There are several items that should buy for any kitchen that will last a lifetime. A big criteria used in picking these products is that products must be durable & practical. This is not a place for untested products or newest gadgets. The emphasis here is on items that have been tested and proven in the field.
Devices that require power:
- Coffee Maker – The general consensus seems just to buy a French Press, grinder, and kettle. For espresso, get a moka pot. If you want something electric, try a Bunn. If you have a Bunn, please look online to see if a recall has been announced for your model. Some models of Bunns constantly keep a heating element on in order to keep the water in them hot and ready to brew.
- Toaster – Buying a toaster oven seems to be the route one should take. You can cook plenty more things using a toaster oven than a conventional toaster. That said, toasters peaked in design decades ago so getting an old toaster at a thrift store. Outside of reliable ovens, Dualit toasters feature a minimum of wear since you effectively lift the toast up.
- Popcorn popper – Good news, if you go stovetop there is no need for anything other than a normal cooking pot.
- Crock pot/slow cooker – Seems like you want to go for the “Crock Pot” brand slow cookers. Allows you to get things cooking while you’re at work or school, etc, without worrying about burning your residence down. Buy a CROCK POT. A slow cooker is not a crock pot, crock pot is a name brand and they make excellent cookers. The other brands aren’t bad but don’t have the endurance and quality as true crock pots do.Buy one with a knob. The digital interfaces are just flair waiting to break, you need warm low and high, that’s it.Ideally buy used. Go to goodwill or yardsales and look for crockpots (name brand again) from the 60’s or 70’s. Look for old. They were made really well back in the days and still work. Not to say new isn’t just as good, they just did a better job making anything back in the day.
- Juicer – The Champion Juicer and most seem to agree.
Things that go in a drawer:
- Can opener -Rhe Swing-A-Way can opener which is currently made in China.
- Cheese Grater – This by OXO seems to be the highest rated alternative.
- Kitchen Knives – A lot of the decision comes down to your preferred style. Some people prefer the thick and heavy German knives, and the more expensive lines coming out of Henckels and Wusthof are well-made and will last a lifetime if treated well, as will lesser-known German brands like Messermeister and Franz Gude.Another option, if you are willing to care for knives that will rust if not kept dry, are carbon steel Sabatiers from France. They have a different geometry than German knives – less belly, which I prefer, but you may not prefer if you like to “rock chop.” There is a lot of variation in Sabatier quality and I would only buy the vintage models with the elephant logo.My personal preference is for handmade Japanese kitchen knives. Japanese knives are thinner than Germans, have a profile like the Sabatiers, and are made of harder steel which can hold a more acute edge without folding. There is some variation in steel and fit & finish, but they will all last a lifetime if properly maintained. If cost were no object I would love to own a bunch of Hattori KD knives, but even if I won the lottery I probably wouldn’t spend more than my other dream knives, Nenox S1, which are also quite expensive (I own one of these, which I bought used from a line cook). Hattori, who makes the S1 for Nenox, also has a cheaper line sold online called Hattori FH which is excellent. Masamoto and Aritsugu dominate the professional market in Japan, and are very well-made but a little lacking in fit and finish. Other brands of note include (but not limited to) Sugimoto (particularly famous for their Chinese cleavers), Misono, Takeda, Ryusen, Suisin, Ikkanshi Tadatsuna, and Konosuke. Cheaper but still terrific brands include MAC and Tojiro.Also, I would not go out looking for a “set” – start with a chef’s knife and a paring knife, maybe a bread knife, and if you find yourself doing a lot of a specialized tasks that would benefit from a specialized knife, get that knife later. For instance, if I were starting over and had a lot of money to spend, I would get a 270mm Nenox S1 gyuto (chef’s knife), a 3.5 mm (edit: 3.5 inch not mm) Shun paring knife (the Japanese makers tend not to make paring knives), and a Franz Gude 320 mm bread knife. If I were on a budget, a Tojiro Gyuto, the same paring knife, and skip the bread knife.Whatever you choose, it is worthwhile to learn how to sharpen your knives yourself – that is a subject for another thread.
- Bottle Opener – The Pulltap’s “waiter’s friend” like this one is the way to go. The two key features are the teflon-coated worm, which can be replaced when the teflon coating wears out, and the two-step “foot” the you use for leverage to pull the cork. It requires only marginally more effort than the Rabbit style and all of its various copies thanks to the double action. I’ve been in the wine business for more than 5 years and this is what virtually everyone in the field uses every day.The Rabbits have several moving parts that tend to wear out and break after awhile. Rabbits also don’t work very well with synthetic corks- they have a nasty habit of punching them into the bottle. The winged style and and its ilk usually have very thick worms which can shred the cork and cause it to crumble in to the bottle. This is particularly a problem with corks on older bottles which tend to be more delicate. It probably goes without saying, but those battery powered and gas-pressured openers are complete gimmicks and not worth the hassle or the money..
- Pizza Cutter – Its probably not the cutter – most people either cut on those steel pans or a pizza stone. This can/will/does ruin a pizza cutter in just a few uses.The next time you buy one, invest a nice, large, polythylene/plastic cutting board to cut your pizzas on. This will give the cutter somthing a bit soft to bite into instead of wearing down the blade on a steel/stone surface. Even wood would be good, but the plastic ones are preferred.
Things that you cook with:
- Cast Iron Pans – Once a piece of cast iron cookware is properly cleaned and seasoned, flavor absorption isn’t that much of a problem, plus it creates more of a non-stick surface.
- Bakewear – Glass and stoneware can shatter or crack, and anecdotally, this seems to be more common than one would hope. Most metal bakeware is steel coated with nonstick coating, and we all know how durable nonstick is. (And then the steel rusts.) Aluminum seems like it might be perfect for the task. Is that really the only kind that can be expected to last?
- Baking sheets – If they get grungy, like yours, you can scour them with a steel scouring pad, that will get anything off.The come in Full (18×26), Half (18×13), and Quarter (9×13) sizes. Full Size is too big for most consumer ovens, but Half is perfect.
- Pots and Such – It doesn’t make any sense to buy a set of a single type of cookware, be it cast iron, steel-clad aluminum, steel-lined copper, or whatever. Different materials have different thermal properties which may be advantageous or disadvantageous for any given application, or may just be overkill. Cast iron is great for searing but terrible for a traditional French sauce or a custard.Cast iron will last a lifetime, but so will well-maintained Staub, Le Creuset, Bourgeat, Mauviel, Falk Culinair, Demeyere, All-Clad…
- Cutting Board – The longevity of end-grain butcher blocks is well-known, and these are the best-made butcher blocks that I have been able to find. They’re made by a guy that does nothing but make cutting boards. He will make you one in any size, not just those listed on the site. Compared to other end-grain boards, he uses larger pieces of wood, which minimizes the amount of glue needed to hold the boards together.Compared to edge-grain, end-grain is easier on knife edges. Mr. Smith uses soft woods, which also helps. It is also forgiving in that small scratches fade with time as the fibers reexpand and fill the gaps. Larger defects can be sanded out if necessary.Regular oiling is a must to maintain butcher blocks, but fancy oils aren’t necessary – I get mineral oil from the laxative aisle at Target for $1.50.
- Glass preserving jars are insanely useful for storing leftover pasta sauce, coffee, soups, beans… just about anything that can be poured. Small footprint, lots of volume. I use them all the time.
- Widemouth pint mason jars. Durable, cheap, microwave safe, cheap replaceable lids, totally 100% leakproof. I have mason jars that are 20 years old and still used regularly. The lids have been standardized for 100 years. What more do you want?
A few thoughts on kitchen gadgets and such:
- Nearly every community thrift shop has readily available kitchen pots, pans, and doohickies from our grandparents time.
- Yet, nearly every community has outlets selling newer, more modern, “improved” kitchen doohickies and gadgets. The question then becomes sorting out the tried, true and tested from the marketing crappola, with a full understanding that marketing dubious kitchen gadgets predates us all.
- In just 100 years we’ve gone from wood cook-stoves and enameled iron pots to microwaves and stainless steel blends in everything from knives to pots and pans.
- In just 20-30 years we’ve gone from stainless knives being low quality and not recommended to stainless knives completely dominating both residential and commercial kitchens.
- Quite a good many of the kitchen gadgets people inquire about are electric appliances that simply weren’t in common use 50-100 years ago. Will they still be popular in another 50-100 years? Who knows!
- But, what we do know is what winds up for sale for pennies on the dollar in every thrift, antique and junk shop, and that’s extraneous kitchen gadgets. You can learn a lot by what’snot present in most second hand kitchen departments and by what’s priced quite high in those shops. Notice how vintage cast iron is priced, and notice the general absence of high end knives, larger stainless steel stock pots, stainless steel pressure cookers. People tend to hang onto items they find to be of particular value. But then, notice how many electric coffee makers, grills, blenders, toasters, fondue pots, waffle irons and chafing dishes are present and how relatively cheap they are.