Getting started in a kitchen is hard. If you don't have a lot of experience cooking, how do you know what you need to buy now, what can wait for later, and what will go unused? I already had a fair amount of cooking experience when I got married and moved out of my parents' house, but I still messed up. There were quite a few things that I wished I had put on our wedding registry and a few that I look at now and go, "Why did I want that?" For example? An iced tea maker. I had an idea that since my husband--good southern boy that he is--liked sweet tea, I could make it at home with an iced tea maker. I used it once. It's still taking up space in my small appliance area in the pantry. I honestly don't know why I haven't gotten rid of it.
Now let me preface this list by saying that I normally cook for myself and my husband only. The following list of equipment has served me well in this capacity. I feel that it would still translate well to larger families, but I can't know for sure. I've divided the list into three parts. I would recommend buying everything in the first list before attempting to cook in your kitchen. (You should be able to do this with good quality equipment for less than $300. Yes, you can buy the cheap stuff and save some money, but you'll just end up buying it over and over. Get some good quality, durable equipment, please.) The other two lists I have put approximately in the order in which you should buy them.
The Bare Bones Kitchen
7"-9" chef's knife, paring knife, serrated bread knife - We've been over this one.
2 cutting boards - You need two for food safety reasons-one for meat, one for veggies. You can use a wooden cutting board for veggies, but I would recommend plastic or silicone for meat. Don't use glass or marble cutting boards period. They will dull your knives.
10" saute pan - Non-stick or not, it's really your choice. I have both, but I only end up using the non-stick pan for eggs. Most foods will let go of the pan if you let them sit long enough and start them on a pan that's already heated. If you go with a pan without a non-stick coating, don't buy one that is copper or aluminum. Both metals will leach into acidic foods and make it taste weird. However, if you're into candy making, copper is great. You'll use this to sear meat, saute vegetables, pan fry, and make some sauces.
stock pot and/or dutch oven - I like cast iron dutch ovens over enameled ones. I'm paranoid that the enamel will chip, and besides, cast iron pans enrich your food with iron. When I was little, I was
anemic at one point. The doctor told my mother to cook my food on cast iron. Crazy, isn't it? You'll use this to make soups, cook pasta, deep fry, and braise.
8" square baking pan - I like pyrex best. It's easier to tell when food is done and harder to burn it. You'll use this for cakes and casseroles. It also works as a roasting pan in a pinch if you don't
need to cover what you're cooking. For that, you can use the dutch oven.
Utensils - Silicone spatula, can opener, mixing bowls, and measuring cups and spoons (Oxo good grip ones are great. For liquids I have an adjustable one that's basically a tube on a gasket.)
Not Quite so Bare Bones
baking equipment - 2 half sheet pans or cookie sheets, pie pan, muffin tin, loaf pan, whisk and/or hand mixer, rolling pin
vegetable peeler - Buy one with a comfy handle, not one of those cheap metal things. You know what I'm talking about.
tongs - I use these all the time - to stir pasta, to flip solid food, to toss salads, etc.
wire mesh strainer- Use it to drain pasta, strain sauces/custards/etc, sift flour, decorate cakes with powdered sugar.
cast iron skillet - I use if for pan frying, cooking high-fat meat (helps keep the seasoning), and pancakes. Nothing in your kitchen will heat as evenly. It's a champ.
Time to Trick it out
digital probe thermometer - get one that has a digital readout where you plug in the thermometer which is attached to a cord (like
this). That way, when you're cooking something in the oven, you don't have to open the door to see how close it is to being done. Plus, it has an alarm that will go off when the thermometer reads a
toaster or toaster oven - I like the toasters with big openings so you're less limited with what you can put in there.
crock pot - Put food in there and leave it all day. Low maintenance cooking at its best.
9"x13" cake pan and/or 2 9" round cake pans and/or springform pan - if you're into astetics when you bake or like cheesecake
stand mixer - I'll just say this. There's a reason KitchenAid is the gold standard. I hear Cuisinart also makes a good one. Look for one with a planetary motion (it orbits while it's spinning). There should
be one beater, not two. They generally come with a whisk, a paddle, and a dough hook. I got my KitchenAid for $100 off Amazon (they have them on sale every once and a while. Be patient and wait for the
roasting pan - If you plan to ever make Thanksgiving dinner, you will need one. Get one with a rack. I like the flat ones best.
blender or immersion blender - If you're into smoothies, buy a regular blender. Otherwise, I'd go with the immersion one. Immersion blenders are especially good for making milkshakes and pureeing soups.
food processor - I use mine mostly for making pastry dough and bread crumbs and grating veggies. If you're going to buy a food processor, get the grating and slicing blades. You'll thank me later.
ice cream maker - I have the Cuisinart version where you put the core in the freezer overnight and it sits on a rotating base. It hasn't failed me yet.
coffee grinder - I really want one of those coffee makers that grinds the coffee for you. Anyway, this is nice for having nice, fresh coffee in the morning or for grinding whole spices.
salad spinner - It's good to get the moisture off the surface of greens before storing them. It helps them stay good longer.
pizza stone - The best homemade pizza comes off a pizza stone.