Essential cookware under $100

Banu Ibrahim
January 9, 2018

Story highlights

  • An 18-piece knife set, Frywall and Mason jars are some of the many essentials every at-home chef should have in their kitchen.

You've taken the next culinary step and have begun to create a kitchen that's well-equipped for any chef. Investing in a full set of pots and pan is a logical first step. But there are other cooking essentials that can make a huge difference in the quality of your meals.

For instance, a solid set of salt and pepper grinders. It may seem like a frivolous purchase, but spices develop taste when they're ground. That's because whole herbs or spices (like peppercorns) contain oils that are released upon grinding, giving your foods that extra punch of flavor -- much tastier than preground spices that have been sitting in the pantry, losing quality as the oils evaporate.

For those ready to stock their cabinets with the works, we've compiled a list of items to get you started.

Now all that's left is figuring out what meal to make first. Decisions, decisions.

Note: The prices below reflect the listed retailer's price on the date this article was published.

Ballarini Professionale Nonstick Ceramic Fry Pan (starting at $35.23; wayfair.com)

A nonstick pan is a must in the kitchen. It's so versatile it may be your most-used pan. We've recently been trying out the Ballarini nonstick ceramic pan, and it's a real game-changer. It distributes heat evenly to help cook meats, veggies and eggs perfectly. But the real highlight for us is its ultra nonstick surface, which makes cleanup a complete breeze. Even tough burned-on grease was easy to wipe away with a quick sudsy rinse.

Currently, you can shop the pan on Wayfair, Food52 and Amazon.

Fusion 18-Piece Knife Block Set ($84.93; wayfair.com)

Not all knives are created equal. Some options, like chef's knives, are ideal for cutting up meats and harder vegetables. But you'll want to avoid using those for softer foods. A serrated utility knife is better suited for delicate fruits and veggies (like tomatoes) to get clean cuts without bruising or tearing. A one-knife-fits-all approach just doesn't work.

To be covered in most areas of your kitchen prep, you'll want to invest in a knife block set that offers many options of cutlery to give you the versatility you'll need. Fusion's 18-piece set does just that. It comes with a collection of knives ranging from paring to steak, all forged from high-carbon stainless steel. Over 300 customers on Wayfair.com have rated the set 4.8 stars out of 5. With a reasonable $85 price tag, it's one of the more economical knife block sets out there that still delivers on quality.

Zwilling Twinsharp Stainless Steel Handheld Knife Sharpener ($19.96; amazon.com)

We could wax poetic about knife sharpeners. Once you invest in a versatile knife set, you'll need to maintain your knives. A sharp knife saves time in the kitchen, as it's able to chop through proteins, herbs and everything in between faster and with more accuracy. But probably the most important benefit is that with more delicate ingredients — like herbs and softer vegetables like tomatoes — a dull knife can bruise and crush them. Sharpeners like Zwilling's, that combine steel and ceramic wheels, can help both strengthen and polish your blades so they're in top form when you're slicing through your vegetables and meats.

Currently, you can score the sharpener at Amazon, Food52 and Wayfair.

Fresh Soil-Dipped Wooden Spoons ($29; food52.com)

Wooden spoons are a staple in many kitchens, and for good reason. They work well on nonstick surfaces (unlike metal versions, which could scratch the pan's surface) and have a high heat tolerance (unlike plastic, which could melt). While there are plenty of wooden spoon options out there, we're partial to this set, which adds a bit of unexpected flair to the traditional piece. And no, they're not really dipped in soil -- the handles are dipped in a soil-colored rubber paint so you can get a good grip on them.

They're an easy modern upgrade with all the functionality you'd expect.

Frywall ($22; bloomingdales.com)

We're willing to bet you've experienced the annoyance of having to clean grease splatters from your stovetop after sauteing veggies or searing meat. Not only is the cleanup messy, but while you're cooking, those splatters of grease could burn you. A Frywall helps to prevent both problems. It's a silicone cone that fits inside the rim of pots and pans to help keep food and oils contained. This splatter guard protects you and your stovetop without interfering in the cooking process. Thanks to the design, steam can freely escape while the Frywall is attached.

Glass Oven & Freezer Safe Storage Containers ($72; food52.com)

Hear us out: Glass containers are so much better than plastic ones. These aren't just for storing food; you can use them to heat up food in both the oven and the microwave, use them for storage in the freezer, and pop them in the dishwasher for simple cleanup. Glass food storage containers are just more versatile than their plastic counterparts. So if you're ready to amp up your kitchen arsenal, it's time to throw out those freebies you saved from past takeout orders and replace them with glass containers. This set of eight pieces from Food52, which features locking lids for a tight seal and a stackable design for room-saving storage, is a great place to start.

Vremi Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Square Grill Pan ($27.99, originally $49.99; amazon.com)

You don't need a grill to barbecue. All you really need is a stovetop and a solid cast iron griddle. Cast iron has some great properties for grilling tasty foods in the comfort of your own home. For starters, it has excellent heat retention, so you can sear your meats and char your veggies at a high temperature. And if you're a burger fan, cooking on a cast iron pan also allows fat drippings to stay in the pan to make your patty even juicier. Those juices are lost when you use an outdoor grill.

If you're looking to grill up meats and veggies without worrying about the weather, a cast iron griddle is a must. But if you need a pan that's a bit more versatile in terms of what you can cook in it — think frittatas, shakshuka, biscuits or roasted chicken — you'll likely want to invest in a cast iron skillet that has a flat surface.

AmazonBasics Silicone Baking Mat ($12.95, originally $13.99; amazon.com)

For bakers, a silicone baking mat is a simple but revolutionary accessory. With one of these, you'll never have to grease down a baking sheet again for your cookies and other sweet treats. These nonstick mats allow your baked goods to slide right off, avoiding stubborn burned-in food on the pan and allowing a faster cleanup. They take the place of oil, cooking sprays and parchment paper in baking. It's no wonder that this pick from AmazonBasics, which got 4.7 out of 5 stars in reviews from over 1,700 customers, has become an Amazon No.1 Best-Seller.

Cuisinart 8-Cup Food Processor ($99.95, surlatable.com)

A powerful food processor can take the place of a number of tools and tasks at the touch of a button. Take Cuisinart's eight-cup food processor, for example. The device's heavy-duty motor can chop vegetables, pulverize nuts and even knead dough. It's ideal for crafting perfect salad dressings and homemade nut butters, chopping onions and other tough veggies, and even blending pastry dough in a matter of minutes. And anything that eliminates some of the tough cooking work for us is a win in our book.

KitchenAid 9-Speed Contour Hand Mixer ($99.99; crateandbarrel.com)

Electric mixers, whether they're standing or hand-held, are a necessity in a baker's kitchen. With them, you can easily mix together tough-to-beat ingredients, like cold butter and flour. And if you're making a meringue, whipped cream, or any other dish that would require intense arm work on your part, you can conquer that too with a mixer. While standing options can be very pricey, hand mixers can get the job done at a more modest price. KitchenAid is one of the best-known manufacturers of mixers, and the company's nine-speed contour hand mixer really delivers. The device features a sensor that adjusts to the resistance of what you're mixing and an ergonomic handle to make the device more comfortable.

Stockholm Salt & Pepper Grinder ($38; food52.com)

Grinding spices and seasonings like salt and pepper creates fresher tastes and more pungent aromas than you'll get from preground spices. Since salt and pepper are two of the more used seasonings, you'll want to invest in a grinder for each. We're fans of the Stockholm grinder, which works for salt, pepper or other spices, as it's designed to be spill-proof. Once you've finished grinding, the bottom gate closes, keeping everything neatly contained inside the device and off your table or countertop.

Ball Elite Blue Jars ($16.53; amazon.com)

Mason jars may seem like just another trendy item, but there's a reason they've been used in kitchens for almost 200 years. If sealed correctly, they can help safely preserve foods like jams and pickled vegetables. They're also handy containers to use for storage around the kitchen and to transport food and drinks. The lids stay put once screwed in tight, so you can rest assured no liquids will be dripping out in your fridge or tote. Invest in a set of Ball jars, and you'll be surprised at just how often you use them.

The jars are available at a number of online retailers, including Food52, Amazon and Walmart.