There are many things you should consider when equipping your kitchen, especially if you want to do Meal Prep. It goes far beyond the basic pots, pans, and utensils. Below is a guide for how to equip your kitchen. I’ve included many items that I’ve found helpful for my Meal Prep over the years; I hope you find it just as helpful.
Pots and Pans: Good pots and pans are essential in all aspects of cooking, and fortunately, you can get good pots and pans at reasonable prices. It all depends on what you need and how much money you’re able or willing to spend on them. The materials they’re made with doesn’t matter; it’s a matter of personal preference. One caveat about nonstick cookware: never, ever use nonstick spray! You’ll find that over time, a gummy, oily residue builds up, and this will never be able to be removed. It’s best to get an oil mister and use good, old-fashioned oil of whatever variety you choose.
Whatever brand and style you choose, make sure you have one or two extra pieces of the sizes and kinds of pans you’ll use most often, such as skillets and saucepans. That way, you can have two or three different things going on in the same size pan, without the need to wash in between uses. Having to keep rewashing your equipment while you’re doing your Meal Prep is really time-consuming.
You’ll need a wide variety of pots and pans in different sizes. It also helps if you can find an off-size lid for some of the things that don’t usually come with them, such as an 8-inch skillet. Invest in at least one 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven if you buy your pots and pans individually rather than as part of a set. The bigger, the better. You also want oven-safe cookware. Make sure you know the maximum temperature your oven-safe cookware can handle, as well.
Skillets are a home cook’s best friend. They’re versatile, and they come in several different sizes, from just big enough to cook one egg all the way up to “let’s feed the whole army.” The sizes you choose depend on what you’ll be using most often, and just like the Dutch oven, you should have at least two of your most-used size(s). I would go for an 8-inch, a 10-inch, and a 12-inch, for starters. The 10-inch one would be the one used most often, so get a couple.
Saucepans are important. They are used to make sauces, hence the name, but they can do so much more. You can boil pasta or potatoes, you can poach or boil eggs, the list goes on. Aim for at least one of each of a 1-quart, 2-quart, and 3-quart. I don’t usually make my rice in a saucepan, however. My mother taught me to use a 10-inch skillet with a lid for that. You have greater surface area in the pan, which means that the same amount of rice you’re cooking won’t be as deep in the skillet versus the saucepan. It cooks easier, faster, and better because the rice is more spread out in the pan.
You need at least one large roasting pan, as well. I’m talking turkey-sized. When you do Meal Prep like I do, having something big enough to handle a whole turkey or ham is a must. Buying a whole ham or turkey is more economical than just buying exactly how much you need for whatever you’re making. You can slice, chop, or shred it and put it into 2-cup portions in the freezer. Take out a portion, thaw it in the fridge, and you have enough meat to make a casserole. Don’t like the turkey or chicken skin? Remove it before you cook the meat and render off the fat (called schmalz). Portion it out into whatever amounts you usually use and freeze it at least 3-4 months. Use the schmalz for making a gravy or sauce on the fly. You don’t even need to thaw it first; the heat from the pan will melt it in no time.
Bakeware: As with cookware, you’re going to need multiple pieces of the sizes of baking pans you use most often. Think: cake pans, 13×9’s, loaf pans, you get the picture. With bakeware, you really want to steer away from dark or nonstick pans; they’re not very high quality. Get good, sturdy aluminum pans (light colored) that won’t warp first time in the oven. This goes for your baking sheets as well.
Utensils: You need a lot of really good, functional utensils to cook. Many different kinds (slotted or not) and sizes (small to large) of spatulas are required. And no, they’re not called turners or flippers!
There’s a type of spatula-like utensil I’m really fond of called a spurtle. Don’t laugh, it’s a real thing. They’ve been made in Scotland for centuries; the Scottish use them for stirring oatmeal, but they’re really versatile. I’ve tossed almost all of my traditional spatulas in favor of spurtles. I use them for dang near everything! If you like using wooden spoons, try a spurtle or two.
Professional chefs often spend literally (not in the figurative sense) thousands of dollars on their knife sets, and they usually buy them by the piece. You don’t need to do that, but there are some things to consider when buying a knife set. Decide which knives are most important for your usage, and go from there. You can have them in their own knife block, or buy a knife block for the most important pieces, or whatever. It’s another personal preference thing. The one thing you MUST have if you want to keep your knives in tip-top shape is a knife sharpener. Most knife blocks come with a sharpening stone, but that’s for daily use, just to clean up the wear and tear spots from the last time you used the knife. For regular maintenance of a sharp blade, you need to invest in a high-quality electric sharpener with at least two levels of sharpening, one to hone the blade and one to refine it.
Santoku knives have been popular for several years, and they’re really good knives (I have two). Here’s what they don’t tell you. While a standard chef’s knife is factory-sharpened to a 20-degree angle, the santoku is factory-sharpened to a 15-degree angle. You can try to find a 15-degree angle sharpener, or you can just use the standard sharpener. Over time, your santoku will acquire the standard 20-degree angle.
Spoons and other cooking utensils: You’ll need several spoons of different materials for stirring and serving. If you have metal-sensitive cookware, opt for silicone and/or wood. You’ll also need at least two pairs of tongs, a long and a short. Again, if your cookware isn’t made for metal utensils, get tongs that are silicone-tipped.
A note about caring for wooden utensils (including cutting boards): Never put them in the dishwasher, and always remember to oil them about every 2-4 months, depending on usage. You can find wood oil online or in housewares stores such as Bed Bath & Beyond. You don’t want to use any kind of cooking oil for your wooden utensils; it’ll turn rancid.
Measuring Cups and Spoons, and Kitchen Scales: You need a really good set of measuring cups and spoons. I know it’s a bit overboard, but my measuring set is basically a continuum from 1/32nd of a teaspoon all the way up to two cups! I even have ⅓, ⅔, and ¾ cup, and ⅓ and ¾ teaspoon. And yes, get a few extras in your most frequently used sizes.
A kitchen scale is a must, since many ingredients for baking are weighed rather than measured, and the general rule is that it won’t weigh the same as its volume measurement (i.e., one cup of flour does not weigh eight ounces!).
Food Storage: This is a big one for Meal Preppers like me. I’ve spent years trying to find the perfect food storage containers, and I’ve *finally* succeeded. I now use 1- and 2-cup deli containers. They come in either round or a squarish shape with rounded corners, and all the lids fit everything. They also come in 1-quart sizes, so if you want to make larger portions of something you can. The lids fit securely, too. I can lay them on their sides in the freezer, and they won’t leak. Whatever kind you use, make sure you get the sizes you use most often. Consider if you want it to be divided or not, as well.
Plastic Bags: I use resealable plastic bags for a lot of stuff that I freeze. I buy them in the basic sizes–snack, sandwich, quart, and gallon. I also use those fold-close sandwich bags for some things. I don’t buy freezer bags, but if you want to that’s fine. I just find that they’re a waste of money for my needs.
Foil, Plastic Wrap, Parchment, Waxed Paper, and Miscellaneous: Most of these are pretty self-explanatory. Waxed paper can be used to prevent layers of something from sticking together, as can parchment, although parchment is more expensive. I mostly use parchment for baking.
A really helpful product is pre-cut waxed paper sheets that are about five inches square. They’re usually used for separating burger patties before cooking them, but I usually use them for my sandwich packs. I put together the meats and cheeses I like between two sheets, put the whole thing into a sandwhich baggie, and freeze. They’re available online for as little as about $10 for a box of 1,000. You can also use them to cover the buttered side of garlic bread before freezing. Just remember to remove the paper before broiling the garlic bread!
Appliances: Get yourself a good stand mixer as well as a hand mixer. They both have their uses. Also, consider investing in some kind of multi-cooker and/or an air fryer. I have both, and I use them quite often. I usually use my multi-cooker (a humongous 10-quart) for making pressure cooked roasts, large quantities of rice or pasta, and slow cooking.
Consider investing in a chest freezer if you have the money/space. You can store all of your overflow items there, and as you empty your primary freezer, you can refill it with what you have in the chest freezer.
I hope this guide is helpful for you in equipping your kitchen. Please feel free to let me know of any equipment you’ve found useful.