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Top 5 Old-School Kitchen Essentials

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People spend thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars, equipping their kitchens with the latest and greatest kitchen gadgets and gear. From everyday items like the microwave, to specialty equipment favored by five-star chefs like a sous-vide cooker, there’s plenty of stuff to spend your money on in the kitchen.

While many of these tools have their place in the kitchen, people often overlook the basics, resulting in a kitchen chock-full of everything except the thing you really need.

So whether you’re a college student looking to equip your first kitchen, or even a veteran home cook looking to cut the kitchen clutter and get back to the basics, here are the top five pieces of equipment every kitchen should have.

1. Knife

The single most important tool in your kitchen arsenal, the humble knife is a tool that you will use every day.

Forget expensive sets that come with ten or more knives that you will never use. Invest in one good quality chef’s knife – an 8-inch knife is the most standard size, or a 7-inch santoku knife, if you prefer something a little shorter.

There are many factors to consider when buying a knife, but the most important is whether it feels good in your hand. This is the kitchen tool you’ll spend the most time with, so you don’t want something that will give you hand cramps.

2. Cutting Board

Often overlooked but nearly as important as the knife, the cutting board protects your countertops and ensures that you have a clean space to prepare your food on.

While you can get thick, heavy boards made of solid maple that will last for years, a lightweight cutting board is often preferable since you can easily pick it up and transport chopped meat and vegetables from the counter to the frying pan.

Wooden boards tend to last longer, but they can’t stand up to the high heat of the dishwasher. So unless you want to hand-wash your cutting board, go with plastic.

3. Skillet or Sauté Pan

Once you have prepared your dinner with your knife and cutting board, it is time to do some actual cooking, and that’s where the skillet or sauté pan comes in.

At $12 to $14, a cast iron pan is about the cheapest option out there, and in many ways, it’s also the best. Sure it’s heavy, but that added heft means it handles heat well. Thin aluminum frying pans go from cold to scorching in no time, meaning there’s no margin of error when it comes to burning tonight’s dinner. A cast iron pan conducts heat evenly and gradually, and because it has metal handles, a cast iron pan or skillet can do double duty on the stove top and as a roasting pan inside the oven.

If you do opt for something a little more lightweight, or something with a nonstick coating, make sure it’s solid. Most quality pans have a stainless steel exterior for strength, and an aluminum interior for better heat conduction.

4. Pots

Whether you use it to heat up canned soup, or make complex sauces from scratch, a good pot is key. A two-quart pot is an ample size for most tasks, though you’ll also need a larger pot — between five to 12 quarts — for cooking pasta or making stocks. As with the pans, look for a solid stainless steel pot with an aluminum core.

5. A Wooden Spoon

Once the food is cooking in your pots and pans, you’re going to need some way to stir and flip it without burning your hands, and that’s where the wooden spoon and spatula come in. You want something with a handle long enough to keep your hands clear of the heat, but not so long that the tool becomes unwieldy. And if you have nonstick equipment, steer clear of metal utensils, which will scratch and damage pots and pans.

If you start by mastering these five basic tools, rather than chasing after the latest in kitchen gadgetry, you’ll be a top chef in no time.