Essentials for the Kitchen: 10 Smart Choices

Check out this list for guidance if you’re outfitting your first place or considering some upgrades.

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Do you follow culinary entertainers like Athena Calderone of Eyeswoon or Instagram accounts like the new @thesunsetkitchen from Sunset Magazine? If so, then you – like me – may be dreaming of preparing a picture-perfect dinner party for your best buds in a swoon-worthy kitchen. But you – also like me – may not quite be there yet.

Maybe you’re moving out of your parents’ house and into your first apartment. Maybe you’re getting married and completing your wedding registry. Or maybe you’re finally, finally getting a paycheck that’ll let you splurge on non-IKEA kitchenwares.

No matter your stage in life, if you’re looking to step up your game for your first or fifth “adult” kitchen, these ten upgrades are definitely worthwhile (the melon baller can probably wait)

Trash can: There’s nothing worse than a smelly kitchen, a dirty trash can lid or a receptacle that holds only two days’ worth of garbage (on that note, be sure to check out our waste-reduction tips). Make your life easier with an update. Look for a stainless steel can with a touchless motion sensor and a removable ring liner. Tip: Instead of throwing out your old trash can, clean it well and use it to organize your recyclables, or to start a compost bin.

Pots and pans: You may have a pot and a pan, but smart investments in cookware will last for many years. The four essentials are a skillet, a sauté pan, a saucepan and a stockpot. Cast iron is great for just about everything, from frying eggs to making lasagna to baking brownies. Stainless steel is another durable choice.

Bakeware: Baking sheets and pans are not just for cookies and cakes. They can be used for casseroles, breads, pizzas and more. And don’t even get me started on all the uses for muffin tins. Invest in quality pieces – glass, silicone and heavy-gauge, light-colored aluminum will allow for even heating. As a bonus, your pans won’t warp, and several of those options provide a non-stick surface. A cheap baking sheet will turn black and bend out of shape in a matter of time, forcing you to use aluminum foil with each use. That’s not quality, people.

Must-have accessories: This includes mixing bowls and measuring cups and spoons. Choose items with raised increments versus printed, because the print will fade over time, and then you’ll wind up guessing, which defeats the purpose of the purchase altogether.

Knives: Probably one of the best investments of your life … in the kitchen, at least. You can either get quality knives up front – meaning those with a comfortable grip made from a single piece of carbon steel (not stainless steel) – or you will end up buying cheap ones over and over and over again. Pick up a knife sharpener and kitchen shears, too.

Cutting board: Opt for a solid-wood version. It can be used as a surface to cut on, obviously, but it will also double nicely as a charcuterie board for that dreamy party you’ll be hosting.

Small appliances: There are a million gadgets out there, and the options can be overwhelming. I recommend these basics: A mixer (standing or handheld), a blender (I like the Magic Bullet) and a toaster oven. To that list, many people add a slow cooker, and it can certainly be a handy device to have if you enjoy soups and stews.

Tableware: You’ll be amazed at how matching dishes, glassware and utensils can transform your beginner kitchen into one with bonafide hosting and toasting potential. I recommend sets of four to start, six if you can swing it. But hang onto those mismatched coffee mugs – conversation-piece charm and storytelling opportunities are not to be forgotten.

Linens: This category includes kitchen towels, oven mitts and potholders. Not only are they vital to a functioning kitchen, but they also add personality. You can splurge at stores like Anthropologie. Or you can purchase affordable but still high-quality items on Amazon, or in discount stores like Home Goods or World Market.

Water filter: I recommend screening contaminants, chemicals and sediment from tap water. If you’re serious about your water drinking and don’t mind spending extra, I like the Big Berkey water filter system. It filters and purifies water, removing virtually all types of impurities.