Affordable Essentials for Your First Kitchen

Everything you'll need to go from dorm room to apartment.

Credit: World Kitchen, Pyrex

If you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to get all the kitchenware you need in one massive trip to a big box store, filling your cart with whatever plates, pots, and pans happen to be on sale. You could also spend weeks trying to find what’s right for you—wasting time, gas, and shipping costs in the process.

Or, you could just leave it to us. We’ve researched all of the top basic kitchenware on the market—looking at user reviews, prices, spec sheets, and our own hands-on time with the products. A few of them we even have in our own homes, or use in our test labs every day. While some of our picks are the most basic kitchenware you can buy, others prove that spending just a few dollars more can make your life a lot easier.

If you stick with our picks and supplement them with what you already own, what you can get as a hand-me-down, or what you find at a thrift store, you could end up with a whole new kitchen for well under $200.

Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids 18-Piece Food Container Set


Whether you’re storing leftovers or bringing a homemade lunch to work, reusable containers are a great way to save money. These are some of the most popular on the market, and it’s easy to see why: Unlike cheaper sets, they’re dishwasher-, microwave-, and freezer-safe.

We use them in the labs where we test dishwashers and refrigerators, and have been impressed with how well they’ve held up over daily use in extreme temperatures.

Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Commercial Baker's Half Sheet


Sure, you could get an inexpensive set of nonstick cookie sheets at the grocery store, or buy one of the new air-bake pans. But this Nordic Ware half sheet is a classic for a reason. Made of thick, commercial-grade aluminum, these sheets will give you the same results, every time.

This aluminum half sheet is made in the U.S., and its edges are easy to grab. Plus, it's a kitchen item you're likely to hold onto for far longer than you have your first kitchen.

Pyrex Easy Grab 6-Piece Glass Bakeware and Food Storage Set


This set isn’t very large, but it has just what a first-time home chef needs: Thick, nonporous glass from Pyrex that’s safe for use in preheated ovens, microwaves, fridges, freezers, and dishwashers.

Like all similar Pyrex products, it’s made in the U.S. and comes with a two-year warranty. But this set also comes with BPA-free plastic lids for easy storage. It’s a great choice if you’re headed to a pot luck dinner, or if you don’t want to transfer your leftovers into a separate container.

Dash Hand Mixer


This hand mixer isn’t a classic KitchenAid, but that doesn’t matter. It’s less than $20, looks great, and fits in a small drawer. In fact, the cord and beaters can all be stored right inside the mixer.

We suggest you save up for a better model while you enjoy baking with this one. Plus, Dash makes other inexpensive and attractive small appliances, too—in case you're in the market for more than a mixer.

T-Fal Signature 12-piece Nonstick Cookware Set with Thermo-Spot Heat Indicator


These pots and pans won’t be heirlooms—nonstick coatings tend to wear off and scratch over time. But we’re fans of this popular set because it’s a great value and easy for inexperienced chefs to learn on. The Thermo-Spot indicator lets you know when the pan is heated up, and the nonstick coating makes it easier to flip omelettes and to get food from the pan to the plate.

Another plus: The set includes not only glass lids, but nylon utensils that won’t scratch the surface of the non-stick pans. Those utensils aren’t that durable and will eventually wear and melt—but by then, you’ll likely be able to afford an upgrade.

Black and Decker TO2050S Toaster with Convection


Sure, there are less expensive toaster ovens on the market. But, we think this one is the best choice for a first kitchen. It’s large enough to fit six slices of bread—or a small frozen pizza—and has convection for more even baking.

If you have roommates who also like to cook, you might be relegated to the toaster while they use the full-size oven. So we think it’s better to spend a little extra. And if you’re design conscious, you’ll appreciate the large glass door, gray accents, and simple knobs.

OXO Good Grips 3-Piece Mixing Bowl Set


The mixing bowl standard is certainly glass: the weight of the bowls themselves keep them in place while you mix and they're incredibly affordable. Unfortunately, glass bowls can also chip or break—a risk you might not want to take in your new kitchen.

For a quality plastic alternative, we like how these bowls from OXO have grippy bases that keep them from spinning while you stir, and spouts for easy pouring. The set of three nest, so they won’t take up much space, either.

OXO Good Grips Plastic Measuring Cups


Another good pick from OXO, these measuring cups have big numbers on the side that let you know exactly how much liquid or flour they can hold, and they feel more durable than some of the cheaper options out there. These measuring cups might end up sticking around through a few moves.

The clip attachment also makes it easy to keep all the cups together, while easily removing the one you need. If sturdy metal cups are out of your budget, consider these a good alternative.

Pyrex 2 Cup Glass Measuring Cup


A classic in every kitchen, you’ll only have to buy one of these if you can’t find a hand-me-down somewhere. There are alternatives out there—including some well-designed plastic models—but you can’t beat the durability of Pyrex’s tough, thick glass.

If you don’t lose it during a move, there’s a chance you’ll have this inexpensive measuring cup for the rest of your life. And keep in mind that Pyrex makes 1-cup and 4-cup versions, too.

Bellissima 3-Piece Cutting Board Set


A cutting board is only as good as how easy it is to clean. We like these cutting boards because they’re dishwasher safe and have grooves to catch liquids, so they don’t spill onto your countertop. You can also designate one for cutting meat and one for cutting vegetables.

The cutting boards aren’t as durable as more expensive models, but they come in a three pack and are inexpensive enough to be disposable once they end up scratched and cut.

Cuisinart Advantage 12-Piece Knife Set


This is truly a starter set of knives, and six of the "12 pieces" are simply plastic covers. Still, online users rate it highly, only complaining that the painted surfaces wear off after sharpening and frequent use. There’s a paring knife, 6.5-inch utility knife, 7-inch Santoku, serrated bread knife, slicing knife, and 8-inch chef’s knife.

Our advice: save up for a better chef’s knife, but keep the rest of the knives from this Cuisinart set. The serrated bread knife or paring knife will always come in handy.

Farberware Cayenne Satin 20-Piece Flatware Set, Service for 4


Once you're done cooking, you’ll need a way to eat that delicious food you made. We like this starter set from Farberware, a well-known name in entry-level flatware. Despite the manufacturer’s claims of “stainless” steel, it’s made of 18/0 stainless. That means it’s made of a metal composition that’s far more likely to tarnish or rust than pricier 18/10 stainless.

Again, you likely won’t have this set for the rest of your life, but it’s hard to find less expensive flatware when you’re starting out.

Corelle Livingware 16-Piece Dinnerware Set, Winter Frost White, Service for 4


There’s a reason this Corelle set is a best-seller on Amazon.com, with plenty of positive user reviews. Made of laminated, compressed glass that Corelle calls Vitrelle, the plates and bowls are warranted against damage like breakage, chipping, and scratching for one year. The plates are not only indestructible, but in a clean white, they’re also inoffensive—both modern and classic at once.

We’re big fans of this set: We actually use it in our dishwasher test labs, where it gets a lot of abuse. Despite daily use, we’ve never broken a plate in five years.

Anchor Hocking 15-Ounce 4-Piece Stemless Wine Glass Set


Sure, you could drink out of mason jars or coffee cups. But adulthood brings responsibilities—including the need to class it up once in a while. These stemless wine glasses are easier to store than traditional designs, and are more durable than cheaper models we’ve held.

Since these glasses are stemless, they’re far more versatile than a dedicated tumbler, rocks glass, or stemware. You can use them for everything from orange juice in the morning to a cocktail on Friday night.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. However, our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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