Running a household on a budget might just require a bit of equipment that a “normal” kitchen doesn’t have – especially if one is interested in avoiding a lot of premade, frozen and expensive options from the store.
I’ll be adding to and updating this list as I go along.
Freezer: A freezer is number one on my list. Having a freezer allows one to take advantage of many of my strategies, but I speak more extensively about freezers in “Bank Your Foods.” A freezer will allow one to buy items at sales prices and use those items over a long period of time. I haven’t paid over 99 cents a pound for chicken breast in over 15 years – of course it used to cost less! Frankly, a freezer will pay for itself in months, no matter what you eat, if you buy on sale. A freezer will allow you to maximizes your time and effort and have meals ready to go at a moment’s notice. That may very well keep you and your family out of the of the restaurants or fast food joints. See Freezer Options for some ideas, and look for the tag of “Freezes Well” on many of my posts.
Food Processor: This is an item I cannot live without – and they don’t necessarily have to be expensive. I’ve had two since about the 1980’s. The first was $39.99 and lasted almost 20 years. I’m on my second, which is going on 12 years. Keep your eyes open for bargains when looking for one. I picked mine up at a Home Depot Sale – a Cuisinart for $89.99, at about 1/2 the normal price. Look for them during Holiday sales, too. While sometimes I think it would be great to have the top of the line model, my (11 cup? 12 cup?) one is great – it’s not heavy, complicated and takes up little counter space. I figure $120.00 for almost 35 years is a bargain price. As a matter of fact, I could have bought a new inexpensive one every few years and still not paid the price of one the “top of the line” model…do your research, though – some are great and others not.
Large Mixer: While not absolutely essential, very nice to have, especially if you’re interested in making things at home like breads, pizza dough, desserts, etc. I have several attachments for mine that I do not use as often as I could or should. You may wish to see my post on how to buy a large kitchen appliance on a budget, which features a Kitchen-Aid mixer. I got by for years without one, and was literally in my 40’s when I first purchased mine – but I sure wish I had one long before.
Kitchen Slicer: We’re not huge meat eaters, but our inexpensive fold up kitchen slicer does an amazing job with the slicing chores we have here in the Frugal household. Ours was about 35 bucks years ago, and they still run about the same price. If you do eat lunch meat, think about subbing out freshly sliced meat from roasts, hams, turkey and chicken – deli thin. Great for platters of cheese and sausages, slicing onions for French Onion soup. While I wouldn’t necessarily pull it out for small chores, there are times it is very useful.
Pressure Cooker: I’ve had mine for years and love it. Best part: the pan is well made, sturdy and a great size. I often make stocks and broths, cook risotto in it, make the loveliest greens. It makes short work of beans, dried peas and lentils – all items that are frugal and cost-effective.
Thermometers: For years, I only had a candy thermometer and a little instant read which I’d use at Thanksgiving or the rare occasions when I’d make a large beef roast. If I thought about it. If I could find it. While many considered me to be a good cook, I found my cooking improved (and stress level went down on these occasions) when I picked up a digital thermometer. While I don’t usually embrace the latest and greatest fads, do get the one with the remote so you’re not tied to the kitchen. You can clip it on your pocket or waistband (and look marvelously geeky) and be paged when your food is ready. No more “nicking” into things to see if it is done, losing the marvelous juices.
Knives: Seriously, save your counter space and forgo the blocks of knives. You really need a great chef’s knife that feels good in your hand, a longer, thinner slicer, a paring knife and perhaps a fish or boning knife which can be used interchangeably. The block sets are often cheaper knock-offs of great brand name knives. If you wish to spend more, pick up a second chef’s knife so you don’t have to wash as much as you cook when switching from meats to vegetables, etc. With all the money you save, get yourself a little magnetic tool strip from the hardware store (about 7 bucks) to put above your sink and hang your knives on and an electric knife sharpener.
Knife Sharpener: An essential tool in my kitchen, in seconds I can have my knives sharpened. Purists may say that only by hand is the best way, but who has time? Cook’s Illustrated reviewed and found out that electric sharpeners do put a bit more wear and tear on your knives, but the amount is miniscule. It took me almost 30 minutes to cut hasselback potatoes at my daughter’s, but only about 10 at home with my sharp knife. I could barely get through red cabbage at a friend’s house; it took forever. It wasn’t until the next time I was cutting one to braise at home that I realized the problem was their knives were dull. Dull knives are a misery to work with and make every task so much harder! Cost – about 12 to 20 bucks!
Kitchen Scale: For years I had a small spring type and when that broke I picked up a small digital or about 15 bucks. It’s amazingly accurate. I like mine which reads both standard and metric so I convert recipes I find on amazing blogs from other places. My scale as saved me so much money – for instance just last week I found I had three packages of chicken that were each five ounces light. I also but large packages of chicken and pork and portion it out. Believe me, they’re not just for serious bakers.
Spoons, Spatulas, etc.: The majority of mine come from the dollar store. Yep. The dollar store. Exceptions are my Spoonula, a heavy spatula spoon type thing. It’s great. And my little offset spatula. And one thin nonstick spatula that is great for picking up delicate things like fish or barely cooked cookies. From the dollar store are big plastic serving/stirring spoons, a spatula, a straining spatula, ladles, etc.
Grill: A grill pan, a George Foreman Grill or one of those Cuisinart jobs or an outdoor grill – what ever suits your fancy, it’s nice to have. I upgraded from my George Foreman to an expensive Cuisinart grill and wish, instead, I just would have gotten a Lodge grill pan. I think the Cuisinart is hard to control, takes up a lot of room and just doesn’t get and stay hot enough. A bit of a waste.
I asked on my Facebook page: What piece of kitchen equipment do you use most, and what did you buy, thinking you would use that you don’t? For me, the one I use most is my food processor, and the one I use the least is my Crock Pot. I did used to use it more when we had “food days” once a month at work.