Cooking Equipment 101


It is very difficult to cook well with unreliable, poorly made and designed equipment.  If you want to take pride in your cooking, you need to be able to take pride in your equipment.  Good equipment is an investment that will serve you well the rest of your life.  Bad equipment will result in much frustration, burned food, and possible injury.


I have gone through lots of equipment in my lifetime.  I am always eager to try something new and have done lots of that over the years.  I have tried and discarded lots of equipment.  Because of all of this trial and error, I feel qualified to give you my opinion on what works and doesn’t work with cooking equipment.  Feel free to do your own experimenting!  I only know what I know and there is lots of information and equipment out there.


Although few of us can start out with thousands of dollars to equip the perfect kitchen, you can have a plan, start small and add equipment as you have the resources and space to store it.  Here is my recommended basic plan for equipping a kitchen.


KnivesWüsthof Classic 10-Inch Hollow Edge Carving Knife

1.  Knives.  Good knives are a crucial part of cooking.  You can buy a set of good knives selected by someone else (probably the people trying to sell you lots of knives), or you can buy the essentials and add to your collection as you have the resources and need.  The most important knife you have will be your big chopping knife.  This is the knife that you will use as least 80% or more of the time.  If you have to chop vegetables, meat, or just about any ingredient, this is the knife that you will pick up.  It needs to have a comfortable handle, a sharp blade, a good feel, and be big enough to chop several carrots at once.  I have a 10 inch Wusthof chef knife that I like very much.  There are many good brands out there such as Messermeister, Henckels, Kyocera, etc.  Some people prefer an 8 inch knife, but anything smaller is probably too small for you everyday chopping.  If you cannot afford to spend $100 or more  for one knife, which is what good ones generally cost, then go to a restaurant supply store and look at the commercial knifes that are made for the restaurant trade.  These are inexpensive but perfectly adequate knives.  I would avoid shopping for knives at discount stores.  These knives are usually cheaply made and not good choices.  There are lots of websites selling knives that will give you lots of information about them.  It is good to be able to hold the knife before you buy it and see what feels good to you.  It is your knife and needs to fit your hand well.


After you have acquired your big chopping knife, then I would recommend purchasing a paring knife.  This is the little knife that you will use to peel things and use when the big knife is too big.  Here again, either buy one good one or go to the restaurant supply store.  I have bought paring knifes for $5 from the restaurant supply store that are perfectly good.  However, when I have a lot of peeling to do (that 5 pound of potatoes for Thanksgiving mashed potatoes), I love my Wustaf paring knife.  Again, you need to find the one that feels good in your hand and suits you.  Once you have this knife, do not use it to open packages, etc.  It is for food only.  You can buy a cheap knife to use for those packages, etc. if you like.


My next addition would be a good serrated knife.  This knife is the one that you will use to slice bread, slice tomatoes, cut angel food cake, etc.  You may be able to find a good serrated knife at a discount store, although you can certainly spend more and get a higher quality knife.  Serrated knives are generally not easy to sharpen, so it is not as critical to get one that you can sharpen and hang on to forever.


My next addition would be a good slicing knife.  This knife is not as wide as your big chopping knife and is used primarily to slice meat.  You can buy an electric knife if you must, but I think a good slicing knife is a better choice.


The next knife I would add would be a boning knife.  This knife has a narrow blade and is used to remove bones from meat.


Once you have purchased your knives, you need to take good care of them.  Your good knifes will need to be sharpened regularly and you can either buy sharpening equipment and do it yourself or take them to someone to sharpen on a regular basis.  You can find lots of information about sharpening knifes on the web. The important thing is to keep your knives sharp and to store them properly, either in a stand alone knife stand or in a special storage drawer.  Never put your good knifes in the dishwasher.  It will dull them and may ruin the handles.  Do NOT throw your good knifes into a drawer with a lot of other kitchen equipment.  That is an invitation to someone getting injured or your knife getting damaged.  At the minimum, you can buy knife covers that will cover and protect the blade.  A good knife is very easy to wash and dry as long as you pay attention and don’t pull the blade against a finger.  Wash with the nonsharp side closest to your and pay attention to what you are doing.  Whereas washing a food processor can take 5 minutes, a good knife can be washed and dried in about 30 seconds.  Think about that when you only have a small amount of chopping to do.  Remember, smarter not harder!


My personal opinion is that steak knives are generally a waste of money.  If you can’t cut your meat with your normal table knife, the meat was not cooked properly or it is poor quality meat.


2.  Pots, pans and skillets.  Your pots and pans will be your basic cooking vessels.  Here again you can buy a set that someone else (usually the manufacturer) has put together or you can buy just what you will need and use the most.  First, consider the size of the family that you will be cooking for.  If you are cooking for more than 2 or 3 people, you will need large pots and pans.  Everyone will need a big pot.  This pot will be the one that you use for soups, cooking pasta, etc.  You need to buy one that is big enough for just about all occasions.  It is much better to have one that is too big than one that is too small.  You don’t always have to fill it to the brim and it is often useful to have lots of extra room at the top so things don’t boil over, etc.  My minimum recommended size for any circumstances would be 8 quarts.  This size would be too small for a big family.  I have a 12 quart pot that I have found to be good in almost all circumstances.  It would be inadequate for a large crowd, but it is fine for the normal sized family.  For your big pot, the most important attribute is the bottom of the pot.  The sides are not as critical because generally with your big pot you have lots of liquid and the only burning is going to be at the bottom.  You need a bottom on this big pot that is thick rather than thin.  Multiple layers of different materials can be helpful.  I prefer stainless steel for the basic material of the pot as it is nonreactive with most ingredients (unlike aluminum) and is easy to clean.  It is not too heavy and readily available.   These pots are available from many sources and it pays to shop around.  Inserts are nice but not essential.  A lid is essential.


Next you will need saucepans.  A good saucepan will have a thick bottom that transfers heat but does not melt if left on the burner too long.  It will be easy to clean and have a handle that is comfortable in your hand.  It will be a size that is adequate for most recipes.  This pan will be used to cook vegetables, sauces, gravies, etc.  Generally you will need at least 2 good saucepans if you are cooking complete meals.


Good skillets are crucial to cooking.  These pans will be used for sautéing ingredients and cooking meat, eggs, etc.  I find that the ones included in the sets are generally a waste of money.  You generally need at least 2 12-inch skillets for many dishes (unless you are only cooking for 1 or 2 people) and most of the skillets in sets are too small.  The small ones can be used for cooking small amounts of food, but you need the bigger ones for most of the recipes on this website.  I find that the commercial type nonstick aluminum skillets that are made for the restaurant industry are the best value for the money.  You can buy a really good 12 inch nonstick skillet at most restaurant supply stores for around $40.  I have found them at Sam’s Club for around $20.  A good skillet in a gourmet store may run you well over $100 and will not cook any better. 



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