Outfitting a minimalist kitchen

Although I am a fairly adventurous cook, I find that I repeatedly reach for the same utensils, pots, pans, and ingredients in my kitchen. You probably do, too. We’re creatures of habit.

A friend who is getting married recently asked me what I think are the essential items in my kitchen. I first directed her to the “Creating a multi-tasking wedding registry” post I wrote last year. Then, I made a list of the 10 things I can’t live without in my space.

Making “essentials” lists is a risky endeavor. Obviously, the items I turn to every day aren’t going to be what other people use. It was still a fun experiment and I created my list by answering the question: “If my home were destroyed in a disaster, what 10 items would I replace first?”

The minimalist kitchen:

  1. 10″ cast iron skillet. The Lodge version and the Le Creuset enamel-coated version both get the job done extremely well. I prefer the enamel coated version because I don’t have to season it and can throw it in the dishwasher, but both are excellent and the Lodge price tag is unbeatable. They work on the stove top, in the oven, and on the grill.
  2. 12 qt. stock pot with lid. The best and cheapest way to get one of these is to head to your local restaurant supply store and pick up a well-made aluminum one for under $30. You can make soups, pasta, and sauces, as well as using it for frying and soaking. It also works in the oven and on the grill.
  3. 9 qt. cast iron Dutch oven. Roast or braise in this amazing product. You can fit an entire chicken in this bad boy. Plus, it can go on the grill or directly over an open flame. Expensive, but it will last you a lifetime.
  4. Two silicone oven mitts. I use an Orka brand, but there are many others out there. Because they’re silicone, I can reach into boiling water and grab things without risking burns (the way you do with fabric oven mitts).
  5. A good knife set. I’m a big fan of the Cutco 5-Piece Set because they’re durable, can go in the dishwasher, and come with a solid warranty. Plus, since there are so many dealers around, it’s always easy to find where to have them sharpened.
  6. Cutting board. I love my Epicurean Cutting Surface because it’s nice on my knives, can be tossed in the dishwasher, and can be used as a trivet (up to 350 degrees F). I’ve had mine for a number of years and it is as good as new.
  7. Tongs. Not a lot to say about them, but love that they lock closed for easy storage. Long-handled stainless steel ones can be used for items in the oven as well as on the grill.
  8. Food turner. I grew up calling these things spatulas, but apparently that is not their official name. Again, you can use them on the stove, grill, or in the oven. They also do nicely in the dishwasher.
  9. Infrared thermometer. Simply point it at your food and know the temperature. Nothing to clean, and really cool.
  10. Baking pans. All you’ll need to get started are anodized aluminum sheet cake, loaf, and jelly roll pans.

I believe anyone can make fantastic meals with only these items. Do I have more in my kitchen? Definitely. This is just a basics list and nothing more. If I were to add five more items, I’d throw in a long-handled ladle, heavy-duty stand mixer, bread machine (I use mine twice a week minimum), coffee pot, and tea kettle.

Are there essentials that I have forgotten from my list? Do you think any of these items are unnecessary? Give your opinion in the comments.

83 Comments for “Outfitting a minimalist kitchen”

  1. posted by A Gal on

    Here’s a list of my kitchen “essentials.”

    8 and 12 Inch Cast Iron Skillets
    6 Quart Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven
    Stainless Steel Measuring Cups/Spoons
    Pyrex Loaf Pan
    Pyrex 9×13 Casserole Dish
    Pyrex 8×8 Cake Dish
    Pyrex Measuring Cup
    Santoku Knife
    Serrated Knife
    Pairing Knife
    Sharpening Stone
    Mandolin (most effective way to slice pounds of veggies)
    Wooden Tapered Rolling Pin
    Cutting Board
    Veggie Peeler
    Can Opener
    Silicone Spatula
    Hand Held Mixer
    Good Baking Sheets
    Stainless Steel Wok
    Multi-Purpose Pot (http://tiny.cc/CFwCD)
    3 Quart Sauce Pan
    1-1/2 Quart Sauce Pan
    Silicone Oven Mitts
    Mesh Strainer (can be used as sifter)
    Micro Plane Grater
    Wooden Spoons
    Large Ladle
    Mixing Bowls
    Rice Cooker (a basic for me, at least)
    Silicone Whisk
    Cut Resistant Glove (to protect your fingers from the mandolin)
    Kitchen Scale
    Stainless Steel Turner

    I found that not eating meat has really reduced my need for kitchen tools and gadgets. These are the items I use time and time again. I usually only cook for two so your needs may be different from mine. You could always do with less, but these items save me time and make cooking enjoyable.

    Lodge enameled cast iron is much cheaper than Le Creuset and is of comparable quality. Though it’s not on my list, a Lodge 14 Ounce Melting Pot is great for reheating small portions without a microwave. Unless you’re cooking enormous quantities of food the multi-purpose pot and dutch oven should be large enough for almost any job.

    Sometimes you can find Pyrex at thrift shops so keep a look out. Used/vintage Pyrex comes in nice colors and is a frugal/eco-conscious choice (reusing, hurray!). Pyrex is very affordable new or old. I prefer Pyrex or other glassware for short term food storage in addition to baking.

    You do not need expensive knives or knife sets. Just take care of the knives you have and sharpen often. If you don’t eat as many veggies as I do you could easily trade the santoku knife for a 6 or 8 inch chef’s knife.

    Other Nice Things:

    Toaster Oven
    Food Processor
    Stand Mixer (can replace a hand mixer)
    Magnetic Knife Holder
    Universal Silicone Lid
    Stock Pot
    Garlic Press
    Pastry Scraper (a great multi-function tool)
    Silicone Baking Cups

  2. posted by Chris on

    Perhaps not the most minimalistic kitchen, but if you have nothing to start with, or, as in my case, you are about to move to a new continent and have to leave all you have behind, then this may be a good starting point.

    IKEA – All the essential kitchen tools in one box.
    Startbox Tillaga $89.99


  3. posted by E on

    I have the Cutco Space Saver set and it’s absolutely perfect! http://www.cutco.com/products/.....Group=1847

    I find the smaller knives much more useful than those larger ones in the Gourmet set would be for me. The petite chef is the largest knife I need.

  4. posted by E on

    I also use the Oneida cutting boards. I can’t get TinyURL to work right now, but they are white and have rounded ends with Santoprene grips. The grips are slightly thicker than the board so the whole thing stays put on the counter while you cut. If you do a search for Oneida cutting board you’ll find them.

  5. posted by Sian on

    What’s a tea kettle? Is it the same thing as a teapot?

    My list:

    2 chopping boards (1 plastic for meat; wooden for the rest)
    kitchen knife (~6-8 inches long will do most stuff)
    4-sided Grater
    large frying pan with lid (=skillet in USA I think?)
    large stockpot (can also use to cook most other things)
    casserole dish (this&stockpot can be used as mixingbowl)
    cake tin
    baking tray
    Long-handled ladle
    2-3 long wooden spoons
    fish slice/spatula
    oven gloves
    ice-cream scoop
    bread (serrated) knife

    Things I don’t need: microwave, meat thermometer, foodprocessor/kitchenaid/blender, latex gloves…

    Things that aren’t essential but I personally like to have: garlic press, toaster, ice-cream maker (I use it every week, honest!), teapot, cafetiere, crockpot, extra pans/baking trays, loaf tins…

  6. posted by Must-Have Utensils for the Minimalist Kitchen [Eat To Live] - 2891th Edition | Technology Revealed on

    [...] mentioning since we covered our must-have kitchen tools, let’s hear your favorites below. Outfitting a Minimalist Kitchen [...]

  7. posted by Kalani on

    Minimalist, huh? If that’s the case, doesn’t it seriously depend on what kind of a cook someone is?

    My kitchen:
    1 wok-shaped skillet/fryingpan/omelet pan/stirfry thing.
    1 pasta-sized pot (medium)
    1 saucepan
    1 tea kettle and teapot
    1 set measuring cups
    Utensils: “food lifter”, rubber spatula, big spoon, big knife, little pointy knife, can opener, corkscrew, measuring spoons, full set of silverware
    Some dishes and cups
    1 half-sized baking sheet, 1 half-sized baking cake pan thing, 1 half-sized glass baking pan (I used to live somewhere with a small oven)
    Little metal drip-coffee filters that sit over individual cups
    Some Glad-ware for storing leftovers

    Things I don’t have but wish I did:
    Cutting board
    Big salad/mixing bowl

    That’s about it. It makes cleanup and organization really easy. As convenient as all the other stuff is, I find that most of the functions of a range of knives can be done with a big one or a little one, and most of the functions of a range of pans can be done with a glass pan or a metal pan. Then again, I’m mostly concerned with preparing meals for myself or my friends (or inviting my friends over to prepare meals) so I have no need for a gourmet kitchen at the moment.

  8. posted by Sky on

    Can’t live without my muffin pan, sheet cake pan, loaf pan and glass casserole dishes.
    PLEASE toss any Teflon coated items, they release fumes that are harmful, especially to birds and small animals.
    Food turner? WTH? I’ve always called mine a spatula.

  9. posted by It’s All Right 2.0 » basic cooking items on

    [...] selection of tools in this blog post about furnishing a minimalist kitchen.  I like the mix of very old school (cast iron) with new technology (infrared thermometer).   Of [...]

  10. posted by Ryan on

    -Chopsticks (large for cooking, small for eating)
    -Spoon (large for cooking, small for eating)
    -Knife (Chef’s or Santoku)
    -Pan/Pot for cooking
    -Plate/Bowl for eating

    I bought a large pack of long wooden chopsticks for $3 at an Asian grocery store. They are very handy for cooking stir fry, potstickers, ravioli, and pretty much anything else that has to be sort of handled. If you use a bunch at once they sort of function as a whisk. Additionally, they do not scratch Teflon. (My Teflon pans all look and work like brand new.) Yes, yes I know cast-iron is great, but sometimes I don’t feel like cooking with oil, so there you go.

  11. posted by gypsy packer on

    Utter minimalism from my living-in-a-pickup truck days:
    Colander for pasta, canning, washing veggies
    8 qt stock pot–use as a frying pan or kettle
    5 qt jar capacity canner
    Big stainless steel spoon
    Big stainless steel ladle
    Good sharp carbon steel knife (hunting knife, 50 cents at an estate sale)
    Mason jar with fractional cup measurements on the side, emptied out as I ate their contents
    Hand-crank grater
    Jar tongs

    I canned U-pick produce over a Coleman stove, stored it behind the front seat and under the clothes, and cooked anything I wanted except homemade bread on this setup–curry to beans to meat loaf. I’ve replaced the grater with a food processor and the percolator with a mass-market drip, but the only serious addition to the setup was–you guessed it–a Lodge skillet, for good ol’ Southern cornbread.

    I’m considering the silicone oven mitts but hate the expense.

  12. posted by Sprocket on

    An Infrared thermometer?? They can only give you the surface temperature which is not needed in a “minimalist” kitchen.

    You do need an instant-read thermometer, like the Taylor 9842 Commercial Waterproof Digital Thermometer. Try to find a chef that does not carry an instant read thermometer.

    Tongs and a good knife can work miracles.

  13. posted by John From Berkeley » links for 2009-06-12 on

    [...] Outfitting a minimalist kitchen | Unclutterer (tags: kitchen home cooking tips shopping tools food) [...]

  14. posted by Orlando on

    NO! NO! NO!

    Also, cutting open your meat to use the infrared is a horrible idea. An incision big enough to read will also let out the meat’s juices and will quickly dry out said meat. Remember that it’s important to rest meat before cutting, and it’s even worse if your meat is not ready and has to go back on the heat. The small hole from an instant read will not be anywhere near as disastrous.

    I love my infraread thermometer, but an instant-read is much more “essential.” Thermapen is the best, or the aforementioned Taylor 9842 is a great, cheaper alternative (note that most others can be finicky, slow, imprecise, and not dishwasher-safe).

    Also, a bread machine in the top 15? I understand that it’s important to you, but it’s certainly not “minimalist.”

    On a related note, Alton Brown’s Gear for the Kitchen is a must read.

  15. posted by Another Post: Must-Have Utensils for the Minimalist Kitchen [Eat To Live] | Delhiweb.net on

    [...] mentioning since we covered our must-have kitchen tools, let’s hear your favorites below. Outfitting a Minimalist Kitchen [...]

  16. posted by Must-Have Utensils for the Minimalist Kitchen [Eat To Live] · News on

    [...] mentioning since we covered our must-have kitchen tools, let’s hear your favorites below. Outfitting a Minimalist Kitchen [...]

  17. posted by WordyGrrl on

    My 10 Minimalist Must Haves:

    Saucepan (with lid)
    Frying pan (deep sides, with lid)
    Stock pot (big enough to brine a chicken in)
    Measuring cups
    Measuring spoons
    Manual can opener
    Cutting/paring knife (serrated or regular)
    Cookie sheet
    Baking/roasting pan (deep sides)
    Your “all purpose utensil” (Mine is a wooden “spatula” with an angled, beveled edge)

    Of course, I have other things I like quite a bit, like a crock pot, toaster, baking pans, mixer, etc. Would love to learn how to really rock a pressure cooker, too.

    But buying expensive equipment doesn’t make you a better cook. It’s not about what you have. It’s how you use it.

  18. posted by Ryan on

    All you people talking negative about Cutco don’t know a thing about knives. Cutco knives are made of the highest quality materials and includes a gaurantee that no other company can begin to match. As far as buying cheaper knives and sharpening them, that is a horrible idea. Unless you are a trained professional, you will ruin your knives sharpening them on your own. Cutco knives stay sharp for years and will professionally sharpen your knives for you.

    As far as needing 5 knives, personally I believe you need more than that. I believe you need a paring knife, utility knife, chefs knife, steak knives, bread slicer, carving knive, and butcher knife.

    Finally, I firmly believe the worst thing you can do is buy a serrated edge. Cutco has a special edge on most of their knives that is so much better. Go to http://www.cutco.com to see why Cutco are the only knives you will ever have to buy for your life, your kids, grandkids, great grandkids… (forever gaurantee)

  19. posted by Matt on

    Cutco is acutally worth the investment. They stay sharp 9-10 years. Has an insanly good guarantee, and they pay for themselves in the long run. If you want to know more about them i can acutally give you a quick demo.

  20. posted by kt on

    I find an immersion blender a great little appliance in the kitchen. You can blend soups right in the pot while it
    is hot, great for anything you need to puree and it doesn’t require taking out a large food processor to do it. And it’s very easy to clean. Indispensable!

  21. posted by Hentrain on

    Just wanted to note that the brand name Creuset for enameled cast iron is really overpriced, and the Martha Stewart/ Rachel Ray knock Offs are also far more than they should be. If you have some extra room in your suitcase whilst travelling in europe, or a very loving friend who is willing to bring you a heavy gift, you can usually pick up a good enameled pan or pot for 5 to 10 bucks in any thrift store in northern/ eastern europe or Brico lot/ barn in france. If you want a new one–they’ll be 30 bucks in russia if you hunt a little. I have no idea what drives up teh price, but I’ve had my knock off set from latvia for 6 years now, and it works really well.

  22. posted by Paolo on

    I’m suprised that people aren’t talking more about the cheapest (and most fun, in my opinion) way of getting kitchenstuffs: your local secondhand store. A monthly trip will be a great way to outfit your kitchen, especially for the “last-forever” items — cast-irons, baking sheets and pans, metal utensils, a so on. You also might luck out: I found a food processor for $10 and a $3 french press that made my room mate swoon.

  23. posted by Kitchen Nightmares « The Vent Pipe on

    [...] blogs that I just happened to stumble upon this year, did a post on kitchen essentials for the minimalist kitchen.  Here are the top 10 items identified as [...]

  24. posted by Karen on

    My list (I would need twelve items):

    10″ stainless skillet w/ lid
    Stock pot
    2 qt. saucepan w/ lid
    Mixing bowl
    Jelly roll pan
    9 x 11 glass casserole
    Chef’s knife
    Paring knife
    cutting board
    Measuring cups
    Wooden spoon or mid-size rubber spatula
    Food turner

  25. posted by Natalie from Western Australia on

    I’m way more interested in the whole “food turner/spatula” comments than the kitchen list : ). I grew up calling it an Egg Flip, coz thats what it does. A spatula is a thinner and usually flexible item used to scrape down the edges of bowls.

    I also love the term “Luck Out” meaning to have a win. We would just say “Get Lucky” or “Score”. Here if you luck out, its a loss – as in, down on your luck.

  26. posted by patti on

    1. wok
    2. chopping board
    3. 8 inch santoku
    4. rice cooker
    5. wok spoon
    6. colander

    if i had to reeeaaaalllly minimise, that is what i could live with.

    i worked as a professional chef for 15 years and never used a thermometer once….apart from the built-in oven/fridge thermometers.

  27. posted by Lucky Mrs H on

    My motto: ” You can never have TOO many crock pots!” I use them to cook in and keep things warm. I use them when I’m having company to have everything ready and waiting. Some days I have 2 or 3 or 4 going at once when I’m on a cooking binge. Something different in each one.

  28. posted by Buying the Essentials for Your Kitchen on

    [...] Unclutterer, Erin Doland has tips on outfitting a minimalist kitchen — a list of the ten most essential items. She covers everything from skillets to knife sets to [...]

  29. posted by Lauren on

    Great suggestions! I have most of these items, but not all of them. Le Creuset is one of my favorite brands! I suggest shopping online for kitchen supplies to make the process easier. :)


  30. Avatar of

    posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    I grew up calling it a spatula but then learnt that it’s an “egg flip” and a spatula is the thin, generally plastic scraper used to get your batter out of your mixing bowl.

    Here are my top 10 kitchen utensils, numbered for convenience:

    1. Flexible plastic cutting boards – come as a pack of four.
    2. Wüsthof 9cm paring knife – Mum bought my sisters and me one of these each when we were young – must have cost a fortune for the four of us!; DH liked it enough to buy a 12cm knife and later the 20cm cooks knife
    3. Peeler
    4. Dutch oven – stainless, comes with a lid. Mine came in a set but I’m less enamoured of the rest of the set than my…
    5. Pyrex glass three saucepans with lids set – I was given these for a birthday or Christmas and I always use them over the steel ones
    6. Steel mixing bowls – Minimum of a large but a set of a large, medium and small is more convenient
    7. Rectangular cake pan
    8. Slotted and unslotted spoon set
    9. Large measuring cup – in our recent clean up and move I realised that we have two of these – a Pyrex one and a Tupperware one; both hold two cups but the Tupperware one is shaped and labelled so you might have an idea as to how much you’ve already poured as you’re pouring
    10. Strainer – double duty as a sifter

    I could possibly be convinced to just get the stainless steel saucepan set (over the Dutch oven and the Pyrex saucepans) since mine also came with a frying pan, as it would allow me to get a kettle as my no. 10 which makes having a cup of tea much easier; speaking of which, that’s what I’m off to get now.

  31. posted by Elana on

    These are some really great tips. I actually bought my 10″ skillet and 9 qt Dutch oven already from a place called KaTom Restaurnant Supply. Amazon has the skillet for around 15 dollars, but I got mine for only 13.80 throught them.


    All kinds of really great cast iron, and information on their blogs about how to care for it.

  32. posted by Jesse on

    You guys are idiots. There is no way you could have a usuable kitchen with that small amount of stuff. You cannot cut everything with a knife, even cutco (I used to sell it).

    Or, if through sheer stubbornness and grit you actually make that work, you will probably have a much less enjoyable experience in the kitchen and dining rooms.

    You should think about what activities you want out of your kitchen – cook all at home? Base your kitchen around that. Eat out mostly, and make a few favorite recipes at home. Base your kitchen around that. Experiment with epicurian delights? You get the idea.

    Minimalism is about essentials only. Your version of a minimalist kitchen can only be based on your lifestyle and what’s essential for that. Throwing away everything in your kitchen and calling it minimalist is really dumb.

  33. posted by [things I've tried to have] | A Very Uncommon Cook on

    [...] now and then, the foodblogosphere posts about outfitting the minimalist kitchen or how a no-frills kitchen still cooks or My Essential Kitchen Tools or build your own $blogname [...]

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