College graduation season is looming. Young people everywhere will be moving into starter apartments, and possibly living on their own for the first time.
No matter their circumstances, they are going to be outfitting kitchens, which can be a perplexing prospect for people with no cooking expertise. While parents and friends sometimes gift fledgling cooks with culinary equipment, sometimes they have to figure it out on their own.
Recently, my nephew, Parker, moved into a new apartment after landing a full-time, post-college job. Because he likes to cook and bake, he’s eager to set up his kitchen. That set me thinking: What are the kitchen items that are the most useful, not necessarily the fanciest or trendiest?
Here’s a list of what you need when you’re just starting out.
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Get clear glass Pyrex measuring cups, the old-school kind with red lettering for both standard and metric measurements. You’ll want at least three sizes: one cup, two cup, and four cup. Pyrex sells a set of four, the biggest being six cups, but I can’t think of an instance where I’ve needed one that large. If you are mostly cooking meals for one, you can stick to the trusty all-purpose two-cup size.
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I have two sets of these slim, sturdy spoons from King Arthur Baking Company. They’re actually called spice spoons, because they can fit into the mouths of spice jars. They start at 1/8 teaspoon and go up to one tablespoon. (You can probably also opt for a set that starts at 1/4 teaspoon, if you don’t want that many spoons knocking around.)
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I’ve already written about my love for vintage Pyrex bowls. You can find them on Etsy, eBay, and at garage sales or antique stores; they’re often sold in a colorful set of various sizes.
Alternatively, you can buy a set of new glass bowls from Anchor Hocking or Duralex, or at IKEA. Although you can get many sizes, you don’t necessarily need one of those nesting sets of a dozen or more; you can manage with small, medium, and large.
For people who are interested in baking bread, think about a stainless steel bowl that’s about 32 inches in diameter.
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A low-tech French press is a great way to get acquainted with different types of coffee. I also own a Keurig and a Nespresso. But before buying a gadget, decide how much coffee you’ll make at home. If a coffee shop stop is part of your daily ritual, you can skip any significant at-home setup for now.
No matter what your setup is, though, you’ll also want two mugs in your cabinet for your hot drink of choice!
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You need two pots:
All-Clad stainless steel pots work well and last a long time. An enamel Dutch oven (such as a Le Creuset) is also a versatile stovetop cooker that’s designed to last, though it’s heavier and more expensive than steel pots. You can occasionally find bargains on all these items at garage sales or resale shops, if you keep an eye out for them.
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Get one stainless steel frying pan, one non-stick pan, and a cast iron frying pan. Some people fear non-stick cookware, because of possible carcinogens, but the newest ones are far safer than our elders’ Teflon. A cast iron frying pan needs to be seasoned before you use it. If you take care of it, though, you can keep it forever, and transition your cooking seamlessly between the stove and oven (or even your outdoor grill).
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If most of your cooking is for one, you should start with two aluminum sheet pans in a standard half-sheet size (these will hold a dozen cookies). Buy the kind that have rims all the way around, rather than the flat cookie sheets; that way, if you cook veggies or proteins in them (or anything else runny), they have some room for leakage.
If you anticipate baking cakes, get a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, and/or two 9-inch round cake pans for layer cakes. Springform pans with removable bottoms make for easy removal, though they are slightly more expensive. I’m a big fan of parchment paper for baking; you can either use the pre-cut sheets and rounds or fit the parchment to the pan yourself.
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Don’t try to subsist on carry-out plastic; instead, you need a good set of stainless steel flatware. Prepare to spend a little money. I made the mistake of buying the cheap stuff at Target, and the utensils bent after one dinner party. Try searching for the best deals at a store like Crate and Barrel or shop the selection at Home Goods.
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You will probably want the following:
I love the Picardie style made by Duralex, which is stackable in a cabinet and reminds me of a French bistro. IKEA also has sets of nice, sturdy glassware for not much money.
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Basic white dishes are ideal until you gain a sense of your personal style. Sur La Table sells this 16-piece set (four mugs, four cereal bowls, four salad plates, and four dinner plates), or you can purchase individual pieces at stores like World Market. You can often find dinnerware at garage sales and thrift shops, too. Look it over carefully for cracks and stains before purchasing.
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Your mixing bowls can double as serving bowls, but it’s nice to have a couple of platters and boards on which you can arrange charcuterie, cheeses, and fruits, for entertaining or solo snacking. Crate and Barrel is a good place to look. Don’t buy more than you need, because these irregularly sized items can take up a lot of storage space.
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