If you’re reading this post, you’re most likely in the midst of moving into your first place with a kitchen — congratulations! The kitchen is the metaphorical heart of your home, a place where you can cook elaborate spreads or enjoy a bowl of instant noodles standing at your sink. Even if your idea of a great meal is less “homemade pasta” and more “re-plating takeout from your favorite restaurant,” you’re going to need quite a few things from forks and spoons to glassware and salt and pepper shakers. There are even a couple things that you might not think to purchase until you really need it, like a corkscrew or a first aid kit.
I went through my own “first kitchen” growing pains a few years ago when I moved into my first New York City apartment. In my excitement, I rushed to buy things like cute pot holders and pasta bowls, only to come home and realize I didn’t have a colander to drain my pasta. In the last few years of home cooking, I learned to optimize my kitchen with all the stuff I actually needed, and less of the stuff I didn’t (looking at you, unitaskers). I also recently moved to a new apartment, and was appointed by my roommates to be the shopping czar of furnishing and updating our kitchen wares for the new place. There were Google sheets involved; I’m nothing if not a walking Virgo stereotype.
From my own experience, it can be overwhelming to research what’s actually useful versus a waste of money so here's my list of 56 first kitchen essentials. To make things easier, I’ve even organized it into categories: Cookware, Dining, and Organization, so you can skip past the stuff you’ve inherited from your parents or old roommates and focus on what you actually need.
If you’re ready to start enjoying great meals at home, read on for my master list of everything you’ll need in your first kitchen.
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Some Cheap, But Sturdy Mixing Bowls
Even if you’re not an avid baker, you’re going to need some mixing bowls to incorporate ingredients, dredge proteins for frying, or just to organize chopped produce. I’ll also use one to toss together a quick salad and then eat it right out of the bowl.
A Set of Smaller, Mise En Place Bowls
If you want to emulate your favorite TV or Internet chef, having some mise-en-place bowls is a great way to keep all your ingredients organized and pretty enough for your IG reels or stories.
A Large Wooden Block
Using a great chef’s knife on an unforgiving slate or glass cutting board is like off-roading in a Formula One car — it won’t end well. You’ll want a softer material that won’t knick your knife’s edge or interrupt your smooth chopping motions. This John Boos board is made out of maple and is a favorite among professional chefs. Plus, it also doubles as a serving platter for a charcuterie spread if you don’t already have a cheese board.
A Cheaper Bamboo Option
Since it’s made out of bamboo, this cutting board is a bit stiffer than its wood counterpart, but it’ll still be gentle enough on most knives at a fraction of the cost. The carved out handles also make it easy to use it as a serving tray or keep a firm grip on it while washing.
A Dishwasher-Safe Cutting Board
While plastic boards are much more rigid than materials like wood or bamboo, they’re still great for prepping things like raw meat since they’re dishwasher safe.
These Magnetic Measuring Spoons and Cups
I bought these OXO measuring cups and spoons for my mom when I helped her move last year, and loved using them so much I bought a set for myself. Instead of using a ring or hook to keep the spoons or cups together, these measuring tools snap together with magnets for easy organization and storage.
A Few Liquid Measuring Cups
You’ll also want some measuring cups for liquids like water, broth, or soy sauce. These angled measuring cups are easy to read from above, so you don’t have to bring the cup to eye level to take precise measurements. Plus, they’re microwave and dishwasher safe, so you can easily warm or melt ingredients without pulling out an extra cup or dish.
A Sleek, Accurate Food Scale
If you ever plan on baking regularly or making specialty coffee in your first kitchen, you’ll want a precise food scale. Preparing ingredients by weight instead of volume will be much more accurate and consistent, as ingredients like flour or ground coffee can often be compressed and overstuffed into a standard measuring cup. This scale from Zwilling is very sleek, can measure up to 22 lbs, and will neatly slide into a drawer for easy storage.
A Thermometer, For Food Safety
Various meats have a minimum internal temperature that they should be cooked to in order to reduce the risk of food poisoning, so you’ll want an accurate and fast food thermometer. I prefer the Lavatools Javelin, as it has an easy to read display, a backlight for when I need to stick it into something in the oven, and a magnet that'll keep it attached to my fridge when it’s not in use.
A Solid Chef’s Knife That Won’t Break the Bank
My not-so-hot-take is that you don’t need a full knife set to make great meals at home. All you need is a solid chef’s knife that you can use to prep anything from proteins, to veggies, and even make delicate cuts on fruits or baked goods. Our Place (of Always Pan fame) just released their version, which has an ergonomic grooved handle and a full-tang German steel blade. The best part? It costs less than $100.
Or Invest In Fancier Knives
If your parents insist on splurging for a knife block set, this set from Shun comes with everything you actually need (chef’s knife, utility knife, paring knife, herb shears, and a honing rod) and nothing you don’t. Plus, the block itself is compact, so it won’t take up valuable counter space.
A Versatile Bench Scraper
A bench scraper is helpful for scooping up chopped up ingredients, cutting pasta, or separating portions of dough. Trust me, you’ll use it more than you think.
Your Do-It-All Cast Iron Skillet
If you only can get one piece of cookware for your first kitchen, it should be a cast iron skillet. It can be used on the stove, in an oven, and even on a grill. You’ll use it for everything from dutch babies, corn bread, to a whole roast chicken.
The Centerpiece Dutch Oven
Another great piece of cookware that should be a part of your first kitchen’s arsenal is a Dutch oven. An enameled cast iron version is ideal for both versatility and durability, and the huge 6.75 quart capacity of Great Jones’ Dutchess is perfect for when you’re making larger braises or stews.
A Covetable Le Creuset
If you don’t want to deal with the heft or large size of the Great Jones dutch oven, a Le Creuset one is also a versatile powerhouse in any kitchen. The 5.5 quart size is perfectly big enough for larger tasks like cooking dinner party mains, but not so large that it’s unwieldy.
A "Schmedium Pot"
Our Editorial Director, Diana Tsui loves Material Kitchen’s sauce pot as a “schmedium pot” for making pasta for two. It’s also great for boiling eggs and fixing up some instant ramen noodles when you don’t feel like cooking a more involved meal.
A Non-Stick Skillet
I agree with Senior Staff Writer Bryan Kim that you don’t need a ceramic non-stick pan, but they can be great if you want to cook with less oil or want to make scrambled eggs with a fuss-free clean up.
All The Essential Kitchen Utensils
You’ll also want some baseline utensils in your kitchen — a whisk, a slotted spoon, some stirring spoons, and a spatula. Material Kitchen’s Iconics bundle comes with all of that, plus a chef’s knife, bread knife, paring knife and a wooden magnetic base to hold everything together.
Some Longer Silicone Tongs
A longer pair of tongs will be helpful for turning over roasting vegetables in the oven, (or flipping over frying foods from a safe distance) and could also be super handy if you have a grill.
Some Simple Sheet Pans
Sheet pans are also an essential in any home kitchen for roasting veggies, baking cookies, and even staging your ingredients as you cook. I prefer the quarter size of these sheet pans, and the reinforced rim helps stabilize the pan from warping while being easy to grab onto with an oven mitt.
A Nicer, Upgrade Pan
If you are an avid baker and want an upgrade sheet pan, Great Jones’ Holy Sheet pans are a larger size and have a ceramic non-stick coating to prevent stuck-on messes.
The GOAT of Potholders
You could do the pro-chef move of only using dish towels to remove hot pots and pans from your oven, or you could just buy some cute pot holders that are heat-resistant up to 650 degrees. They’re also magnetic, so they get a few extra points for saving space.
A Sommelier-Fave Corkscrew
If you ever drink beer or wine, you’ll want a corkscrew and a bottle opener. This elegant walnut rabbit style corkscrew is great for popping open either a cold lager or a cab sav.
The Easy-To-Use Peeler
You’ll use a vegetable peeler more often than you think in your first kitchen, whether it be for peeling potatoes, creating paper-thin ribbons of vegetables, or to create the perfect twist.
While some may extol the virtues of a box grater, I’m a fan of a simple microplane for all my grating and zesting needs. Use it with your favorite hard cheese to top pasta dishes or to make fine garlic, ginger, or pepper pastes.
A Handy Colander
You could gently try to drain out pasta out of a pot with just a slotted spoon … or you could just buy a simple and efficient colander. Plus, you can use the pour bowl to water your plants, or save some starchy pasta liquid for sauces.
A Solid Starter Plate Set
Even if you never cook, you’ll still need some plates, bowls, and some mugs. This set comes in a sleek matte black finish and the lipped rim of plates gives the set an elevated, restaurant-like look.
A Nicer Put-Together Dinnerware Set
If you want to incorporate on-trend earth tones and neutrals into your first kitchen, you can’t go wrong with these plates and bowls from Our Place. I love the way that each element neatly stacks together, and the hand painted porcelain is durable enough to toss into the dishwasher for easy post-dinner clean up.
A Simple Uniform Flatware Set
You might have inherited some random forks and knives from your college roommate, but it’s also a good idea to have your own cohesive set of flatware. This 20-piece set is a solid starter option your first kitchen.
Cute Colored Glassware
Even if you have a trusty water bottle, you’ll still want some nice glasses to offer any house guests. We like the muted (but not boring) colors of the glasses from Our Place. Plus, they stack for easy, space-saving storage.
A Versatile Case of Mason Jars
Okay, hear me out. I know drinking out of a mason jars sounds so quintessentially millennial that it could be considered cringe, but if you’re building out your first kitchen on a budget, they’re a life saver. I use them for water or juice, to store fresh herbs in the fridge (put a little water on the bottom), portion out leftovers from a big stew, and have even stuck some old green onions and soil in one as a short-lived growing experiment. I prefer the wide mouth jars, since they’re much easier to clean. Worst case scenario, if one breaks, they only cost a buck apiece to replace.
Nice, But Not Too Nice Wine Glasses
I would argue that wine glasses aren’t a day-one essential for your kitchen, but I also know a lot of people who’d argue that they are. If you’re in the latter camp, these are durable and an affordable dupe for the much-coveted Zalto universal wine glasses.
A Nice Serving Bowl
If you ever plan on hosting any dinner parties (or are a guest and need to bring a visually-pleasing side) this glass serving bowl is perfect for family-sized portions of mains or a large mound of leafy salad greens.
Salt and Pepper Grinders
Using freshly ground salt and pepper is one simple way to elevate the taste and seasoning of almost any dish you can make at home. These matte-finished grinders almost look more like a design piece in your kitchen than a functional necessity, and they’re a breeze to crank and refill.
If you’re going to splurge on any of your cooking oils in your first kitchen, it should be your olive oil. We love the extra virgin olive oils from Brightland, and their bottles are both pretty enough to keep on your table or counter, and are UV coated to help your precious oil stay fresh for longer. The Awake oil is great for pastas or fresh focaccia, while the brighter Alive oil would be great for homemade dressings or adding a savoriness to your favorite lemon bar recipe.
Organization / Cleaning
Ergonomic Ingredient Storage
If you want to keep your dry ingredients sealed and organized, try POP containers that are easy to seal and open with a single push of a button. They’re clear and lightweight, plus the smaller ones are also great for storing snacks or smaller quantities of ingredients like dried peppers.
In Drawer Cutlery Storage
These cutlery and knife organizers from Joseph and Joseph are a favorite among our team for organizing all your odds and ends in even the most compact drawers.
An In-Drawer Spice Organizer
Whether your spice collection is an errant assortment of generic grocery store bottles or a carefully curated and ethically sourced gamut of flavor, you’re going to need a place to put it all. This spice organizer works wonderfully if you have a drawer to spare, and can hold up to four rows of standard spice bottles.
An Arguably Too-Nice Trash Can
Another one of my kitchen hot takes is that I don’t like to skimp out on a trash can. My roommate definitely gave me some side-eye when I brought home our $100+ trash can from simplehuman, but we use it constantly and it isn’t an eyesore. The fact that the can’s rim catches the edge of your trash bags makes it so that your liners are magically invisible, and your bag won’t tragically fall into itself when scraps are unceremoniously tossed.
A Budget Trash Can
If you’re unwilling to drop a stack on a literal trash can, I don’t blame you. This 50L plastic version will more than get the job done, and costs less than $50.
Some Microfiber Dish Towels
You can use dish towels for cleaning up water spills, grabbing hot trays from the oven, or drying your hands. Just maybe spring for a different, nicer hand towel when it comes to your bathroom.
A Dish Rack
A dish rack is another must for your first kitchen (cooking creates tons of dishes). This simplehuman rack looks much more chic than standard plastic or wire dish racks, and has a rotating spout to direct excess water back into the sink. I also love the two cup holders that securely hold glasses upside down to drip dry.
An Instant Drying Dish Pad
If you want to save some counter space, a foldable dish pad is a solid alternative to a traditional dish rack. Dorai’s version is made from diatomaceous earth and recycled paper that dries nearly instantly, so it won’t get gross and moldy like a traditional cloth one. I also use my dishpad as an overflow zone when I’m washing larger items like pots or serving trays.
A Tawashi Scrubber
I prefer this Japanese vegetable scrubber to a traditional sponge because the tough coconut bristles can stand up to cleaning tough messes without scratching surfaces like my cast iron pans. It also isn’t as absorbent as a typical sponge, so it doesn’t get as musty and lasts much longer. There’s even a small wire loop that you can use to hang it up to dry.
A Sink Caddy For Sponges and Brushes
If you use a traditional sponge or dish brush you’ll need a sink caddy to keep everything tidy and organized (and to help damp sponge drain off bacteria-loving excess moisture). I use this one from OXO because it has multiple compartments for sponges and brushes, and it’s easy to drain and dump out excess water without creating a mess.
A Can Opener
Canned foods will likely be a part of your home cooking routine in your first kitchen, whether you’re using canned tomatoes or tinned fish. You probably don’t need a fancy electric can opener, so this hand-held model from OXO will do the trick for all your can-related needs.
Reusable Sponge Cloths
It’s inevitable that you’ll have to clean up some spills and messes in your first kitchen. You could use plain regular paper towels, but I prefer using these reusable dish cloths made from cellulose and cotton. They can be tossed into a washing machine or the top rack of your dishwasher, and you can get hundreds of uses out of them before they can be composted.
All-In-One Cleaning Concentrate
You’re also going to need a multipurpose cleaner to keep the counters, stove, and any other surface of your first kitchen clean and fresh. The Our Home All-in One concentrate can be used to make surface cleaner, window/mirror cleaner, floor cleaner, dish soap, and more, and will help reduce plastic waste. The Rosemary Citrus scent is also great as a kitchen multipurpose cleaner — it smells fresh, but not too floral or pungent.
A Food-Grade Mineral Oil
If you plan on using wooden cutting boards or utensils regularly, you’ll need to oil them regularly to prevent the wood from drying out or splitting. Specifically, you should use a food-grade mineral oil. The oil creates a slight water resistant layer on the wood’s absorbent surface, so it can help prevent warping and splintering over time. A little bit of mineral oil goes a long way, so this 12 oz bottle should last.
A Gentle Powerhouse For Stuck On Messes
There are some cleaning jobs that require a bit more elbow grease in the kitchen. I say: work smarter, not harder by using Bar Keepers Friend to gently deep clean everything from stove tops to your beloved enameled dutch oven. I had a ton of stains on my Great Jones pot from a year of cooking and baking, and a few minutes with this cleanser proved much more effective than an hour of scrubbing with just a sponge and dish soap.
Some Lid or Cutting Board Storage
Simple vertical organizers will help keep your pot lid situation in check, so you don’t wind up with a precarious mountain of glass in your spare cabinet. I also use one of these for my various assortment of wood and plastic cutting boards.
Some Attractive Glass Food Containers
You’re going to have leftovers at some point in your first kitchen, whether it be a purposefully prepped stew for the week’s lunches or a serving of lo-mein that you want to save for later. These glass containers feel much more substantial than the plastic tupperware you might’ve brought your school lunches in, have convenient measurement markings on the sides to help portion out a week’s meals, and even come with a marker to label the container’s contents and the date it was prepared.
Ice Cube Trays
If you’re not lucky enough to have a fridge with a built-in ice maker in your first kitchen, you should grab some ice cube trays. This 3-pack of silicone ice cube trays from W&P can be used for your standard ice cubes. You can use them to make fancy floral or herb-infused ice cubes for cocktails or even frozen soup bases.
A Produce-Saving Cotton Bag
A cotton produce bag will help your veggies last much longer in your fridge than if you just stuck it into the crisper drawer. It’s also reusable and made with all-natural materials, so it can be tossed in the washing machine between each use.
A First Aid Kit
Accidents can and do happen in the kitchen, so it’s best to be prepared. This first aid kit has 299 different bandages, ointments, wipes, and other first aid supplies. It wouldn’t hurt to also grab some additional burn cream packets while you’re at it.
A Fire Extinguisher
The age old adage “better to be safe than sorry” also applies to fire safety. Kitchen fires can happen to even the best of us, so a fire extinguisher in your kitchen is as essential as your trusty frying pan when you’re moving into your first home. This fire extinguisher doesn’t take up a ton of space, and is rated for class A, B, and C fires, so it can handle and extinguish different types of kitchen fires without making them worse.