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How to set up your first kitchen without spending your whole paycheck |

How to set up your first kitchen without spending your whole paycheck

Making the move from a dorm or your parents’ house to your first solo place can seem intimidating, especially when it comes to outfitting the kitchen. Yes, you’ll have to put some money into it — although maybe not as much as you think. In fact, if you spend wisely, you’ll save money on eating out and have kitchen equipment that will last for years — and maybe even someday end up in your future offspring’s first kitchen.

Pro tip: Check out yard sales and second-hand stores for kitchen equipment — you can find amazing bargains on everything from dishware and cutlery to skillets, blenders and rolling pins.


Your pantry setup will lay the foundation for everything you need to feed yourself from a pre-workout breakfast to a late-night snack and even Sunday brunch at home with friends.


A few basic staples provide the basis for pasta, stir-fry, curry, chili and soup. You’ll want: Olive oil, vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce (low-sodium, dark), vinegars (white, balsamic, red wine), honey or light agave syrup, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken/vegetable broth, coconut milk, mustard (Dijon, whole-grain) and hot sauce.

Easy shelf-stable proteins

Fill your larder with both canned and dried beans — canned for when you need a super-fast meal of rice and beans at the end of a long day, and dried for making more luscious soups and stews. Raw nuts, including cashews, walnuts and pine nuts, can be pureed into pesto, tossed onto a salad or sauteed with veggies for a burrito filling. Canned tuna in oil is also good to have around.

Starchy bases and additions

Stock up on pasta, including super-thin capellini pasta for when you want to cook dinner in 10 minutes flat. Grits (or polenta) make a great base for eggs and roast chicken alike. Different varieties of rice are often sold in bulk, as are couscous and quinoa. Potatoes are also good to have on hand.

Spices and other flavor-enhancers

A few dashes of spice, even just salt and pepper, can totally change the flavor of any dish, along with a squirt or two of lemon juice. Start with the basic spices — chili powder, paprika, cinnamon, cumin and oregano — but expand your spice and flavor pantry each time you shop, picking up small quantities of ginger, smoked paprika, nutmeg, tarragon, thyme and whatever else strikes your fancy. Garlic, onions and lemon don’t last as long as dried spices, but they are also essential to a basic kitchen.

Baking supplies

It’s incredibly easy to whip up a batch of biscuits or chocolate chip cookies, so don’t be afraid to flex your baking muscles. Nothing will make you more popular with friends and neighbors than freshly baked brownies. You’ll need all-purpose flour, sugar (white and brown), unsweetened cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and instant yeast, which you can store in the fridge to make it last longer.


Good tools in the kitchen can mean the difference between success and failure, so start with the essentials, and then add more items as your skills grow and you’re ready to tackle new recipes and techniques.

The essential tools and utensils for your kitchen will depend greatly on what kind of foods you would like to prepare. Some of these, such as an antibacterial cutting board or an instant-read thermometer, aren’t as important if you don’t cook meat, and you’ll need a whisk for desserts and a ladle if you make soups and stews.

Kitchen tools

Here is a list of basics, but adjust the list to fit your needs and add on as you go: Dry measuring cup set (preferably stainless steel), 16-ounce liquid measuring cup, measuring spoon set (preferably stainless steel), stainless steel mixing bowls, large colander, 9-inch metal tongs, wooden spoon, silicone spatula for mixing or spreading, ladle, thin metal spatula for flipping things in a pan, pepper grinder, box grater, handheld citrus juicer, long-handled fine-mesh strainer, wooden cutting board (12-inch or larger), antibacterial cutting board (if cutting raw meat), instant-read digital thermometer, 12-inch stainless steel whisk, potato masher, corkscrew and a Microplane grater.


Every cook needs a few good knives, like a basic eight-inch chef’s knife and a small paring knife. A set of kitchen shears is handy for breaking down a chicken, snipping herbs and cutting off those pesky heavy-duty rubber bands binding the broccoli. A serrated knife isn’t necessary but is good to have if you buy or make artisan bread.

Pots and pans

Pots and pans can be a big expense, but most cooking can be handled with a 6-inch or 12-inch skillet, a stock pot and a sheet pan. Yard sales are a great place to look for cast-iron or enamel skillets and Dutch ovens, which can often be easily reconditioned at home at a small fraction of the cost of purchasing new. It’s good to have a few sizes of sheet pans and at least one 8-inch-by-8-inch or 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish.


There is a dizzying array of electric appliances that could easily fill up an entire kitchen, but there are a handful that can be useful on an almost daily basis. Keep an eye out for them at thrift stores and you’ll save a bundle.

Use an immersion blender for everything from smoothies to soup; a scaled-down food processor frees up counter space and speeds up chopping veggies or whipping up hummus. A rice cooker and a slow cooker are fix-it-and-forget-it appliances that won’t necessarily save you total cooking time, but they’ll prevent you from having to tend a dish on the stove while you’re preparing it.


Once you get bitten by the baking bug, it’s easy to obsess over handmade French porcelain pie pans and high-end stand mixers, which someday may be worth investing in. Until then, a simple rolling pin — if it’s not tapered, it’ll be easier to roll out dough evenly — is a must-have, and a bench scraper is useful for other tasks besides baking, like scooping up chopped ingredients to throw into a hot pan.

Other basic baking tools you’ll want are an 9-inch round cake pan, 8 1/2-inch loaf pan, 9-inch pie glass plate, handheld mixer and a kitchen scale. Cupcake liners and a muffin tin are good to have on hand, but you probably don’t need a springform pan or a sifter if you’re just starting out.


Next month, we are starting our next yearlong project, the Year of Gadgets. Inspired by the Year of Baking that we completed last year — you can find all of those recipes and videos at — the following 12 months will explore all kinds of gadgets, from the ones you think you can’t live without (toaster, microwave) to the ones you’re not sure you need (SodaStream, sous vide).

The series starts in a few weeks with a look at the Instapot, the bestselling new kitchen appliance last year. If you have one, we’d love to hear your thoughts on it, if you have a suggestion for a gadget you think we should feature this year, email me at The gadgets don’t have to be electric (a mandoline is on my shortlist), but the more useful and efficient they are to use, the better.

— Addie Broyles

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