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  • Cast-iron skillet. An incredible workhorse in my kitchen, my 12-inch skillet caramelizes onions, sears chicken thighs, and makes the best grilled cheese sandwich. It’s perfect for one-pan meals like braises, especially because I can move it from the stovetop directly into the oven with ease — and it releases trace amounts of iron into my food while it’s cooking, which is great for plant-based eaters. Cast iron is inexpensive and simple to maintain once you get the hang of it. (Check out my tips for maintaining your skillet at “How to Care for a Cast-Iron Skillet“.)
  • Dutch oven. A good heavy-bottomed, enamel-coated Dutch oven will outlive you if you take care of it — and maybe even if you don’t. I recently removed several years of carbonized stains from the bottom of mine by simmering some water and a few tablespoons of baking soda in it.My 6-quart Dutch oven makes stews, broths, sauces, and so much more. Its thick walls heat evenly, and it’s big enough to make a double batch of lentil soup but small enough that I can move it from oven to stovetop without struggling.
  • Medium saucepan. I use my 4-quart saucepan for cooking beans and grains, poaching or boiling eggs, and heating leftovers. I prefer stainless steel, but most any material will do — just be sure it has a heatproof handle and that it feels heavy in your hands, as thin pans tend to heat unevenly.
  • Nonstick skillet. My cast-iron skillet is pretty well seasoned (meaning food will release fairly easily from its surface), but I like fried eggs too much not to have a true nonstick skillet. Go for ceramic coating — no Teflon or synthetics, as those surfaces will break down and release harmful substances into your food and the air in your home.
  • Sheet pans. Invest in high-quality, heavy sheet pans, as you’ll need ’em for roasting veggies, toasting nuts, and baking cookies. The cheaper ones tend to be flimsy — they’ll warp in the oven and probably burn the bottom of whatever you’re cooking.
  • Baking dishes. A 9-by-13-inch baking dish is the perfect size for most casseroles. I like mine for enchiladas, veggie gratins, and baked pasta dishes, as well as the occasional fruit crisp.
  • Knives. You probably don’t need a whole knife block, but a good 8-inch chef’s knife is perfect for all-around slicing and dicing, and a paring knife is required for more intricate tasks like hulling strawberries or deveining shrimp.
  • Cutting boards. I try not to use plastic in my kitchen if I can help it, but I do have a cutting board made of recycled BPA-free plastic scraps, which works well for raw meat and fish. It’s lightweight and easy to clean.For all other prep work, I use a big wooden cutting board, which doesn’t dull my knives like a glass board would and is heavy enough to stay in place while I’m chopping onions.
  • Strainer and colander. A fine-mesh strainer is great for rinsing grains and straining sauces. A stainless-steel colander will make it easier to wash veggies and drain pasta — and if you get one that fits in your saucepan, it can pull double duty as a steamer basket.
  • Food processor. I use my food processor to make pestos, nut butters, and other sauce-adjacent things. It’s also perfect for recipes that call for pulverizing lots of ingredients into a uniform mixture, like veggie burgers or energy bars. Get one with a grating disk to grate up a big pile of hash browns or carrots with the push of a button.
  • Other basics: spatulas, wooden spoons, mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, can opener, whisk

This was excerpted from “Streamline Your Kitchen” which was published in Experience Life magazine.

Kaelyn Riley

Kaelyn Riley is an Experience Life senior editor.

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