7 Great Gifts for Beginner Cooks

beginner cooks tools

After I got married at the ripe old age of barely-20, my first kitchen contained a hodgepodge of utensils and cookware I’d ferreted out of my mother’s house, small appliances I’d registered for back before I had any idea what I might actually need, and dollar-store tools I’d bought to fill in the gaps.

I limped by with half-melted 3-for-$1 plastic spoons, dull, wobbly-handled knives, and hand-me-down lidless pots for years.

When I decided to elevate my cooking skills beyond mac-and-cheese and pancakes, I finally invested in some basic and beyond-the-basics tools that I’d been going without for a decade of married, adult life with kids.

And, wow. It turns out that things like a a decent-sized cutting board (which I use every single day, sometimes several times a day) and sharp knives made cooking so much easier that I actually looked forward to getting started on dinner each evening. And extras like an immersion blender, while not strictly necessary, make some jobs much more pleasurable.

Here are 7 items that I didn’t think to buy in those early years of adulthood, but that I now use all the time. If you’re a relative beginner in the kitchen – or know any home cooks who’ve recently set up housekeeping on a budget – chances are good that any of the following items would be a much-appreciated (and possibly life-changing?) holiday gift:

 

sharp knives

Sharp knives

Quality knives are an absolute must for any home cook. I know this because I went far too long with dull, old knives which would give me an arm cramp when I used them to saw through anything from meat to onions.

You can spend anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars on a knife, but I don’t think you have to go top-of-the-line to get a decent set that will help you get dinner on the table more easily. I own a reasonably-priced set from Chicago Cutlery that I’m very happy with.

If a whole block of knives isn’t in the budget, an 8″ – 10″ chef’s knife (for chopping, mincing, and slicing), serrated knife (for bread and other crusty items with a tougher exterior) and a paring knife, plus a sharpener, are a good start.

Tongs

I did have tongs in my early kitchen, but they were a short pair with slippery grips that didn’t really work effectively. Now I’ve got a set with silicon grips, which I use for anything from serving up green beans to separating pasta as it boils, and a locking pair with clamshell-shaped metal tips for heavier-duty jobs.

 

cuisinart immersion blender

Immersion blender

This falls under the category of “want” not “need”, but it’s a relatively-inexpensive little luxury that can make cooking easier and fun. I use my immersion blender to make sauces, creamy soups, mashed potatoes, whipped cream, salad dressings, smoothies and more. I own the Cuisinart model in the link, which also has a mini-food processer attachment that’s great for chopping veggies.

Stock pot

I went many years without a stock pot, figuring that since I didn’t really make soup, I didn’t need one. Well, I’ve come to realize that 1) making soup is about the easiest and most satisfying thing in the world and 2) a stock pot has soooo many uses, from boiling pasta to canning to making stew to braising meat.

I use mine several times per week. A 6-8 quart size is a good starter size for a home cook – she can upgrade when she starts making huge batches of soups, stocks and stews.

digital thermometerInstant-read digital in-stove thermometer

Yes, a basic $4 thermometer will get the job done. But I’m a distractible cook, and often do things like forget to set the oven timer or walk away from the stove and get busy cleaning the bathroom. An in-stove thermometer has saved many a meal for me by giving a BEEP when the meat is ready to come out of the oven. This is the kind of thing a more beginning cook might not think to buy herself, which is why it makes such a great gift!

Kitchen Scissors

Yes, knives do most of the job a pair of kitchen scissors can do, but often not as well or as easily. It’s a small investment with big payoff.

Epicurean cutting board

Large, good-quality cutting board

I cringe when I think back to the years – literally years! – I spent trying to dice onions and cut up meat on a 5″ X 8″ plastic cutting board. No wonder my knife skills are lacking! At some point I bought a few of those larger, flexible cutting boards, and I was reasonably happy with those until they got a few years old and kept curling up while I was trying to slice.

Finally last Christmas, I asked for and received two large, 15 X 11 cutting boards (one of which is the Epicurean board pictured above.) What a game-changer! There’s plenty of space for managing all my cutting, chopping and slicing for a meal. I use the Epicurean for veggies, since I cut more of those and this board seems to be able to take more abuse; and reserve the plastic one for meat. They take up some space in the kitchen, but it’s totally worth it.

What would you buy a newbie cook? If you’re a beginner, what kitchen items are on your holiday wish list?

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