This list should give anyone a great start to be able to cook basic meals assuming they have a stove, oven, refrigerator, and sink. Please, comment if I’m missing something glaringly obvious – remember, we’re talking absolutely essential here.
Aluminum, rimmed half sheet pan (aka jelly roll pan) – One should suffice. I actually have four and I use them for roasting meat and vegetables, toasting nuts, baking rolls, cookies and sheet cakes, making caramel corn, etc.. I also line them with parchment paper to freeze berries or cool chocolate covered candy.
Box cheese grater – Because store bought grated cheese, while handy, is more expensive and often has that weird powder coat on it. It is also handy for grating vegetables.
Coffee Maker – If you drink coffee, you need one. You can’t afford to go to Starbucks every day. No, really, you can’t. I know you think you can. You can’t. You can get a French Press for less than $20.
Corkscrew with bottle opener
Cutting boards – I generally use plastic boards so I can throw them in the dishwasher to sanitize them. It’s good to have at least two so when you’re preparing both meat and veggies/fruit you can use a separate board for the meat. I do like a nice wooden board for slicing bread but it certainly is not a necessary item.
Electric Hand Mixer – I tried to make chocolate chip cookies without one for research purposes (major sacrifice – we had to eat them too) and it was too much work. It’s probably doable if absolutely necessary but you’ll definitely need one if you ever want to bake a cake. Also handy for whipping cream.
Food storage containers – The plastic ones (like Ziplock) are inexpensive and handy, just don’t put them in the microwave! The glass ones (like Snapware) are even better and microwave safe.
Kitchen Timer – I use the one on my microwave but if you don’t have that available, you’ll need one.
Knife Sharpening Steel or Stone – Because you have to keep them sharp, see below.
Knives – Large chef’s knife (all purpose), serrated knife (bread, citrus, tomatoes), small paring knife (strawberries and smaller items). I beg of you to keep them sharp. They are infinitely easier to use and, believe it or not, they’re safer. You’re less likely to cut yourself and, if you do, it’s a cleaner cut. Do yourself a favor and learn some knife skills – you will find instructional videos on youtube. In fact, I just looked some up to give you a link and here’s the darling Jamie Oliver with the same three knives I just mentioned – love him! Jamie Oliver on knife skills
Large metal spoon for stirring/serving – This can do double duty unless you need something fancy.
Measuring cups and measuring spoons – Get inexpensive sets and get one Pyrex 2 cup measuring cup for measuring liquids (it’s also handy for heating up soup, etc. in the microwave).
Mixing bowls – Get an inexpensive set (large, medium, small), you’ll use them all.
Pyrex pan – Get the square 8 x 8 or larger rectangle 9 x 13 size for casseroles, baking chicken/fish, brownies, cakes etc., depending on how many people you usually feed.
Rubber spatulas – You need at least one silicone spatula. I have about five of them and use them for much more than baking. I like the solid silicone They are practically indestructible so I use them on the stove all the time.
Saucepan – I would, at least, get a large one (4-6qt) because you’ll need it to cook pasta. If you can get a smaller one (2qt), it would be nice for sauces and to heat up soup. Remember, the heavier the bottom, the better the saucepan will conduct heat.
sautéing veggies and cooking meat (it won’t brown or sear super well but it will do the job).
Spatulas – You’ll need one for flipping, I like the OXO Silicone Flexible Turner as well as a rubber spatula for scraping.
Strainer/Colander – You’ll need this to wash fruit & veggies, drain pasta, etc. I like the stainless steel mesh colanders. You can also sift flour with one if you don’t have a sifter.
Tea Kettle – I realize there are other ways to boil water for tea so it might not really be absolutely essential but it’s much nicer than using the microwave or a pan on the stove.
Toaster – Just get a 2 slice unless you are regularly making toast for a crowd, it takes up less space.
Tongs – For stir fry, tossing salads and grabbing things off the grill.
Wire whisk – The medium sized ones, 8-9in, work best for most jobs. I have about 3 different sizes and that’s the one I use ninety-nine percent of the time.