(Approx. reading time 7 mins 26 secs)
I’m not one for spending money. I’m very frugal, but there are some things that you just need in the kitchen if you want to do something beyond a bowl of instant noodles.
I divided the list between ‘get these now’ tools and ‘nice to have’ tools. The first section are things that you really need to get started. The second one, are things to buy as you get more interested in cooking and when you have some spare cash.
Get these now
All of these set me back about £30 and allow me to do pretty much everything I need to do in the kitchen. Most of these tools I’ve had for years, like the ladle and chopping board that have seen me through many, many moves.
You could probably get everything for even cheaper than mentioned here, but I have gone above and beyond to make sure everything I buy for the kitchen is red (even the microwave and fridge!) because I am just obsessed with the colour red.
Some kitchen cloths
Cheap cotton kitchen cloths will work just as well as fancy expensive ones. So get the cheap ones! If you sew, you can make yours with some craps. And if you knit or crochet, you can also make your own with leftover cotton yarn.
Kitchen clothes are useful for the obvious cleaning and drying but also as kitchen gloves replacements. I don’t buy paper kitchen towels and I have never owned oven gloves. When dirty, they go in the wash. I always have at least 3 in the kitchen at any given time, and the ones not in use live in a drawer.
When I don’t make them, I get my kitchen cloths from Poundland at £1 for 3.
With a wok you can do stir-fries, and that’s useful in and of itself. But you can also cook anything that requires boiling and even frying. A wok is a great soup, pasta, and sauce pot replacement, which saves you space and money.
Because of its shape a wok warms up quickly and gets things boiling fast. I use my wok to make popcorn and stove-top bread. If you like frying, the shape allows for large batches. I even use mine as a mixing bowl when making a large batch of muffins or bread.
Get a glass lid that allows you to see what you are cooking. And, if you can, an oil splatter screen (it will save your skin from burns and your kitchen from getting messy).
My wok was less than £15 with lid and screen from Ikea. I use it everyday, several times per day. I have a pretty big one that allows me to cook for a family of 4 with leftovers, a smaller one would be even cheaper.
A set of knives
One knife is good, a set of knives is even better. A basic set that has one little knife, one small knife, one chef’s knife, and a cleaver is perfect. If you can afford it a bread knife, scissors, and one of those sharpening things (whatever they’re called!) are even better.
I use the two small knives for fiddly things. For normal chopping, I use the chef’s knife. And for big tough stuff (like winter squash, melons, and hard root vegetables) I use the cleaver. I use the scissors for chopping fresh herbs and green onions, and some meats. I’m sure a chef would cringe at my descriptions and knife skills, but I manage to cut things effectively!
Make sure you always keep your knives as sharp as possible, that’s where the sharpening tool comes in handy. A dull knife can be very dangerous!
My set was £15 at the local street market. A nice expensive high quality knife is great if you can afford it and you want to get serious about food, if you just want to put dinner on the table a cheap set (that you take care of) is more that enough. I’ve had my set for over 5 years and never had a problem. Just make sure you keep yours sharp and wash right after using.
A chopping board
I actually have 2 chopping boards: a small one and a big one. Mostly because I can’t be bothered to clean a big one if I’m just chopping a tomato. For years and years I only had the small one, I just made sure to wash it properly when cutting meats or fish to avoid cross-contamination. I only got the bigger one, after baby number 2 was born and I had to start preparing bigger amounts of food.
Wood and plastic are the best options as glass will dull your knives fast. I personally prefer bamboo chopping boards, but you do need to make sure you wash and dry them fast or they can split.
My chopping boards are both bamboo and I got them from Ikea at about £5 and £10.
A pair of tongs
Tongs are your hand extensions in the kitchen. You can use them for flipping things, move them around, mix, and serve. They’re amazing! A lot of people don’t own any and use a fork instead, but once you’ve tried using tongs there’s no going back!
I keep mine where my knives are so I don’t lose it and I can grab it fast when needed. My kitchen tongs are my most used kitchen tool. I prefer silicone so they don’t damage my non-stick stuff.
My tongs were £1.50 from Wilko.
A baking tray
You can use them for everything from cookies to a roast. Mine is non-stick for easier cleaning and quite big so I can make the most of my oven space.
You can even get a small one for a toaster oven. For years a toaster oven was all I had and I still managed to bake and roast regularly.
I got my baking tray for from a second-hand store for 50p and I’ve had it for almost 10 years now.
A ladle or large spoon
A ladle will come in handy with soups, sauces, noodles, grains, veggies, and eating when you’re starving… I use mine all the time.
Mine was £1 from Wilko.
A strainer (or very thin colander) must if you’re going to cook any grains or pulses or boil vegetables.
A mesh strainer is better than a colander as the holes are smaller and can be used for more things. If you can, get one that can be used without having to hold it (mine hangs over my sink without falling).
I got my strainer from Poundland (they have some great kitchen tools!) and was only £1. I got a pretty big one so I can use it with large amounts of pasta and beans (it’ll fit 1 kilo of cooked pasta), or wash a lot of vegetables in one go. I also use it to hold my milk bag when I make oat or nut milks at home.
A can opener
There isn’t really much to say about a can opener, they open cans, that’s all they do. There are a lot of fancy can openers, a simple cheap one will get cans opened. If you struggle with using your hands, look into electric one, but I would avoid them if you have full mobility as they are a more fiddly to use.
Mine was £1.50 from Amazon.
A spatula is useful for baking and using the last drop of batter, but also for general cooking. I even use it to make sure I use the last bit of butter from the tub and tomatoes from the tin. Mine also doubles as a wooden spoon for stirring, which means I have one less thing in the kitchen.
My spatula was another purchase from Poundland for £1.
Nice to have
These tools are not essential but they do make things easier and give you more options in the kitchen. Like the others, some I’ve had for years and years: my scale, for example, has been with me for almost 20 years now!
All of these were around £40.
I have a mini grater that fits on the palm of my hand , and by mini I mean less than 5 cm tall. It has 5 different options including slicing. I use it mostly for fresh garlic and ginger, but it manages to be useful at least once a day as it doubles as a microplane.
I also use it for grating carrots, courgette, and blocks of cheese. Every now and then, I will also use it to make shredded tofu.
I got a small grater because I move a lot and I always live in flats, but a larger one would be a better option if you have the storage space.
My mini grater was £1.50 from a department store.
A rolling pin
If you’re a baker, you need a rolling pin. You can also use it as a makeshift meat tenderiser.
My rolling pin, as pretty much everything else, was very cheap as it came from Poundland for £1.
A mixing bowl
A mixing bowl is a must if you do any sort of baking. But it is also useful for making sauces, breading, coating, and can even double as a salad bowl.
My mixing bowl was 50p from Wilko.
A set of measuring cups and spoons
Even if you live in metric country (like I do), you should yourself a set of measuring cups and spoons! Many recipes you come across online and in books will use volume amounts and measuring cups will save you from a lot of converting!
I’ve got 2 sets, one was £1 from Poundland, and the other one 99p from 99p. I like having 2 because I don’t have to wash them when I need to measure different ingredients (especially if I’m using dry and wet).
A kitchen scale
Same as above but the other way round. If you live in a volume-based country, you will come across many recipes that use weights. A scale will save you a lot of time.
I got my scale almost 20 years ago from Amazon for £5 and I use them on an almost daily basis.
An electric kettle
For some reason most people outside of the UK don’t usually have an electric kettle. But they are so incredibly useful beyond boiling water for your tea and coffee. But you can also save a lot of time by boiling the water you need on the kettle and then using it for pasta, or rice, or soups. Even couscous and most noodles can be done a lot faster with an electric kettle.
I got mine from Aldi as a kettle and toaster set for £10.
I have a 3-in-1 blender that came with a jug, a portable smoothie cup and a small mill.
I mostly use the jug for soups, smoothies, and batters. And the mill for grinding coffee and spices. The mill also works as a mini food processor.
Mine was £20 from Argos, a tad more expensive than the other things on the list but very, very useful. Especially if you like making your own sauces, or if you are a smoothie lover.
And, one extra one
A pressure cooker
A pressure cooker is not something you really need, but it is such a good thing to have.
I use mine almost daily. I make soups, stews, beans, grains, steam vegetables, boil potatoes… the list goes on and on. It makes the best rice, and it has completely replaced our rice cooker.
There are some expensive pressure cookers around and some more affordable ones. Mine is an electric pressure cooker, very easy to use and clean. It has a slow cooker setting, which is pretty useful as well. Some come with a yogurt-making setting, which can be a real money-saver for those who have yogurt regularly.
Electric pressure cookers are extremely safe and won’t explode all over your kitchen if used properly, and they can be left alone while you go about your life.
My pressure cooker was £50 from Amazon and has been used daily for the almost 4 years I’ve had it so far.