Kitchen Basics for the Munching Millennial

At Napkin Finance, we believe in smart consumption. While eating every meal out is often convenient, it is also a long-term recipe for being broke. But more importantly, it also robs you from the fundamental pleasure of cooking-the tastiest, craziest, and sometimes most gloriously laborious form of art you can create and experience. The kitchen can be your worst nightmare or the most relaxing place in your home/apartment/studio. With rising food costs, longer commutes, and longer work hours, a properly stocked kitchen can be your greatest asset in saving money.

Building a kitchen on a budget is easy and fun. You need not buy the most expensive cookware or appliances. Instead, purchase something that offers the greatest value for what you can afford. For example, an expensive cast iron pan will not necessarily outperform, or provide more flavor, than a cheaper cast iron pan. Dull knives can be sharpened. Glass breaks, so do not feel guilty about purchasing plastic or $1 tumbler glasses(I do). You’re only drinking out of it.

Now that we have some basic philosophy down, let’s examine the must-haves items.

Chef’s Knife.

Chef’s Knife

There isn’t much you can’t do with a chef’s knife. A chef’s knife chops, slices, peels, dices, rough chops, hacks, and whacks. A chef’s knife will range from $5 to thousands of dollars. I promise you that a $20 chef knife can function just as good as a $200 chef knife. Also, get a great knife sharpener, as a dull blade simply sucks.

Total: $30

Non-stick Pan Set

Non-stick Pan Set

Invaluable. You will use a good non-stick pan set over, and over, and over again for everything ranging from sauces to cookies. Heck, if you wrap some tinfoil over the handles you can throw them in an oven for a short period time and not worry about the handle melting. Again, the price range on a non-stick set can vary greatly. A set costing between $50 to $300+ is not an uncommon range to encounter. However, a $50 set will do just fine in the beginning. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the set will come with some nice accessories such as a slotted spoon and spatula.

Make sure the set comes with a skillet (one large skillet of good quality is fine) and deeper pans for boiling, braising, and even pseudo-deep-frying. Lids are always preferable, and many times required.

Right now Amazon has that shiny, red-apple set in the picture above on sale for $49. Buy it here.

Total: $50-$70

Spoon and Spatula Set

There’s always a need for flipping, tossing, spooning, stirring, and serving in the kitchen. Thus, a spoon and spatula set is essential. A good quality set shouldn’t run you more than $15 and will typically come with a bunch of other cool and useful gadgets such as a peeler and pizza wheel.

Your set should come with, at minimum:

  1. Spatula
  2. Spoon-Spatula/Serving Spoon/Thing That Looks like a Damn Spoon
  3. Slotted variations of both
  4. Baking spatula/bowl scraping/one you would use to help lick contents of cookie dough bowl

I once again revert back to Amazon. On sale now is a 17 piece set for $14.47. Buy here.

Total: $15–$20

Cutting Board

Cutting Board

Cutting boards cause more debate and controversy than global warming. Cutting boards are crafted from a wide range of materials, in a wide range of sizes, and come with a wide range of promises. However, the filthy, dirty truth about cutting boards is that most of them will require replacement after 1–3 years. So, spending $80 on a cutting board may add increased aesthetic to the kitchen, but it is not very economical. $10 should be all it takes to purchase a cutting board that is (a). antimicrobial (b). non-porous.

However, even when the non-porous standard is met, a sharp chef’s knife will eventually cause porousness. The more abuse the cutting board receives, the higher the likelihood that little pieces of food may end up lodged in the scores. There are some materials, such as composite woods, that can be scratched but not so easily scored. However, these may run you $30–$40 for one board.

Stick to the $10 antimicrobial board for now. They work great, and with a little elbow grease can sustain for at least 2 years in the roughest of kitchens.

Total: $10

baking and cookie sheets

Baking and Cookie Sheet Trays

Next to the non-stick pans, the baking and cookie sheet trays will be the most used items in the kitchen. A non-stick baking tray pan allows you to bake cookies, roast vegetables, broil chicken, and slow cook tougher parts of meat. They can also be found dirt cheap.

A package containing 3–5 pieces shouldn’t cost you more than $15.

Amazon is currently selling a 3 piece set for $10.99. Buy it here.

Total: $15

For a total cost of $125, you can stock your kitchen with enough hardware to start experimenting, and most importantly, create your own food. As time goes on, and as you accumulate more hardware, the need to go out to eat becomes more of an issue of convenience, relaxation, and culinary exploration.

Those who spend some time learning the kitchen and learning how to cook will find that they can recreate their favorite meals, at a much lower cost, and have plenty for leftovers, too.

I find that every time I upgrade my kitchen, I downgrade my out of the house food bill.

For example, if you find yourself purchasing too many coffees during the day, it may not be a bad idea to get a great coffee machine/espresso maker, and figure out how to create your favorite coffee based beverages. The long-run savings will outweigh the short-run cost.

If you have any suggestions on how to stock an awesome kitchen on budget, please share with us on Twitter and Facebook. For everything on money in 30 seconds or less, visit Napkin Finance.
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