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As a frugal cook, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen – it seems that there is always something that needs to be chopped, stirred or cooked. There are, of course, heaps of expensive and overpriced kitchen tools designed to do these jobs – but which ones are really worth it?
If you feel lost in the barrage of kitchen gadgets, you are not alone. To help you wade through what is worth it (and what’s not), I’m sharing my list of minimalist kitchen essentials.
Kitchen Essentials: What Do You Really Need?
I was never someone who set out to accumulate kitchen appliances, but I certainly wasn’t operating a minimal kitchen either. When Kris and I set our big goal to quit our jobs and travel the world, we took inventory of our tiny apartment kitchen to see what we would sell, give away or keep.
Our eyes were opened to the many kitchen gadgets that we had invested in but barely used. We were astounded by our wastefulness and lamented as we gave away our pricey twice-used springform pan, a forgotten salad spinner and three complete sets of dishes. (I made a mental note that if we ever needed to outfit a kitchen again, multiple dish sets would not make my checklist of kitchen essentials.)
How I Created My List of Kitchen Essentials
I think a lot of people struggle with creating a basic kitchen needs list because we are so easily swayed by the overpromise of products. Sometimes we don’t even know why we need it or if we will use it – but we buy it anyway, with high hopes that it will make our food taste better or save us time.
As a Digital Nomad, I no longer have my own kitchen…but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a clear view of what frugal kitchen accessories are essential. In fact, throughout my travels, I have truly solidified my kitchen essentials list.
We stay in Airbnb apartments and housesit around the world – and as frugal travelers, we always make full use of the kitchens in our temporary homes. While some of the kitchens have been accessorized to the hilt, we have also been exposed to extreme minimalist kitchens.
We once stayed in a place on a beach in Uruguay that had a single pot, one spatula and a butcher knife; that was the extent of the kitchen gear…and we were there for two weeks.
We never know how a kitchen will be outfitted. Furthermore, often times, foreign kitchens are not equipped with traditional American kitchen appliances.
So, with my slate wiped clean and my cultural upbringing being challenged, I created my kitchen necessities list with a fresh outlook. Being at the mercy of what the Airbnb hosts provide and adapting to alternatives, I have learned what is truly a necessity in the kitchen. (Spoiler alert: It is not a salad spinner.)
Frugal Minimalist Kitchen Essentials
Before I jump into my list of minimalist kitchen tools, I want to broach the subject of meshing frugal and minimalist mindsets in the kitchen. While the two terms – frugal and minimal – are complementary, they are not exactly the same. Someone who is frugal has a clear focus on money and spending less, whereas a minimalist puts an emphasis on simplicity and reducing excessive possessions. Read more about how I became a Frugal Minimalist.
Kitchen Essentials: Minimalist and Frugal
I believe that the two ideologies – frugal and minimalist – overlap in the case of essentials for the kitchen. While I have an overarching goal of saving money, I’m also seeking simplicity.
Multi-Purpose Minimalist Kitchen Items
To both save money and space, many of the items that make my basic kitchen essentials list serve multiple functions. Moreover, there is no need to have several items that ultimately do the same thing.
Quality Essentials in a Kitchen
In my opinion, quality is a characteristic that applies to both frugality and minimalism. Quality minimalist kitchen supplies will save money in the long run. It is important to be frugal but not cheap in the kitchen.
Do you really want to be frugal in the kitchen? Join my $5 Frugal Food Challenge to learn how to lower your food bill!
Must-Have Minimalist Kitchen List
My basic kitchen needs list includes everything that I deem essential for the kitchen. Your minimalist kitchen equipment list could vary, based on the kinds of frugal meals you like to make or the number of people you are cooking for.
#1: Dishes: Plates, Bowls and Mugs
Tableware is an easy place to start; plates, bowls and drinkware is an essential part of any meal. If you are starting from scratch, you can buy an affordable set of minimalist kitchen dishes or you could go shabby chic and buy mismatched dishware from a thrift store. When you select your dish set, just make sure they will accommodate your needs. The reason we ended up with so many dish sets is that the bowls were too small in the first set and the plates were heavy in the second set.
Another one of the basic kitchen essentials, cutlery – spoons, forks and knives – are necessary in every kitchen. A minimalist kitchen set of flatware can cost as little as $10, but I would recommend investing in a quality product that won’t rust.
#3 Quality Knife
A good, quality knife set is a must-have kitchen item! Frugal cooking requires a lot of chopping, dicing and slicing. That said, you really only need two minimalist kitchen knives in your repertoire: A chef’s knife and a paring knife. And, if I had to choose just one, I would opt for a quality paring knife.
#4 Big Cutting Board
I like to have a big work surface for cutting up meats and veggies. Rather than cluttering your kitchen with multiple cutting boards, I recommend buying a single quality cutting board that won’t deteriorate in a few months’ time. Other key features I like are grooves to contain juices and slip-proof materials to keep the board in place.
#5 Minimalist Kitchen Pots and Pans (and Skillets, too!)
One of the great things about kitchen cookware essentials is that they often come in a set. Based on your needs, you can purchase a set of pots, pans and skillets at an affordable price that includes the exact items that you want. However, don’t inflate your minimalist kitchen inventory by buying a bigger set just for the sake of having more. In reality, I could do all of my stovetop cooking with just two pieces of cookware: A 2-quart pot and 10-inch skillet (and having lids for both would be ideal!).
#6 Baking Dishes
Bakeware is where you can really start to bloat your minimalist kitchen essentials list. So, before you start making purchases, really consider if you need a sheet pan, springform pan, a muffin tin, a bread pan, a pie dish, a casserole dish and a square casserole dish. I find that I generally just need two pieces of equipment to bake in the oven: A sheet pan and a square casserole dish. If I can’t bake it in one of these, I will find something different to make.
#7 Minimalist Kitchen Utensils
There are so many utensils that can clutter your kitchen drawers and countertops that it is truly mind bending. My bare minimum kitchen essentials for utensils are 1) a turner and 2) a cooking spoon. All of the other cooking utensils are nice to have, but not essential.
It is nice to have a masher (especially if you don’t have an electric mixer), but a fork will do the job. A fork can also stir eggs, eliminating the need of a whisk. A spatula is good – because you can get every last bit out of the bowl – but a spoon does a pretty good job, too. My point is, many utensil sets include everything under the sun…I think it is more important to be selective about your utensils and buy fewer high-quality items that will last longer.
#8 Can Opener
Sometimes can openers get lumped into the utensil’s category, but I think it is one of the must-have minimalist kitchen gadgets that deserves a solo mention. Many of the frugal lunches and inexpensive dinners that I make are based on canned products – like beans, tuna and canned veggies. I have used a full range of can openers – from cheap-and-you-know-it to luxury electric openers…and have even succeeded in opening a tin can without an opener (but I don’t recommend it!). I can tell you from experience that a quality can opener makes a huge difference!
#9 Time-Saving Minimalist Kitchen Accessories: Peeler and Grater
I debated whether or not to include a peeler and a grater on my list of minimalist kitchen equipment, but ultimately determined that they should make the cut (pun intended!). While it is 100% possible to peel and grate food without these handy tools, they make it So. Much. Easier.
#10 Mixing Bowl
I hesitated putting a mixing bowl on my list of basic kitchen essentials, too. It is not because I don’t think you need a place to mix items, but simply that a large cooking pot can be used as a mixing bowl, thus eliminating the need to buy one more thing for the kitchen.
#11 Mesh Strainer
I have zero hang ups about putting a mesh strainer on my list of everyday kitchen essentials – and I think it should be on your checklist for kitchen essentials, too. A mesh strainer (rather than a colander) is a multi-purpose superstar. In addition to straining pasta and rinsing rice and lentils, a mesh strainer can also be used to sift flour, steam veggies and strain seeds from citrus fruits.
#12 Food Storage Containers
The best way to stick to your frugal meal plan is to meal prep…and food storage containers are meal prep kitchen essentials. Basic, inexpensive containers will do the trick, but if you are in it for the long haul and aiming toward a completely frugal lifestyle, then investing in a good set of leak-proof containers is likely beneficial. Reusable silicone baggies are a good investment, too!
#13 Dish Cloths, Kitchen Towels and Oven Mitts
Some items I often see overlooked when assembling kitchen gear is dish cloths, kitchen towels and oven mitts – all of which are necessary (and often come in a set!). Swedish dish cloths get rave reviews by frugal fans (but I haven’t used them yet!). My one requirement of kitchen towels is that they are actually absorbent. Oven mitts need to be thick enough to protect your hands (and the cheapest ones don’t always do that!).
More Minimalist Kitchen Essentials
My basic kitchen needs list covers the bare-bones minimum of what I think is needed in a kitchen. However, you need to ask yourself, What kitchen essentials do I need that will save me time and money? There are many minimalist kitchen appliances and gadgets designed to do both. I’m highlighting a few of the popular items that you may consider essential for a frugal kitchen…as long as you will use them!
#14 Coffee Maker
Everyone knows it is cheaper to make coffee at home than to get it at a cafe. If you are a coffee drinker, an at-home coffee maker is essential. While a fancy coffee maker is a splurge, a basic drip machine will do the job. You may also want to invest in a couple insulated travel mugs to keep your cup of Joe hot on the go!
#15 Toaster Oven
A quality toaster oven is a great item to have in any kitchen – especially if you cook for two or fewer people. A toaster oven can be used to bake pizzas, roast veggies, make toast and reheat meals – and it takes far less energy than heating up the oven. (Plus, in the summertime, a toaster oven won’t heat up the entire house, like the oven will!)
Microwaves can be huge-time savers. However, one is not necessary if you are just using it to heat up water for tea and making microwavable popcorn. You can just use the stovetop instead. (In fact, popcorn is cheaper and healthier when made on the stovetop – which is one of the reasons I include popcorn on my Budget Grocery List.)
#17 Blender, Food Processor and Electric Mixer
If you blend, chop and mix a lot of food items, then buying a blender, food processor and electric mixer can make practical, time-saving sense. However, consider if you need both a blender and a food processor – or will a combo be sufficient? As you make your decision, keep in mind that people have made food for a long time without the use of fancy electric gadgets and think about what you might be able to make without them, too.
Even though everything that can be made in a slow cooker can also be made in the oven or stove, a crockpot is a nice gadget to have in a frugal kitchen because they generally use less electricity than stoves.
#19 Garlic Press
Tools, like a garlic press, are not a necessity…but, oh my, do they make the job of mincing garlic easier! So, if you are someone that uses a lot of garlic (like I do!), then they can be well-worth the relatively inexpensive investment. Don’t discount small tools that can enhance (or, rather, reduce!) your time in the kitchen.
Budgeting Frugal Kitchen Accessories
The cost of minimalist kitchen accessories – even cheap ones – can add up. It is unwise to go into debt accessorizing you kitchen, so instead it is best to budget and plan ahead for the things you will need.
Your budget, however, if just one step in the process to organizing your finances. You will also want to keep your food budget and meal planning in check.
To help, you can use the templates in my affordable Meal Planner Kit – which includes a Weekly Meal Planner Calendar, a Grocery List and blank Recipe Cards to record your favorite frugal meals.
You can find my Meal Planner Printables and other budgeting forms on my Shop Page.
We Want To Know: What are your minimal kitchen essentials? Share your must-haves in the comments below!