Pots, Pans, Gizmos, and Gadgets

You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to get started in the kitchen. Here are some simple rules to pick good equipment.


Pots, Pans, Gizmos, and Gadgets

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I was talking to one of Betsy’s friends (and also my friend) a few weeks ago about Macheesmo and she brought up a very interesting problem. I’m paraphrasing but it went something like this:

“Nick. Macheesmo is way too complicated for me. I like to read it and look at the photos, but come on! Sometimes you use hundreds of dollars worth of equipment in one post! How’s a girl supposed to keep up? I don’t have any of these gadgets you speak of and I’m a student so I’m not getting them anytime soon!

I want to cook more, but my bank account is telling me to just order a pizza already.

A Valid Criticism

I’ll be the first to admit, this is a pretty solid point. Let’s take a look at my last two posts for an example (Burger and Chips). Here’s a breakdown for all the equipment I used to make a few burgers and some freakin’ potato chips:

Le Creuset 5.5 Qt Round French Oven – For frying the chips. Cost: $217
Mandoline SlicerFor slicing the chips. Cost: $40
Deep Fry Thermometer – So you don’t catch your kitchen on fire or have soggy chips. Cost: $13
Stainless Steel Mixing BowlsFor rinsing and draining chips, etc. Apprx Cost: $28
A Good Slotted Spoon or some Tongs – $20
Food Processor – For grinding meat and making Chimichurri sauce. Cost: $188
Cast Iron Skillet – For cooking burgers. Cost: $28

Total Equipment Cost for the meal: $534

That’s a lot of Big Macs!

Put on your Econ Hat

Of course, if it cost me $534 every time I wanted to make some burgers, I’d never make burgers. The way that these costs become justified for a few pieces of equipment all has to do with marginal costs.

Marginal Costs is econ term for the costs it takes to produce one more unit of something. That might be economics gobbledygook to you, but let’s apply it to the most expensive item above and see how it works.

The Le Creuset Pot

I bought my enameled pot almost two years ago for about $230. The cost has gone down slightly since then if you get it from Amazon. The first thing I did with my pot was make a batch of soup. At the time, my marginal cost for that soup was $230 plus ingredients.

The very next day, I baked a loaf of no knead bread using my pot. Because this was my second time using the pot, my marginal costs for the bread was $115 plus ingredients.

Every time I use the pot, my per-meal costs for the pot go down.

I would guess I’ve used this pot roughly 2 times a week for 2 years or about 208 times. That means the next time I need to make a meal using it (the 209th time), my marginal costs for the pot for that meal will be just $1.10.

The key is that even though my pot looks pretty weathered, it’s actually in fine shape and has many more years of use in it. At that rate, if I can get even 5 years of use out of it, my marginal cost on each use will be down to about 44 cents.

Shockingly, if you use something more, it becomes worth the cost you paid for it. Ok. Maybe that not shocking. But I think sometimes it can be helpful to be reminded of it.

Thanks for Nothing Nick

I’m sure that’s what my friend will say after she reads this. The fact that I’ve justified why I bought the expensive pot doesn’t really help her. It doesn’t create the cash she would need to do so!

At the end of the day, she just wants to cook some food and not have to take out a loan for financing. I don’t blaim her.

But here’s the thing to remember:

You really don’t NEED all this expensive stuff to cook on a daily basis.

There are a ton of recipes on Macheesmo (or in the world) that require very little equipment. Try the Quick and Easy category for starters which you probably didn’t even know about… redesign coming soon!

But even when you do see an expensive piece of equipment on Macheesmo, chances are you don’t need it to make the dish. Before I was lucky enough to get a KitchenAid as a wedding present, I was making lots of breads by hand. Before I had a food processor I was chopping salsa and whisking sauces by hand. In fact, I occasionally still do stuff by hand just because I find it strangely fun.

Once you start actually thinking about what you need too cook you’ll realize that the stuff you need on a daily basis is actually some of the most affordable stuff. You can make whipped cream with a $300 mixer or a $10 whisk. But you can’t make whipped cream with your hands.

So now that I’ve described some of my thinking behind purchasing, and using, kitchen equipment, let me lay out a few rules to help out when you finally do consider purchasing something.

Four Rules For Purchasing Equipment

I have some basic rules I use before considering purchasing a piece of equipment.

1) Before buying a piece of equipment, have 5 dishes ready that you want to try that would be hard or impossible without it. If you can’t think of at least 5 dishes, then you don’t need it.

2) If it’s an expensive piece of equipment (for me anything over $50), wait 30 days before you buy it. You might learn that you don’t really need it as much as you thought. You might find other ways to prepare meals that you thought would require that equipment. If, after 30 days, you still have a number of recipes that need it and you can swing it financially, go for it.

3) Don’t go into debt for pots and pans. It’s not that important to have top of the line equipment. You can easily get by on hand-me-downs and garage sale items.

4) When making a large purchase (again over $50 for me) try to find the item in a store that will let you hold it. Does it feel comfortable? Sturdy? How does it match up to similar products? It’s hard to tell some of these things from Amazon photos.

But Nick. I need to eat TODAY

Understandable. Here’s 5 recipes you can make today with nothing but the most basic equipment.

1) Red and Gold Beet Salad
2) Quinoa Salad
3) Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas
4) Fruit and Honey Muesli
5) Double Baked Potatoes with Yogurt Spice

I’d love to here your comments on all of this! How do you go about purchasing new kitchen equipment? Do you have a favorite recipes that you can make with very little special equipment?

25 Responses to “Pots, Pans, Gizmos, and Gadgets” Leave a comment

  1. got back from Iceland a few days ago inspired by how much friggin dairy they seemed to eat, and made yogurt Monday using my crock pot as an incubator. it doesn't have a setting that's the right temp, so I was constantly checking and dumping in ice, and ended up buying a yogurt maker online yesterday, with my fingers crossed that I won't get bored of yogurt before it even arrives.

    we got really lucky last year – my roommate and I were walking near eastern market and saw a sign that some guy was giving away free furniture, so we went in looking for a table and ended up leaving with 8 of those huge Ikea bags full of kitchen stuff for free. gave some of it away (a rice maker is really not worth the shelf space, in my opinion), and then packed out kitchen pretty much to the ceiling!

  2. I don't think that is a valid criticism. I don't have that stuff but it hasn't and wouldn't stop me from making anything on your site. You can get away with substituting the mandoline with medium-skilled cutting and the Le Cruset with a heavy, tall sauce pan. No food processor? Ask the butcher to chop/grind it for you. Read the recipes beforehand and be creative!

    And so I am trying to gather some of the equipment that I really want. Here are my tips:

    – You can buy name brand items such as LeCruset at TJMaxx or Tuesday Morning, but you may have to look a few times until they are in inventory. You could also try the outlet stores. Sign up for retailer email lists so you can get coupons. Have patience.

    – Try a different brand alltogether (I have seen Mario Batalli recommended several times over Le Cruset). Do research.

    – Buy pieces that can be used for more than one thing – a dutch oven can be used in the oven and the stove top, maybe that means you don't need to keep or buy a new other type of pan.

    Sometimes you just have to skip a recipe. I don't have a stand mixer (or a dutch oven), so there are some things I just can't make. I add it to the list and put $10 a paycheck aside. Print out the recipe and save it for later!

    1. Great comments Rebecca. Thanks for the tips.

      I checked out some the Batalli line at bed bath and beyond a few weeks ago. It looks really sturdy and top of the line, but definitely a bit less expensive than some of the other more established brands.

  3. It takes time to build up your kitchen gadget collection. I would first look at what do you like to eat? If you eat alot of salads, I would look at an Oxo salad spinner. Do you like to make alot of soups/stews? Then I would look at an enamel Dutch Oven. You don't have to spend alot of $$ on Le Cruset. You can find them on sale or find another brand that is highly rated. I have on I bought at Walmart for $42. It's fine for me.

  4. OK this is funny. Honestly, I'm afraid to do that kind of breakdown in my kitchen! But there are lots of kitchen items that you can a) find cheaper or b) (following the Alton Brown rule) use as a multi-tasker.

    For instance: Lodge now makes an enameled cast iron pot that is considerably cheaper (under $50 on Amazon.com for a 6 qt. pot at the moment) than the Le Creuset brand (though you also can find some good deals at Home Goods/TJ Maxx on occasion) and Lodge is well known for its affordable cast iron products.

    And for multi-taskers — sure a food processor is nice (I'll admit, I splurged on the new Cuisinart one from Williams-Sonoma) but you can most certainly use a blender in many cases – though I'm not so sure about grinding meat in a blender! But for sauces, yes. Hummus, yes. Smoothies? Absolutely.

    The bottom line is, when cooking at home you are control the ingredients and the flavors so you can make something that absolutely appeals just to you — whether that's because of health issues or because of taste. It is worth it to make an effort — and slowly stock your kitchen with essential gadgets.

  5. Another thought. Look at Outlet Stores like Kitchen Collections. Several years ago I bought a KA Professional 6 mixer for $199. It is refurbished but works great. I bought a KA Food Processor there too. Also refurbished.

  6. dude, thrift stores. got an almost brand-new le creuset dutch oven for $5, found my favorite set of mixing bowls at goodwill for $8, etc.

    1. Good call Jen. I've picked up smaller stuff at thrift stores. Never been lucky enough to find anything like that though!

  7. Cuisinart makes very good alternatives to many of the cookware must-haves, you should be able to find their 6qt dutch oven for around $80, and a Lodge one for even less. It will give you results that are practically identical to a Staub or Le Creuset. The difference mostly comes in warranty, Le Creuset and Staub will take care of pretty much any problem you have with the item for the next 100 years (no exaggeration), where as with Cuisinart you're usually stuck. The aesthetics are also different, I bought my expensive Staub coquettes because I know i'm going to be using and serving in them for the next 30 years (or longer, ideally), and I wanted something I really liked.

    Cuisinart tri-ply is a very legitimate replacement for something like All-Clad, they manufacture it quite differently, but you still get a solid piece of cookware that will last for years. Stay away from their non tri-ply lines though, they're a significantly worse, and have a bottom disk instead of a triple ply design, so you don't have any aluminum on the sides of the pan.

    Forschner knives are a great alternative to Wustof or Henckel, for a fraction of the cost. By far the best value knife you can buy.

    Extra tip: Resturant supply stores can get you some awesome deals, and they have really neat commercial-sized equipment, I'd check one out first for sure before I walked into a Sur la Table or Williams Sonoma.

    Basically, even if you d

    1. I registered for the Calphalon Tri-Ply series for our wedding registry. I'm really happy with it so far. The only problem is that I think Calphalon recently discontinued it….

  8. There are a lot of recipes that you can actually do without gadgets – I made the pasta recipe with just my hands and a rolling pin. My noodles were a little chunky, but the alfredo sauce covered that up :)

  9. Okay… I have to be a jerk. Just have too!! Just yell "JERK!" at me now.

    Tell your friend to go to Kmart or Target or Walmart. Seriously. She doesn't need a le crueset pan to make potato chips and to tell you the truth, I was kind of horrified to see you using it for that purpose. A cheap stainless steel or aluminum pan will work just fine. It might not perform as easily (think ford fiesta vs a Jaguar) but it will get the job done and if you burn it? No big deal.

    A cheap food processor or even an "as seen on TV" mandolin will cut chips. She could save her money for one good all purpose knife, but a cheap set from a discount store will work until she gets older and her earning potential goes up.

    My point is, she should not use the fact that you have gadgets and she doesn't to stay out of the kitchen. She could go get some basic kitchen equipment on the cheap and then add to her stuff later. That's how most of us do it. You start out cheap and then upgrade piece by piece over the years.

    Tell your friend that most people have kitchens full of unused gadgets. I bet she could even find a bunch of treasures on Craigslist and in thriftstores for cheap.

    Ok. Rant over. Go back to your normally scheduled programming…Phew, that felt good.

  10. Awesome, awesome post and incredible Comments! I've found my enamel 5.5 quart $100 Calaphon from Bed Bath & Beyond (I think) to be a marvelous purchase combined with a $9 Oneida candy thermometer for frying – temperatures up to 400

    Nothing beats a good knife. I was gifted a hand mixer that actually gets too hot to hold sometimes but it speeds things up. I cannot have enough metal and glass bowls. If I had to advise where $$$ could go: One or two all copper pots with lids. They're invaluable to a sauce lover. I have one and it will last a hundred years and I whisk like a maniac in it which I can't do with the teflon coated pots.

  11. I believe I may be the friend of which you spake.

    I guess my perspective may not be the same as the majority of the readership of this blog. And for me, it's really not just about equipment, but also counter space, storage space for gadgets (i have one pot and one pan, and even that exceeds my storage capacity), time to cook, and price of ingredients.

    I live in a meek 200 sq ft studio (w/ 6.5 ft ceiling) and have about 20 minutes to cook a day, plus I try to to keep ripped with the 30-30-40 breakdown, so my limitations may be unique to me. Most of the blogs I frequent have some sort of gimmick–be they "meals for under $2" or "meals with 5 or fewer ingredients" or "BFL-approved fare," so I might just be a different kind of reader than the others Macheesmo attracts.

    That said, you know I love the muscle bars, and I think the production value of this blog is super, super high, so I'll always keep coming back. =)

  12. Oh, and now that I think about it, I also only have one functional burner on my stove, so that kinda puts a cramp in my style. …And this is why I eat stir fry every… single… night. (Def made the broccoli stirfry and spicy eggplant posts. That spicy eggplant with tofu was mad good.)

  13. Nick, this is right up in line with an article I am writing right now.

    Here is the deal: You really don't need all the fancy gadgets and gizmos to cook. We have been doing it for thousands of years without them. Perhaps they are more convenient, but perhaps they also intimidate.

    In the case of whipped cream: give me a bowl (preferably copper) and a 8$ whisk, and I will kick your ass at making whipped cream. Same for meringue… by the time you get all set up, get your egg whites in, turn on the machine, I will already be folding my whipped egg whites into my souffle.

    More important than your tools and gadgets is the know-how and why you are doing what you are doing. I have made chips in an aluminum pot (thick guage) without a thermometer. I used a bread cube to "measure" the temperature.. Perhaps not great for the amateur cook, but there it is.

    Keep doing what you are doing. Perhaps you can even look into something more "System D"-like for inspiring college friends to cook. It would give you another great angle!

  14. Nick, I LOVE how you break down the cost of using a Le Creuset! I think I'm going to send this link to my boyfriend with *hint hint* as the subject line. LOL

  15. I have found that most things can be made with basic kitchen equipment and that gadgets and such really just get in the way while not doing as good of a job. I do think some things are worth investing in, a kitchen aid mixer for example, but for the most part if you know the right technique, you can cook with almost anything. While I don't invest large amounts very often, I am saving up for a Vitamix, I know I'll get my money's worth :)

  16. I totally agree with you on this one. I apply the same principle when I'm buying expensive leather shoes and office attire. Sure those shoes are £200, but if I wear them every working day for two years… They've almost paid for themselves!

    I enjoy cooking, but as it stands I can't afford to buy a full Le Cruset set or a magimix/kitchen aid processor, at least not yet anyway. I guess I'll be spending more time with the whisk and my bare hands for the months to come.

    Thanks for sharing though!


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