It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, what your social status is or what you do for a living, we all have one thing in common – we all have to eat. It’s fundamental to survival, but it’s more than that. Meal times are the perfect opportunity for families to catch up with each other, friends to spend time together and even colleagues to get to know each other better. Since time immemorial, mealtimes have formed a focal point in human civilization.
Most American homes have two spaces dedicated to food – the dining room and the kitchen. But even if you live in a small space and don’t have a dining room, there’s still the kitchen and it needs a few essentials to make the difference between a place where you microwave your ready-made meals, and the heart of the home, where delicious food originates and good memories are created. To make sure you have the perfect kitchen at any size, here are 15 essentials that any and every kitchen needs.
A kitchen without food is pointless. If you’re lucky enough to have good pantry space, you can stock up on all the fundamentals and have room to spare for the extras. Even if you don’t have a pantry, though, these basics are essential.
1 – A varied spice rack
The exact spices that will appear vary according to your cooking styles and tastes, but at a minimum you should have salt and pepper, rosemary, cinnamon and at least one spice blend that you enjoy. It keeps your cooking vibrant and interesting.
2 – Good coffee or tea
Even if you use instant coffee or basic tea daily, have at least one pack of the good stuff in your kitchen. You should always have something special to give your guests or even just on hand for when you feel like a treat.
3 – Quality dry goods
No matter how low your supplies are running, you can always whip up a tasty meal if you have a couple of varieties of rice, beans and pasta on hand. Even if dinner is literally rice and beans, seasoned with some of those tasty spices, when seated around your dining table, you’ll have full bellies and good conversation.
4 – Three oils
It may seem redundant to have three different oils in your kitchen, but there’s a good reason. Plain cooking oil will be fine for most of the dishes you want to cook, but some call for something a little more flavorful – plus cooking oil does not make a good vinaigrette for salads. Have at least olive oil and sesame oil on hand – that way you can enjoy Mediterranean and Asian cooking as well.
5 – Good mustard
Yellow mustard is great for ninety percent of applications, like sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers and so on. If, however, you decide to serve something special, like a rare roast beef, it’s good to have a quality mustard around as a flavor enhancer.
We’re not going to discuss appliances here, because frankly, almost none of them are critical for cooking. Of course a food processor is great, but almost anything it can do, you can do with a good knife, a wooden spoon and some elbow grease. There are some utensils, however, that no kitchen should be without.
6 – Quality knives and block
If you’ve ever worked with a good quality knife, you will know why it’s so much better than a cheap one. Good knives hold their edges better and for longer, are properly balanced to make cutting easier and are usually designed for comfort in your hand. Get a quality set along with a block to store them and your food prep will be much easier. And while you’re getting these, get a sharpener too!
7 – Two cutting boards
Your kitchen should have one wooden cutting board and one plastic one. The wooden one is perfect for chopping vegetables, slicing bread, cutting cheese – most of your cutting needs. The plastic one is for meat, because it’s a lot easier to clean thoroughly. Look for boards that have a groove along the edges – this helps prevent vegetable, fruit or meat juices from spilling onto your counter. Glass, metal and marble cutting boards are, in our opinion, useless, as they damage knives.
8 – Mixing bowls
So many dishes start in a mixing bowl, from meatballs to cake, that they are absolutely essential. Have a ceramic, or plastic one for cakes, pastas, veggies, eggs and more. Get a stainless steel or glass one for any meat-based dishes, where you can marinate chicken, mix your hamburger or toss strips of meat in oil and spices.
9 – Whisk and spatula
One to mix and one to flip. These two utensils will be used every day in your kitchen, so get a well-made pair. The best whisks are made from wire, not plastic, while hard plastic spatulas are best if you have Teflon-coated pots.
10 – Apron, cloths and oven gloves
Protecting your clothes and skin from spills and burns is necessary, because both can happen in the blink of an eye. Get a full apron, rather than a half apron, as well as a couple of cloths that are purely there to keep your hands clean. Oven gloves will keep your hands from being burned on hot pots and casserole dishes.
11 – Spoons
A kitchen needs all kinds of spoons, but there are four that you have to have: A wooden spoon for mixing sweet dishes and batters, a metal or plastic mixing spoon for savory dishes, serving spoons for serving up all these goodies, and a complete set of measuring spoons.
12 – Colander and grater
The kitchen’s holey pair. The grater should have a sturdy design and in this case, larger is definitely better. Look for a grater that has a minimum of three grades and preferably has a slicing end too. The colander should be large enough to hold a full pot of pasta, vegetables or anything else you’re straining. Look for one with smaller, but more numerous holes.
We realize that some kitchens really are tiny and don’t have enough space for furniture, but most American homes have either an eat-in kitchen or a kitchen and dining room. These furniture items are a must-have.
13 – A dining table and chairs
Even if you’re in a tiny apartment and only have space for a two-seater table, invest in a good one. Meals eaten around a table are psychologically more relaxing and help bring couples and families closer together. You’re also more likely to prepare meals if you eat around a table, rather than go for take-out or ready-made convenience meals, so a dining table is better for your health. If you have a suitable corner, consider a dining nook, which takes up a minimum of space, while providing a maximum of seating.
14 – Storage
Unless you have more than enough built-in cupboards and a pantry, there’s always a chance you’ll need extra storage space. A good buffet, hutch, pie safe or other storage item can take the burden of the stuff with nowhere to go. This piece of furniture also goes well in a dining room. If you have a really small kitchen, consider an island instead, as this provides a combination of food preparation space, dining space and storage space, all in one.
15 – A wine rack or cabinet
Now not everybody drinks wine, we know, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need a wine rack or cabinet. This little item stores any bottle of a certain size range, and that includes bottled water, sodas, and olive and other oils. Bottles are real space thieves in cupboards and a wine rack gets them out of the way and neatly stored.