As a professional chef, I have high standards for kitchen tools. I truly believe that a chef’s knife is an extension of my arm and I can’t live without a well-built skillet. Over the years, though, I’ve had to stock restaurant kitchens–and my own kitchen–on a pretty tight budget. I learned you don’t always have to spend a fortune. Take a peek in my kitchen cabinets–right next to the $500 blender is a $15 cast iron skillet and a $5 vegetable peeler.
Head to the bargain bin for these kitchen tools:
Nonstick Skillet – $15 to $30 – Unlike stainless steel, these pans aren’t designed to last a lifetime. In time, the magical non-stick coating starts to, well, stick (goodbye, perfect eggs), and they scratch. Spend just enough so you feel OK replacing them each year.
Vegetable Peelers – less than $10 – What’s the difference between an expensive peeler and a cheap one? The price. No, seriously, that’s the only difference. A peeler that costs less than $10 works just as well, and you won’t feel ripped off when it gets dull. You can even find good ones at the dollar store!
Plastic Cutting Boards – $10 to $20 – Plastic cutting boards may be inexpensive, but that doesn’t mean they’re cheap. They work just as well as more expensive boards, which can also warp and scratch after a year or two. (Hello, bacteria.)
Cast Iron Skillet – less than $15 – You can spend a ton of money on enameled cast iron like Le Creuset, but bare, uncoated cast iron is relatively inexpensive. These skillets come pre-seasoned, and they will last forever if you take care of them properly.
Baking Sheets – $10 to $15 – These things always warp or stain, no matter how much money I drop on them. I’ve learned my lesson and stick to the ones that cost less than $15.
These tools are totally worth the investment:
Knives – $100 and up – Armed with a sharp knife, I can do anything: chopping onions, carving a chicken, you name it. Knives can be expensive. But they’re a worthy investment, and they last a lifetime when kept honed and sharp. Check out these eight other things you should be doing to take good care of them.
High-Powered Blender – $450 to $600 – There’s a reason almost every commercial kitchen has one of these high-powered blenders. There are less-expensive brands, but Vitamix is the king. Transform almonds into nut butter, turn cold ingredients into soup (seriously, you can cook soup in it!) or make super creamy smoothies.
Stainless Steel Pots & Pans – $250 and up – When it comes to your stainless steel pots and pans, don’t skimp on quality to save money. A good skillet can be your go-to cooking workhorse, and simmering sauces will burn in pots with hot spots. Make the investment in a set, or at least pick up a few core pieces.
Stand Mixer – $350 to $750 – If you bake, this kitchen tool is a must-have. Its incredibly powerful motor makes the best cookie and bread doughs, and your meringue or whipped cream will never be fluffier. Bonus: Attachments turn this into a meat grinder, pasta maker, ice cream churner and so much more. Want my endorsement? I have a KitchenAid.
Instant Pot – $100 – It’s difficult to compare the Instant Pot with other “low-and-slow” cooking methods, but we did. People are completely obsessed, myself included, with this one-pot wonder. Cook a whole roasted chicken, 30-minute soups or risotto, all without firing up the oven. Plus, it’s more than an electric pressure cooker–it pulls triple duty as a rice cooker and slow cooker.
If you’re setting up a new kitchen, don’t worry about getting everything all at once. Start with your budget items, then stock up on one splurge item a year for Christmas, birthdays or wedding registries. Before long, you’ll be all stocked up and cooking like a pro.