Assuming you have the basics (oven, fridge, microwave, toaster) these are the items that will begin your journey to culinary glory:
1. A chef’s knife
A chef’s knife is the most essential part of this list, and with good reason. It not only will do almost everything you need a knife to do, but also the more you use it the better your knife skills will get. They can be an investment (hellooo, Bob Kramer), but even a $50 knife is good enough to start you off. Just make sure the steel (or whatever else it is made from) runs through the handle.
2. Knife sharpener
3. Bread knife
You can find them for $7, so it’s not much of an investment to make sure that when you slice bread it doesn’t come out smushed.
4. Paring knife
The paring knife is a must-have for doing the more delicate work that the chef’s knife makes more cumbersome, i.e. peeling fruit and carving pumpkins. You can get one for $6, so get to peeling!
5. Can opener
A $10 can opener may seem steep, but consider the fact that the $3 one you bought will break in two months.
6. Sheet trays
$17 for three non-stick trays is pretty good, considering you’ll probably ruin the first two trying to make cookies. But, hey, that’s the learning curve.
When you’re young and money is tight, pasta is a great way to fill you up without breaking the bank. So you’ll be doing a lot of pasta-straining and a colander is essential to the process. Pick up a used one at a thrift store or buy a new one for $6.60.
8. Stock pot
Speaking of pasta, you’ll need something to boil it in. Get one for $28.
9. Sauté pan
This is like the chef’s knife of pans, in that a good one is better than five crappy ones. You can get a decent one for $20, which is a steal since it is stainless-steel (pun intended). Also, be on the lookout for cast-iron pans at thrift stores and garage sales; you can get major deals there.
It can be $20 well spent for when you’re tired of pasta and want to warm a can of soup. Or try your hand at a Béarnaise sauce, same diff.
11. Cutting boards
Give your kitchen counter and your plates a break and start chopping on a cutting board. Just remember to designate one for poultry, meat, and veggies, etc. And at $19 for three that is more than feasible.
12. Instant read thermometer
$12 is never too much to pay to insure that your chicken isn’t underdone and possibly going to make your guests sick.
Since your knife skills might not be the best just yet, a mandoline is a must for perfect slices of tomato for your BLT. Get one for $13 and begin slicing those veggies!
14. Immersion blender
OK, I know this may seem non-essential, but you try making a velvety cream of tomato or butternut squash soup without one. Buying a cheaper one for $20 is not too much for perfection, since it can double as blender/food processor as well.
15. Random other kitchen utensils.
Almost all of these, including measuring cups and spoons, can be found super cheap. Like, dollar store cheap. Pick up a few different things to play with, and see what you really need as a cook.