I come from a family of some pretty serious home cooks. Homemade chicken stock and pizza made from scratch are regular parts of my mom’s repertoire. And now that I am an adult, I want them to be parts of mine, too. This would be simple to do—or so I thought.
After graduating from college in New York, I got a job offer in Boston and had to find a place to live within two weeks. While I was grateful for this news—#blessed—it also stressed me out. In the end, it worked out for me. I was able to find my own place to call home just in time, with a decent kitchen in which to cook my favorite childhood dishes.
I thought living on my own would be a breeze. I thought my kitchen would be equipped with the best cooking tools so that I would never have to suffer through another dining hall meal and could make virtually any dish I’ve ever craved. Key words: I thought.
Fast-forward six months, and I’ve placed far too many online orders for kitchen equipment (I never seem to have the right tool on hand) and compiled a pretty long wish list (keeping my fingers crossed for our annual equipment giveaway).
Here are the tools I highly recommend for the new graduate (or young adult) in your life.
A New Graduate's Recent Purchases
1. Rasp-Style Grater: When it comes to budgeting and being busy, multipurpose tools are key. This Microplane—which isn’t too expensive in the first place—has become my most reached-for tool. It’s perfect for shredding Parmesan, zesting citrus, and grating garlic.
Microplane Premium Classic Zester/GraterThis grater took the top spot in our testing thanks to its great performance and soft, grippy, comfortable rubber handle.
2. Cast-Iron Skillet and Dutch Oven: Since I started living on my own, I’ve surprised myself with how infrequently I order takeout, and I owe that to my cast-iron tools. I use the skillet to get the crispiest skin or crust on proteins such as salmon, chicken thighs, and strip steak. My Dutch oven is the workhorse I use for cooking beans, blanching hearty greens, baking crusty bread, and making the most comforting soups and stews (such as the Cook’s Country One-Pot Chicken Chili with Cornmeal Dumplings). Best of all, both of these pieces can be used on the stovetop and in the oven.
Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"This skillet browns foods deeply, is broad enough to cook two big steaks, and arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior.
Lodge 7-Quart Cast Iron Dutch OvenThis cast-iron pot comes preseasoned, but you have to dry and oil it immediately after each use.
3. Tongs: I don’t know about you, but I can get a little messy in the kitchen. OXO tongs are the best tool for flipping hot steaks and fishing out bits of food dropped near a hot burner or into the bottom of the oven. Oops.
OXO Good Grips 12-Inch TongsThe scalloped, uncoated pincers on our longtime favorite tongs always feel very precise.
4. Bench Scraper: Bread baking may not be the most popular activity for 22-year-olds, but it’s one of my weekend hobbies. As many bread experts know, a bench scraper can make life a lot easier when scraping up bits of flour and dough. On that note, it’s great for anyone who wants to rid their counter of food debris in a flash.
Dexter-Russell 6" Dough Cutter/Scraper—Sani-Safe SeriesThe deeply beveled edge of this scraper cuts through pizza and bread dough quickly and scrapes the work surface effectively.
5. Handheld Electric Mixer: I like to bake for friends, coworkers, and myself, but stand mixers are expensive. The best substitute I've found has been a handheld mixer. I wouldn’t be able to cream butter and sugar or make whipped cream without it.
KitchenAid 5-Speed Ultra Power Hand MixerThis mixer felt like the sports car of our testing lineup: light, maneuverable, and efficient.
A New Graduate's Wish List
1. Stand Mixer: My handheld mixer does the trick in a pinch, but it’s not perfect. Every time I cream the aforementioned butter and sugar, I end up with a few chunks strewn about the kitchen. For bread baking, I've stuck to no-knead recipes mainly because I don't have a stand mixer. I would love to experiment with the dough hook that comes with a stand mixer. Did you know there’s a pasta-making attachment? I want to try that ASAP.
KitchenAid Classic Plus Stand MixerThis mixer aced every test. Testers praised it for its "intuitive" controls and "solid" feel.
KitchenAid Pro Line Series 7-Qt Bowl Lift Stand MixerThis powerful, smartly designed machine makes quick work of large and small volumes of food.
2. Food Processor: This year, I was excited to attend my first Friendsgiving since graduating from college. I signed up to make the pie. It didn't take me long after making this commitment to realize that I was in trouble. There are very few pie dough recipes I've come across that don’t require a food processor. That's because it has the ability to perfectly whip together butter and flour like magic. I ended up using premade graham cracker crumbs to make the Cook’s Country Rum Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. Hopefully by next year I’ll have a food processor so I can remake this pie with our Three-in-One All-Butter Pie Dough.
Cuisinart Custom 14 Food ProcessorIt has a powerful, quiet motor; responsive pulsing action; sharp blades; and a simple, pared-down-to-basics design.
3. Rolling Pin: Once I have that food processor to make pie crusts, I’m going to need a real rolling pin. I say real because for now, a wine bottle has been my best option. I’m sure our winning rolling pin would do a much better job.
J.K. Adams Plain Maple Rolling DowelThis pin capably handled dough for pie, cookies, pizza, and yeasted rolls with its gentle weight and slightly textured surface.
4. Baking Stone: Remember that homemade pizza I mentioned that my mom used to make? It was crispy and bubbly thanks to her trusty baking stone. I don’t have one yet, so my attempts at homemade pizza pale in comparison (literally). Some of us would be happy to put in the work to create our own dough and sauce from scratch. It's about time I get a baking stone. I'm thinking this is the year that all young adults should be gifted baking stones.
Old Stone Oven Pizza Baking StoneTough and durable, this stone has held up well in the rough-and-tumble world of the test kitchen for nearly a decade.
5. Enameled Cast Iron: I love my cast-iron cookware, but I don’t enjoy the cleaning and upkeep. Still, I try to carefully clean and reseason mine (when I remember to). But with enameled versions, you don’t have to worry about that so much. The less I have to think about it, the better. Plus, the bright colors of these Le Creuset pans are eye-catching.