When it comes to kitchen basics, not everyone has the basics. Dollar store can openers, discount store knife sets, and that pair of tongs that digs into your hands but can hardly hold a drumstick — they’re all keeping you down. Stop buying cheap shit just because it’s cheap. If there’s a knife set with 7 knives in it for $25, there’s a reason why, and it’s because those knives are absolute crap. Same goes for spatulas, frying pan sets, cookie sheets and all manner of different kitchen utensils that you’re currently using as paperweights. If you’re going to buy something for your kitchen, you have to make sure it’s going to be quality. That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. It just means you have to choose carefully.
Some things are worth spending an extra five or ten dollars on. It makes a difference. I’m not saying you need to go out and replace all the terrible equipment you have this moment, but here’s how to go item-by-item and upgrade your kitchen equipment until you’ve got stuff that will last and that works for just $78.
First piece of advice is to go to a restaurant supply store. Google it and you’ll see they are everywhere in Brooklyn. Some of them don’t sell retail, so it might help to call first.
You really only need three knives. So don’t even look at a 7-in-1 knife set. Put it down. Walk away. You need a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. These three knives will do so many things for you that those 7 other weird discount knives never will.
First up: The chef’s knife. You can get a sturdy, quality chef’s knife for $20 – $35. It’s worth it because this will be hands down the most useful and multipurpose tool in your entire kitchen arsenal. Mercer makes a line of cutlery called “Mercer Genesis” that are pretty good. Don’t buy the “Mercer Millenium” editions, because those are crap. There’s also a discount brand I personally like, called Myland, that makes sturdy knives that last a long time and hold an edge. They’re inexpensive (around $15 to $25), and you can find them in any of the Brooklyn Chinatowns for the more inexpensive end of the spectrum.
For a bread knife you can go for a little cheaper because chances are you’re not going to be using this for every cooking project. Probably just slicing bagels and banana bread (make your own banana bread). Make the trip to Ikea if you like, because they also have a lot of cutting boards that you probably need. Get the Gnistra 9 inch bread knife. $13 and it works. While you’re at it, we can get our paring knife here too, because Ikea can be wonderful if you do not get the $2 paring knives they have. Instead, opt for the Gynnsm 3-inch paring knife at $9. Now, try to leave Ikea without putting a bunch of unnecessary shit in your cart that you’re going to abandon at the last minute.
I’ve fallen victim to the cheap, thin metal tongs with no spring and no weight that scrape your pans and dig into your palms. It happens to the best of us. But good tongs are indispensable when it comes to kitchen tasks. Toss your greens in the pan, flip chicken thighs with ease, lift a hot pan, whatever. You want heavy tongs that don’t feel flimsy. They don’t even need to be expensive. Quality tongs from a restaurant supply store will set you back about $5 or less and will make a tremendous difference (especially when grilling season starts). Just make sure they don’t have stupid little teeth (rounded ridges are okay) and that there isn’t some silicone sleeve on the outside. You want straightforward heavy metal tongs. Less parts the better.
Stop using that busted, greasy pan you’ve got underneath your oven, and go get a real workhorse. A thick aluminum baking sheet will ensure even cooking and heat distribution, which means no more burnt cookie bottoms and raw dough on top. If you can’t find it at a local supply shop, check Amazon and go for a Nordic Ware Half Sheet – at $11 it’s a steal, and it will likely last longer than a decade. Start roasting vegetables, baking cookies, or fill the whole thing with bacon and make all your neighbors and roommates jealous. It will do wonders for your oven game, and you’ll be able to throw out that thin, warped, crusted excuse for a cookie sheet you’ve been using since your old roommate from three apartments ago left it in the oven.
Oh, you got that frying pan set at Discount Homegoods Corp LLC. Inc? What a great deal! Until the lining scrapes off into your food and the pan warps until it can’t lay flat on your burners. Yeah I know, you tell your friends, “these were the first frying pans I bought when I got my new place, and I really just make eggs and weird curries.” So it goes. But a good frying pan is indispensable when it comes to the kitchen.
Whether you’re making eggs (or weird curries), sautéing vegetables, making pork chops, reducing sauces or just reheating leftovers sans microwave, a nice non-stick pan will get the job done. Some positives include food not sticking to it, easy clean up and generally cheaper than thick stainless steel or other options. For an all around good choice, try the 8 inch T-Fal nonstick for $25. You can buy it online, or from a local retailer. It will make a difference.
Chances are that you’ll start to enjoy cooking more if your equipment isn’t grade-D bullshit.