When I moved to New York, I owned exactly two suitcases and one cat. As I built my pantry from scratch, I realized that there were certain
must-have kitchen items that I needed right away: a cutting board, two good kitchen knives and some utensils, plus a set of food storage containers (for leftover takeout), to name a few. I eventually stocked up on other vital kitchen wares that I now wonder how I ever lived without. Ahead you’ll find a comprehensive kitchen guide covering everything you need to get going, whether you’re starting out, starting over, or rounding out your collection.
Even if you don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen, it’s reassuring to know that you have what you need, when you need it. Try making pasta without a colander and you’ll know what I mean. With that in mind, all of the items below can help you make good food on ordinary nights and don’t require a lot of fancy care or extra maintenance, because really, who has the time?
avocado slicer might be nice if you subsist solely on avocado toast, most people will get more daily use out of a simple can opener. Similarly, while a cast-iron pan is indeed a good investment, it’s a heavy piece that requires special care (seasoning), so a dishwasher-safe set of cookware might ultimately serve you better. And instead of springing for an immersion blender that you might use twice a year, make sure you first secure a quality knife set that you’ll use every single day.
The list below covers 18 must-have kitchen items to see you through hectic days and nights, and even some special occasions. All of the picks are affordable yet high-quality, so that you will buy them once and then use them for years.
A Set Of Silicone Utensils
This colorful, 10-piece
set of cooking utensils comes with its own convenient holder (rounding out the set to 11 pieces). The stain-resistant tools are made from BPA-free, food-grade silicone that is safe to use on any kind of cookware, from nonstick to cast iron. The utensils have a stiff nylon core for a firm stir and are heat-resistant up to 480 degrees Fahrenheit. Included are several standard spatulas, spoons, and a ladle — but it also comes with a set of tongs, a basting brush, and a whisk (there’s even a bonus spoon rest). For just $27, this offers an impressive bang for your buck. And yes: They’re dishwasher-safe.
One fan raved: “Love this product. They work amazing and are super easy to clean. They can go in the dishwasher, which is great, but I still just hand wash them because the dishwasher can make the color fade after a while. I love that they have rubber edges, which eliminates scratching, and helps with ease of cooking, but there is also a stiff center, making them very sturdy.”
Available options: 5, including one set with wood handles
A Versatile Bamboo Cutting Board
organic bamboo cutting board, with three built-in compartments and juice grooves, keeps counters tidy during meal prep and makes an Instagram-worthy charcuterie tray, too. Because it’s made of eco-friendly bamboo, which is famous for being exceptionally hard, lightweight and water-resistant, this is one cutting board that will see you through years of use. The large, 17-by-12.6-inch workspace gives you plenty of room without taking over the counter. The only downside? It is not dishwasher-safe. If that’s a dealbreaker, the plastic pick below may be more your speed.
One fan raved: “I’m writing this review with a year of ownership! I used it EVERY day and LOVE it!!! I never use any other cutting board and have tossed the others out! I had an issue with it arriving damaged with no fault of the seller, the driver dropped the box and it cracked, and the seller immediately helped and sent us a new one! Wonderful customer service, wonderful product and I will be buying another one to have an extra on hand for my BIG cooking days, like holidays and such. This is a MUST HAVE in your kitchen!!!!!!!”
Available options: 3 size options (small, medium, and large)
An Affordable Nonstick Cookware Set
If you’re just starting out, a budget
set of nonstick cookware will help you master the basics. This eight-piece set of lightweight aluminum pans, featuring a beginner-friendly nonstick coating (that’s BPA-free), includes two frying pans, two sauce pans, and a casserole pan, with vented glass lids so you can keep an eye on dinner while it cooks, and soft-touch handles that don’t get hot on the stovetop. These use-friendly pots and pans have a spiral bottom for even heating — though they’re not compatible with induction stovetops. The big caveat here is that this set is hand-wash only in order to preserve that quick-release nonstick coating. That said, the nonstick coating makes washing these pans a total breeze.
One fan raved: “One of two sets in my cupboard […] I have been using them every day since they arrived. They still look new and with reasonable care and use of plastic or wood utensils, I expect many years of outstanding service.”
Available options: 2 sets (8-Piece and 15-Piece)
A Set Of Nesting Measuring Cups And Spoons
When it comes to measuring tools, plastic sets often show wear and tear, losing their labels over time, but this handy set of
stainless steel measuring cups and spoons comes with engraved markings on the handles that will always be readable. Included in the set are four cups, that feature easy-pour spouts, and four spoons — all are made of heavy-gauge stainless steel that is dishwasher-safe. Each set of cups and spoons is stored on a single metal loop like a keychain, so they won’t get lost in a drawer, and nest for easy storage.
One fan raved: “Great quality, nice basic matching set, easy to clean. Fit perfectly hanging inside my kitchen cabinet door!”
Available options: Several different sets, including a 5-piece mini spoon set
A Set Of Multifunctional Food Storage Containers With Lids
Investing in some glass
baking dishes with lids, that pull double-duty as food storage containers, mean you can cook dinner and store the leftovers in the same container. These sturdy glass Pyrex containers are safe to use in the oven, freezer, microwave, and dishwasher. Each comes with a BPA-free plastic lid that’s also top rack dishwasher- and microwave-safe for easy storage and stacking. You will love the fitted lids if you’ve never experienced their organizational magic in your refrigerator. Included are the the two most common baking dish sizes used in recipes: 13 inches by 9 inches and 8 inches by 8 inches, plus, two one-cup containers that are great for prep work and single-serving reheats.
One fan raved: “I have used this set for almost 2 years now. My husband carries lunch in the smallest two containers (along with a Pyrex 3 cup rectangle container). I use the other two for storing food in the refrigerator. After reading reviews of dishes exploding I have been a little wary and never put these in the oven. These come out fine from the dishwasher. I have never had any issues with the lids.
A High-Quality Knife Set
good set of knives is the cornerstone of any kitchen, and this Cuisinart set is a great entry-level option that offers serious bang for your buck. This set comes with six knives for food prep, four serrated steak knives, a sharpener, and a pair of kitchen shears, as well as a stylish matte black block to keep your new knife collection organized. This set has an overall 4.5-start rating with over 14,000 ratings on Amazon, and all of the knives have the added bonus of being dishwasher-safe.
One fan raved: “It has been 3 wonderful years with these knives and they’re still as sharp as the day they arrived! I have had no need to have them sharpened, and honestly, I still have no complaints. They. Are. AMAZING.”
Available options: Two different sets
An Elegant Silverware Set
set of matching flatware is non-negotiable for #adulting, and this understated, dishwasher-safe set looks like it came from West Elm. Its rust-resistant stainless steel is polished to a modern mirrored finish, and you can pick them up in scalable sets, ranging from 20 pieces to 60 pieces, depending on how many you will be serving and/or how often you want to do the dishes. Several shoppers noted that the butter knives were especially sharp, which makes for easier cutting, although probably not ideal with young children in the home. Despite this potential caveat, reviewers love their modern elegance and the ability to stock up.
One fan raved: “I purchased this set to replace old mismatched silverware we had been using. I could not be more pleased. This set has a good weight to it and the finish is simple and beautiful.”
Available options: 4 sets (20-Piece, 30-Piece, 40-Piece, and 60-Piece)
A Cookware Set That’s Easy To Clean
Professional chefs love stainless steel cookware for its
durability and scratch resistance. This set of cookware from T-fal is my top choice because it can take a beating and is oven-safe to high temperatures (think: 500 degrees Fahrenheit) — and unlike nonstick options, this set can handle coming into contact with metal tools. Thanks to its 18/10 stainless steel construction, these pots and skillets are durable and long-lasting, and the copper, aluminum, and stainless steel base deliver excellent heat transfer. This thirteen-piece, dishwasher-safe set has three saucepans, three skillets, a dutch oven, and a steamer insert that can also be used as a strainer in a pinch — plus tempered glass lids. All together, it gives you plenty of tools to cook an impressive meal with but not so many pieces that they’ll end up collecting dust.
One fan raved: “I have owned a lot of cookware and did a lot of research before purchasing this product. If you do not care about using your pots and pans in the oven, this is the best non stick cookware you are going to find under the $700 price point and maybe even at all. This is NOT normal T-Fal cookware, the coating is COMPLETELY different and much more hard. I have owned a few T-Fal Ultimate products for over 7 years and have used metal on them many times, they still look and act brand new.”
Available options: 4 sets (12-Piece, 13-Piece, 14-Piece, and 17-Piece)
An Instant-Read Digital Thermometer
Cooking meat to the right temperature can seem like a daunting task, but with this easy-to-use
instant-read digital thermometer you get an accurate temperature reading in less than six seconds, so you can skip the guesswork. The sleek gadget will tell you when your food is done within two degrees’ accuracy. It’s temperature safe from -58 degrees to 572 degrees Fahrenheit, and it has a ten minute auto-shutoff feature that extends battery life. It comes with a hanging hook and a sheath for easy storage.
One fan raved: “Works great! Looks great! First time buying a food thermometer and it’s super easy and seems accurate! I really like it!”
Available options: 3 different colors
An All-Purpose Sheet Pan
According to domestic doyenne Martha Stewart, an
aluminum half-sheet pan is the most versatile type of baking sheet, measuring 18 by 13 inches, which is fits perfectly in most standard ovens. This sheet is made with heavy-gauge aluminum with enough of a lip to contain wayward juices, making it an excellent surface for roasting meats, vegetables, and baked goods. While they’re hand-wash only, Amazon shoppers report that these pans are well made and clean up easily.
One fan raved: “I’ve purchased 2 of these now. They’re perfect for me to make quarter sheet cakes. I love these so much.”
Available options: 5 different size options, ranging from 1/8 sheet to a full sheet
A Simple-Yet-Effective Box Grater
quality box grater might seem like a niche tool, but don’t underestimate its impact: You can shred cheese, zest lemons, grate chocolate for baking, and use the single wide blade on one side like a mandolin for perfect zucchini slices or potato chips , and even more! This pick from Oxo Good Grips is truly the Rolls-Royce of box graters, thanks to an ingenious attachment that collects the contents of whatever you’re grating so you can easily dump it into a bowl or pot. If you forgo the attachment, a non-slip base keeps things stable. Simple yet brilliant, you won’t know how you lived without it.
One fan raved: “I purchased this grater almost 8 years ago. It is used at least three times each week. We grate vegetables, cheese, coconut and several other items. This grater is as good as new and still maintains its sharpness after all these years. The design is excellent and there is no dent in the grater after so many years of use. If you must have a grater, this is the one to get.”
A Modern Dinnerware Set
This 16-piece set of plates, bowls, and mugs, is made from matte stoneware, making it a seriously
chic dinnerware set that can serve four people. It’s casual enough to use every day but also formal enough for dinners or parties. If you’re looking to serve larger groups, you can upgrade to their service for eight, and if dark, matte colors aren’t your thing, the brand also makes this cheery pastel stoneware set.
One fan raved: “I bought this set a little while ago and I must say I am very impressed with it. The design is slick and the quality is excellent. They are very sturdy and don’t feel cheap at all. Eating from these dishes has been delightful!”
Available options: 3 different color options
A Set Of BPA-Free Plastic Food Storage Containers For Leftovers & Meal Prep
This seriously comprehensive set of 21
food containers, covering a ton of useful storage sizes, will help you portion out snacks, set up your mise en place, or contain epic brown bag lunches. The BPA-free plastic can withstand any kind of meal prep or leftover situation you care to throw at it, from the dishwasher to the freezer, and is virtually maintenance-free. Three sizes come with vented lids for safe microwaving and all of the lids snap together at the base for clutter-free storage.
One fan raved: “Love love love these containers! […] Very durable, sturdy, and great quality!”
Available options: 2 set sizes (42-piece and 60-piece)
A 3-Piece Plastic Cutting Board Set
BPA-free plastic cutting boards come in three stacking sizes, giving you a variety of prep surfaces — whether you’re slicing up an avocado or need a wider surface to prep a lot at once. They feature juice grooves for mess-free chopping and have grippy handles for easy carrying when it’s time to head for the stove. These get extra points for being thick and non-porous, the kind of heavy-duty plastic that can stand up to your knives without blunting them. And, perhaps best of all, they’re dishwasher safe.
One fan raved: “I love these cutting boards. This is the 3rd set I’ve purchased. The boards are of high quality and last a long time. I do like to replace my cutting boards due to germs, so the price point of these are perfect for that. They clean well and I don’t hold food stains. The rubber sides are great for non-slip surface. The rubber itself adheres to the board smoothly so I don’t worry about germs getting trapped inside the cracks.”
Available options: 3 color options (black, gray, and red)
A Large, All-Purpose Colander
top-of-the-line colander can make a small but measurable improvement to your cooking experience. This solid budget option, made of BPA-free plastic, is a reliable choice for most home cooks. It is lightweight, dishwasher safe, and won’t rust like some metals can, plus it’s stiffer than silicone. The five-quart capacity can handle a pot of pasta but isn’t too big for rinsing fruit, and it has a lip on the bottom to elevate whatever you’re draining out of the running water.
One fan raved: “When moving into my home I needed to purchase several staple kitchen items and didn’t want to shell out a ton of money for every single product. This one caught my eye because of its price point-when I got it I noticed that it’s super light and i was thinking that I’d end up needing to replace it. I was wrong! I’ve had this thing for months and it still looks brand new. It’s done it’s job super well!”
A Set Of Minimalist Tumblers
This set of
all-purpose drinking glasses by Libbey boasts clean and modern lines that look “room service chic,” whether you’re drinking juice, water, or a cocktail. The refined set will stock you up on two versatile sizes — eight tumbler glasses and eight rock glasses — all in lead-free glass.
One fan raved: “I was looking for simple but sturdy everyday glassware, and these fit that need. They look nice and have held up well to daily use. Great purchase for the price,” one reviewer commented.
Available options: 2 set sizes (16-piece and 24-piece)
A Manual Can Opener
good can opener is something you do not want to find out you need at the last minute (i.e. when the water is already boiling). This pick is made of the same kind of high-carbon stainless steel as the cooking knives on this list, and has cushion grips for comfort. You can choose from a few different muted colors for a must-have kitchen tool that’s a bit more stylish than most of the utilitarian options out there. There’s also a built-in bottle opener, and it washes up easily in soap and water.
One fan raved: “A great can opener. Smooths the inside edge so there’s no sharp ridge on the can. No resistance at all as your turning the big crank.I’ve owned quite a few openers over the years that *looked* almost exactly like this, but none were as well built or performed like this one. For the extra few dollars I was pleasantly surprised at what I got.”
Available options: 6 different colors, including blue and red
A Professional-Quality Wine Key
This was probably the real first item I bought for my kitchen, for reasons that need no explaining. A
classic waiter’s corkscrew, with a built-in foil cutter and bottle opener, bestows upon you the power to open virtually any beverage with ease and flair. It’s built from high-quality stainless steel, and you can choose from a gorgeous selection of resin and wood handle finishes that makes a big impact on presentation for a very reasonable price.
One fan raved: “This is the second hi coup corkscrew I’ve purchased to use as a bartender. I used to run the “wine night” at my old work place and fill up a recycle bin filled with empty wine bottles so I like a reliable corkscrew that doesn’t suck. I like the weightiness of the corkscrew and how it fits into my hand.”
Available options: 28 colors, including rosewood and ebony