Field Guide: Everything You Actually Need In Your Kitchen

How many times have you wanted to try out a recipe, only to realize that you don’t have the right tool? On the flip side, how many lists have you seen that make you think you NEEEEDD this EXTREMELY expensive tool….and it sits in a cabinet forever?

So what do you actually need to have in a fully stocked kitchen? Simple is best when it comes to decking out a kitchen! And here’s a little secret — most tools have interchangeable functions, and you can do a WHOLE lot with a little.

So here are the basic kitchen items you need, and when you’ll use them!


There are certain things that you’re going to want to make sure you’re well stocked up on. When it comes to serveware, it’s best to buy in sets. Depending on your family size (think extended + close family) you’ll want to make sure you’ve got 6, 8 or 12 of each item.

But, when it comes to your cookware, less is best! You don’t need 6 spatulas, you need two quality spatulas — one in use and one to be cleaned! Keep that in mind as you’re filling out your gadgets

It’s better to get what’s made well and will last you a long time then to have a tool go out of commission right when you need it! Look for things like stainless steel, silicone and quality wood and you’ll be in good hands.

And while fine china is a-ok to be hand-washed, you’ll want to make sure everything else is dishwasher safe!


Knives: A good set of knives can stay with you for a lifetime. You’ll need a pairing knife for small, intricate situations, a chef’s knife for nearly everything else, and table steak knives that you’ll serve with. Ultimately, you can get a full set that contains all of these knives and stores them in a nice little handy holder.

Mixing Bowls: A must-have for every recipe. You’ll want to go with a set bowls that are sturdy, come in a good range of sizing, and if you get glass bowls these can also double as serving bowls.

Measuring Utensils: The trick here is that you’ll actually need 2 different types of measuring — cups and table & teaspoons! There are so many cute ones out there, but time over time you’ll be better off with a solid stainless steel set that will last you year over year.

Cutting Board: Cutting boards protect your knives AND countertops, but choosing the material is really important. Wood cutting boards are so much prettier and very decorative, but when you’re working with meat you’re going to definitely want an extremely washable plastic cutting board on hand.

Spatulas: When you look up spatulas you get two things— the squeegee looking thing that you use to get the ~last~ drop of batter out of a bowl, and the flat surface tool to flip things. both are vital tools to help you around the kitchen and here we stress that QUALITY is KEY. You don’t want a bunch of flimsy tools that break mid-bake, and even the “expensive” version of these tools aren’t that expensive so this is an area where you can confidentially splurge and go for something good. Bonus, many times both of the aforementioned spatulas come in sets so you can get what you need all at once. Also don’t overlook the tiny spatula, comes in very handy in contexts like peanut butter 🙂

Wooden Spoons: This is a dark horse power tool of cooking. For whatever reason, wooden spoons are old school necessities. There are some AMAZING old-world Italian marinara recipes that actually demand that you only use a wooden spoon to make the marinara. Plus, these are sturdy without hurting any of your pots and pans

Strainer: If you’re a mac ‘n cheese aficionado, you already know this. A good strainer can make the difference for whether or not you lose a good spoonful of noodles down the drain. You CAN get by with using a lid or any other “stopping” trick, but at the end of the day, this is a good investment because you can use it for all pastas, cleaning your produce and getting liquid out of all your accidentally watery endeavors.

There’s a difference between a colander and the handheld sifters, and for that matter, you can even have a hand-held strainer. The sifters are typically used to make solid things finer (think flour and cocoa powder) whereas the colander and hand-held strainer are for liquids.

Storage Containers: Properly utilizing your leftovers is a game-changer in your budget and making your food last longer — but in order to do that you need to store your food properly! We HIGHLY recommend you invest in quality here. If you get oven and dishwasher safe glass storage containers, all of a sudden you prevented the use of 2 extra dishes and that is invaluable! They also have these really cool stasher bags that are freezer, microwave and boiling safe — and they’re reusable! Cook once, eat twice, store everything properly. It’s a game-changer.

Can Opener: This is something you never think about needing until you’re trying to open a can of tomato sauce. So here’s your friendly reminder to snag up a can opener of your own. If you’re really feelin’ fancy (or your lefthanded and totally over the negligent design of traditional can openers) they also have electric can openers! We’d classify that appliance as a splurge for cooking enthusiasts, but it’s also just kind of cool to have honestly.


Before we hop into types of cooktop pots and pans, let’s talk about the material. There are two standard options: non-stick and stainless steel. Both have pros and cons.

Non-stick pans do what the name suggests and makes cleanup after dinner much easier, but you have to re-coat them periodically and once they start chipping, you have to toss them out because you don’t want a bunch of bits and particles in your food. Also, sometimes the “stick” when cooking means flavor. You need a good stick to get your steaks crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

The pros use stainless steel because it lasts practically forever and when you use oils and heat properly, the stick is actually an advantage. Clean up requires a little more elbow grease, yes, but if you’re thinking long term, stainless steel is the way to go.

Skillets: Skillets come in a variety of sizes and are a shallow, breathable vessel to cook vegetables, meats, pancakes and really everything else. You can get by with two GOOD skillets, and the size you want totally depends on how much you typically cook. Getting a lid is a major bonus because it helps with the cooking process and keeps your kitchen a bit cleaner.

Pots & Pans: Most any time you’re dealing with liquids — reach for a pot! These have higher walls and keep the heat in, which allows you to fill them up a lot more! You should have a standard medium sized pot for everyday use, a smaller “saucepan,” and a larger stockpot which is great for boiling pasta and making lots of yummy soup.

Dutch Ovens: A dutch oven is one of the most versatile cooking tools you can have. This bad boy does everything from making the perfect steaks and simmering delish soups, all the way down to crisping up a crumble in the oven. The heat up slow and low and retain heat for seemingly forever. These are a very large investment typically, so take your time in choosing one you want. You can choose between an enamel-covered version that is a true kitchen accent, or a cast-iron one that’s sturdy, and you can even get a stainless steel one to match sets. Take good care of your dutch oven, and it will take good care of you.

Cast Iron: Technically cast iron is a material, not a product, and you can get many of the aforementioned products in the material of cast iron. But what we really want to call out here is the cast iron skillet. The cast-iron skillet is, again, for cooking enthusiasts. But its use is so versatile and effective that it can turn even a nuanced cook into an enthusiast


Deep Casserole Dish: Casseroles are an art form, but this type of dish will certainly be used for many, many things. Think lasagnas, enchiladas, brownies — these things work overtime. You’ll want a large rectangular one for big dishes, and a smaller squared one for desserts like brownies and rice crispies. Plus, different dish sizes ask for different cooking times, so you’ll want a large and a small on hand to deal with those recipe scenarios!

Cookie Sheet: While these are most commonly used for cookies, you also use these sheets to roast veggies, whip up one-pan dinners and a whole slew of recipes can come from these sheet pans. You can also get them in varied sizes for portion control while cooking.

Muffin Tin: This is one of those things that you only need if you plan on cooking cupcakes, muffins and certain types of cookies. If you don’t cook any of those, it’s not a NEED. But, muffin tins are not too expensive and they’re pretty handy to have on hand for the time when you do decide you want to make cupcakes. 🙂

Spring Form Pan: While making a cheesecake may not be in your weekly rotation, spring form pans are surprisingly handy! You can wait on this investment, but for any round form of baking (like cakes and cheesecakes) you’re definitely going to want to get one of these.

Pizza Pan: Are you a frozen pizza connoisseur? You may want to look into a pizza pan! While you can set your pizza directly on the grates of an oven, you get a better crust cook and it’s a lot cleaner when you have a tray. Plus, it prevents all the crumbs and cheese drippings from dirtying up your oven.


First things first, when it comes to serve wear the first quantity is important! The traditional recommendation for entertaining is to have a full set of 12 on hand for whenever your guests pop in for dinner. If that seems ludacris,  just take inventory of your everyday needs and weigh them with your entertaining needs. If you’re a family of 2 who sometimes have their friends over, 6 might be all you need. If you’re a family of 4 and your extended family of 8 likes to come over for dinner, well then you’ll want to make sure everyone has a plate!

Dinner Plates: These are a given! You gotta eat somewhere. It’s nice but not ABSOLUTELY necessary when you’re starting out to have a formal set and an everyday set of dinner plates. And if you really want to get fancy with it, seasonal sets of dishware are totally acceptable — like hello Christmas plates are the best. The idea of a formal dinner set is to

For your everyday set of dishes, you’ll want to make sure they’re dishwasher safe, durable and pretty versatile. Some of the nicer sets are not dishwasher safe, so be sure to check on that before making an all-out purchase.

Salad Plates: Truth be told, there are varying levels of sizes and plates and locations of where to place them. It’s super confusing. But what we’re really saying here is that you need a size smaller plate. A “salad plate” is slightly smaller than a dinner plate, and can be used for things like desserts, appetizer plates, your rolls, and yes — salad. There are actually specific plates for all of the aforementioned courses, but while you’re building out your serve wear collection keep in mind you’re going to want to match your dinner plates so plan accordingly!

Water Glasses: Also called tumblers, these are everyday glasses that hold things like water, tea, sodas and juices. Simple and sturdy is best here since you’ll be using them pretty much every day!

Wine Glasses: Ok here’s where you can get REALLY complicated. Having the proper wine glass per type of wine is considered a level of sophistication that is work aspiring to, but that all starts with knowing what kind of wine you like. If you’re the kind of person that likes a good rose with pretty much anything are rarely vary off of that path — then you only need one type of wine glass. If, however, you like to pair a good earthy red with steak and a crisp white with seafood, then investing in the proper wine glass is totally worth it.

Coffee Mugs: While these are frequently a collecting opportunity, if you like to entertain it’s really nice to have a matching or coordinating set of coffee mugs. But you can totally get by for a long, long time with just your favorite extra-large mug ready at hand.


Peelers: If you frequently cook root vegetables, a peeler is a must. You can actually peel using a knife, and some people actually find it easier to do that. But even so, it’s not a heavy investment and it’s good to have one on hand for when Thanksgiving suddenly rolls around and you’ve got a load of potatoes to peel,

Blenders: There are a whole SLEW of options in this category.

There are upright blenders that are good for large quantities and heavy-duty work. These typically allow for various settings like puree, smoothie and such…but unless you really know what you’re doing you’re just going to hit high speed and hope everything ends up together.

There are personal-sized “bullet” blenders that are more compact but SURPRISINGLY really effective.

If you’re looking to “chop” and blend more than purify, then a food processor is what you’re going to want.

And if you are in the business of making creamy soups, a handheld immersion blender is the only way to go.

Slicers: Disclaimer — a knife can also do this. But, if you’re wanting uniform cuts you can look at things like mandolins or food processors. 

Spiralizers: Zoodles are all the rage right now, and while yes you CAN get pre-made serving for $4.50, you can also buy an $.84 cent zucchini and spiralize it yourself. There are manual and “crank” versions and the one you choose will probably just depend on budget and how frequently you’re going to need to use it!

Mixer: There are two mixe options — standing and handheld. The standing mixer is, quite honestly, a beautiful kitchen accessory. It’s super pricy but it’s pretty gorgeous. The handheld mixer is much less expensive and equally as effective. But if you’re a big-time baker, you’ll want to look into a standing mixer. Some recipes call for you to whip or mix things for up to like 5 minutes, and if you’re frequently baking these types of recipes then standing mixers are pretty helpful.

Food Processor: We pulled food processors out on their own because they’re so versatile. The food processer can do everything from kneading bread dough, pulsing + blending salsa, pureeing sauces, slicing veggies and grating cheese. If you splurge on one tool, this is a good option because of or versatile it is.

Coffee Machines: Like the wine glasses, choosing this appliance really depends on your level of enthusiasm for the liquid. Most people do perfectly well with pot coffee that makes bulk batches. Keurig’s make really good personal-sized coffee. Nespresso is great to have if you’re an espresso enthusiast but you don’t want to use a full-on espresso machine. A pour-over is deemed to be the creme-de-la-creme of true coffee consumption. A french press is surprisingly easy to use and is arguably the prettiest of the options, and for both the french press and the pour-over you’re going to need a teapot to boil up water. As we write this all out we realize this bullet point all on its own merits an entire blog post so we’ll be back.

Slow Cookers: A crockpot or a pressure cooker are great tools to have on hand when you like to do “one and done” dinners. These two cooking methods allow you to dump everything in one container, let it simmer and serve it up with ease. If you’re a beginner chef but looking for good flavors, you should look into these!

These basic kitchen tools will get you through most any recipe, so you can start off your kitchen cooking career off on the right foot. Happy cooking!

Continue reading on Style Me Pretty