You swear to yourself you're going to start cooking, but when you attempt to slice an onion with a butter knife and boil spaghetti in a sauté pan, you run into problems. You're convinced that you're just not cut out to be a cook. But that's so wrong. Anyone can cook—yes, even you.
Unsurprisingly, cooking has become less common in the U.S., as more people rely on fast food, fast-casual joints, and there-in-an-instant delivery options. But learning to cook for yourself can be a really positive experience. Yes, you’ll save money, and making healthier choices will become easier, but cooking can also be an enjoyable solo task or a nice way to spend some time with your roommate/partner/family.
So, where do you start? The first step is to equip yourself with the best cooking tools that don't cost a damn fortune. These are the essentials you’ll need to start your adventures... the ones that entail you making a meal, start to finish.
A good chef’s knife is one of the most important tools to have in your kitchen... which is why this is the only thing on here that doesn't follow the under-$25 rule. Sorry, we had to! You'll forgive us once you realize that you'll use this baby for just about every meal you make, from prepping vegetables to breaking down full chickens (you’ll get there eventually). This eight-inch variety from Mercer is a good start: High-carbon steel means this knife will get sharp and stay sharp, which you'll soon realize is v. important.
Size doesn't always matter. This little paring knife will prove its might and be surprisingly helpful when you're prepping some of the smaller ingredients you’ll be cooking (try peeling garlic without it and you'll see what we mean). A good paring knife can also be subbed in for more specialized tools like a peeler and a tomato stem scoop (yes, that exists, and it's a waste of money). Victorinox makes a great paring knife that will stay with you for life.($8; amazon.com)
Yep, we got another one for ya: the serrated knife. These guys are useful for cutting breads and softer foods like tomatoes. The thought of taking a smooth-edged chef’s knife to a crusty loaf of sourdough is enough to make kitchen pros cry, so avoid damaging the blade (and your bread) by keeping a serrated knife handy instead. Since these guys are tough to sharpen, you want a blade that retains its edge over time. While expensive ones do exist, this $20 Mercer knife gets the job done.($21; amazon.com)
We know we said a paring knife can sub in for a vegetable peeler, but honestly, this is something you’ll want to have too. Peeling starchy veggies like potatoes with a knife should probably be left to the professionals, anyway. Ironically, this is one tool where cost has nothing to do with its quality. For less than $6, this cooking tool will have peels piling up quicker than a chimp in a banana plant.($6; amazon.com)
You can’t use those new knives without something to cut on! The cutting board will become your prep station, where ingredients get sliced, diced, minced, and mashed in order to make your meal delicious. While plastic cutting boards have become more popular, we still like wood for its aesthetic and durability.
This $19 bamboo variety will get the job done. It’s big enough to provide plenty of room to work without being so big that you have trouble storing it away. The small liquid collector running around the edges is handy for collecting runoff from cooked proteins as well.($25; amazon.com)
A cast-iron skillet will become your go-to pan in the kitchen. Sure, you could go with a non-stick or stainless steel variety, but what’s great about cast iron is that it can be used for literally anything. Sautéing, frying, baking, roasting—all of these techniques can be done with this one piece of metal.
The American Manufacturer Lodge has been making cast-iron pans since 1896, so it’s fair to say they know a thing or two. This nine-inch version of their pre-seasoned skillet will be a perfect jumping off point to master the stove top and oven. And guess what? It's only $15.($15; amazon.com)
Soup is one of the easiest meals to make when you're a new cook. It usually only requires one pot, it yields large amounts of food (leftovers are everything), and it makes you feel cozy in cold weather. But you need a big pot to make it. Same goes for mashed potatoes, spaghetti, etc. A solid stock pot will open the door to exploring even more recipes and techniques (but most importantly, mashed potatoes).
When buying a stock pot, you want something heavy and lidded. This 16-quart model is on the smaller side, but a high-quality pick for a beginning cook looking to explore on a budget.
Contrary to the name, these guys are useful for more than just making sauces. You can also boil vegetables, cook grains or rice, and melt cheddar... for mac n' cheese, duh.
For less than $20, this one-and-a-half quart version from Cuisinart is perfect for all of those tasks. Stainless steel means it has even heat distribution, and a tight-fitting lid ensures that heat will stay exactly where it needs to be.($18; amazon.com)
Thanks to Pinterest, relying on a recipe book is no longer essential to learning how to cook. But the millions of recipes online can be overwhelming (and borderline confusing for those of us struggling to boil a pot of water). Which is why we suggest going back to the basics and opening a cookbook for some guidance in the kitchen.
There are tons of cookbooks out there, but one that has never steered us wrong is Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food. This classic comes from one of California’s most legendary chefs, who breaks down everything from ingredients and equipment to providing introductory methods designed to teach us the basics. Cooking your way through this masterpiece will make you a better chef, we promise.
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