pots and pans
assorted baking dishes
all the bits and pieces
Wow, that really makes it look like I have a hoarding problem, and that's not including my pickling crocks, marble pastry board etc, etc etc.
To determine what you need, figure out how you cook. I do the regular day to day cooking, making dinner etc, but also bake and my newest passion is making preserves. What I have, I've collected over years and I use. Kitchen real estate is valuable so don't waste it. It is hard to resist the siren call of kitchen gadgets but do you really need that fluted edged flan pan? (No, I did not as it turns out but it was a gift so it doesn't count)
Here is my list of kitchen must haves.
First, mixing bowls, you can never have too many. I've got about a dozen in various sizes, all stainless steel and stackable. If you have to choose, go big. It is always better to have bowls that are larger than you need than smaller. Unless you are using them as the top of a double boiler, the cheap Honest Ed's/Walmart bowls are fine. The other advantages with stainless steel utensils are, easy cleaning, durability, they are non re-active so do double duty if you decide to do some canning and they don't transfer smell, taste or colour.
Next, a good set of measuring spoons and cups. Again, mine are stainless, cheap, indestructible and effective. The only exception to this is my large eight cup/two litre measuring cup. It is glass so I can't wear off the measuring increments. I use it a lot and my plastic one is only suitable for watering plants anymore.
Spoons, slotted and regular, spatulas, whisks, zesters and graters. I've got them all and use them all, all the time. I do use wooden spoons but have broken a ton of them so also have my go to stainless set and a Bakelite set which are inexpensive and heat resistant. I do not have a Microfile grater, I love them but refuse to spend that much money on a grater. I also don't use a sifter. I know lots of people who swear by them but they are a pain to clean and I find whisking ingredients together in a bowl just as effective.
Colanders, I have three. It is a little excessive I know but they are for specific things so if you don't need them don't bother. I have one regular one for washing vegetables, straining pasta etc, a must have but I also have two fine mesh, one that fits over a bowl and one that fits over the sink. The one that fits over a bowl, I use to strain all kinds of things, but for purposes of interest here, yogurt and sour cream. It seems a little random but I have recipes that use both and have substituted both in recipes that call for mayonnaise.
The one that fits over the sink I only use for canning and preserves. It is kind of a love hate relationship with the fine mesh strainers because they are hard to clean.
Pots, roasters and frying pans, heavy bottomed, preferably with a copper core, and stainless steel. Again, indestructible, relatively inexpensive and easy to clean. My one exception is a cast iron frying pan used primarily for eggs. I have no idea why but a properly seasoned egg pan is a dream to cook in. My grandmother swore by hers and that's good enough for me. I don't use aluminum anything except foil. It is a re-active metal that will discolour things when you are canning. I not a fan of non stick stuff either. When you scratch it, and I always do, everything sticks. I don't use tin roasters, I find an unpleasant taste transfer. I do have enamel or agate stock pots, I use them for canning. Lots of people are using the crockery roasters, which are great but too expensive for me and breakable to boot.
I use a different set of things for baking. I have an aluminum, tin and non stick cookie sheet. In my defense, they are always lined with parchment paper so the food never actually touches the cooking surface.
I don't use the silicon baking dishes or liners for cookie sheets because I think they smell and transfer that to what you are cooking. Call me crazy, but I'll go for plain old parchment paper liners and flour dusted baking dishes every time. Most of my baking dishes are Pyrex or ceramic except for my spring form pans that are the cheap tin ones. The more upscale ones are nice but more expensive and mine work just fine.
If you are going to splurge, spend it on knives. Good quality knives last forever and make almost all of your cooking easier. Personally I prefer the single edge, straight or serrated, over the ever sharps. I find the ever sharps drag when you use them and don't give that nice clean edge but use whatever you are comfortable with. Keep them sharp.
That covers most things except the smaller electronics. If you have to, you can get by with out any of them. It takes a little, or a lot longer but it is do-able. Myself, I have a ton of the small kitchen gadgets but here are the ones I use and recommend having.
A mixer, either a hand or stand, I used a hand mixer for years, and the same one too, it is about twenty years old now, but love using my stand mixer. It makes things a lot easier. There is the small price difference between the two, about four hundred dollars, so you'll have to decide that one for yourself.
A food processor of some kind is a dream to have. I have had mine for about as long as the hand mixer and use it for everything from pie crusts to daiquiris. A word of caution, a magic bullet or any of the spin offs is not a food processor, at least not in my opinion. I was given one as a gift and I can honestly say it is the next best thing to useless, it just doesn't have the power to be really useful. Mine is in a box awaiting the dreaded re-gifting, now who do I know that really loves smoothies?
I also use my little Braun immersion blender all the time and highly recommend having one. I know a lot of people don't like or use them but I would be lost without mine.
A timer is a God sent to have. Mine has saved me from more cooking disasters than I can count. I'm sure everyone has a story about getting distracted and ruining something and I'm no different.
I also recomend having a scale if you want to try canning. I use mine all the time.
Another essential is an oven thermometer. Oven temperatures can vary quite a bit from what your dial says. If you are having problems, check it. My oven is off by fifty degrees, which I found out after I burned an entire batch of Christmas cakes.
All the other small appliances, ice cream maker, steamer, juicer, de-hydrater, slow cooker, deep fryer etc that I have are for specific things and not really necessary, just convenient to have when you need them. They rarely get dusted off and usually just take up space. I have three shelving units in my basement full of my extra "must haves".
It is always great to cook with high quality equipment, I have a few, okay one piece, that was a gift, that I love, but they normally come with a hefty price tag that I just can't justify. If you can afford it and you love to cook, why not, but expensive equipment doesn't make a good cook, just a one with less money to spend. If I have to choose I always go for cheaper cookware and more expensive ingredients to cook with or serving pieces to put it on. The basic rule of thumb, for me, is spend your money as wisely as possible. Do your homework, the Internet isn't just for email and looking up naughty things. Pick and choose where to go for quality and when to opt for other options.
I have left out one important thing that every kitchen must have, good recipes and cookbooks. I'll cover that later because I think it deserves it's own spot. Take care and thanks for dropping by.