Amateur cooks warming up to the heat of the kitchen often face the difficult decision of how to spend their dollars. Walking into a store that sells kitchen supplies can be overwhelming, and for beginners, not knowing which items are best to have on hand can result in poorly made meals and wasted money.
This week’s Ask a Foodie question was submitted anonymously and inquired, “What are the 10 cooking supplies every amateur cook should have?”
Brent Spring, Hospitality Administration program chair at Ivy Tech North Central, offered his opinion on key kitchen items. Spring, formerly the vice president of the American Culinary Federation South Bend Chefs and Cooks Association, recommends one thing above all when making practical purchases: Do your homework before buying.
1. A QUALITY KNIFE SET
For all the cubing, cutting and dicing required by recipes, a quality knife set is essential. They tend to be some of the kitchen utensils used most often on a daily basis.
“Just a basic stem thermometer is what you want,” Spring said. “You don’t want an infrared thermometer, because that just measures surface temperature. So, your surface of your chicken may be 165 (degrees) and inside it may be only 130 (degrees).”
3. RESIN OR GLASS CUTTING BOARD
When preparing multiple food items, cross-contamination is a serious health risk. Even after a thorough scrubbing, some cutting boards can still retain harmful organisms.
“Wood is great, but every time you cut, the wood has a tendency to absorb and hold more bacteria than a resin board,” Springer said.
Many kitchen supply outlets carry multi-colored cutting board sets with specific designations for the types of food to used.
Ever try dumping boiling water from a pot of noodles without a strainer? Pasta or vegetables are likely to be lost, and the steam can easily scald.
“You want to stay away from aluminum, because it adds unwanted flavor to the food,” Spring said.
5. POTS AND PANS
Depending on the type of food being prepared, it may be necessary to have multiple pots and pans.
“For pasta, a heavy stock pot is not as good, because it takes a long time to heat up the water,” Spring said. “You would like to have a copper bottom or something to heat the water fast. But if you’re doing soup, you want something with a heavier bottom so it doesn’t heat up as fast and scorch.”
Spring recommends avoiding non-stick pans, as the Teflon coating on many non-stick surfaces can release toxic fumes when overheated.
“I like cast iron. A good cast iron, once it’s seasoned, it’s better than the Teflon,” he said. “I’ve got a cast iron pan that was my grandmother’s. It has to be 80 years old, and I can fry an egg without putting any oil in it and not have it stick.”
Don’t risk slicing a digit while peeling a potato with a conventional knife. For $10 or less, a handheld peeler can quickly remove layers from raw ingredients.
7. WIRE WHISK
Whisks help to evenly distribute ingredients and incorporate air when mixing. In some instances, using a wire whisk instead of a powered mixer can allow for more control of consistency.
8. STAND MIXER
“You can do so many things with a stand mixer; something as simple as making a whipped cream to mixing a vingarette,” Spring said. “It’s got attachments to grind sausage or meat — just lots of things you can do with it.”
A solid stand mixer costs, on average, between $200 and $300, although there are cheaper options and others that exceed $1,000. The KitchenAid series is a popular choice among home chefs and beginning bakers.
9. MEASURING CUPS AND MEASURING SPOONS
Measuring cups and spoons are a cheap necessity for any amateur cook, as it takes time and experience to become comfortable with estimations. A common ingredient like baking powder can drastically affect taste and texture when too much or too little is used. Bypass botched batches with properly portioned recipes.
10. STAINLESS STEEL MIXING BOWLS
Spring recommends a set of stainless steel bowls to complete his list of amateur accessories.
“If you just buy things that are high-quality, they’re going to last you a lifetime, versus buying something that’s less expensive,” he said. “Do your homework before you buy.”