Welcome to the VICE Guide to Life, our imperfect advice on becoming an adult.
We’re no longer living in an age where most young people are going off and getting hitched before they turn 25, registering for their wedding gifts and picking out china patterns. After all, among the many industries millennials are killing is the wedding industry. We’re all getting much older before we get a chance to have our friends and families buy us a bunch of highly necessary but obscenely expensive household shit, essentially bankrolling our transition into adulthood under the auspices of an antiquated heteronormative tradition.
Whether you flew the parental coop ages ago, or you’re about to sign the lease on an apartment for the first time, deciding what to invest your hard-earned money in while nesting into your new digs is difficult. Is it really necessary to buy that 17-piece knife block set? (No.) But maybe you’ll come to appreciate having sprung for the nicer copper-bottomed sauté pan as opposed to the cheap-o one in the thrift store that you would’ve thrown out after a year. If you’re looking to properly stock a fully-functional kitchen, here are the non-negotiable items we here at MUNCHIES think you ought to have around. If you’ve already got an oven and a fridge, this is all you’ll need.
1. Knives—10” Chef’s Knife, Paring Knife
We repeat: step away from the box-set of innumerable knives made of shitty alloy metals that will go dull just by being breathed on the wrong way. An eight to 10–inch chef’s knife will be your kitchen workhorse, and most new cooks prefer the weightier grip of a German brand like Wüsthof. The only other thing you’ll really find yourself in need of is a small paring knife. Some will say you need a good serrated bread knife, to which we say—only if you’re someone regularly buying un-sliced crusty bread, or baking your own, which not a WHOLE LOT of people do. Otherwise, a bread knife is sort of superfluous.
2. Oven-Safe Skillet
Lots of cheap 12-piece sets of cookware marketed to first-time kitchen outfitters are a load of crap not just because who the hell has the space for all that junk in an apartment, but also because a lot of them have flimsy plastic handles that can crack, warp, or melt. You’ll want at least one skillet or sauté pan with a metal handle that you can slide into the oven when necessary.
3. 10” Cast Iron Pan
From getting the perfect sear on a steak you probably paid too much money for, to baking the perfect cornbread, a cast iron skillet will prove its usefulness time and again. And please, please—don’t buy into the lore. Use some fucking soap when you wash it. You shouldn’t go to town scrubbing it with a brillo pad, true, because you don’t want to ruin all of your hard-earned seasoning, but you also don’t want a pan smelling of rancid fat sitting on your stove all the time, either.
4. 8” Nonstick Skillet
You’ll want this for eggs. Other things, too, but eggs are where having a nonstick skillet is really a gamechanger.
5. 3-Quart Sauce Pot with a Lid
A reasonably sized sauce pot is great for making, yes, sauce—but also for cooking rice, making popcorn, and reheating soup without a microwave.
6. Kitchen Towels
Yes, we’re being very literal with you, here. More effective and environmentally-friendly than always relying on paper towels, a standard kitchen towel is a cook’s best friend. Keep a big stack in a drawer or cupboard. Buy them in bulk for cheap from the dollar store, wear ‘em out and wash ‘em regularly, then restock when they start to look a little threadbare.
An enameled stockpot is relatively inexpensive, and is your ideal vessel for cooking a large quantity of pasta (you always need more water and space than you think you do, trust us), steaming clams, or, you know, making stock.
8. Cooking Utensils
(Rubber spatulas, whisk, ladle, wooden spoon, large offset spatula, metal tongs, can opener, vegetable peeler, measuring cup/spoons) No matter how high-quality your cooking utensils are, you’ll need to replace them eventually anyway, so don’t go crazy here. A few rubber spatulas are almost universally handy. A basic wooden spoon is a no-brainer if you’re using non-stick pans often. Metal tongs are always more practical than plastic ones. And even if you’re more of an eyeball-it cook than a measure-out-your-mis-en-place-first cook, having a full set of measuring utensils tucked away can’t hurt. Do you fear the utensil drawer that turns into a booby trap with too many interlocked whisk tines and slotted spoon holes? Get a countertop utensil holder and reduce your anxiety by at least 75 percent.
9. Mixing Bowls
This seems obvious, yes? A set of no more than four nesting mixing bowls is plenty sufficient for most home cooks, and they store neatly for those who get off on a well-organized space. If you invest in pretty ones, they can double as serving bowls for entertaining.
10. Aluminum Half-Sheet Trays
A half-sheet tray is the appropriate size for most home ovens, especially the slightly smaller ones you might come across in an apartment-sized kitchen. Find these guys at a restaurant supply store and get them for extra cheap, so it’s no big deal if you feel like replacing them in a few years when they start to show a little wear and tear. Non-stick sheet trays are a racket and not to be trusted. You can roast on them, bake in them, or slide them under drippy lasagnas and pies so nothing bubbles up and ruins your oven.
11. Box Grater
The design of the box grater hasn’t changed much for several generations, because it’s hard to improve upon something so basic but effective. When you notice one side getting dull after a while, it’s time to replace it.
You’re an adult now. It’s time to stop only buying wine with twist-off caps because you don’t own a proper corkscrew. A work-horse wine key like the ones you’ve seen nearly any waiter in the world use can probably be found near the register of any liquor store you frequent for under five bucks.
13. Instant-Read Thermometer
This is the only reliable way tell if your chicken is actually cooked, or if your steak is a perfect medium rare. Sure, there are plenty of loudmouths who claim you can just, like, poke at your own hand and extrapolate how done your meat is from that, but it’s a lie. Get a thermometer.
NICE TO HAVE
You don’t NEED these, necessarily, but if you start getting super into cooking, these are all handy additions to your kitchen arsenal.
1. Dutch Oven
This might be the kind of item you actually do have to ask for as a birthday gift from the parents because, unfortunately, even the least expensive kinds are still very expensive. But if you treat this pot well, it’ll stay with you for a lifetime, and you can put it in your will and leave it to your grandkids.
From zesting lemons to grating fresh ginger, a microplane comes in handy for all those times when even your best knife skills just ain’t dainty enough.
3. French Press
An electric coffee pot—even a bare bones one—will take up too much space on your counter, and the coffee’s not going to be that great anyway. (Also, outlets in small apartment kitchens are few and far between, and you can’t have one whole plug dedicated to a Mr. Coffee machine.) A French press is small and inconspicuous, and takes less time to make than pour-over in a Chemex. You probably already have a kettle for boiling the water anyway.
4. Fine-Mesh Strainer
A colander is really only useful for straining pasta, or washing produce. But a fine mesh strainer is what you need for rinsing a can of beans after you open them, or straining the lumps out of your gravy or the pulp out of your fresh-squeezed OJ.
5. Citrus Juicer
Squeezing a lemon by hand is only effective up to a point, and if your recipe calls for a significant volume (or you want fresh OJ for your brunch mimosas), your hands just aren’t gonna cut it. This might seem like an old-timey analog gadget to have in your cupboard in 2018, but short of a super expensive electric juicer, this is your best bet.
6. Kitchen Scale
You’ll notice all of your home baking experiments will improve greatly in quality if you start weighing your ingredients rather than just measuring them with cups and spoons, and you can find a good enough quality one for under $20.
7. Heavy Wooden Cutting Board
Cheap plastic cutting boards are perfectly serviceable—lay out a kitchen towel flat underneath them and they won’t do that annoying sliding around thing while you’re trying to chop an onion. And you can run them through the dishwasher to be sure you’ve gotten them properly cleaned. But once you’ve used a heavy, sturdy wooden cutting board that stays in place all on its own, like a Boos block? You’ll never look back. Be sure to clean it properly and condition it with oil to keep it nice for a looong time.
So you definitely don’t need these at all. But if you lead a very hummus-heavy life, or drink a lot of smoothies, a couple selective gadget choices might make your life a lot easier.
1. Stick Blender
Having an immersion blender, especially one with multiple attachments like a whisk and a small food processor, makes a lot of tasks infinitely easier. You can find decent options for relatively cheap, and a small home version is compact enough to not take up undue amounts of space in your cabinets.
2. Food Processor
Unless you really need your hummus to be as smooth and lump-free as a baby’s bottom, you don’t really need a super-powerful food processor. The things to consider, while staying within your budget, are horsepower of the motor (the higher the HP, the more powerful the machine), volume that the bowl can hold (need 4 cups? 2 quarts? More?), and whether you prefer a machine that will stay on continuously or can “pulse” chop when you push the on-button just once. But this is a gadget that comes in handy more often than you’d think, so it’s worth giving it both a bit of your budget and the cabinet real estate.
3. Toaster Oven
Why buy a single-purpose toaster when a small toaster oven can take up the same amount of space on the counter or shelf and do ten times as many things? If you really know how to work your toaster oven’s settings, you can sort of eliminate the need for a microwave altogether for reheating food.
4. Rice Cooker
A rice cooker is by no means essential—you can just as effectively and in about the same amount of time make rice in your handy sauce pot on the stove. But it sure is convenient, especially if you’re making rice many times a week. A cheap but perfectly serviceable option is in basically every dollar store for $20 or less.