The "Don't Buy" List For A Low-Budget Kitchen

Everybody has a high-cost/high-quality item in their kitchen that they love and use to death. For us, it's a couple of relatively expensive knives that we've used so many times that we've amortized their per-use cost practically to zero.

But let's be honest: Everybody also has a few high-cost items in their kitchen that they hardly use at all. An expensive device bought in a fit of enthusiasm that now sits solitary, sad and forgotten in some dark, dusty corner of your kitchen.

There's no greater waste than a cooking tool you never use--especially if it's expensive. So my goal with this post is to create a list of "don't buy" items for those newer cooks and homeowners looking to set up their kitchen on a budget. I want to help you avoid the costly mistakes made by the rest of us.

And here's where Casual Kitchen's more experienced readers--those of us who have been cooking for a number of years--can share their mistakes. What items did we buy in the past that seemed like a neat idea at the time, but turned out to be a complete waste of money?

With that in mind, here's a list of items that you can reliably avoid buying when setting up your kitchen. By avoiding (or at least deferring) the purchase of the following items, you can save literally thousands of dollars--without compromising in any way your ability to cook healthy, delicious meals at home. What would you add to this list?

The "Don't Buy" List For a Simple Startup Kitchen

* Fine China
* Silver or silver-plated utensils
* Motorized items that do things that smaller, simpler and cheaper manual items do (electric can openers, electric jar-openers, etc.)
* Fragile glassware
* Costly celebrity chef-endorsed cookware of any sort
* Espresso/Cappuccino makers
* Obscure staple foods (examples: kamut flour, Lebanese couscous, einkorn pasta, etc.)
* Cast-iron cookware
* Unitaskers (items with just one usually obscure function, such as cherry pitters, bagel cutters, egg-prickers, etc.)

Readers, here's where you come in: What cooking tools would you add to this list? What items have you bought or considered buying that are worth avoiding or deferring?

Related Posts:
Mastering Kitchen Setup Costs
How to Tell if a Recipe is Worth Cooking With Five Easy Questions
Six Secrets to Save You from Cooking Burnout
How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking
Cooking Like the Stars? Don't Waste Your Money
A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food

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Meghan said...

Why is cast iron on the list? I've used my pan almost everyday since I started cooking daily 8 years ago. Except for right now, my cast iron is currently being stripped to reseason it.

I would probably say lots of bakeware. Get the basics, but avoid specialty items, like shaped cake pans and mini anything.

Anonymous said...

I guess it depends on how/what you cook/make...

I bought a blender - I am not a smoothie/frozen cocktail person, so I have "never" used it!

Serving stuff - I plate the food in the kitchen & serve a plate of food, so those serving bowls don't get used very often (ditto the serving spoons).

Pyrex baking "tins" to keep happiness in the home (aka my husband washes the dishes) it is just "better" to buy the aluminum foil pans - especially since we don't use them that often. (I know that can be expensive, but earlier this summer I donated dusty pyrex that had NEVER been used.)

Jen Blacker said...

Cast iron is cheap and a multi-tasker, it shouldn't be on the list.

My bad purchase was a bread maker. It was a pain to find a place to store it. I ended up giving it away since I do a lot of no knead or quick breads. A nice loaf pan for under 5 bucks was a much better purchase.

Lija said...

I also support the cast iron cookware. No Teflon flaking off after a couple of years, and it's much easier to maintain (stacking it won't ruin the finish).

A potential don't buy is a stand mixer. Although I use mine regularly (and it was a gift), for several people I know it's more of a kitchen decoration.

AmandaLP said...

Don't buy anything until the pain of not having it is greater than the cost of getting it.

I love my stand mixer,must if I had not gone through months of hand and "hand mixer" mixing cakes, I would not have used it.

My next "unitasker" purchase will be an apple peeler/slicer, because I am tired of peeling and slicing apples every week! But, unless I had done that repeatedly, it wouldn't be worth it.

Tragic Sandwich said...

Much as I love my family's waffle recipe, I have yet to use the waffle iron we were given as a wedding gift, and we're closing in on nine years of marriage.

But I think it depends on how you cook. If I made waffles regularly, that would be a great tool.

chacha1 said...

We have two blenders (wedding gifts) and hardly ever use them.

On the cast iron ... you don't need a whole set of it, for sure, but we keep our 8" cast iron skillet on the cooktop all the time for quick eggs.

Not to buy: unless whipping cream or egg whites frequently, no hand mixer. A whisk works just as well and just as fast the one time a year I need it. Was never so annoyed as when I got my new hand mixer home and discovered that its eight speeds were all the same.

I used to lust after all those clever small appliances, but the only ones we've needed in 11 years of increasingly confident cooking are the Crock Pot, the rice cooker, and a Presto skillet. In fact, if you've got those three, you almost don't need anything else as a cooking vessel, except maybe a microwave.

februarymakeup said...

I would like to add my voice to the quizzical opprobrium w/r/t the purchase of cast iron cookware. Sure, it's important to know how to take care of it (but really, it isn't even that hard), and you probably don't need a ton, but a skillet is nigh-indispensable for both steaks and oven pizzas (and seventeen hundredy billion other things besides).

I have never once wanted to make my own waffles, and until they come up with a waffle iron that also doubles as a clothes-steamer, I don't think there's a lot of call to have one around.

Additionally, at some point in the moving in and moving out and the parade of roommates that marked my twenties, I acquired a "mango slicer," which is not only only good for slicing mangos, but then only mangoes of a very specific size. As handy as it is for that, I'm comfortable saying "don't buy a mango slicer."

Joanne said...

i don't have a blender and don't feel like I need one! So long as you have a food processor or immersion blender, you're god to go.

Owlhaven said...

Daniel, I also adore cast iron. In fact, if I were cooking on a desert island, I'd need a cast iron skillet, a big pot, a spoon, a spatula, and a good knife and cutting board. The rest I could live without.

Ronda said...

I go through phases. There have been years where I never used a Crock Pot, but now I use it at LEAST once a week. Same with a blender--it stayed on the shelf for ages, but now I make smoothies about 3-4 times a week. I don't use a bread machine much in summer, but in the winter, I love it. The things that I can think of that I haven't used in ages are my electric wok and electric knife. I tend to just use my electric skillet rather than the wok, so it's redundant, and a good bread knife is quicker and easier than electric.

chacha1 said...

@februarymakeup, I have often wondered why people would buy a waffle iron.

If you have a waffle iron, you have no excuse to *go out for* waffles. :-)

Daniel said...

Excellent input so far. Bottom line: for many items this will be a completely personal decision. One example: we have four different devices in our kitchen for making coffee: a bialetti, an ibrik, a french press and a plain old drip pot. Technically speaking, each is a unitasker, but I don't consider any of them a waste of space or money.

As for cast iron, I can see the point of the readers who disagree with me on that one. I'm always grateful when readers set me straight.


PS: First prize for turn of phrase goes to februarymakeup for "quizzical opprobrium." Nice.

Anonymous said...

Cookwear sets, for every piece you use, they load you down with about 1.5 pieces you never will.

Bare cast iron is good, enameled cast iron is as bad as celebrity cookware.

Anonymous said...

Skip the bock of knives, no matter how cool it looks. Generally you only need two knives: a chef knife and a paring knife.

PS - we use our blender a lot for pureeing soups.

Anonymous said...

After sampling some, my young friend asked me how I made my breakfast sausages: hers were always burnt on the outside before they were cooked in the middle.

I thought for a minute: use lower heat? babysit the sizzle? Then it came to me: "I have expensive cookware," I said.

That includes a big cast-iron pan, but also copper-bottom, stainless-steel-clad pans.

Ron's Army Navy Surplus in Halifax had sets of Paderno-like cookware available as well as as a Voodoo canopies and a tank out front. My hubby negotiated a trade: two WWII-era rifles for one set of cookware.

Since then, we have augmented our cookware with Paderno On Sale. the latest acquisition is a roaster with a rack complete with lifter: the lid is also a roaster, more shallow, with a flat top/bottom.

Do NOT buy Teflon (cast iron is non-stick after seasoning), do NOT buy aluminum (too thin), do NOT buy pans with plastic handles that can't be finished in the oven.

If you can't make it to Halifax, try to get cast-iron pans and Paderno-like copper-bottom stainless-steel-clad cookware. It will last forever -- or 25 years, so far. Plus it makes your hubby a better cook, your kid a fine dish-washer.

Love this site!

Diane said...

My cast iron is the work horse of my kitchen. I use it every single day. A good cast iron skillet is a must-have in my opinion. And they don't have to be expensive. i got mine for $8 at a garage sale.

Joanne said...

I don't have a food processor. My mom bought me one for my birthday--got it home, looked at all the bits, read the manual, saw that I'd have to cut up the food anyway (thus getting out my knives and cutting board), saw how much space it would take up on the counter or in a cupboard--packed it up and sent it back. Will get clothes for my birthday instead!

Honestly, a set of good knives (I beg to differ with the block of knives comment--I use every one in my block, which has chef, utility, bread, paring, and cheese knives) and a cutting board, a hand-held immersion blender, and one of those choppy-bangy things for nuts, etc. and you're good to go.

audreygeddes said...

Cast iron is something I've been slowly weeding out in my kitchen. I also found a bunch of gadgets I never even use! Thanks for sharing this great list :}. I've been learning how to simplify my kitchen and learn easy, but healthy cooking habits through an excellent new book out called, Holly Clegg's trim&TERRIFIC KITCHEN 101: Secrets to Cooking Confidence, which offers tips and head notes throughout the book to guide you through cooking and gives you extra morsels of information. Love it!

Sally said...

I would say look at how you live, cook and entertain before making purchases. There are some for whom fine china, glassware, and silver service makes sense -- but not for me or most people I know.

One of my friends and I have some health issues that make some tasks difficult or impossible to manage. Technology to the rescue. For her it's a bread machine and for me it's a food processor.

I'm generally against sets of things. But I have a set of Farberware that I bought over 36 years ago (and paid what seemed to be a king's ransom at the time). I use all the pieces, some more than others on a daily basis. They're in great shape and the only thing I've had to do is tighten the handle on one of the saucepans. I also have a couple of small pieces of All Clad stainless (bought on "special offers") that I love.

I'm a recent convert to cast iron. I have two skillets, a 3.5 qt. braiser (Lodge Color Logic), a 5.5 qt. Dutch oven (off brand) and a 1.25 qt. saucepan (Le Creuset). The off brand Dutch oven heats unevenly, it has chipped around the outside edge and the interior is dulled. I'm thinking about replacing it and adding an enameled skillet. I haven't decided whether I'll get Lodge Color Logic or Le Creuset. I'd say they function equally well and the Lodge is about 1/3 the cost of the Le Creuset. BUT the Lodge is made in China, which gives me pause.

I know a lot of people love immersion blenders, but that was my bad purchase. I don't think they perform well.

Mikeinksnsascity said...

Another cast iron skillet enthusiast here. All of mine were thrift store/estate sale purchases and re-seasoned. I use them all the time. I also have several pieces of enameled cast iron, some are 50 year old Dru (now extinct Dutch version of Le Creuset) as well as store-bought Le Creuset. Oddly enough, I've never cozied up to the Le Creuset chicken frier, but use the oval roaster al the time - what's with that?
A few years ago, I spent a lot of $$ on All Clad cookware, mostly it's been a wonderful purchase, but I've yet to use the steamer on a regular basis. My (jug) blender has remained unused since I got a hand blender and a food processor. A few months ago, I convinced myself I needed a mandoline, and picked one up at an estate sale for $4 or so. Apart from slicing some butternut squash very thinly ( which it did really well) it's remained unused. Ditto the dough hook from King Arthur. I guess there are some pieces that I use occasionally, but which nonetheless function really well, then there are those poorly designed, superfluous items ( I'm looking at you corn cob stripper) that are destined for the Goodwill box.

Brittany said...

Your list is pretty dead-on to me. (Agree with you on cast-iron--yuck.) Disagree with the other commenter about cookware sets... my anodized steel cookware set (3 saucepans, 2 skillets, saute pan, giant soup pot, and myriad of lids) was hands-down the best purchase (kitchen or otherwise) I've made in my entire life. It broken my heart recently when I relocated internationally and could only bring two pieces with me.

I am proud to report that when I purged my entire kitchen last month, I didn't have a single unused item. Nearly everything was regularly used; the closest to almost-never-used was a waffle iron I got for free. BUT I was SO happy to have it. Waffles are a 2-3 times a year food, but it so so sad for the several years I didn't have one and homemade waffles were a never-times a year food.

Niche close-to-unitask kitchen products I used all the time (but would never recommend to a newbie)... a wonderful silcon pastry mat (great for pie crusts and dumplings and homemade bread...), a rotary pie crust cutter (I doubled it as a pizza cutter, as mine was metal and I didn't like to use metal on my pans), and a plastic pot (thought it was totally bizarre when I got it, but SO GREAT for cooking veggies in the microwave, which I do regularly).

Also, I am currently staying with a friend who owns a really nice immersion blender and HOW HAVE I LIVED MY LIFE WITHOUT ONE THIS LONG?