Pots and Pans – For most home cooks, you will need the best quality you can afford stainless steel pots and pans with lids. I have 4 various sizes that I use all the time. Do not buy pans with plastic handles because they can melt and will not go into the oven. If you buy good quality, you should not need to replace them. I don’t like glass lids because they can easily break. My favorite brand is All Clad and I like the Copper Core series. I often find them at TJ Maxx at a great price.
Skillets – I couldn’t live without my large 12-inch Teflon skillet, my stainless steel 12-inch skillet, and my 12-inch cast iron (probably my favorite). I also have 8 and 10-inch skillets for smaller items, and a 14-inch for large crowds. I buy a very heavy Teflon skillet, but don’t buy the most expensive. Teflon will wear away and with other family members sometimes using metal spatulas, I know they are not going to stay pristine. Buy good quality stainless steel skillets. Again, All Clad is my favorite brand. They are very well made. Do not buy skillets with plastic handles, because they cannot go in the oven and they can crack after a lot of use.
Stock Pot – Everyone needs a large stainless steel stockpot with a lid for boiling pasta and making soups and stews. Buy good quality with a heavy base so it will not burn foods on the bottom.
Dutch Oven – A great cast iron with enamel coated Dutch oven like Le Creuset is great to have on hand for braising stews, and meats.
Cookie Trays– I have 6 aluminum 13×18-inch pans. They allow you to make a large batch of cookies, and provide even heating with no burning. You can find them at restaurant supply stores, or cooking stores. I use 2 of them for roasting vegetables and this often makes them turn brown so they don’t look that great for baking cookies, but they still work.
Silpat – Is a silicone mat that you can put on your cookie tray. They come in several sizes. I have 2 silpat liners for the cookie trays and use them often. They are great for non-stick, and even browning and they are pretty easy to wash up.
Baking Dishes – I always use my inexpensive Teflon Bakers brand 9×13 baking dish (from the grocery store), and replace it when it gets scratched up. I also have a variety of ceramic baking dishes, which are good to bake and serve at the table.
Pie Plates – I have an 8-inch and a 9-inch glass pyrex pie plate. I like the lip around the edge for holding the crust, and they are inexpensive and brown pastry well.
Roasting Pan – Buy a good quality large stainless steel roasting pan and you will have it for life. It is important that it have a thick base for even roasting. I love anything All Clad.
V-Shaped Roasting Rack – It’s good to have a v-shaped Teflon roasting rack that lets you easily roast a chicken, turkey, or roast and allows for even browning.
Mixing Bowls – I like to have a variety of stainless steel bowls on hand. They don’t break, and will hold hot and cold items, and go into the dishwasher and will last forever.
Knives – I think it’s optimal to have at least 4 good quality knives: chef knife, paring knife, serrated bread knife, and a Santoku is a good working knife. Keep your blades sharp with a good quality knife sharpener. It makes cutting food so much easier, and it is a lot safer than having a dull knife that you could easily cut yourself with.
Serrated knife – I love my 14-inch Dexter Russell knife. The handle is raised up and makes it really easy to cut bread and roasts.
Strainer – Only buy good quality stainless steel strainers for longevity and functionality. Plastic ones can melt, and topple with hot or heavy items and can be dangerous. You should have an 8-inch strainer with a long handle, and a large footed strainer that rests in the sink. It’s also handy to have a small strainer for de-seeding lemons and oranges.
Cutting board – You need at least two. A large plastic board, and a smaller one. Some people prefer wood, and that’s okay as well. I also have a wooden carving board with grooves around the perimeter to catch meat drippings.
Thermometer – You need 2 or 3 types. I like the new battery operated instant read thermometers. You can place the probe in the meat, set the internal temperature, and close the oven door. It lets you know when the meat reaches the desired temperature. A good quality prong thermometer is good to have on hand as well. If you make a lot of candy, a candy thermometer is good to have.
Peeler – a good quality vegetable and fruit peeler is worth its weight in gold to get the job done easily and safely. I love Oxo brand and replace them each year to keep the blades sharp. I also have a notched edge peeler, which is great for tomatoes, peaches, and other soft fruit. They are inexpensive, so I replace them when they get dull.
Wooden spatulas and spoons – I can’t live without my wooden spatulas. I have a large assortment of wooden spatulas with flat bottoms as well as various sized wooden spoons. I keep them in canisters right by the stovetop so they are within easy reach. They are great because they work well on stainless steel or Teflon pans, and you don’t have to worry about family members ruining your Teflon pans with metal spatulas. They are inexpensive, and if they get damaged I throw them away and buy a new one.
Metal Spatulas – I have a variety of metal spatulas for cookies and for use in my stainless steel skillets. I love the really flexible stainless steel spatulas for removing cookies from the tray.
Plastic Spatulas – I like an assortment of sizes of high heat spatulas for baking and cooking.
Whisks – I can’t live without my assortment of stainless steel whisks. Buy good quality ones for longevity. Plastic handles can melt, and come apart. I have 5 sizes for the task at hand, and my most often used is the smallest.
Scoops – I have a variety of stainless steel scoops for various tasks; cookie dough, ice cream, melon ballers, meat balls, muffin batter etc.
Measuring Tape – I like to have my very own small measuring tape in the drawer for quick reference when making pies, measuring pans etc.
Baster – Buy a good quality stainless steel baster. It won’t burn and you can put it in the dishwasher.
Cooling Racks – I have 3 round stainless steel cooling racks and 3 oblong stainless steel cooking racks and use them often.
Pot Holders – It doesn’t pay to use cheap potholders for obvious safety reasons, and I don’t like to use towels for picking up hot items. They never seem thick enough and are often wet which is not good for hot items. I like heavy oven mitts that go up your arm to protect you from burning your arm on the oven-heating element. Try several ones out to find which one feels the best to you. I throw mine in the washing machine often, and replace them when they get worn out. I love the Oxo oven mitt that has silicone hand grips that are easy to keep a grip on a hot dish and I can throw in the washing machine.