Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

During college years funding is low but the need to cook like a pro can be essential. (Let's say to meeting your future wife/husband?)

What are essential devices the kitchen should have but will not break the already broken bank?

Community List Includes:

  • quality knife set (essential for all most cooking)
  • a knife sharpener (a cheap but not so-cheap one does the job)
  • crock pot (great for the set it and forget it cooking when you are on the go)
  • measuring cups/spoons (eye-balling is great but sometimes you need refined measuring)
  • casserole dish
  • mixing bowl
  • skillet (cast iron preferred)
  • essential herbs/spices (preferably from parents kitchen)
  • cutting board (decent size, but not too big that it is too big to fit in the sink and wash)
  • spatula (metal and wood)
  • knife sharpener (ceramic preferred or diamond coated)
  • 3 plates (1 for you, 1 for guest, 1 for serving)
  • tupperware/containers for tomorrow's lunch
  • cutlery for 2

Community wiki and I will try to update the list as user's comment!

share|improve this question

closed as primarily opinion-based by rumtscho Jun 8 at 15:26

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

What are the restrictions to deal with? If you're living in a dorm, you might have limited space, and restrictions on what you can run. (we weren't allowed appliances in the rooms, but there was a shared microwave on each floor, and some dorms had a shared kitchen). –  Joe Aug 26 '10 at 19:48
You don't need a knife set. A single chef's knife, 8-10". Maybe a smaller paring knife. –  Adam Shiemke Aug 26 '10 at 20:04
@Adam : a 10" chef knife for cooking for a beginner, likely cookng for themselves? I'd have said 6-8" + a paring knife. –  Joe Aug 26 '10 at 20:09
Also see for general advice : cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/2080/… ; cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/1580/… ; –  Joe Aug 26 '10 at 20:17
I agree with Adam. 99% of the time you use exactly one of these two knifes. I'm adding a knife sharpener to the list because only a shark knife is a good (and safe!) knife. –  Martin Aug 27 '10 at 9:19

8 Answers 8

Two sous chefs, a camera crew in your face, and if you want to lose, an ice-cream maker?

Honestly, if you're a "poor college student", wanting to cook like an iron chef is a pipe dream. You should be focusing on cooking good, decent food. The goal is a replacement for microwave burritos and takeout pizza, not 5-star cooking.

College student could mean lots of things: (1) lack of experience / skill. (2) lack of equipment. (3) lack of storage space. (4) lack of a full kitchen. (5) Needing to move your things multiple times per year. (6) lack of money.

We know #6 is true, based on 'poor', but what about the rest?

All are going to yield much different answers. I think I managed to get through cooking in a shared kitchen one year with:

  1. a mini-fridge
  2. a skillet
  3. a mid-sized pot w/ lid
  4. a wooden spatula
  5. a turner / metal spatula
  6. cutlery for 2
  7. a cheap chef's knife.
  8. a cheap paring knife.
  9. a cutting board.
  10. 3 plates
  11. a measuring cup from camping (plastic, 1c., w/ markings for 1/4, 1/2, 3/4c.)
  12. a sierra cup
  13. a few drinking cups.
  14. salt
  15. a few herbs and spices raided from my parents.
  16. some containers so I could make extra and have lunch/dinner the next day (so I wasn't cooking every night)

If you have access to an oven, and you're going to be baking, you might need other things, but it's going to all depend on what you restrictions are.

share|improve this answer
I understand 5 star cooking is unrealistic but cooking good solid meals goes a long way. What is a sierra cup ? –  Chris Aug 27 '10 at 12:29
@Chris : a sierra cup is a sort of bowl/cup thing used by hikers, as they're versatile & light weight: amazon.com/Stainless-Steel-Sierra-Camping-Emergency/dp/… –  Joe Aug 31 '10 at 16:48

I really liked Joe's answer, but had a slightly modified list when I was in college:

  • 1 10" chef knife - $35
  • 1 large cutting board (plastic...I know, wood is better for the knife, but plastic was convenient and cheaper) - $20
  • 1 10" deep non-stick skillet - $20 from Costco
  • 1 3-qt non-stick pot - $40
  • Service for 2 - 2 forks, knives, spoons, plates, cups - $20 from Pier 1?
  • Set of cheap wooden utensils - $10 Target
  • Mineral oil for said wooden utensils, $5 from IKEA
  • Rice cooker - your mileage may vary, but if you can afford it, splurge $120 on a Zujirushi. They really are that good.

Total cost with rice cooker: $270

Total cost without rice cooker: $150

This got me through most of college - cooking a lot of one dish meals, stir-fry, and pasta.

If you're going to add anything to it, I'd add potholders/trivets, a few dish towels, and a large pot for boiling spaghetti and linguine (the 3 quart was better for smaller bite-sized pastas than the long noodle-y ones). This could add anywhere from $20-$50 depending on whether you find these at a garage sale or in a store.

share|improve this answer
Please share some recipies of those pastas/1 dish meals? –  Click Upvote Apr 1 '11 at 0:27
I just realized the name on this post ... and oddly enough, you have the same name as one of my roommates freshmen year (along w/ Jared & Richard) –  Joe Feb 12 '14 at 12:09
@ClickUpvote : we don't really do too many recipes here ... and too many people these days will vote to close questions that they think are too subjective, so you have to really narrow things down. There are lots of cookbooks dedicated to the subject of one-pot meals, though ... you might be able to ask for recommendations, but you'll likely also want to give a skill level to narrow it further. –  Joe Feb 12 '14 at 12:23

I've found most of this stuff for great prices at IKEA, as you my budget is very limited. In my opinion the best knives you can find for the price:

Measuring spoons the same, there is a list of choices, I own that http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/30085875 $5, but there is a great choice of measuring items (I've spotted a meat thermometer that isn't bad at all).

Mixing bowls, same story, you can own some of them metal (there are plenty of sizes) from the same store. There are some cast iron skillets and grills, but I can't say so much, anyway the prices are good also on standard places.

share|improve this answer
Cook's Illustrated really likes the Victorinox Fibrox knives. I've not used them personally, but they seem to get a lot of positive reviews. –  Taeraresh Aug 26 '10 at 21:56
I bought the Victorinox Fibrox knives on Cook's Illustrated very recommendation! =) I'm quite pleased with the result, and between a professional knife sharpening once a year and honing before each use, it keeps its edge well. I bought their 10" chef's knife for $30 on Amazon. Prior to this, was using a Henckel 4-star 8" chef knife, and had tried their Pro-S 8" chef knife as well (the balance on this is superb). –  Robert Hui Aug 26 '10 at 22:32

Cast iron skillet, great for searing meats, bacon, and as a bonus it can go from stovetop directly into the oven. See this thread. You can find a good Lodge cast iron skillet for under $30.

I don't feel an entire knife set is necessary, just 2 or 3 really good knives. Specifically a chefs knife, and a paring knife. A lot of people also recommend a good bread knife. See this thread. A decent set can run $500 or more; you can get two really good knives for half that.

Almost forgot to mention, to go with the good knife/knives you want at least one good quality cutting board. If it's wood, get some mineral oil or something similar to make it last (seemingly) forever.

As someone else mentioned, you might be dealing with restrictions on what you can use. If you don't have an oven, a cast iron skillet won't be of much use, but an electric griddle will be invaluable. If you only have a microwave, this Microwave Browning Dish is probably a great thing to have on hand. I recently got one as a gift, but haven't gotten a chance to use it yet - but I've been reading great reviews online.

I also can't live without my kitchen scale. I have an expensive one, but started with one that was about $30. This might not be necessary for a beginner cook, but once you get used to having one it can really speed things up - it's also much easier to get exact measurements. A large onion can vary in size, but an ounce of onion is always an ounce of onion.

share|improve this answer
  • Skillet (if a stove is available, which it is in most apartments or perhaps a dorm kitchen)
  • 8 x 8 pan for baking brownies or a square cake (friends do have birthdays, after all)
  • Plates and utensils for at least 2. Remember the dining hall frowns on stealing.

Both of the above could be taken from a parent or other relative's collection of cast offs or extras.

I'd actually cut the required knives down to one. I have good friends who cook nearly every day and survive on only a 5" Santoku.

share|improve this answer
how do you do any type of pearing action with a 5" santoku though? –  Chris Aug 26 '10 at 19:40
@Chris - I'm not quite sure how my friends do it (I personally own a paring knife), but then again I actually rarely pare. Sending a Wusthof blade around the edge of any fruit or vegetable doesn't appeal to me, so I prefer to use our vegetable peeler for anything that it can handle. –  justkt Aug 26 '10 at 19:57

If you want a power tool, I'd recommend an immersion blender. For a pretty reasonable price, you can find one with a small "food processor" attachment as well as the blender, and you'll be able to make pretty much anything common that requires grinding or blending. (Hummus, breadcrumbs, pureed soups and sauces...) They're not as big or heavy as a full-sized blender, and comparable in price to anything but a really cheap one.

share|improve this answer

I found a casserole dish and a bowl large enough to mix the ingredients in (or use a hand-blender without ingredients flying everywhere)

The casserole dish is perfect for simple casseroles, desserts, meat, stand for beer chicken, etc. I have used mine to death.

share|improve this answer

As a college student who's worked part time as a store butcher for many years, let me give you my five cents:

  • With the exception of a knife, everything must be scrubbable and dishwashable. There's no point in getting a nice lovely wooden cutting board, when the others you live with won't be as conscientous in washing it as you will be. Stuff that can't handle being scrubbed with steel wool is not hard enough. (I'll make an exception for a non-stick frying pan.)

  • You have little space, so everything must be usable for more than one thing. A giant blender is a pipe dream, but a hand mixer might be okay.

  • Buying good quality stuff saves you money in the long term. Buying steel cooking pots (1l, 3l and 5l is a good set of sizes. You don't need any more sizes than this. You don't need more pots than this. Make sure you have a good lid for each of them.

  • Good quality non-rusting mixing bowls are great. Plastic stuff is not. Metal can be scrubbed, thrown in the dishwasher, used to melt stuff with, etc. Same goes for measuring cups. Get 2 1l measuring cups made out of metal. You want stuff that lasts a 100 years so you don't have to buy new ones.

  • Cutlery, plates, drinking glasses etc. should be bought at low prices at places like Ikea. Glasses are gonna break. Would you rather replace a glass that costs more than a bottle of beer, or a glass that costs less than a bottle of beer?

  • You only need two knives. One cheap serrated one to cut bread with, and one "proper" one to cut everything else with. You also want a steel (the thing that you straighten the blade with, not entirely sure what it's called in English.) and a whetstone. There are knives that are made entirely out of steel, so you can was them in the dishwasher. I don't like how they feel in the hand, but if you do, go for it! Less dishes = more fun.

Stuff like a hand held blender/mixer is okay. Stuff like a massive coffee machine that needs its own donkey on a threadmill to power is not okay.

share|improve this answer
completely agree on things being dual purpose ... and plastic bowls sucking. But for the best bang for your buck ... look to estate auctions and yard sales. And when I was a college student ... I never had a dishwasher, so I can't agree on the no wooden cutting boards. (plastic boards are bad when you can't sanitize them easily) –  Joe Aug 7 '14 at 16:59

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.