11 Essential Kitchen Tools Every Frugal Cook Needs

Frugal Cooking

When you’re living on a budget, it’s absolutely essential to squeeze the most out of every dollar. You turn lights out, you keep the heat a few degrees lower, and most of all, you cook. There’s no eating out when the purse strings are tight; instead, there’s packing lunches, reusing leftovers, and tons of cooking at home.

If you’re a chef on a shoestring, you want a kitchen stocked with tools that are going to help you make the most of your food budget. You’re probably going to skip the quirky gadgets and pricey geegaws in favor of good, honest tools that are serious multi-taskers. So, home cooks who are trying to do the most with your food for the least amount of money, this list is for you. Here are eleven essential kitchen tools that every frugal cook needs.

Cast Iron Skillet

1. Cast iron skillet

When it comes to cooking versatility, it’s tough to beat a high quality cast iron pan. You can cook beef, pork, chicken, and fish in it. When it’s well seasoned, you’ve got a perfect non stick surface for eggs. It can go from stovetop to oven with no trouble at all, and it’s a vessel that can hold your most creative kitchen ideas. Spaghetti sauce with extra garlic? No problem. Apple dumplings? You got it. Pineapple upside down cake? Why not? As long as you remember to clean it properly and season it regularly, a good cast iron pan will last forever. A ten inch model is good, but if you’re cooking for a family, a 12 inch one is better. Expect to pay around $20 for a small and $25 for a large, but that’s for a new one; used cast iron pans are just as good and are usually less than half the price.

Stock Pot

2. Large stock pot

Don’t throw away that turkey frame, that chicken carcass, or those vegetable scraps. Instead, make stock, and you’ll have a gorgeous base for soups, stews, and sauces. A good 12 quart stock pot is indispensable if you’re on a budget: you’ll squeeze every drop of flavor from your meats and veggies, and you’ll never buy a can or carton of broth again. In a pinch, it doubles as a great pot for cooking beans, corn on the cob, and pasta too. High end stock pots can run more than $200, but a basic one will get the job done for around $25.

Crock Pot

3. Crock pot

The problem with cooking on a budget is that you’re probably at work all day; you’ve got no time and no energy to cook when you first get home. With a crock pot, though, the cooking happens when you’re at work. You can prepare everything from a batch of lentil soup to a hearty beef stew to a whole chicken with vegetables, right in the stoneware vessel. Plus, they’re totally affordable, with basic crock pots costing as little as $20. More advanced models, with cooking timers and even smart controls that work via smartphone app, can run more like $40 or $50.

Measuring Cups

4. Measuring Cups and Spoons

If you’re going to attempt cooking an amazing dish the first priority is to get your measurements right.  Not only do you need a measuring cup and spoon set that will accurately read the amounts of ingredients but you’ll also want one that’s durable.  We’d recommend going with stainless steel.  The edges are sharper and pouring is way easier.  Plus these will more than likely last you years as opposed to a few months with the more flimsy plastic ones.

Chef's Knife

5. A good chef’s knife

There are lots of fancy slicers, dicers, and mincers on the market, but all you really need is a good chef’s knife for all of those things and more. An eight inch knife is the most versatile, but if you’re a little knife shy or not as confident in your knife skills, a six inch model will work almost as well. Just remember to cut away from your body and tuck those fingers in! Go for quality here: you’ll probably pay as little as $40 and as much as $150 for a high quality chef’s knife. However, if you take good care of it, it will be the only chef’s knife you’ll ever buy.

Wooden Cutting Board

6. Large wooden cutting board

You’ll need a good surface on which to cut all those vegetables, fruits, and more — you’ll need a wooden cutting board. It’s been well established that wood cutting boards harbor less bacteria than plastic ones, and they also last a lot longer. Don’t skimp on size here, either: you want something that can be used to for cutting everything from a bunch of carrots to a Thanksgiving turkey. A 12×18 inch board will run at least $15.

Vegetable Peeler

7. Vegetable peeler

Being on a budget means skipping the bags of pre-prepped veggies at the grocery store. It means buying whole foods (no pun intended) and preparing them yourself. If you’re going to do that, you’ll be doing a lot of peeling. Get a peeler that’s comfortable to use and makes peeling a relatively easy task. Skip the cheap $3 models and spend $10 or $15 on a sharp, high quality vegetable peeler.

Mixing Bowls

8. Several good mixing bowls

If you’re cooking at home, you’ll need mixing bowls for whipping up large batches of doughs and batters, mixing up salads, and holding prepped ingredients. You’ll want at least two or three in several sizes, including one extra large bowl for big quantities. Metal bowls are light and easy to clean, while plastic bowls are cheaper, and glass and ceramic bowls can look nicer and can also double as serving bowls. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $40 for a set, depending on material, quantity, and brand.

Half Sheet Pan

9. High quality half sheet pans

What most people think of a sheet pan is actually a half sheet pan: it’s a roughly 13 by 18 inch piece of metal with a lip around the edges. Get yourself two of them. They’re perfect for everything from baking cookies and free-form loaves of bread to roasting veggies and meats. Best of all, they’re totally affordable; skip the fancy, overpriced pans and get yourself some basic ones for about ten bucks each.

Food Storage Container

10. Good leftovers storage

Making the most of your food dollar means eating leftovers, and if you’re going to eat leftovers, you’ll need some good leftovers storage. One of the best choices is a set of Pyrex food storage containers, and a 20 piece set retails for $40. These are high quality and 100% reusable, so you won’t have to buy those semi-disposable plastic containers all the time or, even worse, buy plastic wrap that’s only good for one use.

Fire Extinguisher

11. Fire extinguisher

Saving money on food is certainly important, but every home cook’s first priority should be safety. As such, a fire extinguisher is non-negotiable; celebrity chef Alton Brown has even gone on the record as saying that a fire extinguisher is the only uni-tasker allowed in his kitchen. You want one that’s designed for kitchens, which means a Class K extinguisher that’s designed to put out grease, oil, electrical, and other flammable liquid fires. Expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $40, depending on size.


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