19 Essentials You Need For Your First Kitchen

My brother recently moved into his own apartment and the topic we discussed the most was, “What are the essentials you need for your first kitchen?” He was on a budget, but he also wanted to get quality items that would last him for a couple of years. This was a smart move, because I’ve definitely tried to be cheap on a few items and had to replace them later on [which then ends up costing more money in the long run]. If you’re moving out on your own, leaving for college, or trying to start cooking, this list of essentials you need for your first kitchen is the perfect resource for you!

Do I Really Need To Be Spending $300?

You might be thinking, “I’m on a small budget, do I really need to spend $300?” And the answer is unfortunately “Yes.” Kitchens are expensive and replacing super cheap products over and over again is both costly and aggravating. We all know that I’m a huge advocate of packing your lunch because it can save you hundreds if not thousands over the course of a year. I spent around $350 furnishing my own apartment and if we amortize that cost over 4 years, then that averages $87.50 per year. That’s less than I’m saving on lunch every month by packing my own lunch! 

Tip: If you’re on a really tight budget, there’s nothing wrong with buying the items a little at a time. Read through the list and think to yourself, “What kinds of things do I cook the most?” If you cook a lot of meat, prioritize the cast iron skillet first. If you eat a lot of pasta, then prioritize buying a big pot first.

Ways To Save On Essentials You Need For Your First Kitchen

  • Nice hand-me-downs from family members: My brother lives close enough to my parents that he was able to bring some really quality items when he moved and it saved him at least $100
  • Thrift stores: Cooking utensils like spatulas can often be found for a good price. If you’re lucky, sometimes you can also find a quality cast-iron skillet.
  • TJMaxx or Ross: There have been a few occasions where I’ve scored some pretty great kitchen essentials for a bargain. However, not all brands are created equal. If you do go this route, make sure that you know your brands [a super easy way to do this is to do an Amazon search on the item in question and see what kinds of review it has].

Alright, here is my list of essential equipment that every first kitchen needs for under $300. To make it easier for you, I’ve listed them by category in the order of how much I use them.

* This page contains affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of my links, I’ll receive a small commission of anything you purchase. A BIG THANKS for supporting NavigatingAdulthood

19 Essentials You Need For Your First Kitchen For Under $300

Pots and Pans- Essentials You Need For Your First Kitchen 

1) Cast iron pan ($20)

In all honesty, I “inherited” this pan with me and Mr. NavigatingAdulthood moved in together- he likes to joke that I married him for this pan. That’s because I use it all the time! This pan can really do it all. It’s amazing for any kind of meat like steak, chicken, pork. You can use it to make a pizza, cornbread and shepherd’s pie. AND you can take it from stovetop to oven. This is the the most-used piece of kitchen equipment I own.

Here is the exact one that Mr. NA has owned for over 10 years. I’m telling you, this thing is indestructible.

2) Saute pan with a lid ($50)

This is the second most used pan in my kitchen. I use this at least 3 times a week to make stir-fried vegetables. It’s important to cook stir-fry over a really high heat, so I advise you not to use a non-stick pan for that purpose. If you get a saute-pan, it is super versatile- it’s great for  stir-frying vegetables, you can use it to braise meat, steam vegetables, or make a stew.

  • Here is the one I have and love
  • Not an essential- but if you are looking for a wok because you stir-fry at least 3 times a week or cook a lot of Asian food, this is a great buy at $33

3) Non-stick pan [$20]

Non-stick pans are great for making eggs (both sunny-side up and omelets), pancakes, pierogies and potstickers. Mr. NA and I eat a TON of eggs [we go through 2 dozen a week] so this is a must-have for us. If you’re more of an oatmeal person, then this might be a “nice to have.”

  • Here is my top pick [the exact model I own is no longer available]
  • This article is a great resource for how to care for your non-stick pan to make it last.

4) Stockpot ($34)

This is great for making stock, boiling corn, boiling pasta, making a large batch of chili, etc. And it’s been great! However, if I had to do it all over again, I would have spent slightly more and gotten a Dutch oven.

  • Here is one that’s very similar to the one I have.
  • If you’re on a tight budget, this $21 one has great reviews on Amazon

5) Saucepan with a lid ($18)

This is good for heating up cans of soup and chili, boiling eggs and making oatmeal. You can also use this to make sauce and to cook vegetables.

  • This one is very similar to the one I have.

**Great Deal Alert! 

This pots and pans set allows you to get 6 pots and pans for $90. My first set of cookware was from Cuisinart and all of them have held up nicely after 4 years. This is cheaper than purchasing the sauce pan, stock pot and saute pan separately. 

Cuisinart 77-10 Chef’s Classic Stainless 10-Piece Cookware Set

Total cost for essential pots and pans (if you’re buying them separately): $142

Cooking Utensils- Essentials You Need For Your First Kitchen

6) Tongs ($8)

I recently upgraded to locking tongs and they are worth every penny. They’re easier to store and they don’t take up half the kitchen drawer, which allows you to be more effective with storage.

7) Ladle ($3.50)

You’ll need this for ladling soup out of pots and into bowls. Trust me, it will make life easier.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate how cute this one is?

8) Silicone spatula ($5)

Take it from me, not all silicone spatulas are created equal [we learned this the hard way when Mr. NA melted my non-heat resistant spatulas trying to make eggs one day]. These are heat resistant so you can use them to make scrambled eggs and you can also use them to stir cake batter.

I love that this set has two spatulas- the mini one is the perfect size for scraping out the last remnants of a jar of peanut butter.

9) Measuring cups and spoons- Local dollar store ($2)

You can find these for $1 each at your local dollar store or at your local Walmart. It’s important to have proper measuring spoons and measuring cups when you’re following a recipe. Your ability to guestimate a cup of flour will probably not be 100% accurate.

10) Can opener ($10)

It’s worth it to spend a little more on a quality can opener. I had a $3 one from Walmart and I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to use. I upgraded recently to this one and it’s made things 100x easier. My new one has much better grip and it just feels more sturdy.

11) Meat thermometer ($10)

If you eat meat, this is a kitchen must-have. Raw meat like chicken and pork can make you sick- this handy tool will allow you to know if your meat has cooked all the way through.

Total cost for essential cooking utensils: $32.50

Other Kitchen Tools- Essentials You Need For Your First Kitchen 

12) Mixing Bowls ($12.50)

I use these all the time to make salad, make brownies, and also to let my pizza dough rise.

13) Cutting board ($9)

Pretty self explanatory, but you should really invest in an actual cutting board and not use a plate as a temporary solution. I suggest getting a plastic one so you can use it for both meat and vegetables/fruit. Having a plastic one gives you the ability to sanitize it- no one wants to get sick!

This set is just over $9 and it includes three cutting boards so you can even have a separate cutting board dedicated just for meat to prevent contamination.

14) Colander ($8)

This is useful for when you need to drain your pasta or for washing your fruits and vegetables.

15) Liquid Measuring Cup ($8)

Pretty self-explanatory: you use this to measure liquids. I like having a glass measuring cup because then you can also use it in the microwave.

16) Pot holders ($8)

I have multiple scars on my hands and arms from when I thought I could get away with not using oven mitts. (Learn from my mistakes.) You can also use these under hot pots and pans so you can’t scorch your table or countertop.

Tip: they also sell oven mitts at the dollar store, but they’re not very heat-resistant. It’s worth splurging a little more for them, even if you buy them at Walmart for a few dollars more.

17) Baking sheet pan ($12)

These are useful for baking cookies, roasting vegetables, and for baking meat.

19) Chef’s Knife ($30)

This is a fantastic chef’s knife that you can use for most of your cutting needs. A good chef’s knife is essential for food prep. This one‘s a great value at $30!

Total cost for essential cooking utensils: $87.50

Grand total: $262

Is there anything else you would add to this list of kitchen essentials? Comment down below!

19 Essentials You need for your first kitchen


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  1. I was told by several people that the older cast iron pans are better than the new ones. What do you think? I am not sure why it is. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  2. Great article 🙂 The only thing I would add – you can get a whole knife block for $20-$30 at Target or Amazon, and I’ve been pretty happy with the versatility of the knives I got. I’d probably recommend getting a set over getting one chef’s knife.

  3. Couldn’t agree more about the meat thermometer! It’s so handy to be able to see if the meat is done without cutting into it.

    Thrift stores like Goodwill are awesome for cookery. I’ve found some really nice Pyrex glass containers for a fraction of their original cost.

    1. I totally thought about adding it too! It was a huge struggle not to add it, but my reasoning was that if you were on a really tight budget, you could probably make do with the stock pot. I’m a huge Crockpot fanatic- I use it all the time to make dinner!

    1. I’ve heard good things about the spiralizer, but I just can’t seem to find a recipe that I like. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong, but when I try to make zucchini noodles, they always seem watery 🙁

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