As college students who might be living off campus, this may be the first time you’ve ever needed to fend for yourself in the kitchen. But let’s face it, cooking can be a real pain without the proper tools. The following suggestions may keep you from throwing your pans into the nearest wall.
A high-quality chef’s knife
There’s nothing worse than having to saw into your food when you’re trying to prepare it, which probably makes a good knife the most important thing you can buy for your kitchen. There are two main types of kitchen knives — German and Japanese. German knives are thicker, softer and require daily honing, while Japanese knives are thinner, more brittle and require no honing but require more frequent sharpening. Both styles of knives can be great, and you can pick up moderately priced Wusthofs (German-style) or Tojiros (Japanese-style) on Amazon without breaking the bank — probably some of the best knives you can get for their perspective prices. Just pick up a honing rod or whetstone and learn how to use them and keep your knives clean and dry after using them — don’t put them in a dishwasher or let them soak.
A sturdy set of pots and pans
A lot of people look at pots and pans and wonder what the difference is. There’s a big difference. The main problem the first-time buyer faces (without really knowing it) is in the material the pans are made from. There are four materials which are frequently used to construct pots and pans— stainless steel, aluminum, copper and iron. Stainless steel is non-reactive (it won’t react with your food, creating a metallic taste), virtually non-stick when oiled properly and extremely durable, but stainless steel does not transfer or distribute heat well. Likewise, aluminum, copper and iron all transfer heat well, but are reactive with alkaline and acidic foods and, in aluminum and copper’s case, aren’t very durable. The solution? Purchase a stainless steel set with an aluminum or copper core to receive the benefits of each type of metal. Three-ply sets may be a little more expensive than a normal pot and pan set, but it’s the type of set that’ll probably last you a lifetime and make your life easier.
An instant-read thermometer
You need an instant-read thermometer, especially if you’re a new chef. You can’t just throw a steak on heat and guess when it’s done if it’s your first time. You’re either going to undercook it, which isn’t safe to eat, or overcook it, which makes for an entirely unsatisfying experience. Knowing which temperature you need your food to reach and having a thermometer to check internal temperature are both paramount to a healthy culinary experience. Buy a food thermometer.
A set of prep tools
“Mise en place,” a French term meaning “to put in place,” is one of the most important steps in any culinary venture. Most of the time, you don’t want to jump into the heating portion of a recipe. You want to measure out and cut your ingredients beforehand. That being said, a nice set of cutting boards and prep bowls are cheap and invaluable. A simple set of plastic or bamboo cutting boards will allow you to keep your cutting surfaces separated between meats and non-meats and plastic or glass prep bowls will keep you from dashing around the kitchen trying to measure ingredients as you need them. Prep tools are a simple purchase, but you’ll find them de-stressing in the kitchen.
A food scale
This one’s not quite as important, but can be extremely useful if you frequently follow recipes or like to bake. Measuring ingredients by volume or size isn’t ordinarily very accurate, so many recipes measure their ingredients in grams or other units of weight. A food scale will allow you to easily and quickly measure your ingredients. It’s not going to make as much of a difference as a nice set of knives, pans or thermometer, but it’ll help save you time in the kitchen.