Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Best Things in Life May Be Free, but Here's Some of the Absolutely Best Kitchen Gear You Can Buy Dirt Cheap

I thought it would be nice to set aside the wiseguy blog persona I've featured over the last few posts to offer my readers something that would be deemed by most as "useful."

Or at the least, "inoffensive."

We all know, or at least should know, that the best things in life are free.

Think about it.

The passionate kiss from your lover. The snuggly-hug from a child. A walk in the sunshine after a chilly rain. The warm wet nose of a puppy against your cheek. The aroma of a simmering soup prepared by a loved one. The offer to pick up your bar tab by the half-lit stranger next to you because you remind them of their long lost cousin. Or the fact that the neighborhood kids never tagged you with the nickname "Groinhead."

But even though the best things in life are, indeed, free, there are a couple of really good things that you can pick up dirt-cheap.

And I'm going to list them and tell you where to find them.

However, when I first mentioned this to my editor she said only a complete jackass would recommend items to people without getting a percentage of the action.

My response?

Look at my blog, dear. I have no ads or sponsorships. Why start now?

And besides, I was already an incomplete jackass before I came up with this brilliant idea, so now I've at least completed something. (Are you reading this, ma?)

But truth be told, I have another reason for offering these suggestions. When I first started cooking I was overwhelmed by recommendations from what I would call the Food Snob Mob.

Perhaps you've met them. They're the one's who insist that in order to cook well you must purchase a set of copper cookware that would rival the GNP of some third world countries. Or a collection of knives that would set you back the price of a used car. Or that no serious cook would question the price of any kitchen gadget, even if it meant putting off your kid's appendectomy to do so.

Oh puh-lease. Are these folks in the dainty white uniforms for real?

Do you need good gear to cook good food? Yes. Does it need to drain your bank account and max out your credit cards? Absolutely not.

So here, in spite of the objections from those who insist I make some money off this, I'd like to offer some suggestions that will help take your culinary skills to the next level. And you won't have to sell off your youngest child or a spare organ to do so.

Pots and Pans

Wouldn't you just love a 9-piece tin-lined copper cookware set fresh off the boat from France? Me, too. But at $2,000 retail/$1500 on sale, I've unfortunately had to pass. Of course, one could settle for a really nice stainless steel All-Clad set for a mere $600 to $800 (and well worth it if you have the cash lying around.) In fact I almost picked up a set until my wife uttered what surely must be the five most dreaded words in the American parent lexicon: "Honey, our child needs braces."

So I had to pass on the French copper and All-Clad. But I've been around long enough to know every good craftsman requires good tools to do a good job. However, shelling out that kind of dough for great kitchen cookware just wasn't an option. And it may not be for you. If that's the case then you need to check out this wonderful set of stainless steel tri-ply cookware from Tramontina. Sure, it is not All-Clad but it comes very, very close. And the price? It will knock you so hard you might be the one needing braces.

Check this out. Under $150. I have a set that gets regular use and I've given some away on my webpage. Buy it here:

Tramonina Triply-Clad Cookware


When I'm doing a cooking demo, there's usually someone who asks what's the best investment they could make in their kitchen. I hear this from folks who are just starting out and from folks who are remodeling.

My answer?

A really good chef's knife.

Because a good knife will perform many tasks and will last a lifetime if well taken care of. I usually don't hesitate recommending one of the good German forged knives like Wustorff or JA Henkels. But these will set you back $100+. Which, to be honest, is not too bad for a tool that will give you a lifetime of service in the kitchen.

But if you begin adding other similar knives to the mix, like a paring knife, slicing knife, or bread knife, well, it starts to add up. Can one get an excellent set of knives at a reasonable price without resorting to those hawked on late-night infomercials? Absolutely.

And here you go. Forschner (the folks who bring us Swiss Army Knives) offers a set that has gotten rave reviews from the culinary world. And the best part? You can purchase a 3-piece set for half the price of one German chef's knife. Find the Forschner Victorinox Fibrox Chef's Set here:

Victorinox 3 Piece Knife Set

Knife Sharpener does one keep those knives sharp and in tip top condition? Well, honing them before each use on a steel is a given. But when it comes to sharpening? A great option is to find a professional knife sharpener in your area, but that may not be doable for many of us. If that is the case, then you can't go wrong with a Chefs Choice 120 or 130. But some may balk at a $120 price (which is not bad considering the fact that a sharp knife is a safe knife.) So how does something under $10 sound? Good? I thought so. Check out the Accusharp knife sharpener here:

Accusharp Knife Sharpener

Omelet Pan

Okay. One last item and we'll call it a day. I'm not a huge fan of non-stick pans with the exception of this: my omelet pan. And I must say, it gets a workout in my kitchen. So I knew I needed a good one. But I wasn't about to spend $50 to $100 for one.

"But," I hear someone yelling, "They'll last a lifetime. It says so on the label!" Um. No it won't. You can probably count on a year or so at the most before the pan loses it's non-stickness. So...knowing that I'm going to need to replace it frequently, I want a good pan that doesn't cost a lot. So I usually buy my omelet pans at my local restaurant supply store. They're well-made and cost a lot less than those you'll find in the high end gourmet shops. If you don't have a restaurant supply nearby, check out this baby from Sam's Club. A good pan at a good price:

Sam's Club 8" Omelet Pan

Well, that's about it for now. Hope this was helpful. What was the latest deal you got on great cookware? Let's give the Food Snob Mob a run for their money!



  1. Great recommendations. I know for me spending oodles of dough on kitchen stuff is not in the cards. I wish it were though. List as long as my arm for things I covet. I am not willing to sell my organs at this juncture so this list is quite useful. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

  2. Hmmm, is it just me? When I click on the products, they all come up as the Sam's Club pan.

  3. This is great advice - thanks for sharing it :D But all of your links are for the omelet pan. I really need to see those knives!!

    There are many things I love to use in my kitchen and being very inexperienced/young, I don't know a whole lot about quality of tools. However, the one thing I am always overjoyed to use is my microplane zester. That thing is the bomb.

  4. Hi Warren,
    I agree with you. Having a budget is always a good thing as it fosters creative thinking rather than blindly spending money. Most of the commercial kitchens of the world turn out splendid food without spending thousands of dollars on a single piece of cookware. A great tool always helps but a creative cook can surmount limitation and still turn out amazing dishes. We all need to keep that in mind. Thanks for the great article. Keep up the great work. :-)

    Chef Felisha

  5. @Kim Bee. Thanks! I've often been in the situation where my desire for great kitchen gear was larger than my wallet. Hope these suggestions help!

  6. @karen. No, it's not just you. It's me, too. I believe they're fixed now. Thanks for the heads-up! :-)

  7. @Chef Felisha. Great point about the pro kitchens. Perhaps we all should have the good fortune of getting a glimpse "backstage" to see the gear that's used to create those stunning meals we all long to make.

  8. @Anna. As I mentioned to Karen above, I believe the links are fixed, so now you can check out those knives, lol.

    And yes - the microplane zester *is* the bomb. So you see, your claim that you are inexperienced/young is not entirely true - you really *do* have an eye for good, affordable gear! :-D

  9. I try and work with what I have, usually it works well, and of course I keep a running wish list on the fridge, just in case someone (hubby) feels the urge to spoil me! Oh and I do love Pampered Chef products, but I will wait for a deal. I held a party to get my 12 inch $150 skillet for $60.00

  10. lol Oh Warren I love your blog :D I am always laughing at the end of each post :) the food snobs are mean aren't they....especially to newbie's learning their way around a kitchen like me :)

  11. @Joan. Notes on the fridge? What a great (and oh-so-cool subliminal) idea! :-) I also admire your kitchen discipline: to wait on those items you want/need til they are available at a good price. I on the other hand, have not been as disciplined in the past. But I learned quickly, lol.

  12. @Ali Mc. Thanks, Ali! I'm glad the blog brings a smile. Spread the word and tell some friends - after all, everyone was/is a newbie at sometime in their culinary journey. :-)

  13. Wow! I bought the Tramonina 15 piece set seven years ago when my oncologist suggested that the coating on non-stick pans was suspect. I loved them so much I bought sets for both of my daughter-in-laws. Now I feel like we are cooking like pros. Thanks for the suggestion about the knives and sharpener. That has been a thorn in my apron for a long time. I will try them out. My favorite tool though is still my cast iron skillet that I bought at the Goodwill store for $3. It takes extra upkeep, but there are some things that I wouldn't know how to cook without it.

  14. I have been searching for a new chef's knife for months now. After much research and deliberation, I had landed on the Victorinox. Thank you for confirming my decision!

    I can't remember if I've commented here before, so I'll pretend like I haven't: I absolutely love your blog and am quite pleased to have come upon it on Foodbuzz. Your writing is exquisitely hilarious. :)

  15. Hi, You got any links for your fans on the other side of the pond then??? Hactually, I just found similar knives on amazon uk. My best buy has to be my KitchenAid - yes it was expensive, but it is extremely powerful and so worth the cash if you're baking stuff like Christmas cake which kills your arms to mix by hand and really strains a less powerful mixer. I got mine a few years ago and saved a few pounds/dollars by not getting the most 'trendy' colour. I don't need it in red or pink ... Thank you for the knives tip. I do the same on my blog too reviewing mainly sports gear. I think it's a nice thing to do to let people know if something works well. Share the love. It's a good thing to do. :o)

  16. @Emmy. You can't go wrong with Tramontina Triply. And their cast iron Dutch ovens are a great deal as well. Of course, when it comes to skillets, Lodge rocks. My 30-year old skillet works as good as a non-stick pan *and* I can heat the heck out of it. Something you can't do with non-stick.

  17. @Amanda. Thanks! Glad I helped nudge you toward your decision on the Forschner. And thanks for letting me know that my blog inspires a little laughter, too. :-D

  18. @Kooky Girl. Links for those across the pond? Ha! I couldn't even get the links right on the first go-around for folks here in the states. If it were not for some diligent readers, my links might still be useless. LOL.

  19. Another important and ubiquitous tool is a putty knife. When you are doing your kitchen remodeling, you’ll need one if you’re going to replace kitchen countertops or your kitchen floor.

  20. The restaurant supply store is a home cook's best friend, for sure! And I'm glad you wrote this, I've been cooking fantastic meals with 'cheap' cookware for years and I don't hear any complaints from my family. Thanks!

  21. Thanks for advice!! for me I have no idea for how to buy all those western kitchen stuff(of couse I'm cooking Thai) we have just cleaver and wok that about it. It hard for me to pick out the good one, this wil be good infomation for me to pick out my new knives :)

  22. @han smith. Hmmm. Sounds like someone has experienced some serious kitchen renovation, lol!

  23. @Abbey. Right on, girl! Kudos to the restaurant supply stores! And yes, as we all know, "cheap" does not necessarily denote "garbage" in the same way that "expensive" dose not denote "quality" (he says as eyes the Ferrari Smartphon - $902 - that's giving its owner fits at the Starbucks table next to him...) :-)

  24. @Modern Thai. Exactly! A good cleaver and wok will last several lifetimes! :-)

  25. Hah, great post and I completely agree with you about the Food Snob Mob.

    I would add one more thing to this from my own experience - a good cast-iron casserole (dutch oven) with a lid is a must-have in the kitchen, and normally they are ridiculously expensive - but IKEA and a few other places (I remember TKMaxx and Marshall's in the USA) have proper ones for literally a fraction of the price.

    Who cares if it doesn't say "LeCreuset" on the lid if it works?

  26. Spot on and great recommendations! Our family has a mish-mosh collection from the past 20 years. 2-3 All clad pots, a wok from my husband's bachelor days, knives from our get the idea. And my baking is never compromised! Although I can't live without my kitchenaid mixer...

  27. @Lilith. Oh, yes. My dutch oven gets a workout for sure. And it doesn't say Le Creuset. :-) I got two at Marshalls: a medium and a large. They should last a lifetime. As a sidenote - Tramontina (see above) makes an excellent dutch oven that can be picked up pretty cheap. (KitchenAid rocks, btw)

  28. @Pamela. Thanks! And I think a lot of folks would be surprised if they looked in any great commercial kitchen, only to find a mish-mosh of pots and pans turning out those delectable gourmet meals! Raising a glass to the mish, and another one to the mosh :-D

  29. I was excited to see that you recommended the Victorinox knife set. I have one of those knives and it's my go-to knife pretty much every day.

    What I would love, though, is to be able to toss my food around the pan just as real chefs do when they're cooking. When I try it, either the pan I'm using is way too heavy or I end up wearing the spaghetti. I like to avoid aluminum but am guessing that it's the only material light enough to allow a more deft hand than mine to flip pasta. What metal is most often used in professional cookware?



  30. @Alaiyo Kiasi-Barnes. Yes, the Victorinox is a great knife. The easiest pan to "flip" the food in is indeed non-stick aluminum. If you wish to avoid the non-stick coating, regular anodized aluminum would work as would a good stainless steel pan (with an aluminum core like the Tramontina above).