When I graduated from UNC in May, I moved to Birmingham and my friends seemed to spread like warm honey across the eastern seaboard. As people moved, there was a lot of advice traded - which cheap Amazon bed frame wouldn’t fall apart immediately, how to find an apartment in New York City, how to sell shitty furniture for way more than it’s worth on Craigslist. I also received the following email:
I need some help buying pots and pans.
First: thank you for your service to me, and really mankind, for your dutiful know-how on such a niche topic.
I am (obviously) trying to not spend too much money so am planning on going to get a cast iron from the junkyard and then piece together the rest from marshalls or good online sales.
12'' inch cast iron
nonstick skillet (8''-12''
Stainless steel skillet (10'')
large stainless steel pot
Wish list items are:
pyrex baking pans
assorted baking dishes
Anything to add or remove? I would love your expertise!
We’ll go ahead and ignore the fact that one of my most intimate friends signed her e-mail to me “best” - what is she, a sociopath? Whatever.
I spent a good long time trying to figure out how to organize and furnish my new apartment where I live (alone!! a dream!!). For my 21st birthday, my parents gave me a set of nonstick pots and pans. Before I moved, my dad came by, took one look at them and told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to throw them away because they were definitely flaking into my food and were going to make me die of cancer, like, yesterday. He was 100% correct so I threw them all away and ordered new ones when I moved to Birmingham. Everything I am recommending here are things that I actually own or have used in someone else’s kitchen.
For $110, you can get started with some really good basics that will take you far.
These four items will equip you to cook tons of stuff - soups, grain salads, delicious pasta sauces, roasted vegetables - even an entire chicken! I know the ticket price can feel really high to set up a whole kitchen - as friends or family if they have things they can lend you or give you as you’re getting started. The idea here is to set you up with basic things that will truly last a long time. There’s very little that I hate more than buying shitty stuff that I have to replace in like 5 minutes.
A well-seasoned cast iron can take the place of almost anything else - you can bake in it, cook an egg in, and roast a chicken or a head of broccoli. They can go from stove top to oven and are nice enough to put on the table for a fancy-ish meal if you’re trying to impress your parents/a date/yourself. The one I’ve linked to here has a 2-handle design, which I actually think is much more comfortable than the normal pan design, since these can be fairly heavy.
This is big enough to cook a pound of pasta or a good amount of rice, and the bottom is thick enough that you won’t scorch your food, which is a concern if you get something with a thin base. I’ve also used this to deep-fry things, make cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese, and poach a chicken breast.
One big plastic one that you can use for everything and easily clean. Small cutting boards are a hustle. Don’t get hustled. If you find that this slips around, place a damp paper towel underneath. Done.
This is a basic knife that you can use for almost anything. You only need 3 knives (I’m serious this is literally all I have). A bread knife and paring knife will be helpful, but if you’re on a budget, this knife will do everything! It’s not fancy but it will do the job - if you get really interested in cooking you might decide that you want something fancier or more customized to your hands, but this will do the job. Don’t get absorbed into the LIE that you need to buy a knife set - they will be worse quality and you don’t need them. DO NOT put your knife in a dishwasher - wash and dry it after every use or it will get dull much faster.
Then think about what you like to cook…
From here, I think it’s good to actually consider what you like to cook. I love to eat eggs - scrambled, fried, omelets, etc, so a good non-stick skillet is really helpful for me. If you eat a lot of meat - steak and chicken thighs and other things that are tastiest when they have a good crusty sear on them, then a stainless steel skillet might make more sense for you. If you’re big into meal prep with lots of vegetables or roasted things, I would go for some sheet pans. Eventually, you’ll want to have all of these things for a well-stocked kitchen, but unless you are ready to spend a larger chunk of money all at once, it is better to slowly get what you really need.
2 sheet pans = endless options. Roasted vegetables, chicken thighs, cookies, cakes, something to keep pancakes warm on in the oven, a fan to help turn off the fire alarm or something to set on the stove to give you a little extra counter space. These will last a long time, won’t get warped, and cook things evenly.
This is pretty much a workhorse. Again, I go 12 inches because you can put something small in a large pan but you can’t put something large in a small pan. Plus, crowding a pan (aka trying to fit more in the pan than you should) causes steam to get trapped in the pan, which makes your food get soft instead of crispy and delicious. Unlike your non-stick skillet, this can go in the oven.
After extensive research (and owning several other brands of non-stick skillets for several years) I bought this skillet - it’s the only non-stick I need. It’s good for cooking eggs and other potentially sticky items, but won’t flake and kill you. A lot of non-stick skillets can’t take high heat, but this one can. I like the 12-inch option with a lid because I always like to have the option to cover my pans (to finish cooking a fried egg or steam some greens or whatever).
I got a huge Le Creuset as a graduation gift, and I intend to use it for the rest of my life and also maybe my children’s lives. If you’re not quite as intense as I am about your kitchen, this version will be perfect for you. I actually advocate getting a 7.5 quart dutch oven INSTEAD of a really large stockpot, because the dutch oven can do everything the stock pot will do, but the stock pot can’t do what a dutch oven can (which includes but is not limited to braises, pastas, sauces, slow cooking, big batches of grains and chicken stock).
I hope this is helpful! Do you have a question that you think I can helpfully (or unhelpfully) answer? Send me a text because we’re probably close friends since you’re reading this blog. OR email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, send me an Instagram message or comment below!