10 Starter-Kitchen Items We Wouldn't Have Bought Ourselves—But We Use All the Time
Have a family member or friend about to start cooking? Give them one of these and they'll thank you.
You probably know at least one person who is just starting to figure out how to cook for him or herself. Whether she or he is moving into a new apartment, or has just decided to actually use the fridge for more than holding leftovers, there's probably a lot of uncertainty and confusion about what to get, and what to cook. And we can sympathize—we've all been there.
When it came time to move into my first apartment at 19, I eagerly wanted to make the most of my kitchen—so I instinctively piled my shopping cart with a bunch of pricey big-ticket items that I really didn't need. (My $300 KitchenAid stand mixer truly wasn't anything more than decoration at that point.)
The thing is, it's awfully difficult to find a good product that is not only gift-worthy, but will actually be useful. So some of the staff members at Cooking Light put our heads together and came up with 10 gifts that we received, that truly earned their spot in our kitchens.
These items work extraordinarily well, are well made from brands that we trust, and we've tested them firsthand. But the reason why we love these items in particular is because they're nice enough to feel like true gifts. They are items that are helpful and visually appealing, and feel different from everyday buys that a new cook would probably pick up for themselves.
1) Black + Decker Easy Dial Coffee Maker
I have a confession to make: I'm a food editor and I didn't have a coffee maker in my kitchen until this spring...pause for reaction. Why, you might ask?
Buy It: Walmart, $39.92
Many coffee makers are too big and hefty for the limited counter space that I have and offer way too many options (do I really need an Americano mode?!) for someone who usually just hits up the Starbucks drive-thru. And while the Keurig does work for a lot of time-stressed cooks, I hate the thought of having to buy often-pricey K cups again and again.
My mornings got so much better when I received this very easy-to-use model that is also under $40(!) and is tightly compact on my countertop. It's probably the best starter coffee maker for any at-home barista novice, and at a low price point, it makes a great gift.
2) Non Stick Sheet Pans Set
Buy It: Target, $17.99
That is why a set of sheet pans are probably the greatest gift one could give a cooking novice. And feel free to gift your loved one more than just a single set—sheet pans come in many different sizes for different reasons, and they're one of those kitchen staples where too much is just never enough. Once you gift them a set of these kitchen workhorses, you can help them make the most of their weeknight dinners with these Cooking Light One Sheet Recipes.
3) Rubbermaid 38-Piece Food Storage Set
Meal-prep, meal-prep, meal-prep. We talk a lot about the perfect strategy to meal prepping here at Cooking Light, (we even launched a weekly newsletter just to help with meal prepping) but I'm firmly in the camp of relying on essential, reusable food storage to get the job done. That's why this extremely durable 38-piece set from Rubbermaid is one of the greatest things I own.
Buy It: Bed, Bath and Beyond, $39.99
There is nothing more frustrating than spending a whole Sunday cooking for the week ahead only to run out of places to actually put your healthy meals. Sure you can get much cheaper storage containers, but these look great, and feel great. Plus I can simply grab my Rubbermaid container out of the fridge and toss it into my bag for lunch later—no spills, no mess, no fuss.
4) A Lodge Skillet
I'm sure you've considered gifting a grand set of like 15 pots and pans that come fully loaded with a whole bunch of utensils, too. Can I tell you a secret?
No one uses that entire set. A soup pot just collects dusts and takes up valuable cabinet space.
Buy It: Sur la Table, $35.95
First-time cooks only need one or two well-made pans as they get comfortable cooking. Over the next few years they'll figure out what they like, and can add to their collection. But a cast-iron skillet is incredibly versatile, able to work on the stove or in the oven. Plus it's durable enough to stand up to any abuse that a novice cook accidentally inflicts the kitchen. Gift one or two of these finely crafted skillets to get the job done right.
5) Dash Clearly Better Toaster
A toaster—really?! For a gift?!
Yes, really. But this isn't any ordinary toaster. It makes everything about toasting bread much simpler. The toasting corner of my kitchen was once a mess of flyaway seeds and burnt crumbs.
Buy It: Crate&Barrel, $49.99
The glass exterior makes sure you never have to toss a ruined bagel again because you didn't catch a whiff of burnt bread. And the best part? The bottom of the toaster (you know, the part that no one ever cleans) slides out easily so you can dump all the crumbs into the trash.
6) Cuisinart Salad Spinner
Another big help in the Meal Prep department, this salad spinner makes big-batch salad prep that much easier—but it also works for prepping veggies for all things in the kitchen. I don't know if it's just me, but I always stress about cleaning produce before using it (dirt in my meal? Agh!). The salad spinner is very affordable answer to peace of mind any cook would love.
Buy It: Amazon, $16.79
7) 3-Piece Chef's Knife Trio
You know how I said not to buy a big set of pots and pans? The same is true for knives. A novice chef doesn't need a whole set with eight or nine different knives. going to rely on a sturdy. This affordable trio includes just a couple necessaries: A sturdy chef's knife which can handle the bulk of the cutting, as well as a paring knife for small jobs (like deseeding a lemon) and a thin knife that can do detail work like boning a fish or chicken.
Buy It: Target, $25.49
If you're feeling like you'd like to splurge on this, our editors have previously raved about this Japanese chef's knife that take easy prep work to the next level.
8) Black+Decker PowerCrush Quiet Blender
I can promise you that a new cook won't need a pricey Vitamix just yet—they're going to want something simple and straightforward, that's easy to maintain, and lends itself for a busy schedule. This very affordable model is all that: You can stick the blender's parts right into the dishwasher, there are only four settings, and the blender also doubles as a bottle. You can simply take your smoothie on the road with you.
Buy It: Walmart, $29.98
9) Microplane Copper Grater
From spices to cheese, this Microplane grater is the only one you need for the job. It's on a handle, so you don't even need to grapple with a traditional box-model—because they're actually hard to use if you've never used one before (and trust me, most newbies haven't.)
Buy It: Williams Sonoma, $29.95
10) Milo Dutch Oven
Don't get me wrong— a classic Le Creuset Dutch oven is probably one of the best gifts any home cook could get. That being said, a new cook isn't going to need or really appreciate a high-end Dutch oven. Will your Le Creuset gift collect dust? Probably not. But will a new cook use it and love it as much as you would? Probably not.
That doesn't mean a new cook shouldn't have a Dutch oven, however—and that's where Milo comes in. This new brand launched a well-made enameled model (they currently only sell one) for such an affordable price it's hard to ignore. And when I got my hands on one, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between Milo and Le Creuset.
It's the first Dutch oven I've ever owned, and through trial and error, it'll help me learn how to cook the most intricate slow-roasted dishes easily. And it'll get me ready for the next upgrade. Kind of like learning how to drive on a reliable four-door sedan before graduating to a luxury SUV.
Buy It: Milo.com, $95
The greatest gift that keeps on giving? Some much-needed help on what to do with all of these new tools and gadgets. Gift a one-year subscription to Cooking Light to your loved one for just $10, and watch as they become as comfortable in the kitchen as you are.