In the GRS forums, Fillanzea mentioned a New York Times article written by Mark Bittman, a.k.a. The Minimalist, who believes “a no-frills kitchen still cooks”. He writes:

The question I’m asked more often than any other is, “What kitchen equipment should I buy?” … I contend that with a bit of savvy, patience and a willingness to forgo steel-handle knives, copper pots and other extravagant items, $200 can equip a basic kitchen that will be adequate for just about any task, and $300 can equip one quite well.

To prove his point, Bittman goes shopping at a restaurant supply store to find the best deals. The kit he assembles includes:

  • An 8-inch chef’s knife ($10)
  • An instant-read thermometer ($5)
  • Sturdy tongs ($3.50)
  • Sturdy sheet pan ($6) — Bittman likes things “sturdy”
  • A plastic cutting board ($6)
  • A paring knife ($3)
  • Japanese mandoline ($25)
  • Can opener ($4)
  • U-shaped vegetable peeler ($3)
  • Colander ($7)
  • Pots and pans:
    • Small, medium, and large cast-aluminum saucepans ($30 total)
    • 10-inch nonstick cast aluminum pan ($13)
    • 14-inch steel-sided heavy-duty steel pan ($25)
    • One lid ($5)
  • Coffee/spice grinder ($10)
  • Food processor ($60)

The article provides the complete list of items Bittman purchased, and explains the reasons for each choice. (I haven’t listed things like wooden spoons here.) The piece also includes a 5-minute video documenting his shopping trip at the restaurant supply store.

Bittman shops for the basics. But he also splurges on a couple of things that he admits are particular to his own method of cooking: a Japanese mandoline and a food processor. Though not essential, he finds they make his life easier.

Customizing your kit
That’s an important factor in stocking a kitchen — each person has different tools they find indispensable. With experience, you’ll learn to love certain gadgets. Some of what Bittman finds necessary, I find strange. A microplane grater? We have one, and we use it, but it’s hardly essential. A salad spinner? Really? To me, that’s $15 wasted.

I have three pieces of kitchen equipment that are near to my heart:

  • My 7-inch Santoku knife, which I received for my birthday last year. I took a knife skills class at a local cooking school, and fell in love with the demo knife. I use it all the time.
  • Next is my cast-iron skillet. You can find these at thrift stores for a couple bucks. (They’re not that expensive new, either.) A cast-iron skillet develops a nonstick coating through use. And if you’re like me, it’ll get used all the time! (This was also a gift.)
  • The only nice piece of equipment I’ve actually purchased for myself is an Epicurean cutting board.

These are important weapons in my kitchen arsenal. Other people have different priorities. Kris doesn’t need a fancy cutting board (though she uses mine all time), but she does a lot of baking for which she’s glad to have a food processor. She also swears by her Silpat (which is a nonstick silicone baking mat).

Megnut loves her stand mixer (a piece of equipment Bittman says is unnecessary); Trent at The Simple Dollar extols the virtues of the slow cooker; in the forums, Fillanzea promises to buy a “fuzzy logic rice cooker the minute there’s room in my budget for it”; and my brother, when he read this article, expressed disbelief that the author didn’t go for high-quality pots and pans.

Start with the essentials
I liked Bittman’s story, but I have to wonder: Who shops for kitchen gear all at once like this? In college, I had a couple of plates and bowls, some silverware, and a cheap saucepan. I gradually added things as I needed them (and could afford them). When Kris and I were married, we merged our hodge-podge collection of cooking gear.

My preference when stocking any workspace (whether kitchen or woodshop), is to buy only the bare essentials first, and to pay for quality. Finding bargains on quality items can be fun. Bittman recommends shopping at a restaurant supply store.

Kris and I keep a lookout for good deals at garage sales and on Craigslist. Last summer at a local community garage sale, we spent $6 on a pair of Le Creuset dutch ovens that sell for $250 new. When a local store had a “buy one, get one free” sale on kitchen gadgets, we made sure to replace our wooden spoons.

Everyone has a different cooking style. Each of us prefers different tools. The key is to buy things that make cooking easier and more enjoyable, things that will be used frequently. It’s perfectly fine to purchase high-quality kitchen tools if they get used, but steer clear of gadgets that will only gather dust. Don’t buy an expensive rice cooker if you only make rice once a month.

(We once spent a lot of money on a fancy breadmaker. We used it once. It sat dormant for years before we gave it to a friend. She uses it all the time. We get more bread from that thing now than we did when we owned it!)

[The New York Times: A no-frills kitchen still cooks]

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