The Mouthful: The Bare Necessities to Create a Functional Kitchen in College

There comes a time in everyone’s life when they have to stop eating meals straight out of a saucepan and feebly cutting everything that needs cutting with a dull butter knife.

This time is known as adulthood.

It can be hard to know where to start when it comes to kitchen implements. As a college student, you definitely don’t need the full complement of gadgets, but it’s nice to have a kitchen that you can actually cook in. I’ve had my own modestly-outfitted kitchen for quite a while, and have made everything from ramen to boeuf bourguignon to fudge cheesecake. Here’s my list of essentials. Each piece can be bought at a thrift store or inexpensive kitchen supply store such as Ikea, and can be used for more than one purpose.

  • Two medium-size knives, one serrated, and a decent pair of kitchen scissors. Just try cutting crusty bread with a non-serrated knife–not gonna happen. Beyond that, you can use the same chef’s knife for just about everything, provided you take good care of it (read: wash by hand, sharpen once in a while). Kitchen scissors can be used to open stubborn packages and cut pizza into slices.
  • Two plastic cutting boards, labeled for meat and non-meat. Because food poisoning is not a good look.
  • One saucepan, one large pot and one large skillet, all with lids. I’ve tried whittling down the list of pots and pans to the barest of essentials, and this is it: with the saucepan you can make ramen or macaroni and cheese, the pot can be used to make a big batch of soup, and one large skillet can be used for anything from stir fry to scrambled eggs.
  • Mixing/serving bowls, at least one small and one large. I have a few stainless steel bowls from Ikea that can take a beating in the kitchen but also look great on the table when I have friends over. Get bowls that can do double duty and you’ll save cabinet space.
  • A great big colander, either metal or plastic.
  • A spatula, a rubber spatula, a mixing spoon, tongs, and a ladle. These are easy to find at thrift stores, and are often sold together as a set at stores like Ikea for a few bucks.
  • A box grater. This is essential for all those late-night quesadillas, of course, but can also be used to mince garlic and ginger or to zest citrus.
  • A can and bottle opener. There’s just no getting around this one.
  • A few baking dishes of various sizes, either metal or glass (glass earns points for prettiness and table-ready-ness, but metal is lighter). I find that, with a little fudging, I can make my random assortment of baking dishes work for just about anything I need to make–you don’t need to have every size out there. That said, if you plan to bake, a cookie sheet, muffin tin, and round cake pan belong on the list. Springform pans are my favorite, because they can be used for cheesecakes and tarts as well as cakes.
  • A wire cooling rack or two. Nothing like burned counters to lose you that security deposit.
  • A set of teaspoons and measuring cups. I feel like a hypocrite putting these on the list, since we somehow don’t have a set in my own kitchen. Don’t be as foolhardy with your measurements as I am, kids. A liquid measuring cup is handy too, but not essential.
  • A rolling pin, both for rolling out crusts and cookies and for crushing whatever needs crushing (preferably things like nuts and candy, not your adversaries). Just keep an old straight-sided wine bottle around, it works like a charm.
  • A few storage containers. I like glass storage containers with snap tops – eating out of them feels a little less sad than out of cloudy plastic tupperware, and being able to see what leftovers you have when you open the fridge helps minimize food waste.
  • A set of oven mitts, unless you are the Human Torch, and dish towels, unless you’re committed to living in squalor.
    Either a blender or a food processor. I know they’re not technically interchangeable, but either will work in a pinch. Almost all appliances are mere conveniences–you can toast bread under the burner, or warm leftovers on the stove, but there’s really nothing else that will fulfill all of your getting-things-really-tiny-and-smooth needs.
  • Aspiring bakers should get an electric hand mixer. These can be found cheaply at stores like Target, and creaming butter and sugar by hand is nearly impossible. I just want what’s best for your wrists.
  • And that’s about it. There’s no need to fill your cabinets with redundant or single-use materials, but you also don’t have to resign yourself to uselessness. All of these tools are widely available, inexpensive, and will send you well on your way to kitchen mastery.