Kitchen Essentials: Elaborated

Having recently posted about the bare-bones essentials one needs in their kitchen to cook the most basic of things, there are other “essentials” that are only slightly beyond what I covered in that post. In order to simplify this, I’ve broken things into categories: pantry ingredients, knives, etc., tools/utensils, appliances, and cookware/bakeware.

Before doing so, I do want to acknowledge that these are the things I consider to be essential, based on the style of cuisine widely cooked in American/Western culture. I realize that “essential” tools and ingredients vary widely, depending on what type/style of cuisine tends to be made in a given kitchen. I also acknowledge that all of these things cost money, and everyone has only so much they’re able and willing to spend on such things. I don’t mean to be cavalier about the “need” for some of these things that can get pretty pricey; as a long-time cook, I know about living life on a budget. These are just suggestions, and I do not advocate spending money you don’t have on things you don’t vitally need. Having said that…

List of Kitchen Essentials:

“Pantry” Ingredients:

  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Cooking oil
  • Butter
  • Vinegars
  • Lemon/lime
  • Whole eggs
  • Milk
  • Cream
  • Flour
  • Bread crumbs
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Lentils
  • Potatoes
  • Baking powder
  • Sugar
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Bay leaves
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned beans
  • Canned corn

Cutlery, etc.:

  • Chef’s knife
  • Paring knife
  • Vegetable knife
  • Boning knife
  • Bread knife
  • Slicing knife
  • Honing rod
  • Cutting board

Tools and Utensils:

  • Rubber spatula
  • Wooden spoon
  • Tongs
  • Plastic/metal spatula
  • Whisk
  • Ladle
  • Peeler
  • Microplane
  • Thermometer
  • Wine key
  • Funnel
  • Can-opener
  • Kitchen sheers
  • Cheese cloth
  • Butcher’s twine
  • Box grater
  • Colander
  • Strainer
  • Measuring spoons
  • Measuring cups
  • Rolling pin
  • Spice grinder (or mortar & pestle)
  • Immersion blender
  • Digital scale


  • Blender
  • Stand-mixer
  • Food processor
  • Toaster
  • Coffee maker

Cookware & Bakeware:

  • Pans
  • Non-stick pans
  • Pots
  • Steamer basket/insert
  • Roasting pan
  • Sheet pan
  • Loaf pan
  • Casserole dish
  • Roasting rack
  • Muffin tin


Pantry Ingredients

In the professional/commercial kitchen world, there are staple ingredients that are meant to always be on-hand. These are referred to as “pantry” items. This doesn’t always mean things one would keep in the pantry (as some such ingredients are perishable and need to be refrigerated), but that is how I’ll refer to them here. The obvious pantry items that one needs to have are salt, black pepper and oil (of some kind). Let’s start by elaborating the point of oil. A kitchen should have olive oil, butter (elaborated on, here) or shortening, and cooking oil (canola, vegetable, grape-seed and others are all viable options). It’s also generally beneficial to have a few basic vinegars: balsamic, red wine, white wine, apple cider, and champagne are all varieties of vinegar it may behoove you to have on-hand. Speaking of acidity, lemon and lime should be readily available — either the whole fresh fruit, or commercially-sold pre-squeezed juice. Whole eggs are a must, regardless of cuisine, and I always try to have milk and a small amount of heavy cream in my refrigerator. Certain starches should be accounted for, such as flour, rice, dried pasta, lentils and potatoes. My bakery cabinet always has baking powder, bread crumbs, and sweetener of some kind (white sugar, brown sugar or honey can all serve this purpose).

Garlic and yellow onions are always present in a functional kitchen, and if you ask a professional, shallots should be present on that shelf as well. If you do any type of intermediate-advanced cooking, your refrigerator should always have carrots and celery, as well as fresh thyme, bay leaves (yes, bay leaves are meant to be fresh) and parsley. While canned items should generally be used sparingly, there are some that are best to have as opposed to their fresh/scratch alternatives, for nothing if not the sake of ease. These include tomato product (crushed, diced and paste), garbanzo beans (aka: chickpeas), red/black beans, and corn.


First and foremost, it’s true that you can — and should be able to do any task in your kitchen with a chef’s knife (or, in Asian cooking, a Chinese cleaver), and that hyperbole is further bolstered if you allow for a paring knife. But that’s not a realistic (or particularly fun) way of outfitting your kitchen. Beyond those two knives, the average home cook should have a vegetable (aka: santoku) knife, a boning/fillet knife, a bread/serrated knife, and ideally a slicing knife. If you need some visual guidance…

No knife is useful if it isn’t sharp, so a honing rod (aka: a steel or sharpener) is also necessary. Likewise, a knife is useless without a cutting board. You’ll notice a bit of a pattern: that there are things that should (whenever possible) be had in small, medium and large sizes. Cutting boards are no exception, and to me, there’s no such thing as an impractically-sized cutting board. You should never use a glass or marble cutting surface (unless you want to ruin your knives) and I don’t recommend wooden boards either (very high-maintenance, and more susceptible to harboring bacteria). I strongly suggest going with a plastic/polymer blend material. This is a good product example.

Tools and Utensils

Manual: Qualified as, non-electric things you’ll hold in your hand to use, your stove-side tool bucket should include at least one of each of the following: rubber spatula (scraping), wooden spoon, whisk, tongs, ladle and plastic/metal spatula (flipping/turning). While one of each of these suffices, you’ll find it’s nice to have size options for each. Other essential tools include a peeler, microplane (aka: zester), probe thermometer (digital or analogue doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s properly calibrated), wine key (aka: corkscrew), a funnel, a can-opener and kitchen sheers.

Working our way up in size, next we have larger tools, such as a box-grater, colander, and fine-mesh strainer (sometimes regarded as a chinois). And, cheese cloth and butcher’s twine are cheap things that you’ll find yourself happy to have around.

As for things a bit more specific to baking (but still essential): a set of measuring spoons, a set of dry measuring cups, and a liquid measuring cup are required to carry out most basic recipes. I’ll admit that a rolling pin isn’t technically necessary (yes, I have used a wine bottle in place of one, and yes it does work), but you should still probably have one. It should be made of wood (not marble), and handles are optional.

Note: unlike with cutting boards, wood is ideal for rolling pins, as the ridges of the wood (not present in marble rolling pins) offer traction on the dough it’s rolling. Furthermore, since rolling pins presumably only touch floured substances, they are exposed to bacteria-laden foods far less frequently than the surface of a cutting board.

Electric: While a mortar and pestle can do anything its electric counterpart can, albeit with a little more work, a coffee/dry spice grinder is very handy. An immersion blender was once an item considered too fancy (or expensive) to have a place in the average home kitchen. But while a quality product used to cost in the triple digits, now a reliable one can easily be found for around $50, and they can frequently replace a hand mixer or a blender quite nicely. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to have a hand mixer around. Hand mixers (aka: eggbeaters) can be useful, but exclusively speaking, they are more for quick hacks (as in scrambling eggs, or smoothing out thicker purees) than they are a necessity. As I tend to write (and preferably follow) recipes by weight, a reliable digital scale that measures both ounces and grams (ideally to the decimal), is imperative to have on-hand.


To preface this section: many jobs done by one appliance can be done by another. Owning each type of appliance comes with some overlap, so owning all of them is not necessary, as long as you know how to navigate, and compensate the absence of one with the versatility of another.

As alluded to earlier, an immersion/stick blender can substitute for a blender, but I do not preach such a strategy. A good blender (read Vita-Mix), while very pricey, is well-worth it if your budget can allow for it. I will say the same for a good stand-mixer. Kitchen-Aid is still the gold standard for stand-mixers, and with good reason. With an extensive line of models, you can find yourself paying upwards of $800 for one, but the one I use in my home kitchen can be found for just under $200 (and buying attachments to the Kitchen-Aid turns your stand mixer into a variety of more specialized appliances). A food processor is handy, but only essential for making a few things (pesto is really the only thing that comes to mind). Robot Coup is the professional standard (again, with good reason) but the high price of this brand cannot be ignored. More affordably, Cuisinart makes a quality home product. That being said, the snooty professional in me begrudgingly admits that our home kitchen’s substitute is a Ninja (2qt. capacity), and in all honesty, I’ve never felt the need for anything more.

Cookware and Bakeware

Pots and Pans: Let me first say that if you have a wok, you don’t actually need anything else (a wok can effectively function as both a pot and a pan), but that’s like saying if you have a chef’s knife, you don’t need any other kind of knife. In other words, you can get by with just a wok, but no one should be forced to live a 1-pot life.

Ideally, you should have at least two non-stick pans — one 7-8″ and one 10-12″ — however if you only can have one, try to have it be around 10″. You should also have at least one stainless steel pan of around 10″ (and again, the more, the merrier!). All of your pans should be heavy-bottomed and oven-safe up to 500ºF. As for pots, I’d encourage you to have three: one small (1-1.5qt.; think tomato sauce), one medium (2.5-3.5qt.; think stewed lentils), and one large (6-10qt.; think boiling water for pasta). Each pot should also be thick-bottomed and have a well-fitted lid. You’ll also find it quite convenient to have a steamer basket/insert that will fit either the medium or the large pot. I feel that All-clad and Calphalon are the best brands of cookware (although again, Cuisinart makes some quality products), but regardless of brand, the price of cookware tends to be pretty indicative of quality.

And lastly, depending on what type of entertaining you plan to do, you really can’t get around not having a roasting pan if you need one (but for a one-time situation, an aluminum disposable roaster works fine).

Bakeware: You should have at least one of each of the following: a sheet pan (not to be confused with the edge-less cookie sheet) that ideally has a roasting/cooling rack to fit. That, with a loaf pan, a casserole dish, and a muffin tin will allow you to bake just about anything you want, within reason. Oh, and if you fancy making homemade pizza, a pizza stone is a relatively cheap way to make your life more enjoyable.

In no way is this all meant to suggest that you need to have everything I just mentioned, and if there’s something you don’t have, I’m not saying you need to run out and buy it straight-away. I am saying however, that having these things in your kitchen will make your life easier and your food better. The next time you find yourself making a recipe that calls for something I’ve just mentioned, that you find yourself without, you should probably try to procure one for your kitchen.

One thought on “Kitchen Essentials: Elaborated

  1. Good suggestions. I have everything on your list and overflowing cupboards and a basement that is an extra large kitchen storage space. I don’t have a good blender but no where to put it. My most essential kitchen item is a large Le Creuset pot that is worth its very heavy weight in utility.


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