My friends Aarti and Raj recently got a married and I sadly couldn’t attend their wedding, being half a world away in Singapore. But I wanted to give them something useful, something that they could use as opposed to the chafing-dish, that once unwrapped would be stored away and taken out perhaps once, 14 years later. And since Aarti and Raj just bought an apartment in Hoboken, I thought a post on how to equip a kitchen would be useful. I’ve equipped four kitchens as I moved around and sometimes I have stuff that I never use. Hopefully this will help you avoid that. To Aarti and Raj: congratulations, this post is dedicated to you, may you have many wonderful meals and memories in your kitchen.
But first a paragraph on where to shop
The best place to buy kitchen equipment is at restaurant supply stores (not to be confused with boutique kitchen stores aimed at deep-pocketed home cooks.) The stuff there is cheap (probably the cheapest) and is what most restaurant kitchens use. If you live in NYC they are located near Chinatown on Bowery, if you live in Singapore they are located in Chinatown on Temple St. I’ve also been surprised at the stuff I got from Target. I virtually stocked my first apartment’s kitchen on 849 Ackerman Avenue in Syracuse from this amazing store. The kitchen gear that they stock like the T-Fal and OXO brands are a step up from the no frills restaurant supply stores, but they are still cheap. I’m going to admit it, I heart “Tarr-jay.” Finally if you have a lot of cash, Williams-Sonoma has some of the very best brands that you can pay for, and you will pay dearly for them. I usually buy select items from this place; usually it’s something vital that I need the very best of, like a knife for example.
Knives, Cutting Boards and Steels
First off, don’t think about your knives as an individual entity. It is part of a system that comprises the cutting board and honing steel. A knife needs a proper surface to cut on so that it won’t wear out its edge, and it needs to be maintained so that the edge is always aligned and therefore sharp. Hit this trifecta and you’ll be blessed with a knife that effortlessly sings through whatever you are cutting and last that way. There is nothing as culinarily orgasmic as a sharp knife. Well maybe that and a great non-stick pan.
Don’t buy a knife set; it’s a waste of money. There are probably some knives in there that you will never use. All you really need is a chef’s and paring knife. Get the longest chef’s knife that you can comfortable wield and that your cutting board can accommodate, preferably in the eight to ten inch range. Having a long knife means you don’t have to raise you hand as high when you prep food, and therefore is less fatiguing.
Like cars, there are two countries that dominate knife production; Germany and Japan. The German J.A. Henckels and Wüsthof brands have dominated the knife market for a long time but now Japanese knives like Global and Shun are becoming very popular. I have a Shun Santoku that was given by K-Dubs when he visited me in New York and I love that knife. It’s amazingly sharp and gorgeous with it’s swirly Damascus steel like pattern. My only complaint is that the blade is a bit short, an extra inch or two would be great. But don’t we all wish for that. Shuns can be purchased at Williams-Sonoma.
I don’t do much precision cutting, so instead of a paring knife, which is usually three inches, I use a four and a quarter inch ceramic utility knife from Kyocera. The longer length makes it easier to peel and slice fruits and vegetables. I would recommend Kyocera’s ceramic knives for work on soft material because you can preserve its razor sharp edge longer. (You can’t hone or sharpen these knives yourself. You have to send them back to Kyocera and they will sharpen it for free.) I’ve been using mine for almost a year now and it’s still wonderfully sharp. They are supposedly ten times harder than normal steel and their edges don’t roll. But be careful because these knives are extremely brittle. I dropped mine from a grand height of one and a half inches and there were little chips on the edge.
The type of cutting board you choose is as important as your knife. Please DON’T EVER get boards made of glass, marble or any type of ceramic. They will damage and dull the edges of your knives. I like the feel of cutting on wooden boards but I prefer the convenience of plastic.
For wooden boards, end-grain is the most forgiving to your knife’s edge, not surprisingly it is also the most expensive. Edge-grain boards are a good compromise between price and performance. Flat-grain boards are the cheapest and least forgiving on your knives.
I like plastic boards because they are easy to wash and dry. Try not to get a plastic board that is too hard. Give the board a hard tap, the duller the thud, the softer the board.
Whichever type of board you get, make sure you get the biggest board your sink and counter can accommodate. I like a big board for cutting meats on and two other medium size boards to cut vegetables and fruit. The medium size boards are easier to heft around and clean, but they still give me enough room to work with. Small boards are useless. I damaged my prized shun because I was cutting on a small board and it was cluttered with stuff, one of which was another metal implement obscured by peels, and my heart almost broke when the edge of my Shun bit into it and got nicked. Lesson learnt, work clean and get a bigger board.
The last part of keeping a knife sharp is maintenance. It is important to hone your knife with a steel often to prolong the life of its edge. Honing is not to be confused with sharpening, which creates a new edge. Honing only realigns your existing edge, it straightens the edge that would have rolled to one side or the other through everyday wear.
You should get a steel that is two inches longer than your longest knife.
Pots and Pans
You really only need two pots and two pans. First a large stockpot that is big enough to be a braising vessel and to boil pasta. Then a medium one used for your other cooking needs. These don’t have to be expensive. Just make sure they don’t have too thin of a base. I prefer aluminum to stainless steel. Look for these at restaurant supply stores.
I love using a good non-stick pan. But you don’t have to spend a great deal of money to get one. T-Fal makes great non-stick pans that are affordable. I like a medium and large pan, but anything bigger than 12 inches will start to get unwieldy. The trick with non-stick pans is to be gentle with them. I’m usually a very relaxed guy, but I don’t let anyone touch my pans unless they have demonstrated that they know how to handle non-sticks. That means no metal implements in it and no washing with any abrasive elements. T-Fal pans are available at Target
I’ve been lusting over Calphalon One’s hard-anodized-aluminum pans for quite some time now. I’ve never used them but they seem to have everything I want in a pan; a non-stick, durable surface that is oven safe. Unfortunately it weights in at just under $90 for an eight-inch fry pan. Williams-Sonoma stocks Calphalon One pans. Target also has a line called Kitchen Essentials by Calphalon, they have the same hard-anodized-aluminum surface at a fraction of the price.
Also if you make a lot of sauces, you might want to invest in a small heavy bottomed saucepan. The heavy bottom ensures even heating which is important for delicate sauces. Look out for them at kitchen supply stores.
If you do a lot of braising, you might also want to get a nice enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Oval shaped ones are more practical as they can cook large (long) cuts of meat. (Aarti you can skip this since you’re vegetarian, and so I guess that makes Raj vegetarian too…) French maker Le Creuset makes particularly fine ones. Available at Williams-Sonoma.
You might also want to get a large cast-iron skillet. They will eventually become non-stick after seasoning and are extremely durable. It’s oven safe and cheap. However they are extremely heavy and high maintenance. Look for the Lodge brand, available at Williams-Sonoma.
I would recommend getting your pots and pans separately, that way you can pick and choose the best vessel for specific cooking purposes. However if you are on a budget, I would get a set from T-Fal, they are cheap, and usually around the $70 mark and you will have all the pots and pans you need.
Other Kitchen Essentials
Get a range from ½ a teaspoon to one cup. Best place to buy: Restaurant supply stores.
I love the angled measuring cups from OXO. You don’t have to look at it from eye-level to make accurate measurements. Truly innovative and practical, I really recommend these babies. Available at Target.
Most strainers perform the same regardless of design or brand. The difference only becomes apparent during clean up. Mesh style strainers are hard to clean as food and starchy water from pasta traps easily in the tiny perforations. Instead look for medium size holes like the one above. The bowl shape also makes for easy wipe down.
This is the tool that will probably come into most contact with your pots and pans. Choosing the right one is essential. I would recommend a stiff non-metallic material that is heat resistant. Thermoplastic nylon is good. A medium sized angled head is best. Avoid wide heads, which can be difficult to use in small pans and narrow heads, which are pretty much useless. My spatula also came with a rest on the handle opposite of the head. It allowed me to put my spatula down on the counter without dirtying it. A really neat feature. Best to look for them at Target. That’s where I got mine. It was a Rubbermaid or an OXO.
This is probably the most used item in my kitchen. If you can, get tongs without the jaggered teeth (the semi-wavy flatheads are ideal) so that they don’t ruin fragile items. Also try to look for non-metallic ones if you use them in a non-stick pan. Some people prefer a stiff spring, but I prefer one that doesn’t have much tension because it leads to less hand fatigue. Restaurant supply stores are probably the cheapest, although Target might surprise you.
Spend an extra one or two bucks for a sturdy and comfortable can opener, preferably one with rubberized handles. Best bet is to look for them at Target.
These graters which evolved from woodworking tools are great to use. I have a zester/grater from their classic series and I love it, definitely easier than an old fashion box grater. I was taking a cooking master class and the kitchen came equipped with Microplane’s new line that featured a broader surface. It functioned a lot better than my classic one because I had more surface area to work on. Their Gourmet Series even comes with a non-slip rubber foot to anchor it down on the worktable. Look for them at restaurant supply stores.
A Word On Dining Ware
So now that you’ve got all that snazzy kitchen gear, it’s time to think about how you serve your food. I like to use plain white plates. A plate is like a canvas for your food. You want it to be blank. Restaurant supply stores usually stock plain vanilla white dining ware. Get an assortment of shapes if you want some variety. They are also incredibly cheap.
I hope all this is helpful.
By the way, check out Aarti’s eloquent writing on choosing a caterer for her wedding. Here:
Also would love to hear about what other gear you guys can’t live without.