So there’s a catch when it comes to specialty cooking:  What if you’re new to cooking, too? Here are the basic tools that your kitchen should be stocked with in order to make your life as a budding cook less frustrating.  Don’t worry, you don’t need to run out the store and acquire all of these at once if you don’t have them, but you’ll want most if not all of this stuff eventually.

8x8x2 Pan:  A square pan of these dimensions, usually called simply an “8×8 Pan,” preferably made of glass but metal works too (glass cooks more evenly).  Must be oven-safe.

9x13x2 Pan: A square pan of these dimensions, usually simply called an “9×13 Pan,” preferably made of glass but metal works too (glass cooks more evenly).  Also must be oven-safe.  (We’re starting a trend, you see.)

Aluminum Foil: Reynolds Wrap is the most common brand. Though it is generally stronger than the off-brands, you can make a cheaper brand work, especially if you’re willing to layer it or you don’t need it to resist pressure or hold liquid. One way or another, this is extremely useful for lining trays, wrapping chicken, and other such tasks. Also very useful if grilling.

Baggies: We mean Ziploc type bags of all sorts of dimensions (sandwich, quart, and gallon being the most common), useful for storing leftovers, freezing additional meals for later use, and packing food on the go.  Really, really, really, really useful.

Bar Pan: An 8×8 or 9×13 pan may be substituted for this. This pan comes in various dimensions and has much shorter sides than the standard pans. It is most useful for bar cookies, and can double as an extra cookie sheet in a pinch.

Blender: This may not seem like a basic, but quite a few things need to be pureed, powdered, or otherwise scrunched and a blender is the simplest way to do it.  (You can use a mortar and pestle*, but when you’re crushing 3 cups of oats…you’ll be at it a while.) Spend a minimum of $15 before tax, or it will die on you; you get what you pay for, after all.  VitaMix is a wonderful brand if you can afford it (by far the best on the market), but very expensive, and a simpler machine (like the one our link goes to) will do.

*Side Note: A mortar and pestle is a wonderful tool for crushing small amounts of spices or making things like powdered dry milk finer, and Jocelyn uses hers a lot, but it is not a “basic” per se.

Bottle opener: We mean the kind with which you can pop beer-type tops, open wine bottles, etc. Sometimes you just need to open these things!

Bread pans: Usually somewhere in the dimension region of 9x5x3 (some variation is normal, as long as it is relatively close to these dimensions), these can be metal or glass (or even stoneware—see “cookie sheet” for further information on stoneware).  It’s a good idea to have at least two—very often you will have reason to make two or more loaves of bread at the same time. Between us we have over a dozen bread pans, and it is entirely worth storing them.

Bundt Pan: Used for making coffee cakes and other such “cakes with a hole in the middle,” you may use an Angel Food Cake Pan instead.  The Angel Food Cake Pan has steeper sides, but other than that they really are quite similar. However, without this pan there will be no cakes with holes for you.

Cake pans: Typically 9-inch round, but 8-inch round will work. You need two in order to do any layer cake (and your average cake recipe yields enough for 2 cake pans). Metal pans work and are the most common, but you may find glass ones. Do not, ever, substitute pie pans for cake pans. In this case the difference , namely the slanted sides of the pie pan, make a big difference in your final product’s shape and baking time.

Can opener: May be manual or electric, but you must have one in order to get into your canned goods in anything like a timely manner.  Any brand will do. In our experience, manual ones last longer.

Casserole dish(es): One of the most common brands is Corningware (it is also one of the best). These can serve in place of the 8×8 or 9×13 pans most of the time, and you can make casserole in either of those as well (casserole does not care about shape much). However, these have higher sides, which is often needed to prevent boiling over.

Cookie Sheet: Preferably ones without edges (makes rolling things out on the sheet possible).  Metal works, but stoneware (Pampered Chef makes the best stoneware) cooks much more evenly and in our experience always turns out a better baked product. Some bread recipes even require stoneware since it can be preheated in your oven in order to replicate baking in a wood-fired stove.

Cooling racks: Wire mesh sheets that stand up off of the countertop that you can put baked goods onto to cool after removing them from pans or cookie sheets. Things cool much more quick and evenly and stick far less when you use a cooling rack instead of towels on the counter or (please don’t!) straight on your counter or table.

Cutting boards: If you cut straight onto a countertop it will be damaged beyond saving, unless you are lucky enough to have granite countertops. So, get a cutting board. Plastic works just fine, glass is okay too (but will screech like nails on a chalk board upon occasion when your knife slips), wood is almost impossible to keep clean enough (juices soak in too easily).

Funnels: Very useful if you are making your own sauces, especially if you store them in sauce bottles with narrow necks. Mostly just very helpful in preventing spills. Plastic works just fine, though metal is also cool.

Grater: This should have a minimum of four sides.  Microplane makes a very nice sharp grater, but it’s on the pricey side. Oneida, Oxo, or Kitchen Aid makes good ones in a lower price range. You’ll need it for grating things other than cheese, so it is good to have a sharp one made of better metal than your average $5 Walmart product, if you can.

Kitchen timers. Yes, plural.  Never tell yourself you’ll just remember to check back in 5 or 10 minutes; it never ends well.  :-)  Most microwaves come with a kitchen timer function, but it’ll behoove you to get a couple more as well.  One that counts hours and minutes, and one that counts minutes and seconds, will come in handy.

Kitchen/meat scissors. There’s always things to cut up, meat or not.  Most sets of good knives come with kitchen shears, but if you cut up a lot of meat you might want more than one pair.

Kitchen scale: This may not seem basic, but when using recipes that tell you to chop “two pounds” of potatoes, well, it is the simplest way to make sure you actually have two pounds of potatoes. Also useful for making recipes that use overseas measurements (which are all by weight). As an added bonus, you can use it to weigh packages and buy the postage online. We recommend a digital scale, as they’re the most common these days and the easiest to use. Most even let you choose what units you’re weighing in.

Ladles: As with mixing spoons, having several saves constantly washing them.  A soup ladle is the most common and most useful, but having a few smaller ones can be good for sauces and the like. Generally metal is the most sturdy, which is important when moving hot liquids, though sometimes plastic ladles will be tough enough. Experiment at your own peril.

Measuring cups: Best if the set includes a measure for 1 cup, ½ cup, 1/3 cup, and  ¼ cup at a minimum, though an 1/8 cup and a ¾ cup (and some even have a 2/3 cup) can be great to have. Also, a glass 2-cup measure is wonderful for so many things, and really is a “must.”

Measuring Spoons: At a minimum this should include a 1 TBS, 1 tsp, ½ tsp. ¼ tsp.  An 1/8 tsp measure is very, very good to have. These are absolutely necessary if you want to avoid having way too much salt, spice, etc. in your food. Trust us, you do.

Mixing Bowls: Of varying sizes from large to small, you need something to mix up your ingredients in when the stand mixer isn’t required or preferred (you know, for things like salad). Metal or glass are generally the most versatile, though there are some good plastic ones out there. Check plastic to make sure it is microwave and dishwasher safe before purchasing, however.

Mixing Spoons: Larger than the spoons that come in a set of silverware, these can be wood, plastic, or metal. Wood tends to be the sturdiest for the least amount of money, and won’t scratch nonstick coatings the way metal does. Please have at least 3 mixing spoons, or you will be doing dishes like an OCD person.

Muffin Tin: Either has 6 or 12 little cups in it that you can use to make muffins or cupcakes. When you want muffin or cupcake shaped things, there is no substitute. There are also “mini muffin tins” that have much smaller cups.

Oven mits/hot pads: Please, for the love of unburned fingers, get a hot pad! Preferably more like a half dozen of them. They double as trivets and they are vastly superior to towels for getting hot things in and out of the oven with minimal mishaps. Jocelyn, especially, assures you that you cannot make the towel work well reliably, no matter how much easier it is to find.

Parchment Paper: Generally found in the same part of the store as tin foil and saran wrap, this is paper designed to be put in the oven…with a tray under it, of course. Particularly useful for preventing baked goods from sticking to your trays (if they aren’t stoneware—stoneware trays almost never need parchment paper).

Pastry cutter: Pastry recipes will tell you that you can get by using two knives or forks instead of one of these.  They are technically correct, but do it once and then you’ll spend the few dollars to buy a pastry cutter. It makes dough things so much easier when you need it.

Peelers: Vegetable peelers, to be precise. Peeling potatoes or carrots or apples or any other thing with a peel that you may wish to remove with a knife is possible, but is usually tedious and more likely to result in nicked fingers.

Pie plate(s):  A glass plate of roughly the same dimensions as a cake pan, but don’t interchange them. The standard pie plate size is 9″. The different shapes matter for pies and cakes. Also, glass pie plates cook much more evenly than metal ones. For most things glass Pyrex brand is a good bet for decent quality at a decent price.

Pitchers: Generally gallon or half-gallon sized for the making and storing of juices. Make sure they have lids that fit or things can get very messy.

Pizza cutter: Though a knife can do the job, a circular pizza cutter speeds up the division of pizzas, quesadillas and other such flat food. If you see one made of something other than metal, please, send us a picture. We can always use a laugh.

Pots: This means cooking pots in an assortment of sizes with lids that fit well. Yes, that will mean spending a bit more. Just buy a set, the quality upgrade is worth it. They’ll heat more evenly, and having lids means all sorts of cooking options just opened up to you.

Rice Cooker: Though you can do rice on the stove, the rice cooker will make rice without your supervision, and it will turn out right every time. If you can afford it this is well worth the investment.  Zojirushi is the best brand we’ve ever found, but it can be a bit spendy and a little hard to find. Other brands work pretty well, but if at all possible get one with a lid that locks down. The glass lids rattle horribly and don’t provide particularly good steam-pressure control, which is what makes tasty rice.

Rolling pin:  Has handles at either end and a tube in the middle (or is just a long tapered tube, called “french style”–Jocelyn prefers this), it is good for making dough flat. There are these wonderful little one handed varieties (sometimes called pizza and pastry rollers, sometimes called mini rolling pins), but the traditional kind work fine too. Wood or silicone are both good. We recommend against granite and marble rolling pins, because while they are great weapons, their weight makes the careful rolling of very soft dough impossible.

Salt & Pepper Shakers: You can work out of the containers from the store, but it’s a pain in the tushy. Also, you have a seriously high likelihood of spilling too much into the food without meaning to. Shakers are also good for putting on the table at meal time.

Saran Wrap: Good for wrapping things up to save later, covering bowls, and a variety of other tasks (some of them, in the GF world, a little odd), it’s worth keeping a roll on hand. “Saran” is technically a name brand, so you may see it called “nonstick plastic wrap” or something of the kind. The Saran brand generally is superior to the off brand.

Sharp Knives: It is very important to have good sharp knives. Bad knives make chopping much more frustrating and less effective. Also, dull knives actually slip and cut you more often than good sharp ones (and cuts from dull knives hurt more, as they tear the skin more). If you’ve purchased knives made of good steel you should get a sharpener (the Chestnut Sharpener is unusually easy to use, though Amazon doesn’t carry them) and just give the knife a quick swipe whenever it gets a little dull. Cutco knives are by far the best, but they’re very expensive (they’re such good steel that you actually don’t need to sharpen them!). Kitchen Aid knife sets are fine in the lower price bracket. Much cheaper than that and they won’t last, won’t resharpen, and will dull very quickly.

Skillets or Frying Pans: Again, just buy a set in varied sizes with lids that fit well. They will probably be included in your pots and pans set if you got a good one. You need the lids, you really really do. The one frying pan  linked to here is a skillet Jocelyn’s husband got as a gift before they  married, and it is one of the best frying pans she’s ever used.

Slotted spoons: These are in addition to the mixing spoons, though they can double as mixing spoons in a pinch. Very useful for fishing things out of boiling water, or for serving something where you don’t want all the sauce to come along.

Slow cooker (Crockpots): Incredibly useful for busy days, and some recipes actually just turn out better if they’re give a lot of time to cook over low heat. Read reviews before purchase, though, as some models have uneven heating elements (which can lead to burning) or run on a different thermometer scale than standard (requiring you to adjust recipe recommendations accordingly). You do not need much in the way of fancy—just high and low settings and a timer function. There are many different sizes available, so pick one that will work well for the number of people you routinely feed.

Spatulas (stiff and floppy): Stiff spatulas are the kind you use to flip pancakes, remove cookies from a sheet, or check under the bottom of a pizza. Floppy or soft spatulas are much more bendable, and are usually used to scrape mixing bowls clean, make scrambled eggs, etc.  In both cases, plastic spatulas should be purchased “heat proof” (usually defined as won’t melt up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit), because otherwise you can’t use them on things on the stove or a hot cookie sheet and expect them to last more than a few uses. A metal stiff spatula is also a good thing to have for getting baked goods off of stoneware and metal pans cleanly.

Spice rack: For the organization, tidy storing, and easy access of spices. The one linked here is wall-mount, but the kind that sit on the counter are fine too, if that fits in your kitchen better. If you’re hanging out on this blog much you’ll need it, because you will soon own way more than three or four jars of spices. They just make food so very tasty.

Stand Mixer and Basic (included) Attachments: This may not sound “basic” but it really is. While our recipes can be done by hand, this mixer will save you so much time and effort (and often facilitates multitasking marvelously) that it is truly worthwhile to buy one if you possibly can. They’re usually around $200 for a good one, and KitchenAid is by far the best brand out there. Matter of fact, you really should just buy the KitchenAid (color is up to you :D). Sunbeam sucks, absolutely do not buy it, not even if they’re offering it to you for a pittance. There’s a reason they’re so much cheaper.

Strainer: Also called a “colander,” you use it to drain the water off of boiled things, generally. There isn’t a good substitute, so owning more than one can be very helpful.  You should have at least one big enough to drain a pound of pasta all at once.  Of course, if you have a family that routinely eats 2 or 3 lbs of pasta at a meal, you’ll want the huge one.

Towels, Washcloths, and Rags: All good for doing dishes, cleaning up spills and keeping your counters and floors clean. Cotton absorbs much better than anything with any percentage of a polyester product in it. Do not ever substitute any of these three things for a hot pad or oven mit—eventually you will be burned and it will HURT.

Tupperware: Of course, Tupperware is a brand name, but we mean containers with lids intended to store food in your fridge or pantry for later consumption. Leftovers happen, so be prepared.

Wax Paper: Like parchment paper, but coated in wax, this is usually found in the same area as tinfoil and saran wrap. Not oven safe, it nonetheless has many other uses in baking and cooking and keeping a roll on hand is a good idea. If you are  GF cook, keeping several rolls around at all times is vital.

Whisk: Looks like a little cage of wires on a stick, it is very useful for the scrambling together of things. Much more effective than your average fork for making smooth sauces and the like