and pans, a few measuring tools, stuff like that. He used a saucepan instead of a rice-cooker, one cutting board that was properly cleaned, a heavy cookie sheet and a knife for cooking and cutting pizza, etc etc.

I find that a more streamlined kitchen is much easier for me to work in, but then I’ve always had small kitchens. I prefer to spend my money on quality ingredients, rather than stuff.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

You need one good knife. More than one knife is good, but at least one good knife is essential. A beginner won’t automatically know how to evaluate knives, so there are a few things to look out for. A full tang (the steel of the blade extends fully into the handle to the base) is a sign of a good knife but not an infallible one. If magnets don’t stick to it don’t buy it. A plastic (acrylic, not Bakelite) handle will last forever in the dishwasher; a wooden handle will eventually deteriorate (but my wooden-handled chef’s knife is 30 years old and on its first handle.) Most important is the opinions of others you trust to know their knives. Ekco is a good knife and reasonable in price. Check your local restaurant supply store and see what they have.
If you have only one knife, make it a chef’s knife. You can use a chef’s knife for just about any task, even paring (though it’s a PITA).
Keep your knife sharp. Over time you will learn to tell when it needs sharpening; at the beginning you should probably sharpen it once a month or so that you may learn what it feels like when it starts to get blunt. You’ll need a stone to sharpen it, and possibly a steel to hone it (I have used a steel, but I’m not convinced the results are worth it.) I have a sharpening dingus with interlocking carbide wheels: I drag the knife across it and it gets sharp. Easy. These things eat knives, but again, it will take another decade or so before I sharpen the knife down to nothing.
Once you have one good knife, it’s time to learn how to use it. Have a good cook teach you knife skills, or check out some videos on the subject. Good knife skills make everything go faster and make cooking more pleasant.

Cast-iron pans are great, but they require more complex care and an unsupervised beginner can easily ruin one. I recommend starting with a few thick-bottomed stainless-steel pots and pans- to wit, a fry pan, a 2-quart saucepan, and a 8-quart stew pot. These are durable, heat-stable, and easy to clean (and you don’t care if you mar the surface a little.) Non-stick pans are convenient but disposable, and I recommend that beginners avoid them. Get used to cleaning your pans immediately after using them, and you won’t care about stuff sticking so much. Get some plastic pot scrapers and you’ll care even less.

You’ll want a metal spatula to go with your metal pots. Never use metal spatula or any metal tools on nonstick. Get some silicone plastic spatulas. Get more than one, because you’ll be using them all the time. They are incredibly useful. Get at least one silicone one so that you can handle hot things.

Speaking of hot things, you’ll want something to grab hot pots and such with. I favor a damp bar towel (I keep a stack of laundered bar towels in the kitchen instead of paper towels, and since I clean as I go I usually have a damp one to hand). You can get silicone grabby-things pretty cheap- they look like a regular potholder but work at higher temperatures and grab better.

Get a food scale. Measure your ingredients by mass instead of volume when possible. Learn the science behind it and you’ll see why.

ibstubro's avatar

All the strainer a newbie is likely to need, and fits nicely in a drawer. It’s one of my favorite gadgets.

Regular strainers will eat non-stick up!

hearkat's avatar

I’m sure I’ll forget some things, and I haven’t read through all the other posts.

Basic are a cast iron skillet that can go from stove to oven (yes, they require maintenance, but there are tons of guides out there on the web), and a non-stick skillet, a saucepan and a big pot for cooking pasta with steam attachments. A cookie sheet and a muffin tin, and round and/or square ceramic or pyrex casserole dish (preferably with lid), and a loaf pan.

Mixing bowls and colanders. A box grater (microplanes are nice, but I don’t see that as a necessity for a beginner, since some of the box graters have decent fine grate sides that can handle parmesan, citrus zest, ginger and garlic). A large spice rack. Measuring cups and spoons.

GOOD KNIVES. You don’t need a ton, but you need them to be good. They also have to feel right in the hand. We have a great santoku that my gourmand fiancĂ© loves, but it was too big for me, so we got the smaller version for me. A paring knife, and bread knife, a Chef’s knife and a carving knife are a good starting point. The smaller blocks usually have the essentials and include steak knives and a sharpener, which is nice. You’re better off paying for a smaller, high quality knife set that a larger, lower quality set.

I like bamboo utensils instead of wood, and you need some nylon/silicone ones, too: slotted spoon, large spoon, spatula, whisk, tongs, can opener, bottle opener, ladle, pie server. We have several sets of tongs, as those get a whole lot of use in our kitchen.

As for appliances, a microwave and coffeemaker (if they drink coffee). A toaster or a toaster oven—if they live alone, a lot of items can be cooked or re-heated in the toaster oven so you don’t have to waste the energy of heating the whole oven. Most serious chefs I know think very poorly of crock pots, and instead suggest pressure cookers (many of which can be used as rice cookers and steamers, also). A kettle for boiling water for tea and such. We love our electric grill/skillet, and use that more than the toaster and microwave. I love how the grease drains on the grill side, so we make our bacon, and sausages and I even re-heat pizza on there (ours has adjustable settings for the top plate, so you won’t touch the cheese or over pressurize your paninis. The top opens flat and the grates flip to a smooth griddle setting that’s terrific for pancakes and similar items.

I can’t even remember the last time I used a hand mixer. Most stuff I do with a whisk, the stick blender. We went for a few years without a regular blender, and we really don’t use it much. There are a few multi-functional appliances out there, to help conserve counter space and expense of having multiple devices. So I don’t think that these are essential; but as a person evolves and finds themselves encountering recipes that call for one type of appliance more often than others, it’s worth adding that to their collection.

ibstubro's avatar

I’ve never owned or used a cast iron skillet, other than for blackening Cajun food. To me cast iron was used to ‘iron’ out the variances of a cast iron, wood fired stove or fireplace/pit. I’ve been told that in the city a well seasoned iron skillet will fetch upwards of $100. Here in the Midwest (where most of us have relatives forced to cook with cast iron) they’re $3 unmarked, $10–18 if marked Wagner or Griswald. Empty, they are heavy, filled they are an immovable force, and gourd forbid there is a fire and you’re frying in one.

I was excited to try my (new to me, seasoned) cast iron fish fryer – large rectangular pan that fits over 2 burners of the stove – and it was a hotspot on each end with a slow spot in the middle. Better 2 skillets.

Sorry for the rant.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Knives. You will hate to cook without a good set of knives. I have a set of ceramic knives that I absolutely LOVE.

JLeslie's avatar

My list would be:

A set of pots and pans
Electric hand beater/mixer
Manual can opener
Two spatulas
A decent set of knives
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Potato masher
Cooking mallet
Toaster oven that fits an 8” square

I’m pretty sure that’s what I started with and it was plenty for years. It’s still what I primarily use in the kitchen. Later you can add a basting brush, hand held blender, mandolin, and whatever else the young person finds she is lacking.

dxs's avatar

I’ve only been cooking for about five years, but I’m still a newbie so I can benefit a lot from this list, too. I think a big problem may not be just what appliances to get, but knowing how to use them, as @dappled_leaves said. For instance, I once tried using the oven for something other than cookies and it was a big fail.

The list of kitchen things I use, as a novice, is closest to @JLeslie.‘s I add containers for storage, a cutting board, baking tray, and a microwave if it wasn’t implied.

Things I find useless:
-Colander-I just empty out the water by creating a small opening between the pot and the lid
-“Cutting mats”, as @Kardamom called them, are obnoxious as they always move around when I use them…I just need one or two boards and that’s good. I feel like they’d be easy to makeshift.
-Oven mits-I know I just said I don’t use the oven often, but for anything hot, I just hold potholders in my hand.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@dxs You may be the first person I’ve met who also uses a lid instead of a colander. I had to ask someone to define the word “colander” when I first encountered it after I’d moved out from my parents’ house, where a lid was our sole technique. Of course, we owned a “strainer”, but it was for different uses – usually for things that required a slow drain over a long period of time.

And I’ve never understood oven mitts. They’re so inflexible that I not only have to balance a hot thing in my hands, but I have to do it in an extremely awkward way. Only potholders in my kitchen, as well.

dxs's avatar

@dappled_leaves Practicality prevails.

ibstubro's avatar

I steamed my hand and slipped too much food into the zinc (sink) with the pot-lid method, @dxs. I linked to my hand held colander above. It’s faster and more accurate than the pot lid, yet takes up nearly zero space.

I love the cutting mats because they take up zero room, and they wear out eventually so I can start fresh. Dampen the counter or put a damp dish cloth under them and they won’t move.

I, too, agree about big bulky slow-to-use oven mitts. I have suede potholders and silicon potholders but when I open the drawer I always grab the plain ole quilted cloth ones.

Kardamom's avatar

@dxs It depends upon why you’re using a strainer. If you’re going to make beans or quinoa you need to swish the stuff around in there to clean it, and then let all of the water drain out, something you can’t do with the lid method, because your food will be too wet and you’ll lose some of it down the drain, and like @ibstubro said, I’ve been burned using that method.

Some recipes call for draining excess liquid out of something, such as yogurt, if you’re going to make the Greek dip Tzaziki which is super easy to make and tastes great on pita chips or falafel or Indian raita. You just put an unbleached coffee filter in your strainer, put in your yogurt and then cover with plastic wrap. Put the strainer over another bowl, in the fridge and let it drain over night. Here’s more info about straining Yogurt and what else you can make with it.

Strainers are also used for straining out items that were used for flavoring, especially in soup, but that you don’t want in the end product.

They’re also great for washing berries.

The flexible cutting mats are great for when you’re cutting up herbs or small pieces of veggies. It’s much easier to curl up the edges and funnel the stuff into your bowl or pan without having stuff fly all over the floor and counter. To keep it from slipping, I put a dish cloth under it, not directly onto the slick surface of the counter.

These are just some ideas to get you going and to make your cooking experience easier and ultimately teach you how to make more things as you get better.

dxs's avatar

@Kardamom Interesting! I’ve never thought about using them in those ways. With colanders, the only thing going through my mind is the one way I ever used it—for pasta. I have one similar to @ibstubro‘s that I could use for things like that. Pasta I’ll stick to my method because it works and the handheld colander is too small (I eat a lot of pasta). But I still don’t buy the cutting mats (just used one today to chop vegetables). I want something that isn’t so disposable and that doesn’t get marks easily. Its flimsiness is annoying to me in so many ways. Even when I wash it, I can’t really hold it so I have to press it along the side of the sink. I prefer thick cutting boards, like wood.
Anyways, really useful stuff. I’ll have to look back at this thread when I hopefully have my own place in January.

Aethelwine's avatar

I just rinsed fresh basil from my garden and I have it drying in a colander. I also use my colander for rinsing and drying most veggies, fruits and beans. Colanders are great for many reasons.

JLeslie's avatar

@dxs @dappled_leaves I grew up with my mom almost always using a pot lid rather than a colander or strainer. I did it for a while too, still do sometimes. I’m sure for my mother she just didn’t want one more thing to wash, which is why I would do it too. One set of my pots the lids don’t fit well for straining out the water and it’s frustrating.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

Cutting mats are good for one thing: you can pick them up and fold them into a “funnel” shape to dump your cut food into a container. I’m accustomed to using the edge of my knife (a chef’s knife has a wide blade) to scoop up the cut food and transfer it that way, so the cutting mats aren’t so useful for me. Others swear by them. Also their non-stickiness (speaking of the silicone kind, not the cheap plastic things) makes them good for certain types of baking prep.

hearkat's avatar

Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table have cooking classes, as do many adult and community education programs and some Whole Foods and other large grocery chains. There’s usually knife skills and classes based on techniques, and then there are classes base on themes, like seasonal ingredients or holiday events, or certain types of cuisines. All I had in my 20s was the Frugal Gourmet.

ibstubro's avatar

Julia! Didn’t you have Julia Childs, @hearkat? She always seemed to be over my head, but I loved watching her…her cheerful awkwardness and childlike honesty at times.

hearkat's avatar

She was on in reruns, but I never could tolerate her voice, though.

ibstubro's avatar

She was a wonderful woman, by most accounts. Comedienne in another life.

Kardamom's avatar

@hearkat Wasn’t the Frugal Gourmet the dude who got hauled off to prison for child molestation?

I used to watch the Galloping Gourmet when I was a kid. I never really knew about Julia Child until I was much older. I loved her. I also loved the movie Julie and Julia, only I coulda done without Julie.

hearkat's avatar

I’m pretty sure he was cleared of those charges, @Kardamom.

CORRECTION: Charges were never filed, but he and his insurers paid a settlement.

ibstubro's avatar

I missed the whole Frugal Gourmet Molester flap. I loved Jeff Smith’s show. When I heard about the accusations (much after the fact), I did a little research and there was little doubt that he was guilty.

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ibstubro's avatar

These are super cool.
Work great and take up almost no room.

janbb's avatar

@ibstubro I use that kind of strainer all the time.

ibstubro's avatar

Yeah, so handy to get to, easy to store @janbb. I can’t believe I never noticed one before my 40’s.

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MollyMcGuire's avatar

I smell spam. That is on topic and should be helpful to everyone but monty1907.

canidmajor's avatar

Yeah, I flagged it.

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