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The Minimum Viable Kitchen (priceonomics.com)
153 points by rohin on Jan 10, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 206 comments

I cook quite a bit and have a lot of friends who own commercial kitchens.

- Victorinox Fibrox knives are by far the best value you will get. They are inexpensive and are quite the workhorse.

- I agree for the most part about the pots and pans except cast iron should be #1 on the list. The one thing you will learn very quickly as a cook is that cast iron is your friend. It also lasts forever.

- Someone said something about ditching whisk. Are you freaking kidding me? A whisk costs under $5 and it is invaluable for lots of dishes.

- Desserts are generally hard and require specialized gear. I'd drop the whole damn category.

- I'd add a bamboo steamer to the list. You can pick one up at a asian grocery store. Put it over a large pan of water.

One caveat that people rarely discuss about Victorinox Fibrox knives is that the don't hold an edge very long. They're a great starter knife and a great long-term knife if you don't mind sharpening it fairly frequently.

For example, at the rate I cook, I had to buy three separate fibrox chef's knives to go a solid month without needing to resharpen. And then I'd need to resharpen all three. I decided to upgrade to a slightly more pricey knife that was made of a harder metal. I can now go between 6 and 9 months between sharpening that knife.

So if you do go for the victorinox knives, they will arrive super sharp. But be prepared to resharpen them frequently depending on how much you use them.

Do you steel every time you use the knife? That seems to be what pro's do. Obviously there's a difference between "dull" and "out of true", and if the only problem is "easy to get out of true", well, that's not a big deal.

Yeah, I use a smooth steel. These knives get truly dull. I sharpen them myself with wet stones and I've tried various angles on the blades. I have 5 victorinox chef's knives of various size. And two victorinox filet knives that I use for cutting fish and breaking down large cuts of meat. The filet knives last a long time because they very rarely touch the cutting board. But for the most part I use a MAC chef's knife.

In about 9 months time I will have dulled all 5 victorinox chef's knives and the one MAC knife I own. And the MAC gets more than half of the load during that time.

I agree. That's why I threw the sharpener in there. It's really not that painful to do.

Agree wholeheartedly on the Victorinox Fibrox not holding their edge, though I don't have any experience with their chef's knives, just the santoku.

I feel that cast iron pans are overrated. Stainless steel is easier to clean, lets you build fond, lets you cook acidic pan sauces, and are lighter so you can be more aggressive about pan flipping. The only advantage cast iron has is heat retention and there are few cases where that's useful (like deep frying for example, or baking bread). Iron is actually a relatively poor conductor of heat also and a good tri-ply pan will heat up faster.

Cast iron dutch ovens are another story because you will frequently use them in ovens where the heat retention properties are useful.

The thing about cast iron pans is they're dirt cheap, so it's hard to overrate them.

I guess I agree with you: if you have a high-quality stainless skillet, you don't need the cast-iron pan. Things we do in cast-iron that we don't do in the All Clad pan: make cornbread, sear steaks, grill vegetables outdoors.

I find my cast iron to be a pain, and after trying hard to use it well for years. Slow to heat, slow to recover, touchy to season, and heavy as all hell. I've gone back to either stainless or nonstick, depending.

It's kind of like driving an old F350 as a daily driver. Sometimes its just what you need, most of the time it's a heavy, ponderous maintenance nightmare.

To all those pointing to cast iron, have you tried using carbon steel pans? I hear that they have many of the same properties as cast iron pans (they're seasoned the same way) but weigh less and heat up/down more quickly. I have been thinking of picking up a carbon steel skillet or wok as my next kitchen addition.

I think I picked one of these up at a garage sale and thought they were regular steel. Mine kept rusting and didn't think to season it. I threw it out, figuring the 3 bucks I spent on it was wasted on a bad product, but I guess I just wasted it in general, lol.

I like cast iron, and have a couple pieces. The problem is I feel like it's an addition since there are things you can't do in them and didn't fit with the minimum viable gourmet kitchen. Cooking with tomatoes would be probably the most frequent thing I need non-cast iron for.

And yeah, I laughed at the whisk thing too.

I do spaghetti sauce in a cast iron all the time. Am I doing something wrong?

You know, I've always read that cast iron (even properly seasoned) reacts with acid and as a result is bad for both your food and the iron, but to be honest I haven't tried it. Googling around some people say their food tastes metallic. Some say it's fine.


I do it all the time. If your pan is seasoned properly, tomatoes aren't acidic enough to react.

In any case, the result isn't bad for you -- it just tastes bad.

Unless you're talking about enameled cast iron (Le Creuset, Staub), then acidic ingredients like tomatoes will remove the seasoning from your pan. It shouldn't hurt your sauce, but re-seasoning your gear is a pain in the ass.

Not really, in my experience. I had a rusted pan I pulled out of the basement, spent 20 minutes scrubbing and rinsing, a couple of rounds in and out of the oven with vegetable shortening, and was non-stick enough already to easily cook eggs. Am I missing a step I should be doing?

Wow, you +1 for teaching me something new. I've been using stupid vegetable oil on a cloth all these years to season my cast iron, and it's the biggest pain in the ass. I never even thought to use shortening.

I think I just read about it on a blog, and I'm pretty new to cast iron myself. But from what I understand, any fat should work.

In theory, the acidity of the tomatoes breaks down the seasoning of the cast iron.

Isn't it the opposite? Doesn't seasoning of cast iron allow you to cook acid foods? Washing your pan is what breaks down seasoning, but also, seasoning is easy to fetishize. Just wipe the pan down with canola and stick it in a fast oven. Seasoning cast iron is even easier than sharpening a knife.

Correct. A properly seasoned pan creates a barrier between the food and the iron. How do you know if your pan is properly seasoned? If you can't soak it overnight in water and/or air dry it without seeing rust, it's not seasoned properly.

Thank you! Turns out my skillet has lost some of its seasoning. Whether this is because or in spite of how we use it for spaghetti sauce so much remains to be seen.

Takes a lot longer though. I don't want to bake a pan for 2 hours every time I use it.

I find cast iron very easy to take care of -- much easier than non-stick (but perhaps we use our non-stick for only messy things). Dump out the food, wipe it out, put back on the still-warm burner, put in some oil.

If something particularly hard to clean was in there, I do what scouts do on a campout: put an inch of water (with a little oil) in and set it to boil, then go back to the "wipe it out" step above.

True, but cast iron should be seasoned. If one doesn't season the cast iron, they are screwed anyway.

Seconding the whisk. I have a very minimalist kitchen, and its one of the few things I feel I'm missing.

Line by line, my disagreements:

- You don't need cookbooks. The internet is better in terms of 'MVK', and the best cookbook is the one you make yourself.

- Get rid of half of the pots and the dutch oven. Cast iron is indeed the greatest.

- A stand mixer is nice, but by no means is it Minimum Viable.

- If you insist on getting a mixing bowl that isn't a regular bowl, don't get three of them.

- Ditch the whisk.

- Saying an ice cream maker is part of an MVK is like saying cool t-shirts is part of a startup's MVP.

That being said, I really like this article.


Cookbooks: he's recommending specific cookbooks which he thinks will make you a better cook. As he says, lots of them are crap, as are lots of the recipes and tutorials on the internet. You're paying for curation here more than the content itself.

Pots: Keep in mind that a "10 piece" pot set is really one 5 pots or pans, which is not that much. Having the correct size pot or pan for the quantity of food that you're heating makes a big difference in how things turn out. (For example, when sauteing onions & vegetables you really want a fairly full single layer.)

Whisk: I'm sorry, but it really is an essential tool

Ice Cream Maker: I completely agree, and I'd be inclined to ditch the whole "desserts" section.

Note, that I think there's some debate about what "minimum viable" means here. The stand mixer falls in this grey area, I think. You can probably get away with a good hand mixer (as he acknowledges) but the stand mixer is more versatile and time saving.

Well, the point was minimum viable kitchen for cooking gourmet food. The way I defined it, I felt I couldn't exclude desserts and a stand mixer and get there, though I'll be honest I didn't go through all 300 pages of the book and count. You certainly could leave those out and still cook most of the stuff in the book.

Also internet recipes are a minefield for someone learning to actually cook. I'd say at least 90% of them are garbage, and I might be spotting them a 9.

* The Internet is full of terrible cooking information, and if you don't have any authoritative sources at all, it's hard to separate the good from the bad. You should have one trustworthy cookbook.

* You will be unhappy if your only cooking surface is cast iron. I agree that you can do without the dutch oven but it is the "pan you can do without" that is the most valuable; it is the immediate runner up to the the "list of must-have pans".

* Strong disagree on your mixing bowl point. You need lots of mixing bowls. I have 8 and wish I had more. For instance: muffins and pancakes both want two mixing bowls at a minimum, and three if you don't want to use a service bowl to separate eggs. Sautees want a mixing bowl for proteins and mixing bowl for prepped vegetables. Dinner prep usually wants one mixing bowl just to throw onion skins and wrappers in. Mixing bowls are lightweight, stackable, cheap, and supremely useful, and it makes no sense to chintz on them.

* I don't even know how to respond to "ditch the whisk" unless you're one of those old French guys who can make a hollandaise with a fork. You need a whisk.

I'm French. I'm 44. I can make mayo with a fork. So can my son who's 7.

My mom is 81. She can make oeufs en neige with a fork. That I can't.

The difference is speed. Mayo doesn't need speed. It's just about fat molecules being elongated.

I think it's genetic. I can't make mayo with a fork, but I have heard of you mystical Gallic folk who can and I believe you.

> I can't make mayo with a fork

Yes you can. You just need to run the fork wide in the bowl (with firmness) and pour the oil VERY SLOW. It helps if someone else pours the oil so that you have one hand left to hold the bowl still.

> The Internet is full of terrible cooking information, and if you don't have any authoritative sources at all, it's hard to separate the good from the bad.

The internet is full of terrible information in general. That's why PageRank was invented. Is there something unique about cooking information that means PageRank won't work with it?

YES. Recipes are a long-tail topic. The sites that do best in PageRank are the ones with the most recipes. The sites with the most recipes tend to either be overtly user-generated or slyly repackaged UGC. Moreover, as Patrick will explain, most people who search for prepared dishes aren't actually going to prepare them, which means Google has little incentive to ensure the tops of the SERPs are good.

I'll find the eHow "how to cook a steak" that was pegged to the top of a SERP in a bit.

Another counterexample to your belief about the miracle of PageRank: try searching for symptoms some time.

> YES. Recipes are a long-tail topic.

There are many (non-tech) long-tail topics that I've successfully searched for using Google, so I don't think this is a generalizable statement.

> The sites with the most recipes tend to either be overtly user-generated or slyly repackaged UGC.

I can't speak as to the average user, but I am usually able to easily ignore/sift through such sites. They pop up frequently in all kinds of searches these days, and is one of the clearest signs of Google's results going downhill.

That said, I have no personal experience looking for recipes online, as my cooking knowledge was largely learned from my mom, and I've had no reason to turn to any other sources so far.

> Another counterexample to your belief about the miracle of PageRank: try searching for symptoms some time.

When did I suggest that I believe that PageRank is miraculous? It has its pitfalls, just like any other algorithm.

And I've actually searched for symptoms several times and successfully self-diagnosed (confirmed later during a doctor's visit). So this example of yours doesn't hold up. My success there may have been swayed by my professional biomedical knowledge though.

I had a cold a few weeks back, and a coworker found me a search term that prominently featured cerebrospinal fluid leakage as a possible cause for runny nose. Just to establish how far apart you and I are on the usability of the Internet for this.

Oh, it's definitely possible to find all kinds of wacky and incorrect theories at the top of a SERP. Remember that PageRank depends on internet users being (mostly) correct. And oftentimes users are not. Take any political topic as an example. But this is generally solvable by phrasing your query correctly.

But you can still sometimes see this problem with medical topics because heavy-handed government regulation has largely stifled innovation in the medical industry. New technology adoption in the industry is extremely slow, and from my own professional experience, I can tell you that getting doctors to do something as simple as type their notes (so they're available to patients online) instead of handwriting them is akin to pulling teeth.

The protectionism that has resulted from constant lobbying by the AMA has resulted in lots of doctors being able to avoid the adoption of new technology, so discussion of medical topics online by knowledgeable individuals is rarer than in other fields. Perhaps this will change as baby boomers age and medical costs skyrocket, but I'm definitely not holding my breath.

Also, there is of course the issue of most people searching for this stuff not being very knowledgeable, so it creates some confusion on the part of the searcher, what with all the new vocabulary. As for your cerebrospinal fluid example, it's very possible that I see those sorts of results, but I just tune them out due to how absurd they are.

Edit: you were probably talking about CSF rhinorrhea[0]. As it says:

> Most cases of CSF rhinorrhea occur after major accidents where the bones of the face and skull experience significant trauma.

Ergo, if you haven't been in a major accident recently, disregard. Doesn't seem that complicated to me.

0: http://uvahealth.com/services/skull-base-program/conditions-...

Wondering what you mean by this:

> most people who search for prepared dishes aren't actually going to prepare them

I think he means that people aren't searching for dishes to actually make them, but just to see pictures/reviews of them.

Or to decide which dish they want to make, meaning, the recipe based on Hellman's mayo and a can of mushroom soup is the one that wins.

There's a couple of issues specific to cooking and recipes that I feel are worse than other general information. Lots of home cooks and unvetted recipes use unsafe cooking practices--not cooking meat long enough or getting it hot enough (or storing things cold enough), it's common to gloss over or skip important steps, online recipes they can often leave out important details that would be caught by an editor. I recipe I made the other day just asked for 2 cans of tomato puree--didn't specify the size of the cans. My mom has a few excellent recipes that just list the ingredients and you mix the amounts to taste.

None of these are problems for people comfortable enough with cooking and know what you're attempting to make, but if you're trying to learn best practices I think it's easiest to find a reputable cookbook for reference. I agree with that the author said, many cookbooks are terrible. I think it's going to get worse with self-publishing and ebooks (I'm definitely not knocking them--but I think in this case it's going to lower the quality).

To your specific point, I agree with the sibling comment about it being an aggregate for the whole site and people linking to stuff they have no intention of making.

Wow do I ever disagree on undercooking. American cooks have exactly the opposite problem, and the literature suggests our guidelines are way out of whack too.

You should have one trustworthy cookbook

I'm late to the party, but wholeheartedly agree. My most read cookbooks are:

The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Had it since graduating college 25 years ago and every page has butter/chocolate/etc stains.

The Dean & Deluca Cookbook David Rosengarten. Simple recipes, good explanations.

Classic Home Desserts Richard Sax. Amazing collection of sweets over the last 200 years.

Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen A lot of people think he's a blowhard. Whatever, the food's great.

I have lots more, but those are probably the most thumbed-through.

OK, one more :-)

The Village Baker's Wife too lazy to get up and look up the author, but it's a fair to good pastry book.

The really important thing about the above books is that they build a knowledge base. Once you have that, along with some experience, it's much easier to evaluate online recipes and see if they even have a chance of being good.

Ditch the whisk? A whisk is perfect for controlled aeration of a substance. A fork lacks the necessary dispersion area. What else would you suggest using to cream whites or eggs that is in his list (if you're also getting rid of the stand mixer)?

Seconding this, I skipped the whisk for my kitchen, and it's fucking impossible to whisk stuff with a fork.

Out of curiosity, why would one skip a whisk? They're cheap. They take up very little room. I use one so much I bought a second.

I didn't know I would need it, and was buying only the very minimum number of things. (For example, I also didn't get a garlic masher which is small and cheap—less useful, but again I didn't know how useful a whisk was yet.)

I have a whisk but I always cream whites with a fork because it works better. Whisks do work better for other things though (e.g. batters, mayonaise). Also, if you're doing any baking then one of those rubbery plastic spatulas are invaluable (and cheap).

I don't know what "creaming egg whites" means, but if you're going to have any electrics, have one that does a good job of whipping egg whites and don't waste time doing it by hand.

Interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meringue

There's way more to meringue than I realized.

If that's what creaming whites means (adding cream of tartar for meringue), I probably just missed it because I think meringue is yucky. :)

That's not what I meant at least. For meringue you definitely want a mixer, especially for the Italian variety.

I was taking over his terminology, but you're right whipping is the correct term.

It depends on what you need it for. With my electric mixer it's easy to overwhip. It's probably just silly nostalgia and habit though (my grandmother used to whip cream with a fork).

I'm mostly with you, but I think almost anybody who needs a guide to buy kitchen basics also needs a couple of cookbooks.

Fishing for recipes on the Internet is an advanced skill. You need to know how to cook reasonably well in order to evaluate the recipes and adjust each one to your situation.

In contrast, something like Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" gives a lot of basic advice, has a set of consistent recipes with clear variations, and is carefully designed to avoid confusion.

And for the nerdy, the Bittman book is available in a Kindle version, so it need not take up any physical space.

Bittman's got a bit of a shaky reputation. Good writer. Not super authoritative, though. If you're going to do the "one cookbook only" thing, I strongly recommend the Cooks Illustrated books. One nice thing about them: they publish new ones every year, so you can get one a few years old for very cheap.

If you want to be "interesting" about this: get Ruhlman's Twenty (which is 20 core techniques with sample recipes) and Ratio, and then use the Internet for everything else. If you read Twenty, you'll probably be able to spot bullshit on the Internet.

I agree. The net is quite useful for some very specific things. For instance I once wanted to know how to make a pumpkin pie with heavy cream rather than condensed milk and found a thread on chowhound about how to substitute. Or how much sugar/gelatin/alcohol you need to use to get your sorbet to the right consistency.

But as far as going to AllRecipes and following instructions, you can do it, and you'll end up with something edible, but you're not learning to cook properly doing so.

Ditch the whisk? Whisks are almost as important as spatulas. Also, what is wrong with the steel bowls for mixing? What do you call a regular bowl, a rice bowl? I need something that will hold several cups of flour. And I need three because I need to actually to mix different things at the same time.

Also, why get rid of the dutch oven, but keep the cast iron? A dutch oven is cast iron. I am confused.

> You don't need cookbooks. The internet is better in terms of 'MVK', and the best cookbook is the one you make yourself.

You're talking about recipe collections, not cookbooks, and for those you are probably right.

But a good cookbook doesn't just contain recipes, it contains basic cooking knowledge, it contains general recipes that you can use to make actual meals. And you'll be using those guidelines over and over again when cooking.

If you've ever spent some time reading some of the really good cookbooks you'll realize just how valuable they can be. While a 'minimum viable kitchen' may be a misleading title, the author is focusing an audience interested in more gourmet, high quality cooking. The difference between the recipes found in a cookbook by say Thomas Keller or David Chang and those found at recipes.com or even foodnetwork.com are significant for the 'foodie' cooks.

I also think a standing mixer is a luxury, but I've upvoted everyone who's said you cannot ditch the whisk. Whisks are important. Enough said.

Many comments on this thread have been about knives. I've owned quite a few knives over the span of years of professional cooking. A really good chef knife will really only be appreciated by those who cook either professionally or really seriously as a hobby. A soccer mom who chops onions once or twice a week to cook dinner very likely won't know/feel the difference between a 50$ Whustoff or Henckel vs a $250 Shun.

The other important thing to know about knives is if you do decide to spring for a good quality blade, maintaining it is really important. Sharpening with a whetstone with the appropriate grit and honing the blade before each use will keep your sharp edge for much longer.

All in all the article is good. All-clad is hands down the best quality and most durable cookwear out there. Although I don't think using a dutch oven to make sauces is a great idea.

Maybe it's because I'm confused about what a "regular bowl" is (I assume you mean salad/cereal bowl), but I don't understand how you can cook without mixing bowls. I use mixing bowls for all kinds of things from pancake batter to tossing veggies for roasting to putting stuff in as I prepare it. I also sometimes use it as sort of a crappy double boiler for melting stuff at low temperatures. I would want at least two so I can do more than one thing, and really three so I can have a couple different sizes.

FWIW, the lid of the Lodge dutch oven functions as a 10" pan if you flip it... I'd guess that would work with any dutch oven with a flat top (and for all I know it's commonplace).

Missing the whisk renders any good kitchen disabled - you need a good whisk to make sauces, egg whites etc.

One mans' MVK = another mans' WTF.

My MVK? A refrigerator, a knife, and a cutting board.

A little background...

90% of what we eat = raw produce. So it's pretty straightforward. We just eat produce at home and an occasional hot meal out. Every meal at home is either fresh fruit or a salad. (I haven't eaten anything other than fruit before noon for 25 years.) We have lots of nuts & seeds, cereals, snacks, and many wonderful things in our fridge.

We eat out at restaurants several times per week and zero in on our favorites. (Living in Miami, we'll probably run out of fantastic options in about 30 years.) Most of the places we go serve food far better than what we could or would want to prepare and most definitely satisfy our "foodie" desires. Miami also offers many foods we would have never even dreamed about.

This was a nice post for beginning foodies (Thank you, Matt), but these days, MV<anythings> asymphtotically approach zero. In most places, you really can eat lots of delicious and healthy food without all that stuff.

(By the way, anyone need a stove, range, or microwave with 0 miles on them?)

If you're eating out most nights except for the ones where you eat salad, you don't have a viable kitchen.

Sure I do. You don't need to cook food.

We eat better than most people I know who do cook. Come on over the next time you're in Miami and we'll show you. :-)

If that's your perspective, why even have a kitchen? You can put a fridge in any room. Replace one of your countertops with a stationary bicycle and add a power rack; call it an "eat-in gym".

It's all love with this comment, you know. Come to Chicago sometime and we'll make you ceviche.

Ceviche doesn't require much more than a fridge and a knife too ;)

The guy did say that he's trying to cook his way through Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. So that will definitely define his MVK.

Personally, I'm trying to cook my way through Weber's Big Book of Grilling. So I don't even need the kitchen, nyahh. To each his own, I guess.

Would you mind sharing some of your favorite places? There's lots of food places in Miami, but I find most of them to be rather heavy on the stomach :-)

Sure. We prefer healthy & delicious, so "heavy on the stomach" doesn't work. Close to midtown, off the top of my head: Morgan's, Michael's, Best Friends, Lost & Found, Uva, Books & Books Cafe. There's even lot's of cheap, light, tasty food at chains like Lime, Sakawa, Pasha's, Pollo Tropical, Pizza Rustica, Salad Creations, and of course, the buffet at Whole Foods.

This article is horribly titled (not the HN one, the article's actual title). The full quote from the article (Minimum Viable Kitchen (MVK) for creating gourmet food) would have been better.

The thesis statement is also helpful to understand what he is trying to achieve:

  I define the Minimum Viable Kitchen as one that can 
  allow you to create over 75% of the recipes that are
  in what I consider to be the best cookbooks for 
  home chefs.

I get that, but also i'm going to echo the points of the other folks up here that MV is totally an "eye of the beholder" metric.

For cooking most western foods, for example, i think he totally misses the mark in the pots/pans section. Having worked in a 'new american' kitchen, i can confidently say that buying cheap aluminum/stainless 8", 10" sautee pans, an 8" nonstick, a 1pt saucepan, a 2qt pot, (~$9 ea at fsw or whatever) and a cheap $30 dutch oven covers the vast majority of of cooking needs if you throw in a few pieces of steel wool and let the sheet tray pass for whatever baking.

the notion that heavy pans for 'even heat distribution' are essential is true at some echelon of gourmet cuisine, but getting to know how your pan behaves on your stove is infinitely more valuable and cost effective than buying a set of all-clads. case in point, buy a cast-iron fry pan and discover its 'even heat' characteristic still includes a hotspot right under the burner.

75% of all recipes don't require all that much, though, it's the 25% that add much of the weird equipment overhead (i'm looking at you, spring form pan!)

Actually, my cast iron pan has a donut shaped hot spot, with a cold spot in the middle.

My 12" allclad fry on the other hand, not so donut shaped.

The only part he got right imo is the one most people get wrong; knives. Lots of my friends have tons of them, I have 3, a good chefs knife and a good flexible knife for boning and filleting and then a throwaway paring knife (ie it is so cheap that if I feel like it's not sharpening up well after a few months I throw it away). Lots of other stuff I've never had... I mean an ice cream making as minimum? And a stand mixer? Elbow grease costs nothing, as someone probably rightly once said.

The takeaway possibly is that minimum viable anything is relative to the expectations of the observer. Also that over-thinking things can lead to excess.


You'd be surprised at the crap knives people buy. Not only do cheap knives dull quickly, they also are composed of multiple pieces. Dull knives lead to scarring injuries (whereas sharp knives lead to a clean cut that most likely won't scar) and knives that have multiple pieces will be harder to clean and therefore contain more bacteria.

If anyone needs a recommendation, I swear by Global [1] knives. They are sharp as...well, anything I've ever seen. They also stay sharp for a long time. Yes, they will cost you a lot of money (but they're usually on sale somewhere out there) but over the long term you are saving money by not having to buy so many knives.

I respectfully disagree with having a throw-away knife because a knife is a sharp cutting instrument that is supposed to be an extension of your arm/hand. If you are always purchasing new knives, you are changing the feel of the knife and you will change how you unconsciously use it (also known as muscle memory). Especially with a paring knife, use the same one because the 'paring' action usually involves you cutting towards your wrist and you want to make sure that you don't accidentally suicide yourself.

My goto knives are:

- G-4: Oriental cook's knife (http://www.global-knife.com/products/g/product_g-4.html)

- GSF-49: utility knife [I use it as a paring knife] (http://www.global-knife.com/products/gs/product_gsf-49.html)

One other key piece of advice for knives: cutting boards. NEVER NEVER NEVER use glass cutting boards. Tempered glass is very strong and you are just damaging the blade by cutting on it. Use wood (and clean it well) or, at the very least, plastic.

[1] http://www.global-knife.com/

I use Global Pros (and have ~20 of them), but I'd recommend the $20 Victorinox chef's knife (http://www.amazon.com/Victorinox-Swiss-8-Inch-Fibrox-Straigh... -- get the 8 or 10 inch), and a smaller knife (like the matching one). I have some $4 Cold Steel VG-10 serrated knives which I love, since they're super super tough, too (I use them for opening coconuts, etc.

Also, get a great pair of shears (which come apart for cleaning), such as http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002IMMEW

You know I almost recommended the 10" Global chef's knife because I know a ton of professional chefs use them, but it was a budget exercise and I think most home chefs can just sharpen the Fibrox every couple months.

On blenders, I've never had luck with a < $100 blender and my vitamix would be on my short list of "If you were stuck on an island with 1 kitchen electric ..."

I cook a lot (for a family of 5) and my minimum/essential kitchen items for us are:

- 2 knives (I use Global but I like Victorinox too) + Henckels sharpener

- Cast iron skillet

- Wok

- Small non-stick pan (my wife prefers little/no oils)

- 2 Pots

- 1 steamer basket

- 1 baking sheet

- 1 pizza stone (or some unglazed tiles from Home Depot)

- KitchenAid stand mixer

- Vitamix 5200 blender

- 1 large Rubbermaid tub/lid for rising bread dough

- 1 slow cooker / crock pot (you can get em for as little as $20)

As for books, I've collected a few here and there but the ones I refer to the most are The Professional Chef (referenced in article), The Magnolia Bakery cookbooks, and Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (amazing bread a pizza dough for busy people).




Thanks for these great suggestions.

What do you think about slow cookers destroying vital nutrients? This is the only thing keeping me from buying one.

I read some more serious research a while back but a quick search on Google got these 2 (not so great) sources:

http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=45 http://www.livestrong.com/article/129000-slow-cookers-nutrit...

It's an interesting topic and I honestly haven't done much research on it.

I really only cook 2 things in our slow cooker: (1) meats in some sort of sauce (usually chicken or pork) which we use with chopped/raw veggies for tacos or salads and (2) steel cut oatmeal (we set it on low the night before with diced apples + cinnamon).

I feel like there is lots missing from this list that a really functional kitchen needs.

Supplies I'd add to a MVK:

Dry measuring cups/spoons, liquid measures, rubber jar opener, bottle opener, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, digital timer, oven mitts, soap (I also like Lysol wipes for quick sanitizing)

Ingredients to keep in stock:

Fridge: butter (salted for cooking, unsalted for baking), lemon, lime, whole milk or cream, eggs, soy, Worcestershire

Pantry: cooking wine, vinegar, olive and vegetable oils, salt, black pepper (peppercorns in grinder preferably), dried spices (oregano, basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, chive, dill, cumin, coriander, chili powder, red pepper, garlic powder, dried onion, or at the very least some "cheater" mixes like Adobo, Jane's Krazy, Old Bay), vanilla, nuts and nut butters, shortening

Dry ingredients: white flour, white sugar (brown optional), baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, chocolate, breadcrumbs (or make them)

Also keep around: fresh garlic, onions, quick starches (rice, couscous, pasta, potato), bread, liquid stocks (really you can make these), cheeses, other alcohols

I think you can probably get everything on my list for less than the price of the ice cream maker.


People focus a lot of the equipment, but a properly stocked pantry will get you further.

Find a canned "quick" item that is super luxurious. Keep it always stocked. It makes the simple life awesome. Mine are "elysee gherkins". Eat a sandwich? Add gherkins. Any kind of appetizer? put a small bowl of gherkins out.

Sweet, I am totally going to buy elysee gherkins the next time I see them.

My secret luxurious dessert ingredient is speculoos. I saw it on Chopped so now I have to pick it up every time I'm at Trader Joe's.

My favorite jar opener is a rubber band looped around the lid. The fat ones from asparagus work well.

I agree that measuring cups & spoons and oven mitts are a big oversight though, and the inclusion of the ice cream maker is just strange.

That's a lot closer to a dream kitchen than an "minimum viable".

the quote in the article is "This post lays out the Minimum Viable Kitchen (MVK) for creating gourmet food." - I'm guessing it is equivalent to "the Minimum Viable Garage for race car teams".

Agreed, I'd say I have half the items on that list at the most, and still manage to make good food most nights (admittedly my last soup came out like baby food).

And since it seems somewhat on topic, Hubbub are hiring developers, so if you love both food and technology we'd love to hear from you: http://developers.hubbub.co.uk/.

We provide an online delivery service for local independent food shops, because we love food too much to leave it to the supermarkets.

Definitely should have put "for gourmet cooking" or something to that effect in the title, as that was the intended purpose. Half the comments here are "you can cook with less than that" with which I agree. You just can't cook a high percentage of the stuff in a cookbook written by a guy with Michelin stars.

Title should read "The Minimum Viable Kitchen for heavy consumers"

Go and live in a developing country for a few years, see and taste the phenomenal food, then double check if you need to spend a fraction of $971

To be fair to the author, he's talking capital K kitchen. Like, you take food as a serious hobby and want to have a reasonable chance of recreating dishes from Top Chef or in culinary magazines. I don't think he's trying to make a "Minimum Viable Food Preperation System".

When I first moved across the country and needed to build up my kitchen supplies from scratch I was quite lost. I think I generally followed this nytimes article and was very happy with the results: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/dining/09mini.html?pagewan...

The nytimes author seems less fussy about things and imho has a better list for people who need a basic version of most often needed kitchen items.

This priceonomics article is pretty good. I definitely agree with the Victorinox suggestion and only buying a chef's knife and paring knife upfront. I think getting an ice cream maker is kind of ridiculous. I do think it's good to have a few basic cookbooks handy (finding good recipes on the internet is definitely an acquired skill).

One very helpful thing I haven't seen mentioned is to check out restaurant supply stores. They generally charge way less than most retail places, while their presentation isn't always as pretty they work fine (obviously, since they're used in restaurants). The only issue I've had is that the size of things necessary for a restaurant can be too big for my home use.

I second the advice by Mark Bittman, the "minimalist". A small kitchen does not need a stand mixer (though a food processor is useful to make Indian food, among other things), and certainly not an ice-cream maker.

I like that the article is attempting to encourage people to cook more, but the premise is flawed. You don't take someone who's interested in food and tell them to read the French Laundry Cookbook. You tell them to start with Julia Child, or the Joy of Cooking, or Cooks Illustrated, or Mark Bittman. Crawl, then walk, then run.

Similarly, you don't tell a novice to spend $1000 on equipment they might never use. I've cooked "gourmet" for over a decade and I've never owned a stand mixer. You tell them to buy a good chef's knife, a good paring knife. A stock pot, a frying pan, maybe a saucepan. I have a cast iron pan but i use my nonstick pans much more often.

The difficulty in learning to cook is not in getting the right tools. It's in getting someone to overcome their fear of it. You just need to show them that it's actually not a difficult thing, that you can screw up a recipe multiple times and still have a delicious result. Make a pot of spaghetti, then a simple soup or stew, roast a chicken, fry a steak. Then go nuts making Keller's Oysters and Pearls. But only after.

The people who would find use out of many of the items listed are the same people who know what they need, anyway.

Here's my recommendation for a knife sharpener, the Lansky system: http://amzn.com/B000B8L6LI

Buy that, plus the "Ultra Fine" stone: http://amzn.com/B000B8L6MC

The Lansky system has metal guides that maintain the right honing angle for you, so you can easily get a decent edge by just following the directions in their video. So long as you treat your knives right, you should just have to do that twice a year. (No dishwasher, and don't let them bash against silverware in the drying rack and in the drawer.)

As for a knife, get something with a real high carbon steel blade. Most stainless is too soft and loses its edge.

Chicago Cutlery used to be good, but I see now they've cheaped-out on their design. (If you have the good fortune to find an older Walnut Traditions knife, make a "boat" with aluminum foil and soak the handles in mineral oil, then don't wash them so much. Oil soaked wood doesn't need too much washing.)

This one looks promising: http://amzn.com/B0000CFDD5

Seconded, I have that Lansky set and it's the best sharpening system I've used, and very fast and accurate, whether you're grinding a blade to a new angle or touching up an existing edge.

I thought stainless knives were actually too hard and therefore can't get as good of an edge to begin with? Could be remembering wrong though...


* Strong recommend on the Fibrox knife. If you don't already have a serious knife, don't buy one; get the Fibrox and use it for awhile. You may never want another knife, and if you ever do, you'll have a very good idea what you're looking for. Beware of knives: they're Veblen goods.

* Don't get the expensive butcher block board. Actively avoid it. If you feel like arguing about this, you're not the reader this note targets; everyone else, trust me that the butcher block board is a lot of maintenance for not a lot of practical difference. Plastic and laminate boards work great, are cheap, and you can throw them in the dishwasher.

* Get two boards of different colors and designate one for meat. This minimizes accidental cross-contamination and also makes it easier to handle multiple prep steps since a board that was used for carrots and onions can just be rinsed off to reuse for shallots or garlic.

* I'd recommend against the knife sharpener. It's hard and a little time consuming to do a good job sharpening knives, and if you're not ready to commit to learning how, you're better off bringing your knives in every month or so; it takes just 2 minutes for a shop to do it. You probably won't sharpen your own knives even if you buy the equipment, but having it, you'll convince yourself you don't need to have your knives sharpened professionally. Bad sharpeners can also mess up your knives.

* Strong disagree on "just get 10 piece set" of pots/pans. You need a large sautee, a saucier (which will double as rice and veg cooking), a soup pot, and a _small_ nonstick omelette pan, and nothing else. Except for the omelette pan, which you'll be replacing every year or so, the quality of your pans will matter a lot. I like All-Clad, like everyone else.

* If you want to optimize a little, get a Lodge Enamelled Dutch Oven and use it for soup and also braises.

* Get the cheapest All-Clad on offer. All-Clad's multiple lines are mostly about price discrimination.

* Unless you eat smoothies, most people will use their Kitchenaid Mixer more than they'll use any blender. You can safely skip the blender! People geek out on blenders, and, what's more tricky, venders aren't Veblen goods; their performance really does scale with their price. Which means you'll easily be convinced to drop a lot of money on a blender. If you're unsure whether you want to allocate a lot of dollars to a Vitamix (we love ours, but...), get an immersion ("stick") blender instead. They're very cheap and they'll do most of the culinary things you'd do with the stand blender.

* Again regarding mixers: there is only one brand. You want a Kitchenaid.

* If you're not going to bake, you can skip the mixer.

* If you get a stick blender, you can get one with attachments and skip the hand mixer.

* Nerds need slow cookers. Here again I disagree with Matt. Normal people can get away with not having a crock pot, but if you're looking to set up a kitchen that will get you cooking more and eating In-N-Out less, you need the crock pot. They're cheap, and more importantly, they allow you to queue up a meal in the morning and come home to it done.

* Hard to disagree with Matt on the utilities. You need a scale. You need a stack of light metal mixing bowls (do not waste time and money on heavy mixing bowls). Microplanes are great. You want a box grater. You want a thermometer. If you're making room in your budget for optimization: the Thermapen is totally worth it. Nobody I know who has one fails to wax poetical about them. I rarely use the rolling pin. I disagree about the silicone tongs; get all-metal ones, but get a good pair. Matt didn't say "fish spatula" but trust me on this, you'll use it all the time. If you didn't know you needed a good whisk I don't know how I can help you.


One thing Matt didn't list here that has more or less changed my life: go to Amazon and get the largest bulk plastic deli cup box they'll sell you. Deli cups are amazing. You need deli cups. I don't mean "you need 1 or 2 deli cups". I mean you need a stack of 60 somewhere in your kitchen, and another 300 or so in a closet.

Stab at a true minimum viable kitchen (there are other minimal configurations):

- Cuisinart 3qt sautee ($52)

- Large pot ($25, Cuisinart)

- Small cheap nonstick omelette pan ($20, Cuisinart)

- Fibrox chef's knife ($26)

- Metal fish spatula ($12, OXO)

- 2 plastic cutting boards ($30 for 2, generic)

- 2 light metal mixing bowls ($20 for 2, generic)

- 1 4-cup pyrex measuring cup ($10)

- Balloon whisk ($10, OXO)

- Large wooden spoon ($5, Calphalon)

- Large slotted spoon ($10, OXO)

- Tbsp/tsp measuring spoon ($3, generic)

- Stick blender ($45, Cuisinart, w/ whisk)

- Pepper grinder ($10, generic)

- Thermometer ($20, generic)

- Scale ($20, generic)

Total: $305

I left out consumables, but yeah on deli cups.

Couple minor rebuttals:

* The sharpener I recommended takes seconds to use and can't really be messed up. Cook's Illustrated says it works as well as an electric one that is much more difficult and more time consuming. I can sharpen my knife with it in less time than you can even safely package yours to take to get sharpened, and the Fibrox needs to be sharpened somewhat often. Seriously, buy that sharpener and try it. I'll give you the $9 back if you don't like.

* I don't think a 10 piece set costs more than the individual pieces you described typically. They count lids at pieces, so it's really more like a 6 piece set. I frequently need multiple saucepans or skillets when cooking so I really don't think it's overkill. (I'd recommend one saute and one skillet at minimum). You need a small saucepan and a large. I would agree that the first thing I'd spend extra on would be All-Clad pans. Most restaurants, even good ones, use cheapo aluminum pans though, so I don't think I'd call it minimum viable. (I probably should have recommended cheap aluminum pans from a restaurant supply store honestly.)

* I'd pick the blender over the stand mixer any day, and I almost never make beverages with it. It makes awesome soups. Aerates a quiche. Makes homemade mayo. Purees fruit for sorbets or granitas so well you don't even have to strain out the seed chunks. I don't think I'd do any of those with an immersion blender.

I have so much better luck with the stick blender for mayo and hollandaise that I actively avoid the standing blender for fat-based sauces. Ultimately, if you're not going to bake much and you're not going to make beverages a lot with it, I say ditch both the mixer and the blender and get a decent stick blender instead.

A large straight-sided sautee does double duty as a skillet.

Interesting how neither of us think the food processor is a vital purchase. Especially because I use mine all the time, but, yeah, not in my "MVK".

PS to everyone else: if you don't make mayo, you should try; it's extremely easy and very very good. 1 egg yolk, salt, tbsp of tart liquid, maybe some dijon. Mix, then slowly pour 1 cup oil while running blender. Done. Got some sriracha? Mix in after you get the emulsion going. Amazing.

And use grapeseed oil! Expensive but amazing.

I use my food processor occasionally. Pie crusts, etc. But most stuff I'd rather do in a Vitamix.

I guess maybe I love my blender so much because I love soups and sorbets. And quiche. I use it probably at least twice weekly. And going through that cook book, there are a lot of things that call for it.

And holy shit we both forgot fish sauce. You can't call your kitchen viable without fish sauce!

I left out all consumables. It was 3500 words without going into the pantry.

Any specific recommendations there?

Vietnamese. It isn't expensive. Put it in everything.

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned yet is that most of the high-end makers of pots and pans (all clad, le creuset, etc.) also sell their "seconds" at significant discounts. You can get them online and at some of their outlet stores. The defects that make them seconds rarely impact their ability to cook.

My opinion on pots and pans is that you should consider non-stick pans to be disposable. Even the best ones will have their teflon worn down over time. So I don't waste money on high-end teflon pans. I buy heavy duty aluminum teflon pans from restaurant supply stores. My personal preference for non-teflon pans is enameled cast iron and/or clad stainless steel pans. These pans will last a lifetime. So people should buy ones they're comfortable spending.

If you don't like eggs, you can also do without the nonstick pan. That's all you'll ever really use it for. Even fish works fine in a well oiled sautee.

If eggs are the only reason for a non-stick pan, you can skip it. I make my eggs (omeletes, scrambled eggs, etc) in a tri-ply calphalon frying pan without much butter or oil (no more than .5 Tbsp) and cleanup is a breeze. The secret is to use room-temperature eggs (this is true of protein in general). If you don't have enough time to let your eggs warm up, just fill a bowl with warm tap water, put the eggs in and by the time you're done the rest of your prep the eggs are the right temp.

+1 on the rest of your recommendations though. A good knife and set of pans (all tri-ply or anodized aluminum) helped improve my cooking skills a lot.

You don't have to keep your eggs in the fridge at all if you consume them in less than a week or so.

Or if you don't like cleaning. I can usually clean a non-stick pan with a wipe of a paper towel. Unless you're making a pan sauce, you usually can't clean a non-teflon pan as easy.

"the Fibrox needs to be sharpened somewhat often."

That's exactly why people say the Fibrox is cheap. Spend $100 on a good knife, and you won't have to sharpen it more than a couple of times a year, if that.

It's really worth spending about $100 on a knife. Beyond that, you're paying for fancy handles and/or damascus steel. Too much below that, and you're getting an inferior product.

As it turns out my wife is quite a good cook (no she doesn't pay me to say that :-) I somehow managed to make one of the best purchases in my life when I bought her a Kitchenaid 4.5qt mixer for her Birthday back in the early 80's. At the time these mixers were actually made by Hobart which makes professional mixers for bakeries, and god help them they just could not make an inferior mixer if their life depended on it. Then in the early 2000's Kitchenaid switched vendors for their 'entry level' mixers and the quality suffered greatly. The priceonomics guys could show you this by pricing out Hobart Kitchenaids vs non-Hobart Kitchenaids on ebay. The good news is, you can get a 20 year old Hobart Kitchenaid mixer and restore it to 'as new' condition, parts are readily available and they are pretty easy to work on.

On the matter of crock pots and slow cookers, that's a redundant piece of equipment. This list already includes a dutch oven, which you can use for the same purpose. The other piece of equipment which you already have is an oven. As long as you've done the work to calibrate your oven (get an oven thermometer), you have what you need.

What temperature is a 5 on the slow cooker? Who knows? 200 F is pretty easy to understand.

A few comments:

- Stick blenders, at $20, are a steal.

- Kitchenaid is a good mixer brand, but Breville also gets very high marks.

- If you're going to bake even infrequently, the rolling pin is non-optional. A good solid rolling pin can also be used for whacking things (e.g. butter you want to soften but not melt) and as a cylindrical mold.

There are probably "better" stand mixers than Kitchenaid, but you want to be in the Kitchenaid ecosystem. Having a non-Kitchenaid mixer is like working in the receivables department of a Fortune 500 company and using Linux + OpenOffice.

We have a pricy Vitamix blender, but I use my stick blender much more often regardless.

Possibly that's very US-centric advice? I have a Kenwood stand mixer which has better specs than Kitchenaids, which historical precedent suggests will last for decades and which has a large ecosystem of available attachments (I don't know how large in comparison, but frankly for some of the more esoteric things one is better off buying a dedicated tool anyway).

I'm sure a Kitchenaid would have been a great purchase too, but there are definitely multiple viable choices here.

We bought a refurbished KitchenAid mixer a couple of years ago. It's pretty big. I don't know the model right now. We made pasta for the first time last week. Threw a bag of semolina down on the counter; cracked some eggs on it and, with a very little water kneaded for a long time. It was very stiff.

We started making spaghetti with the meat grinder extruded attachment. Half way through the batch the mixer started making a grinding noise. Turns out we stripped every damn tooth off a 45deg gear in the box. Best pasta I've ever eaten!!!

I cleaned the gear box out and ordered new gears, gasket, and a ring. I'm putting it back together as soon as the grease comes in. I'm not sure how I'll make homemade pasta next time though.

If you make such a stiff dough then knead by hand. I did the same thing to my Kitchenaid a few years ago when kneading a too-large batch of challah. I have not damaged the replacement sacrificial plastic gear again (it's designed so just that cheap component will fail without causing more damage). I have taken apart lots of machinery and the inside of that Kitchenaid was beautifully made. I hope you repacked the grease when you reassembled it.

For pastamaking, I have an Atlas hand cranked pasta roller/cutter with various size attachments I bought over 20 years ago. It' all steel construction and will probably work for another 20 years.

I've never heard them called "stick" before, but I was going to chime in that immersion blenders are more useful in everyday life (plus you don't have to wash anything else - puree that soup right in the pot you cooked it in).

An empty wine bottle filled partly with water can substitute for a rolling pin (minus the "whacking things" use case you outlined) for people who really don't do much baking.

We have a Vic Firth one that gets used about a half dozen times a day (my girlfriend has been on a year-long hardcore baking addiction...which while almost as costly as a meth addiction at least has the nice side-effect of keeping us in an embarrassment of breads, cookies, and pies).

Another +1 for the Fibrox; it's great.

I have that Accusharp sharpener. It might be worth the nine bucks. It has yet to convince me. I'm going to try taking my dull knives to the local pro shop and see how much better life can get.

The Thermapen is the greatest.

Put me on the team that wants a food processor, but then again I'm a baker who is fond of pie, which is the killer app for the food processor:


The processor's also good for pesto, though, and pesto is awesome.

There is no silicone spatula on this list! I guess it's true that I'm a baker and therefore use it more. But, still, I regard mine as an essential.

I'll add this to your list:

- buy your All Clad pots at Bed, Bath & Beyond with a 20% off coupon

Note: I haven't tried this in a some time; they may have discontinued it. You can get a coupon online, in the mail, on eBay...

Yeah, I've done the same thing with Calphalon. My wife and I also went to a Calphalon outlet store to complete our registry, and got some ridiculous deal. I don't remember the details, but I think we ended up saving like $500 because the people at the outlet store were nice and felt like giving us newlyweds the employee price.

Anyway, I guess my point is: don't pay full price for cookware, you can probably get it for less somehow.

Don't those usually say they specifically exclude All-Clad?

Actually if you want the cheaper line, Home Goods or TJ Max has good deals on them.

They may but in practice they allow it. I've bought two sets, both with discounts, so far.

Just a note about the pots and pans. All-Clad is nice, but also very expensive. After seeing a few recommendations on reddit, I picked up a Tramontina set from walmart.com (weird, I know). I love them. They're stainless steel, high quality, TryPly-clad pans, and you can pick up an 8-piece (5 total pans + lids) set for ~$130.

This is something I'd go look to Cooks Illustrated for. My only real issue is, don't buy the sets. The pots & pans you need are specific. You definitely don't need 8 of them.

Cooks Illustrated doesn't like Tramontina; they claim they heat unevenly and require more oil. They "Recommend it with reservations". The "budget" brand Cooks Illustrated likes is Cuisinart.

Cooks Illustrated is uneven about liking Tramontina, probably because Tramontina's product lineup is uneven. It's the top recommendation in their moderately priced 12 inch skillets from a month ago, for instance. Numerous other products of theirs are "recommended with reservations".

Agreed. In this case, it's not actually 8 pans, since they're including the lids in the count. It's actually two sauce pans, two saute pans, and a dutch oven - which is perfect for me.

So here I'd just point out that if you're going to have a dutch oven, it should be enameled cast iron.

I have learned this the hard way. I have a non-enameled Lodge dutch oven. Its main role in my kitchen is: Demonstrating the terrible effect that years of neglect has on a well-seasoned iron surface.

Oh, agreed. I use the tramontina one primarily for boiling pasta. I have a cast iron dutch oven for things that actually require a dutch oven.

I've found some good pans in the second-run stores, like the Marshall's and TJ Maxx family. They may have some cosmetic defects, like a scratch on the outer surface.

The problem with these stores is they have inconsistent stock, which changes all the time depending on what the other stores have shoved off on them.

Wal-Mart - Tramotina - if you need a multi piece set their 8 pc for 129 is a great deal with many good reviews... its so price good its ridiculous http://www.walmart.com/ip/Tramontina-8-Piece-Cookware-Set/57...

These are pretty nice, given the price. They conduct heat fairly well and are fit for induction cook-tops (which are awesome).

I'm totally curious about what you mean about deli cups and their life-changing properties. Just because they are cheap and semi-disposable? Because they stack so compactly?

Think of them like rigid zip-locs that you can also use for mise en place, to store spices and grains in your cabinet, individual portions of leftovers for eating at the office, vinegar and vegetables for pickling, and perfect portions of stock for freezing. Along with anything else you'd use a zip-loc in the fridge for.

The big thing about delis is that you'll simply save a lot more food, because they're so extremely convenient.

What size of deli cups do I need mass quantities of?

Do you use the tiny ones that take-out dipping sauce might come in? Or the ones that an order of hot-and-sour soup might come in? Or the ones that an entire Chinese entree might come in? Or the ones that a half-gallon of soup might come in?

I'm guessing your answer is "all of the above" but I'm curious.

I know where you're coming from, though, because in the last couple of years, without even consciously trying, I've noticed myself getting more and more use out of our used take-out containers. Either we were clued out before, or there's been an evolutionary leap in the quality of deli cups, such that they're now better than disposable Gladlock-type plastic containers, which in turn are better than my aging collection of Rubbermaid and Tupperware containers. They're even arguably better than my snap-closed glass storage containers, which I've liked for years because they can be reliably cleaned.

The cups I use are about the size rice comes in from a Chinese or Mexican restaurant, or half the size an order of hot & sour soup comes in. Think large coffee mug.

Before you run out and spend money on pans, do yourself a favor and spend some time with an induction cooktop. You can get a single element hob for less than $100 that's reasonably portable, easy to store and useable on a counter top. You'll want a large element, but even a 4 inch one is an eye opening introduction to this amazing cooking technology. I've always cooked over flame (and still consider red glowing coals superior to anything), but induction is a game changer. After a year of using the hob, I replaced my gas range with induction and haven't looked back. Unfortunately, that meant half my pans went into storage, being aluminum or nonmagnetic stainless steel. Many cheap pans work well with induction, including cast iron, but a well made induction-ready pan is a thing of beauty.

Also +1 on parchment paper and Silpats. Your baking sheets and pans will last forever.

Induction burners are awesome and extremely cheap. They're not strictly cost effective to operate in the US (we have unreasonably low gas prices) but are pretty much everywhere else. The coolest thing about them is that they're completely portable; they're lightweight and they generate very little ambient heat. You could bring one to your office to make omelettes, if not for the cleanup problem afterwards.

As an experiment, I bought a Max Burton Delux 6200 1800-watt portable model (110V) about 3 years ago (from amazon, around $80 at the time). I love it. It boils water in my kettle much faster than our 220V electric-coil stove burner, and even marginally faster than a propane burner we used in the past. The heat is nice and even (though also a function of the pan itself -- our induction-ready pans are a notch nicer than our older pans) and turning it off means instant heat reduction. I've had far fewer incidents of burning or scorching with the induction unit.

Highly recommended.

I think the post is great, but he made an assumption that wasn't stated and might cause all of us to disagree.

He picked a cuisine without saying which one.

A MVK will have different sets of equipment depending on the cuisine you choose. A Chinese kitchen will have a wok and a rice cooker, while a French kitchen will have things that you need to make bread.

The most important thing is to choose a cuisine and stick to it! There is a lot of learn from one cuisine before you move to another.

In my experience (being Chinese and born in North America), my kitchen holds a lot of stuff that i like (black bean sauce and grainy mustard) that just don't work together, but i wouldn't want to live without. (Also wok spatula and tongs if you are looking for an equipment example)

American kitchens should probably skip the wok even if they're making Chinese food, because woks are designed for a specific kind of cooktop and are outperformed by large sautee pans otherwise.

I have been told this, and therefore never owned a wok, but I'm now thinking of getting a wok anyway because Kenji (aka "J. Kenji Lopez-Alt" of SeriousEats.com) disagrees, and "follow Kenji around like a zombie and taste what he tastes" is a motto that is serving me well in life so far.

Here's Kenji's non-scientific rant on the subject:


Here's the better-equipped-with-charty-graphy-goodness version:


I am totally getting that Weber grill/wok setup.

Maybe, but I just don't feel right using a pan to make Chinese vegetables. I totally understand their conclusions, but it bothers a part of my brain.

FYI, I'm no master of the wok. Just a fool who plays with the master's tools

One of the really nice things about a wok is that liquids drain to the middle, and the centre is super hot! You really don't get that on a saute pan. Also, when you toss something with a wok spatula, everything is generally gathered in the middle. Maybe I just need to move 2 to 3 times faster in a saute pan.

There is also something Cantonese cooking called wok hei (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wok#Wok_hei). It's pretty elusive, but some dishes IMO live and die by it. I know when dishes are right when a waiter passes a plate across my face and for a brief moment, it felt like a heating element just rush past.

I disagree. We cook anything for a family of 5 with virtually nothing. Two stainless pans, a roasting tray, frying pan, 2 knives, 2x wooden spoon, metal strainer spoon, peeler, a whisk, a pyrex jug and a couple of forks.

Probably cost us < $100 as most of it was free. Same with our bone china crockery + cutlery (both were $20).

Less to wash up as well and we haven't cooked any ready meals for 10 years - we only cook from basic ingredients.

Recipe books - we own one and it's the Mary Berry baking bible because it's so easy to fuck up when baking and she does 100% bullet proof recipes.

That's similar to my kitchen as well.

These days I do have a lot of random appliances, mostly from loyalty rewards. They're handy, but the only one I regularly use is my electric mixer. No need to a stand mixer!

We purge appliances regularly. Seem to collect microwaves and bread makers from relatives who think we are poor and need them.

We make bread by hand (only takes ten mins) and everything that comes out of a microwave tastes like shit.

How do you make bread in 10 minutes?

Flatbreads in frying pan.

Actual bread takes 10 minutes of attention and about 2 hours of wall time.

Mark Bittman wrote a nice column about outfitting a "no-frills kitchen" over at the NYT. I came across it via a review of knives over at the wirecutter. I can recommend both.

NYT article: <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/dining/09mini.html?_r=1...;

The Wirecutter review: <http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/a-great-chefs-knife/>;

I love that Bittman article! I think it's much closer to the idea of a 'minimum viable kitchen' for someone whose just starting cooking than this article. And it has the much more approachable cost of "under $300," as opposed to the OP's "under $1000."

Different goals! The OP's aim is a "Minimum Viable Kitchen (MVK) for creating gourmet food".

The fundamental rule I have is "don't buy sets -- buy individual items as you find uses for them". I bought a lot of really expensive stuff on eBay (Staub, Demeyere) and in Japan (Global Pro knives), and I actually only use a few of each.

A cast iron enameled wok, though, is awesome. I got mine from the Wok Shop in SF for $30 with spatula/etc.

http://refer.ly/cooking_tools/c/59d5b57c118b11e2a4ec22000a1d... is what I came up with a while ago.

I mostly agree. I just recommended the pots and pans set because they're cheap that way, and you really will use everything you find in a 10 piece set (which, btw, usually counts at least 3 lids as pieces). Knives on the other hand... I got a set as a gift long ago and have at least 5 I've not touched.

The main benefit for me in having two knife blocks of knives is being a able to do meat vs. veg prep with different instances of the same model knives and not wash anything until it is done, but now my kitchen is too small to do that.

My Minimum Viable Kitchen would forget about half that stuff and add a Rice Cooker and broiler pan.

I have more kitchen equipment than I know what to do with, but 95% of the meals I wind up cooking need at most these:

- Bamboo Cutting Board

- Plastic cutting board

- Tongs, spatulas, and cooking chopsticks

- Rice cooker

- Chef's knife

- Paring Knife

- Sashimi knife

- Nakiri

- Aluminum nonstick pan

- cast-iron griddle / broiler pan

- Pot with steamer

- Saucepan

- 12 Qt. Stock pot

- Large Wok

- Mixing bowls

- Whisks

- Hand mixer

This is enough equipment to cook a broad range of French, Japanese and American dishes. It's nice to have things like a Mandoline, oil thermometer or blender, but I find myself using them less frequently as I become more experienced. I've also never owned a tabletop mixer and never wished for one.

If you have a nakiri and a sashimi knife, why would you want a chef's knife?

Chef's knives are excellent for cutting all sorts of things that don't require an extremely sharp edge, but they're just not good for cutting paper thin slices of very hard ingredients like lotus root, and my personal experience with using a chef's knife to slice tuna belly was not so great. By the same token, I would not dare use either a nakiri or yanagi blade on a chicken carcass or to fillet a whole fish, because you risk damaging the extremely sharp blade.

The Victorinox Fibrox that he recommends is indeed a great knife for general cooking. I have a lower-middle range gyuto but I usually use the Fibrox because it's easier to take care of. While I cook mostly vegetables, a friend of mine who is a much more talented cook uses the Fibrox for everything.

In terms of pots and pans, I recommend getting a carbon steel wok. A carbon steel wok requires a bit of TLC but pays off in terms of delicious quick meals and the ability to use much less oil. Unfortunately when most people use a wok (often stainless or non-stick) they never actually stir fry but only end up sauteing or braising/steaming the food in its own juices. A zucchini and onion stir fry should only take about 4 or 5 minutes to stir fry, if even that. A wok is great for meals for two -- for larger meals you will have to cook in batches, if what is being made in the wok is the main course.

A good book for learning how to use a wok is "Wok Fast," which teaches you the techniques behind the wok, gives you a variety of sauces, and a bunch of recipes. By learning why a certain thing is done (such as why you should steam broccoli a bit before stir frying) instead of just following recipes, you can be more creative when cooking. The book is out of print but Amazon lists some other sellers.

Just be aware that most carbon steel woks come with a protective coating that must first be removed prior to seasoning and using it; find some instructions online or else you will end up with strange translucent stuff in your food. :) The coating has to come off as it is the interaction of oils with the carbon steel that cause a wok to develop its non-stick patina.

What would you use to get the Wok Hot enough for Stir-Fry. My biggest hindrance to using a Wok is the lack of a proper burner. I imagine there are lots of people in my situation.

Well, even when I was in a cheapo apartment with a rather poor electric stove I was able to stir fry as long as I paid attention to how much I cooked at once. Wok Fast teaches a technique that works pretty well for cooking meat + vegetable dishes. I'm writing this from memory, so it might be off by a bit, but the key is to cook at the most two cups of ingredients at a time.

1. Wait until the wok surface is hot enough to vaporize a sprinkling of water instantly.

2. Add the oil + onions and/or garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds. Coat the wok with the oil as you do this.

3. Add the meat, let it sit on the wok until it is seared (at which point it will "unstick" from the wok) and stir fry about two minutes. Remove the meat, which is not yet fully cooked, and set it aside.

4. Wait for the wok to heat up again, but be careful about using the water droplet technique as that can cause the oil to splash. Add the vegetables and stir fry until they brighten, about two minutes.

5. If the wok is still pretty hot at this point you can just add the meat and cook another two minutes, then add the sauce and cook a final two minutes. If it seems like it isn't hot enough, remove the vegetables and let it heat up a bit before adding everything.

It's definitely more effort than just being able to add the meat, stir fry, then add the vegetables, but it does work, and only takes 8-10 minutes for meat + vegetables. If you are cooking only vegetables, the water doesn't need to instantly vaporize -- it should sit for about 2 or 3 seconds before vaporizing.

As I said, I'm recalling this from memory and I don't generally cook meat, so the instructions might be off (please don't eat undercooked meat!) But what I wanted to convey was that I found it possible to stir fry for two even with a low end electric stove. Maybe there are some stoves even worse than what I had, though! :)

I use a cast iron enameled flat-bottom wok on a glass-top electric range (maybe 14k BTU?) I know it gets hot because I IR thermometer it (450-550F!), and because once I left it empty on the range, left the range on, and got distracted. The glass top of the range had actually melted to the wok (um, wow), meaning it was in the 950F+ area. I had to buy a new $200 glass top and replace it (and the $20 wok). Annoying, but not as expensive as appliance repair or replacement would have been, and fortunately no actual fire.

I think this shows electric ranges can get suitably hot with the right wok. I'd still like one of the 50A 3-phase induction woks used at high end restaurants, or an outdoor turkey fryer gas burner (40k BTU), though.

If you have the means to cook outdoors: http://www.amazon.com/King-Kooker-24WC-Heavy-Duty-Portable/d...

If you were to get only one cookbook ever, the best bang for your buck and the one that gets the most use at my house is the Joy of Cooking. It's $22 and has thousands of recipes from salad dressings to pot pies to all that fancy-shmancy stuff.


I would definitely recommend the Joy of Cooking, it's truly a cookbook and not just a compilation of recipes, going into theory and whys and hows, something you can really learn from and not just follow route directions, but I would try to make an effort to find a copy of the 1975 edition (something published before 1997!)

In the 90s, they totally changed JoC, removing whole sections and modifying a bunch of the recipes to be "healthier" (read low-fat). I much prefer having the original recipes and then be able to choose my own substitutions if I want to modify them.

There are a few cases on there where they mention something as the undisputed best in the high end, but you should get the cheaper thing, and they got the cheaper thing right 100% of the time, but either neglected another top option (which may be better in many ways), or actually didn't pick the top option. e.g. Demeyere is objectively better than All-Clad in every way except advertising spending. Shun Ken Onion is only mid-range for knives (but very good); MAC, Global, and a variety of both cheaper and more expensive Japanese options are better for Japanese, and there's a style argument for Japanese (sharper, harder) vs. European (tougher). Staub > Le Creuset, although the lodge or tramontina is 95% as good for 20% of the cost, and unglazed cast iron from lodge (or old stuff from Griswold, etc.) is just fine for $20-30 (but unglazed cast iron is fundamentally different from glazed).

I don't know where you get these opinions from, but I know it isn't Cook's Illustrated. And I don't know anywhere else to get well-tested opinions.

I find chow.com to be more accurate than CI.

Vitamix and Blend-Tec are both on par; I'd take either. (slight preference for vitamix, maybe?) I've never owned either, although I've used a vitamix at a military hospital; it was nice.

Demeyere is unquestionably better than All-Clad. It just has no distribution in the US (at least not until recently). All-Clad outspends everyone in sponsorships and marketing. "All-Clad is like Starbucks" comes up often.

Staub vs. Le Creuset has come up a bunch. Staub is certainly more durable (interior glaze, color change). Le Creuset has more colors outside, and more range. I have both (and Lodge), and agree about Staub > Le Creuset generally. Also, the stoneware crap from Le Creuset = hate. I hate it when premium brands come up with lower end stuff which is hard to distinguish. The worst is probably Kitchen-Aid; they had a bunch of Wal-Mart stand mixers which were visually indistinguishable and sucked.

I've got a copy of Myhrvold's "Modernist Cuisine"


...which helped me learn about the MAXIMUM viable kitchen. It has a $10,000 lab-grade centrifuge, among other things.

It drives me nuts that someone I hate created a book that I would very much like to read. I wish there were a way to buy this without supporting the king of patent trolls.

I do too. It's a fantastic book but much too expensive for what amount of actual information is in it. The photos are extraordinary, but you don't need that book to learn how to cook or for any specific recipe.

As for a general book about cooking, the best value is "On food and cooking" by Harold McGee. It's about $25 and it's comprehensive and well-written.

Can I borrow that? :)

There are some thing I would definitely do different that would either save me money on my MVK or allow me to choose to buy better quality items.

Things I could do without (I just don't bake much): -stand mixer -ice cream maker -rolling pin -cooling rack

Some things I would spend a little more on: -knives -thermometer

Additions: -can opener

This is certainly not a "minimum viable kitchen" by any stretch, but it is a reasonable list of equipment necessary to make a certain type of recipe (from-scratch French-inspired New American cooking that involves baked components).

Personally, the single piece of equipment that I would recommend to the home chef* would be a good pressure cooker. Vegetables, stews, beans, and grains cook better and much, much faster, and the stocks you can make in a pressure cooker will blow away stovetop stocks.

*: I would consider a home chef to be someone who wants to spend time cooking. I know many people who don't and I don't grudge them that -- but for me, cooking is a true hobby (as in, something where I negatively value my own time -- the longer it takes, the more satisfaction I derive from it).

I agree with most of the article. I do think he missed a few items through.

#1 is a cast iron skillet as others have mentioned. It's the third most used pan in my kitchen.

#2 and #2 most used is an omelet pan. Use it not just for omelets but for any kind of eggs. Also rocks at grilled cheese. Here you do want to go non-stick.

#3 is a set of measuring cups and measuring spoons. My advise is skip the plastic and get stainless. Plastic ones seems to break after a few years, especially if you run them through the dishwasher. You will also want a separate set of measuring cups for liquids if you get serious about cooking. OXO makes a nice set of three clear liquid measuring cups with graduations that you can read from above. Indispensable IMHO.

Ikea sells surprisingly good butcher blocks for $25: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40082918/

I assume they use odds and ends from their furniture manufacturing.

Good list and good read but nowhere close to MVK.

$25 for a cutting board? A $40 digital scale is overkill.

True MVP/MVK should be using stuff that's truly necessary. ie: A knife honer - just use the bottom of a ceramic bowl - worked for chefs for millennium.

If you read the thesis statement in the article, it's a minimum kitchen for cooking from books like Keller.

Regarding pots and pans, I'm curious how these things hold up over time. Is a high-quality 15 year old pan (appearances aside) function as well as it did when it was new?

The reason I ask is because I see what I assume to be quality SS cookware at restaurant auctions all the time and they usually go for a fraction of what they're worth new. When I wanted to get a huge kettle (compared to my 20 quart canning pot) for brewing, I was able to get a 10-gallon SS pot for $30 at one an auction. For boiling water, it works perfectly. I'm just not sure about more delicate applications of heat and food.

If it's something like all-clad, aluminum bonded to stainless, then it should hold up forever unless it's been overheated to the point of melting.

I've got some that are going on 10 years, and they're essentially new, except for baked on oils on the (outside) bottom.

Cheaper stuff tends to show wear more, anodized aluminum exteriors wear through, nonstick fades after a few years, thin stainless dents.

I like restaurant supply stuff, I'd go there more often if I was closer to a store. I'd generally have no problem with used stainless stuff from a restaurant.

If you want another option for buying good quality stuff at a reasonable price, check out a restaurant supply store. I bought some of my pots at one, and really good quality SS 2-quart pot with a heavy bottom was about $25 new. I have never had any problems with cream sauces or other finicky items where uneven cooking would be apparent.

My local restaurant supply store has a 10-gallon SS pot for $165. A 15 year old item going for 18% at auction seems pretty reasonable to me. Things are cheap at auctions, and people will pay a big premium for a new item.


I don't think he's going to turn many people to his side with broad generalizations, then a ton of purchases and equipment. Maybe just come up with a purpose - cook a date a meal, or cook a family a holiday spread - then a simple plan and maybe one piece of oddball advanced equipment. Enough purpose+tutorial articles -> he might manage to justify that kitchen army.

Even then adherents will spend a lot more time cooking and on food than those of us who can just buy a grocery bag of bread and milk and fruit every day or two and live without cooking, or who have other cut down hacks.

I'd go for a food processor (~$100) over a stand mixer, but I don't make a lot of deserts. For making bread and pizza dough, I got a cheap bread maker for $50, and it was well-spent. The food processor comes in handy quite often; I'd hate to make bread crumbs, sliced or shredded vegetables, fresh salsa and a bunch of other things without one. Also, for those who are (like me) too lazy to keep their steel knives in proper working sharpness at all times, a ceramic knife is pretty handy for preparing veggies.

$971? Are you fucking kidding me? It took me less than $200 to outfit my kitchen, and that includes a breadmaker, a rice-cooker, as well as things to eat the food with. Most of this was scavenged from estate sales and thrift shops.

This MVK post goes completely against the whole "minimal viable" spirit, which _should_ be self-explanatory: only what you need. This kitchen getup is certainly viable, but it's anything but minimal. This is more like the "I have $1000 and want a fancy ass kitchen" viable kitchen.

Mark Bittman [1] has a very good article about this. I followed it, and have rarely been disappointed [I didn't buy a few things, such as the mandolin]: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/dining/09mini.html?pagewan...

1: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/features/diningandwine/columns...

I don't know if HN is the proper place to exchange recipes but here's the most simple sauce for asparagus (or many other dishes).

What you need (for 4): one egg, some oil, salt, dijon.

With the yolk, oil, salt and dijon, make regular mayo. Make it strong (don't save on oil). You need to mix everything before adding oil, as salt doesn't dissolve in oil.

Whip stiff the egg whites.

Then mix the two (mayo and stiff whites) slowly. Use a spoon for this.

This produces a sauce that is delicious and extremely easy/fast to make.

I'd highly recommend adding kitchen shears and butcher twine to this list. Both items have a ton of uses and I've found them to be indispensable to have around.

The Minimum Viable Kitchen is a microwave and a spork.

A campfire and a sharp stick.

I'll add side towels to the list. They're great for picking up hot things (but not if they are wet!), drying herbs, keeping the bottoms of bowls from sliding around, covering dough while it proofs, cleaning up miscellaneous spills, and tidying up the edges of plates. I like to keep a tall stack of clean ones on the counter, and throw them into a dedicated kitchen hamper as needed.

I think the author needs to try to cook a great meal with a rice cooker before he labels everything that comes out of one as painful.

When it comes to minimal a rice cooker is what I would want. You can steam, pan fry, boil and slow cook. Short of baking and dehydrating(which I'm sure you could figure out) its got you covered.

Saying you 3 knives is minimum seems to be missing the point.

I don't think I could live without a toaster, definitely makes lunch or breakfast 10x better.

Also, I really like my slow cooker, it also works great for either hacker or hustler with a lot on their mind because you just cut meat & veggies, throw it in the pot with some seasoning, set it and get on with your life. Nothing like a good beef stew..

Nothing minimal about that list. "Mininum" kitchen can probably be had for under $100.

Never put the words "Thomas Keller" near "minimum."

I have some allclad D5, it's great. If you're looking for nonstick, pick up Tfal's pro nonstick line on amazon - saute pan runs around $30 and is Cook's Illustrated favorite pick.

My favorite frypan, http://www.vollrathco.com/catalog_product.jsp?id=5099&ci... Picked up from a resturant supply store for $75 dollars. Worth every penny.

I've either purchased or influenced the purchase of at least ten copies of Ad Hoc. It has a lot of tips throughout and the recipes are simple enough for most cooks while showy enough for dinner parties.

Oh, and a good set of tongs are my must have in the kitchen.

Good list. We've got a lot more stuff in our kitchen but that list is what we use all the time and wouldn't want to live without. I do have a couple non-sticks for omeletts and stuff like that and love them dearly but treat them very gingerly.

Congratulations for an excellently written article. I found myself engrossed by the descriptions, and it has the appropiate amount of humor too.

Sadly I don't think I can find most of the items in my home country (maybe there's an opportunity there :) ).

in regards to owning multiple plastic cutting boards, i was at the MOMA store the other day and thought their Index Advance Chopping Boards were neat:


This is a kitchen that can bake tons of stuff from scratch.

Without that (expensive) component, you can greatly pare down this list to about ~400ish

Great article, but an "MVK" is really one iron wok, a heat source, and a knife. Everything else is useful but not "minimal".

I second the professional chef. McGee's On Food and Cooking is another essential. It's a reference book, but worth it.

My personal MVK cost a lot less than $970...

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