Save Money, Space and Sanity: Buy These 5 Kitchen Tools and Nothing Else

Cooking with essential kitchen pan
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Do you have a Slap Chop, edge brownie pan, asparagus peeler or pasta boat in your kitchen?

If you said yes to even one of them, I have some bad news for you. You might want to sit down for this.

You’ve wasted money — and kitchen space — on a unitasker.

(Or, if it’s gift, you’re somehow friends with someone who doesn’t compulsively watch Good Eats. Who are these people?)

As Seen on TV: A Waste of Money

What’s a unitasker, you may ask?

Well, it’s a single-use kitchen item that’s made only to do one thing, or whose use could easily be handled by another, more versatile kitchen item.

Take, for instance, the butter spreader. No, I’m not talking about a butter knife, obviously. This is totally different.

Or maybe you want to drop $30 on a quesadilla maker — because you don’t already own a frying pan and a knife.

See what I’m saying?

Kitchen Essentials and How to Use Them

Consider this: Instead of spending 20 bucks on a clunky Slap Chop, you could just… dice your veggies. With a knife and cutting board.

Even if you live in a box in San Francisco — literally — you probably have access to a stovetop and a pot.

So maybe you shouldn’t make your pasta in a plastic container you microwave for 14 minutes… no matter how non-porous and non-toxic they say that contraption is.

And that asparagus peeler? What’s so difficult about a normal vegetable peeler, again?

Although some one-use items might seem convenient or novel, they’re usually poorly made, so they don’t last long — if you remember to use them. (In my experience, they’re much more likely to accumulate in a junky pile in your pantry.)

Besides, all the foods those unitaskers help you make existed long before the products themselves… so you can clearly make them just as well without the additional expense!

To save money and space, you should stick with the basics you need to run an operational kitchen.

Here’s the bare bones list of kitchen equipment you need to make healthy, delicious, frugal meals — and even some hacks you might not know about to get the most use out of every piece of kitchenware you own.

1. Pots and Pans — Especially Cast Iron

For a traditional kitchen setup, you need at least one big pot and one smaller pot, and at least one flat pan for frying, sauteing and making delicious pancakes. (Imperative, am I right?)

But I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you should probably find yourself a cast iron pan, too. In fact, if you could only get one item on this list, I’d probably push you toward the cast iron.

Why, you ask? Well, if you have a cast iron pan, a spatula and a set of flatware, you can eat anywhere there’s heat.

Properly seasoned cast iron is naturally nonstick and easy to clean. No matter how gross it gets, you can always clean it up with a sliced potato, some coarse sea salt and olive oil — and reseasoning it is a pretty easy process, too, should you need to.

Heck, a friend’s father once found his old cast iron pan cracked in half in his storage unit. He welded it back together — and it was good as new!

They go from stovetop to oven with ease and get just the right sear on a piece of meat. You can use them a ton of different ways — as a pizza stone, an ice crusher, a panini press and more.

Since they’re old-school, you might be able to find one at a thrift store, yard sale or just forgotten in a friend’s garage. And even if you buy new, it’ll set you back less than that useless quesadilla maker.

2. Knives and Cutting Board

If you’re going to eat fresh foods, you’re going to have to cut them up yourself.

Don’t waste money on that great big block of cheap-o knives: They’ll just go dull in days and take up counter space.

Instead, invest in a few good blades that’ll last you a lifetime. You probably only need a few knives, anyway, depending on your eating habits.

The Huffington Post suggests three essential kitchen knives: a medium-sized chef’s knife, a paring knife and a long serrated knife for cutting bread.

You might be able to skip the paring knife if you’re willing to bite into your apples rather than slicing them, and I, for instance, don’t eat bread — so I get to skip buying a serrated knife.

Finally, keep your counters safe and sound with a good-quality cutting board. Yes, the wooden ones are safe to use for meat — just chop your veggies on the other side.

3. Cooking Utensils

Unless you have fingers of steel, you should probably invest in a pair of tongs, a spatula and a ladle so you can fish meat, veggies and soups out of the vessels you cooked them in.

But that pickle picker? Save your $5 and use a fork.

4. Ovenware

If you’re not much of a baker, you can skip the cake pan and pie tins — but at the very least, you’ll want a cookie sheet.

They’re great for all kinds of things: making your own oven-baked fries, freezing up leftover foods and even crisping up macaroni and cheese.

The basic piece of ovenware you’ll find in most kitchens, though, is the standard roasting pan. They can set you back a pretty penny when you buy them brand new.

But if you find one at a yard sale or Goodwill missing its rack, get it. Just float your next roast on a bed of root vegetables to keep it from sticking — and to imbue flavor into the meat.

5. Strainer

Although this tool isn’t as necessary as the ones I’ve listed above, you need it to make pasta, which is the OG of quick, cheap dinners.

Plus, if you get a fine-enough one or line it with cheesecloth, you can use it to make your own cold brew coffee, strain your own Greek yogurt and more.

More Kitchen Hacks

After acquiring these basics, you might want to add in some less-necessary (but still multi-taskable!) luxury items as needed: food processors, blenders and slow cookers can all be good investments. They’re so versatile!

If you eat rice often enough (or burn it as easily as I do) to spring for a rice cooker, make sure to get one with a steamer basket so you can top that rice with fresh veggies!

And you may need a rolling pin if you ever do plan on baking — but don’t forget, in a pinch, you can always use a wine bottle!

There is one unitasker exception this Penny Hoarder is prepared to allow: a coffee machine.

Even though it takes up a ton of kitchen space, it’s a critically important item… and it turns out you can cook everything from steamed veggies to grilled cheese on your Mr. Coffee, if you’re adventurous!

Your Turn: What useless multitaskers have you accumulated? What kitchen essentials have we missed?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a freelance writer whose work has been featured at Ms. Magazine, BUST, Roads & Kingdoms, The Write Life, Nashville Review, Word Riot and elsewhere. She lives in St. Augustine, Florida.