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How To Get Started With Paleo Cooking - Outfitting Your Kitchen

Posted May 12 2009 3:12pm

Fancy, but unnecessary

When it comes to cooking and eating healthy, having the right tools is absolutely essential. Sure, you can eat fairly well with little more than a can opener, a microwave, and a fork. However, I think most of us would love to be able to get in the kitchen and put together a meal made of real food in short order. But again, the first order of business is to make sure we’re equipped to do so.

Creating Your Kitchen

Let’s get real here…few of us are working with the funds that the chefs on TV have to put together kitchens with $1000 knives, copper pots and pans in 23 different sizes, and Wolf cooktops. Luckily, that’s all pretty superfluous and you can do everything Emeril and Alton Brown do without sponsorships and a bottomless checkbook.

My first assumption is that you actually have a kitchen, complete with a refrigerator (which doesn’t have to be a Sub-Zero) and a range with working burners and oven. I also assume you have plates and bowls on which to eat and forks and spoons with which to eat. Beyond that, I’m about to tell you exactly what you need and how much much to spend on it.

Outfitting Your Kitchen…For $200

Now that I’ve told you that you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a fully functional kitchen where you can get it done, let’s look at the things I find to be absolute necessities. With this list of items, you will have the tools to make 80% of the recipes you’ll come across for around $200. That’s not a pittance, but it’s also not an exorbitant amount, considering that you can purchase individual pots that cost $200 each.

Don't skimp on your knivesKnives - The absolute best thing in my kitchen is my knife set. I have a set with lots of knives for various purposes, but I have a 6″ Chef’s Knife that is my go-to. With a good set of sharp knives, you’ll be much more likely to chop those vegetables since it’s much easier with good knives. You don’t have to get them at Williams-Sonoma. Just get a good $50-75 set of knives. If I were outfitting a kitchen today from scratch, knives would be my #1 investment, before all the fancy pots and pans and food processors and all that jazz. Knives…simple, yet effective.

I was lucky with my knife set. The person that bought them is one of the most incredible bargain shoppers in the world and managed to get me a $125 set of knives for like $40. But prior to that, I had a small $25 set of knives that served me nicely for several years. A simple set of 6 steak knives, a paring knife, a chef’s knife, and a few other randoms will be enough. Here are a few examples that will serve you well without breaking the bank:

These aren’t top-of-the-line knife sets, but they’ll likely be good solid performers.

Edit: As suggested by Stephen A in his comment, you may be better off purchasing an inexpensive paring knife and then dropping the rest of your “Knife Fund” on a good quality chef’s knife rather than purchasing a set.

Knife Sharpener - Obviously, the most important piece of your knives is the blade. A sharp blade makes the job of cutting easier and safer. Yes, a sharp blade is actually safer than a dull one because you won’t have to work as hard to cut your food. When you screw up, a sharp knife does more damage, but you’ll screw up far less often with sharp knives. Therefore, you need a sharpener. But, you don’t need a fancy $30-50 electric sharpener. I have a simple handheld manual sharpener similar to this $6 Smith’s setup. A few swipes and the knife is good as new.

Cutting Board - Now that you have knives and can keep them sharp, you need something to cut on. Your landlord or significant other will probably not be very pleased with you if you use the countertop as your cutting board. There are basically three choices in the cutting board world: plastic, glass, and wood of some type. I opt for wood. Glass will dull your knives faster than banging them against a rock wall. Since we want sharp blades, we don’t want to use glass. Considering that I’m not a big fan of eating plastic, I avoid plastic cutting boards as well. If you have a plastic cutting board, notice all those cuts in it? Those little pieces of plastic went into your food.

So we want wood. Of course it gets sliced up, like plastic, but it doesn’t dull your knives like glass and I feel much better about a few shreds of untreated wood in my food than plastic. Sure, you can get fancy and decorative with something like this $50 bamboo board, but we’re just outfitting a kitchen functionally. What I want is something that is big enough to cover a significant portion of the counter (at least 18″ x 12″) and with channels for catching meat juices. This one is bamboo, 20″ x 14″, only $25, and has the juice groove …perfect!

crockpotCrockpot - If you really want to make cooking easy, you need a slow cooker. There is frankly nothing better than spending 15 minutes preparing your food in the morning and arriving home 8 hours later to a fully cooked meal and a house smelling of The Delicious. You might argue that a crockpot isn’t really a necessity in a beginner kitchen and that’s true. But for me, an inexpensive crockpot is where I’d spend some of my first kitchen dollars.

Six quarts is a good size that allows for several pounds of meat and vegetables. We also want at least three temperature settings: High, Low, and Warm. $25 gets you exactly that with this Westbend model.

If you want an idea of a delicious, Primal/Paleo crockpot recipe, check out this Puerco Pibil recipe from Mark’s Daily Apple.

Utensils - If you’re going to cook, you’re going to need something to stir and serve with. You really don’t need a whole lot here. A set of bamboo or wooden utensils with a slotted spoon, a solid spoon, and a spatula is enough. No need to spend much on this. I have a set similar to this 6 piece bamboo set and I saw something similar for $6 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond last night.

Add on a set of tongs and a ladle for another $5-10 and you’re set. You should be able to get out of utensil purchases for under $20.

Cast Iron Skillet - The most commonly used item in my kitchen is my 12″ cast iron skillet from Lodge Logic. The cast iron skillet is extremely versatile and can be used for any kind of sauteing, frying, or simmering. I recommend a 12″ skillet…anything smaller and you’re just going to be frustrated.

There’s also this Bayou model for $13. Of course, a big wok or larger skillet is nice too, but for starting out, a simple 12″ skillet will get the job done. And cast iron will last for ages if properly cared for. This guide will help you take care of your cast iron.

Pots and Pans - No surprise that you’re going to need pots and pans, huh? You really don’t need a whole lot here though. I get it done in my kitchen with a 6-piece set…that’s 3 pots/pans and 3 lids. That’s it. It’s just a cheap stainless steel set that I picked up at Wal-Mart for about $40. It has 1 quart and 2 quart pans and a 4 quart double-handled pot. Nothing fancy, just enough to be perfectly functional.

Steamer - If you’re going to be eating healthy, you’re probably going to want to cook some vegetables. Nothing is easier than throwing some water and vegetables into an electric steamer and turning it on. Ten minutes later, you’ll have deliciously cooked vegetables.

I have a Black and Decker, similar to this 5-quart one. I’ve been using it for over five years with no issues. It’s hard to beat that kind of return on your money.

You can actually find double-boiler pots that have a steamer basket, but I’m not sure how much luck you’ll have finding a set for less than a cheap steamer.

The Final Tally

So let’s do the math. A fully functional kitchen, capable of handling most tasks you’re going to throw at it, for a grand total of:

  • Knives and sharpener - $50
  • Wood/bamboo cutting board - $25
  • Crock pot - $25
  • Bamboo utensils - $20
  • Cast Iron Skillet - $15
  • Pots & Pans -$40
  • Steamer - $25
  • Total -$200

You’re Now Ready To Cook

I do not advise trying this your first week.

I’ve just given you everything you need to get your kitchen equipped for cooking. There are a lot more nice-to-have items that I’ll cover in my next post of where to spend your next few hundred dollars, but for the beginner, this will get your kitchen up and running nicely.

Of course, none of this is top-of-the-line stuff. It will definitely get the job done, though. If you have a hankering to really drop some cash, you can opt for the copper pots with perfect heat distribution and all kinds of fancy, task-specific gadgets. Given unlimited storage space and money, there are lots of things I’d like to have. But for most of us, a simple setup is all that’s required.

It’s typically the chef, not the gadgets, that are to blame for poor cooking or not cooking at all.

So Get To Cookin’

If you’re looking for something quick and delicious to throw together in your newly outfitted kitchen, check out Nikki’s Fish & Vegetable Curry.

What other necessities are there in your kitchen? What other items would you add on?

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