Tips on Choosing Items for Your First Kitchen, or a Wedding Registry

If you are moving into your own place for the first time, or getting married, this may be the first time that you are acquiring a full set of kitchen items. In this case, it can be helpful to plan what items you really need, whether you are buying them yourself or listing them on a wedding registry.

Cookware/Bakeware Materials:

Cookware and bakeware can be made of many different materials: aluminum, steel, copper, cast iron, etc. It is helpful to familiarize yourself with the difference between these materials, before you decide which ones are best for you. A quick summary, including examples of brands:

aluminum: an excellent conductor of heat. However, it can react with acidic foods, leading to a metallic taste.

copper: also an excellent heat conductor. But it is expensive and can easily scratch or tarnish.

anodized aluminum: has been treated to create an aluminum oxide coating on the surface. This makes it less reactive than plain aluminum. Often called “non-stick,” these products are not quite as non-stick as traditional Teflon-coated cookware. (Calphalon Infused Anodized line, Anolon Advanced line, KitchenAid Hard Anodized Nonstick line)

stainless steel: a poor conductor, but it is durable and non-reactive.

cast iron: slow to change temperature, so it is good for foods where you need to maintain a high level of constant heat, but not good for recipes that require switching from high to low levels of heat. It is also great for recipes that require searing or browning food. Cast iron must be seasoned before use, meaning you cover it with a layer of fat or oil, and bake it in the oven. The coating of seasoning helps to prevent foods from sticking. (Lodge)

enameled cast iron: The same benefits of cast iron, but it does not require seasoning because of its enamel coating. (Le Creuset , Lodge Enamel line)

nonstick: Coated with Teflon, so they are easy to clean up, but not very durable. You cannot use metal utensils on them because they will scratch the nonstick coating. Not meant to be used with high heat (T-Fal, Calphalon nonstick line).

combination (a.k.a. clad, a.k.a. tri-ply): some pots and pans are a combination of aluminum/copper and steel. The outside is stainless steel, which gives it a non-reactive surface. The interior (or just the bottom) is composed of aluminum or copper to improve the heat conductivity. If the whole interior is copper or aluminum (as opposed to just the bottom) the product is sometimes called “tri-ply,” which refers to the three layers of materials. (All-Clad Copper Clad Line, Anolon Advanced Clad Line, KitchenAid Stainless Steel Clad line)
Bakeware can be made out of any of the materials above, as well as some additional materials not used in stovetop cooking:

glass: It’s nonreactive, and allows baked goods to brown well. (Pyrex)

ceramic / stoneware: similar to cast-iron in its heat retaining properties, and browns food well. (Corningware, Pampered Chef stoneware)

silicone: Its flexibility makes it easy to store, and easy to remove baked foods from. However, it does not allow for much browning. (KitchenAid silicone line, Smartware)These two links can provide you with more detailed information on cookware/bakeware materials:
Cooking For Engineers: Common Materials of Cookware
Understanding Stovetop Cookware – a very thorough article about the different types of pots and pans, and different materials

What Cookware/Bakeware Pieces Do You Need?

If you do not have any cookware, then buying a set is a very economical option. (Meaning, the cost of a cookware set is a lot less than if you were to buy each of those pieces separately.) However, only choose a set if you feel that you will actually use most of the pieces in it, otherwise it’s no bargain. In that case, it’s better to buy only a few pots and pans that you think you will really use. Here are my personal recommendations:

a few saucepans (a.k.a. pots) and skillets/frying pans in a combination of steel with copper/aluminum

one nonstick skillet or cast iron skillet for cooking eggs and other items that could stick

a small set of glass or ceramic bakeware with lids. This allows you to bake/serve/store-leftovers all in one container

bakeware made of heavy-gauge aluminum (or a combination of aluminum and steel), based on whatever type of items you plan to be baking: cake pans, muffin pans, brownie pans, etc. Restaurant supply stores are a great source for heavy aluminum bakeware at a good price, so try checking the yellow pages.

on many forums and websites, I have seen people recommend getting an enameled iron dutch oven for cooking stews and casseroles, and braising meat. I agree that this is a good idea, but due to the expense, I have not purchased one myself yet. Right now I am doing fine with my Corningware and Pyrex dishes for those kinds of meals. I still plan to get a Le Creuset dutch oven someday, because they are high quality items, and because then I could use them on the stovetop as well.This link may provide some tips if you’re stumped on what items you should have in your kitchen:Best Cookware in General – a forum poll on what people think are the best cookware items to have.

Miscellaneous Kitchen Items

Aside from cookware, you probably already have a good idea of what appliances, gadgets or miscellaneous items you want, but here’s my list of items that I highly recommend:

Storage containers, such as the ones made by Tupperware or Rubbermaid. These are useful for packing lunches or snacks, or just for storing leftovers.

A garlic press. Some recipes call for garlic powder or minced garlic, but instead of getting it out of a jar, how about making your own? It’s really easy to grab a clove of garlic and put it through the press, and it only takes a few seconds longer than it would to scoop some powder out of one of the jars on your spice rack. Plus, you get a much fresher taste.

A box grater. Instead of buying separate packages of shredded cheese, I save money by using a block of cheese from the fridge and shredding it myself with the grater. I also get a lot of use out of it when I want to shred carrots for a vegetable salad.

A slow cooker (aka Crock Pot, which is actually a brand name). I’ve heard from many people who leave their slow-cooker in the cupboard collecting dust for years, but I use mine all the time. Since I don’t get home from work until 6:00, it’s a great time saver. I just do the prep work in the morning (or the night before) then throw everything into the pot and turn it on. By the time I get home, dinner is ready to serve. I bought some specialized cookbooks for slow-cooker recipes, but you can certainly find a lot of recipes online too. So far I have used it to make great dishes such as Coq au Vin, bolognese sauce, pulled pork with barbecue sauce, and split pea soup.

A vacuum sealer, such as the ones made by Foodsaver or Deni. These machines come with special plastic bags that you use to store food in. The machine sucks the air out of the bag and seals the end, so that your food comes in contact with very little air.

A Few Tips for Wedding Registries:

Don’t be afraid to register for more expensive items like appliances. Many times, a group of people will chip in to buy one large item together. Choosing items in a variety of prices will ensure that all of your guests can find something they can afford.

For silverware, many people choose to register for two sets: an everyday flatware set made of stainless steel, and a sterling silver set for special occasions. My fiance and I chose not to do this, and only registered for an everyday set. We figured that we would only rarely use the fancier set, and we’d rather receive other items on our registry that we knew we really needed. So don’t feel that you have to follow tradition: only register for the sterling silver set if you know that you will get some use out of it.

You may not find all the items you want at one store, so it’s perfectly acceptable to register at 2 or 3 places. If you are expecting guests from across the country, at least one place you register at should be a web store or a national chain.

Find Reviews:

Whether you are buying the items yourself or planning a registry, it can be helpful to read reviews on products that you are interested in. While the final choice is yours, reading a review can give you an idea of what options you want to look for in a certain type of product. It can also provide information about features or problems with a specific item that you weren’t aware of.

Consumer Reports is the best known source for product reviews, but you don’t need a subscription to take advantage of their information. Go to the Consumer Reports website and do a search for the product review that you are interested in. The website will tell you what issue contains the review you want, although you’ll have to subscribe to the website to get the text. Never fear, because most public and college libraries subscribe to Consumer Reports. So just use the web search to find out what issue you need, and then get that issue from the library.

Cook’s Illustrated is a magazine that regularly contains reviews of cookware and kitchen tools. You can go to the Cook’s Illustrated website to search for reviews. Some will be available for free, but others will require a subscription to the website. But a 14-day free trial is available, so you may want to consider signing up for that, to get the reviews you want.

Both Consumer Reports and Cook’s Illustrated are highly reputable sources of information, and their reviews are very detailed and thorough. But you might also want to look at reviews written by regular consumers who have used the products. Such reviews are available at Amazon.com, Cooking.com and Epinions.com.

Conclusion:

Just remember that the primary question to consider when choosing kitchen items is: Will I use it? No matter how cool a gadget is, or how much of a bargain, if you don’t actually use it, then it’s a waste of money and a waist of space. With these tips, you should be able to get your kitchen off to a great start.

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