When I moved to New York, I owned exactly two suitcases and one cat. As I built my pantry from scratch, I realized that there were certain must-have kitchen items that I needed right away: a cutting board, two good kitchen knives and some utensils, plus a set of food storage containers (for leftover takeout), to name a few. I eventually stocked up on other vital kitchen wares that I now wonder how I ever lived without. Ahead you'll find a comprehensive kitchen guide covering everything you need to get going, whether you’re starting out, starting over, or rounding out your collection.
Even if you don't spend a lot of time in the kitchen, it's reassuring to know that you have what you need, when you need it. Try making pasta without a colander and you'll know what I mean. With that in mind, all of the items below can help you make good food on ordinary nights and don't require a lot of fancy care or extra maintenance, because really, who has the time?
While an avocado slicer might be nice if you subsist solely on avocado toast, most people will get more daily use out of a simple can opener. Similarly, while a cast-iron pan is indeed a good investment, it's a heavy piece that requires special care (seasoning), so a dishwasher-safe set of cookware might ultimately serve you better. And instead of springing for an immersion blender that you might use twice a year, make sure you first secure a quality knife set that you'll use every single day.
The list below covers 18 must-have kitchen items to see you through hectic days and nights, and even some special occasions. All of the picks are affordable yet high-quality, so that you will buy them once and then use them for years.
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1. A High-Quality, 4-Piece Knife Set With Kitchen Shears
A set of four basic kitchen knives — plus a pair of shears for opening bags or trimming veggies — gives you the tools you need without a fleet of steak knives that will likely go unused. These knives from McCook are made from high carbon stainless steel, which stays sharper longer than traditional stainless and is easier to sharpen, so it's a set you'll have for years if you treat them right. (Note: It's recommended you hand-wash them to keep them in mint condition.) The beech wood knife block provides damage-free storage and takes up less counter space than larger sets. One shopper who bought them for their looks alone was pleasantly surprised: "What I didn't expect was how much I love using them and how comfortable they feel in my hand."
- Available options: Several different color options and multi-size sets
2. This 10-Piece Silicone Utensil Set That Comes With A Holder
This colorful, 10-piece set of cooking utensils comes with its own convenient holder (rounding out the set to 11 pieces). The stain-resistant tools are made from BPA-free, food-grade silicone that is safe to use on any kind of cookware, from nonstick to cast iron. The utensils have a stiff nylon core for a firm stir and are heat-resistant up to 480 degrees Fahrenheit. Included are several standard spatulas, spoons, and a ladle — but it also comes with a set of tongs, a basting brush, and a whisk (there's even a bonus spoon rest). For just $27, this offers an impressive bang for your buck. And yes: They're dishwasher-safe.
- Available options: 5, including one set with wood handles
3. A 13-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set That’s Dishwasher Safe
Professional chefs love stainless steel cookware for its durability and scratch resistance. This set of cookware from T-fal is my top choice because it can take a beating and is oven-safe to high temperatures (think: 500 degrees Fahrenheit) — and unlike nonstick options, this set can handle coming into contact with metal tools. Thanks to its 18/10 stainless steel construction, these pots and skillets are durable and long-lasting, and the copper, aluminum, and stainless steel base deliver excellent heat transfer. This thirteen-piece, dishwasher-safe set has three saucepans, three skillets, a dutch oven, and a steamer insert that can also be used as a strainer in a pinch — plus tempered glass lids. All together, it gives you plenty of tools to cook an impressive meal with but not so many pieces that they’ll end up collecting dust.
- Available options: 4 sets (12-Piece, 13-Piece, 14-Piece, and 17-Piece)
4. A Nonstick Cookware Set Alternative That’s Budget-Friendly
If you're just starting out, a budget set of nonstick cookware will help you master the basics. This eight-piece set of lightweight aluminum pans, featuring a beginner-friendly nonstick coating (that's BPA-free), includes two frying pans, two sauce pans, and a casserole pan, with vented glass lids so you can keep an eye on dinner while it cooks, and soft-touch handles that don't get hot on the stovetop. These use-friendly pots and pans have a spiral bottom for even heating — though they're not compatible with induction stovetops. The big caveat here is that this set is hand-wash only in order to preserve that quick-release nonstick coating. That said, the nonstick coating makes washing these pans a total breeze. "One of two sets in my cupboard," one shopper raved. "I have been using them every day since they arrived. They still look new and with reasonable care and use of plastic or wood utensils, I expect many years of outstanding service."
- Available options: 2 sets (8-Piece and 15-Piece)
5. A Set Of Multifunctional Food Storage Containers With Lids
Investing in some glass baking dishes with lids, that pull double-duty as food storage containers, mean you can cook dinner and store the leftovers in the same container. These sturdy glass Pyrex containers are safe to use in the oven, freezer, microwave, and dishwasher. Each comes with a BPA-free plastic lid that’s also top rack dishwasher- and microwave-safe for easy storage and stacking. You will love the fitted lids if you’ve never experienced their organizational magic in your refrigerator. Included are the the two most common baking dish sizes used in recipes: 13 inches by 9 inches and 8 inches by 8 inches, plus, two one-cup containers that are great for prep work and single-serving reheats.
6. This Elegant Full Set Of Silverware That Looks Way More Expensive Than It Is
A set of matching flatware is non-negotiable for #adulting, and this understated, dishwasher-safe set looks like it came from West Elm. Its rust-resistant stainless steel is polished to a modern mirrored finish, and you can pick them up in scalable sets, ranging from 20 pieces to 60 pieces, depending on how many you will be serving and/or how often you want to do the dishes. Several shoppers noted that the butter knives were especially sharp, which makes for easier cutting, although probably not ideal with young children in the home. Despite this potential caveat, reviewers love their modern elegance and the ability to stock up. "I purchased this set to replace old mismatched silverware we had been using. I could not be more pleased. This set has a good weight to it and the finish is simple and beautiful."
- Available options: 4 sets (20-Piece, 30-Piece, 40-Piece, and 60-Piece)
7. A Set Of Sturdy Measuring Cups & Spoons That Nest For Easy Storage
When it comes to measuring tools, plastic sets often show wear and tear, losing their labels over time, but this handy set of stainless steel measuring cups and spoons comes with engraved markings on the handles that will always be readable. Included in the set are four cups, that feature easy-pour spouts, and four spoons — all are made of heavy-gauge stainless steel that is dishwasher-safe. Each set of cups and spoons is stored on a single metal loop like a keychain, so they won't get lost in a drawer, and nest for easy storage. "I like the feel of this set," one reviewer commented. "They are easy to read and have plenty of sizes. No more plastic melting in the dishwasher!"
- Available options: Several different sets, including a 5-piece mini spoon set
8. An Instant-Read Thermometer That Will Make Cooking Meat So Much Easier
Cooking meat to the right temperature can seem like a daunting task, but with this easy-to-use instant-read digital thermometer you get an accurate temperature reading in less than six seconds, so you can skip the guesswork. The sleek gadget will tell you when your food is done within two degrees' accuracy. It's temperature safe from -58 degrees to 572 degrees Fahrenheit, and it has a ten minute auto-shutoff feature that extends battery life. It comes with a hanging hook and a sheath for easy storage. "Works great! Looks great!" one first-timer declared. "First time buying a food thermometer and it’s super easy and seems accurate! I really like it!"
- Available options: 3 different colors
9. An All-Purpose Sheet Pan For Baking And Roasting
According to domestic doyenne Martha Stewart, an aluminum half-sheet pan is the most versatile type of baking sheet, measuring 18 by 13 inches, which is fits perfectly in most standard ovens. This sheet is made with heavy-gauge aluminum with enough of a lip to contain wayward juices, making it an excellent surface for roasting meats, vegetables, and baked goods. While they're hand-wash only, Amazon shoppers report that these pans are well made and clean up easily.
- Available options: 5 different size options, ranging from 1/8 sheet to a full sheet
10. A Modern & Versatile Matte Dinnerware Set
This 16-piece set of plates, bowls, and mugs, in modern matte stonewear, is offset by a high-shine gold band, making it a seriously chic dinnerware set that can serve four people. It's casual enough to use every day but also formal enough for dinners or parties. If you're looking to serve larger groups, you can even opt for more than one set in different hues for a lovely mix-and-match color scheme. Reviewers noted the set's weight and raved about the on-trend design. One shopper called them "substantial and stylish," adding "it’s taken me literally years to find 'grown-up' dishes that I liked." The set is also microwave- and dishwasher-safe because something you use every day should be easy to clean.
- Available options: 7 different color options, including a matte black and muted gray
11. A Bamboo Cutting Board (With Built-In Containers) For Prepping & Serving
This organic bamboo cutting board, with three built-in compartments and juice grooves, keeps counters tidy during meal prep and makes an Instagram-worthy charcuterie tray, too. Because it's made of eco-friendly bamboo, which is famous for being exceptionally hard, lightweight and water-resistant, this is one cutting board that will see you through years of use. The large, 17-by-12.6-inch workspace gives you plenty of room without taking over the counter. The only downside? It is not dishwasher-safe. If that's a dealbreaker, the plastic pick below may be more your speed.
- Available options: 3 size options (small, medium, and large)
12. An Affordable Plastic Cutting Board Set That Can Be Tossed In The Dishwasher
These BPA-free plastic cutting boards come in three stacking sizes, giving you a variety of prep surfaces — whether you're slicing up an avocado or need a wider surface to prep a lot at once. They feature juice grooves for mess-free chopping and have grippy handles for easy carrying when it's time to head for the stove. These get extra points for being thick and non-porous, the kind of heavy-duty plastic that can stand up to your knives without blunting them. And, perhaps best of all, they're dishwasher safe.
- Available options: 3 color options (black, gray, and red)
13. A Set Of BPA-Free Plastic Food Storage Containers For Leftovers And Meal Prep
This seriously comprehensive set of 21 food containers, covering a ton of useful storage sizes, will help you portion out snacks, set up your mise en place, or contain epic brown bag lunches. The BPA-free plastic can withstand any kind of meal prep or leftover situation you care to throw at it, from the dishwasher to the freezer, and is virtually maintenance-free. Three sizes come with vented lids for safe microwaving and all of the lids snap together at the base for clutter-free storage. "Love love love these containers!" one shopper raved, noting they were "Very durable, sturdy, and great quality!"
- Available options: 2 set sizes (42-piece and 60-piece)
14. This Large, All-Purpose Colander That’s Designed To Last
A top-of-the-line colander can make a small but measurable improvement to your cooking experience. This solid budget option, made of BPA-free plastic, is a reliable choice for most home cooks. It is lightweigh, dishwasher safe, and won’t rust like some metals can, plus it's stiffer than silicone. The five-quart capacity can handle a pot of pasta but isn’t too big for rinsing fruit, and it has a lip on the bottom to elevate whatever you're draining out of the running water.
15. This Unexpectedly Brilliant Box Grater
A quality box grater might seem like a niche tool, but don't underestimate its impact: You can shred cheese, zest lemons, grate chocolate for baking, and use the single wide blade on one side like a mandolin for perfect zucchini slices or potato chips, and even more! This pick from Oxo Good Grips is truly the Rolls-Royce of box graters, thanks to an ingenious attachment that collects the contents of whatever you're grating so you can easily dump it into a bowl or pot. If you forgo the attachment, a non-slip base keeps things stable. Simple yet brilliant, you won't know how you lived without it.
16. A Set Of Drinking Glasses That You Can't Live Without
This set of all-purpose drinking glasses by Libbey boasts clean and modern lines that look "room service chic," whether you're drinking juice, water, or a cocktail. The refined set will stock you up on two versatile sizes — eight tumbler glasses and eight rock glasses — all in lead-free glass. "I was looking for simple but sturdy everyday glassware, and these fit that need. They look nice and have held up well to daily use. Great purchase for the price," one reviewer commented.
- Available options: 2 set sizes (16-piece and 24-piece)
17. A Can Opener That Gets The Job Done Every Time
A good can opener is something you do not want to find out you need at the last minute (i.e. when the water is already boiling). This pick is made of the same kind of high-carbon stainless steel as the cooking knives on this list, and has cushion grips for comfort. You can choose from a few different muted colors for a must-have kitchen tool that's a bit more stylish than most of the utilitarian options out there. There's also a built-in bottle opener, and it washes up easily in soap and water.
- Available options: 6 different colors, including blue and red
18. Last But Not Least: The Humble Corkscrew
This was probably the real first item I bought for my kitchen, for reasons that need no explaining. A classic waiter's corkscrew, with a built-in foil cutter and bottle opener, bestows upon you the power to open virtually any beverage with ease and flair. It's built from high-quality stainless steel, and you can choose from a gorgeous selection of resin and wood handle finishes that makes a big impact on presentation for a very reasonable price.
- Available options: 28 colors, including rosewood and ebony