Five Essential Ingredients for a Functional Kitchen

If cooking at home is still a fairly new thing for you, I'd like to help you out by letting you know about a few tools that are really essential for having a successful, functional kitchen.  If I had to start my kitchen over again from scratch, these are the first five things I would insist on making sure I got.

It can be really overwhelming to know where to start when you haven't already been doing the domestic thing for years. I'd like you to treat this as a sort of quick-start guide for spending more time in your kitchen and being more productive while you're there. 

It's taken me a while to work out exactly what should be on this list. How long? Well, I've been keeping house with Mr. Scrimp for two years. Before that, I shared an apartment with my best friend. I've been responsible for several kitchens at this point, and I've worked in a lot more.

These are the tools I can't do without.

1. An apron

"Wait a minute," you say. "I'm no Betty Draper/Betty Crocker/June Cleaver/Stepford Wife. This is the 21st century. Really? An apron?"

Betty Draper knows you want to look as good as her.

Yes! And I don't care who you are. This isn't about housewives and some fake mid-century ideal. We keep three aprons in ours--one for me, one for Mr. Scrimp, and one for guests who want to help out in the kitchen.

Why essential?

I've written before about why it's good to wear an apron. It adds a psychological boost that can help you really focus on whatever your task is. Sometimes, putting on my apron is the only way I can get myself to start washing dishes or mopping the floor. Like getting dressed in the morning, putting on makeup for a date, or donning a uniform to play sports, tying on an apron tricks your brain into being ready for whatever domestic task you need to do.

I would never have believed how much difference it would make. The apron is the best weapon I've ever found in my war against housekeeping boredom and burnout.

2. A Chef's Knife and Cutting Board

I'm counting these as one item because they really don't make sense taken by themselves. In your kitchen, you need to have at least one really good knife, preferably a chef's knife. With the knife, you should have at least one good cutting board.

One of the things I would try to grab if my house caught fire.

We have one 8-inch chef's knife, and we use it for everything. Mr. Scrimp keeps it nice and sharp, and we haven't needed to buy a single other knife. Having a pile of specialty knives in all shapes and sizes is fine, but if you can only afford one nice knife, this is the one to get.

Why essential?

If you're going to be serious about cooking, you need to have just a few really serious tools. This is one of them. If you've never owned a professional-quality knife, you don't know what you're missing. It is faster, better, and makes cleaner cuts than any cheap, dull knife out there.

3. A Large Stockpot

If you don't own a stockpot yet, make sure it's next on your list of things to get. I don't really care what brand you get, although it's good to have something with a nice, heavy bottom. I also like glass lids, because I like being able to see into my pot without opening the lid.

We have more than one stockpot. If you can only buy one, that's ok, but it's nice to have a variety of sizes.

Why essential?

A good, large stockpot is an incredibly versatile tool.  Aside from the obvious use (making stock), you can use it for soups and stews, brown meats without stovetop spatter, and sterilize and seal canning jars. The stockpot also has nonfood applications. I like to use it to sterilize my silverware from time to time, since I don't have a dishwasher.

 4. Nested Mixing Bowls

I use at least one of my mixing bowls every day. Often, I use all three of them. Nesting allows for easy storage, and the multiple sizes mean that they are available for a myriad of uses.

Just looking at them makes me want to cook
William Morris once said, "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." A good set of nesting bowls will meet both criteria, adding a touch of beauty (and sometimes color) to your kitchen and also serving as a useful tool for countless applications.

Why Essential?

We use our bowls for prepping meals, beating eggs, mixing batters and bread doughs, and serving food. They keep ingredients separate to avoid cross-contamination. They help me keep my countertop clean and organized as I work. If I'm snapping peas, the ends go into one bowl and the peas go into another. The same thing happens when I pick over berries, or prep fruit for pies.

I don't know what I'd do without my nesting bowls.

5. Wooden Spoon and Spatula

I know that metal, plastic, and silicone utensils are all the rage right now, but give me good, old-fashioned wooden ones any day. We have a couple of silicone spatulas, and I do use them, but the utensils I reach for most often are my wooden spoon and my wooden spatula.
Also good for paddling small boats

You can certainly buy the pretty, expensive ones, but don't feel like you have to hold out if you can't afford them right now. We got ours on clearance at the grocery store for $1.50 each and have had absolutely no problem with them.

Why Essential?

I like to believe that people have been using wooden spoons since the invention of the kitchen. Because the wood is non-conductive, you can stir hot things without burning your hands. It's durable, quiet, and nonreactive.

The wooden spatula is a great scraper, and much stronger than plastic or silicone spatulas. If something is stuck to the bottom of a pot or pan, the wooden spatula will take it off without scratching.

The Building Blocks of a Working Kitchen

With just these five tools, I can make just about anything I need to make. Add measuring cups and spoons, a casserole dish, a baking sheet, and a pie tin, and I can't think of anything I wouldn't be able to cook or approximate, using just the above tools.

Obviously, this is just for getting started with. But don't be fooled by ads for fancy appliances and kitchen gadgets. You don't need more than these five things to get started.

What are the five kitchen tools you couldn't possibly do without?


  1. did i ever tell you that my parents own a kitchenware store that i worked at my whole life? another reason to get a good quality knife: many many many ER visits are the result of someone using a bad, dull knife that requires too much pressure to cut. and the chef's knife is the one we say is a "must have"! :)

  2. Thanks for helping a kitchen newbie! I'll be making a trip to the store this wkd!

  3. Great explanation, thanks for the posting!

    Kitchen Equipment



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