• Cookware sets can be a waste of money if you’re not planning on using every single item in the set. Instead, purchase solid, decent quality pieces as you can afford them, since they’ll last longer. Before getting started, ask yourself questions like: What do you cook, what’s your cooking style and how often do you cook? This will help you determine which pieces you actually need.
• Check your local discount store for deals, like T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s and Ross. In addition to offering already discounted merchandise, these stores will often offer additional deep discounts on items that have minor scratches or dings and dents, so keep an eye out.
• You can find uncommon cooking accessories, like bamboo steamers, spider strainers, tortilla presses and rice cookers, for rock bottom prices at your local Asian or Hispanic market.
• One of the best places to find kitchen items for lower-than-retail prices is at restaurant supply stores. While they mainly cater to restaurants, some locations are open to the public. Find one in your area and call ahead to make sure you can browse their selection.
• Sometimes you can pick up great pieces at garage or estate sales if you know what to look for. You might have to sift through a few duds, but the patience will pay off when you find that near mint condition Le Crueset Dutch oven for cheap.
• Deal-of-the-day sites like Woot! or 1 Sale A Day offer some amazing discounts on choice items. If you’re not sure where to start, Google “deal of the day” along with “cooking” and sort through the results.
Now that you’ve got the basics, here are our picks for the five pieces of cookware that will have you covered in the kitchen, without breaking the bank.
• Chef’s knife: A good, high-quality chef’s knife can chop things quickly and more efficiently, making your life easier in the kitchen. Pick up one that’s at least seven inches long with a stainless steel blade and a textured, slip resistant handle, like the Victorinox 10” Chef’s Knife ($26.65 from Amazon).
• Dutch oven: This hefty workhorse of a kitchen gadget is one of the most versatile around. It can be used for any cooking technique as well as marinating, refrigerating and freezing. The Lodge Color 6-Quart Dutch Oven is one of the more budget-friendly offerings, and comes in several bright colors to coordinate with your kitchen décor ($49.97 from Wal-Mart).
• Large, heavy skillet: If you’re cooking in a small kitchen, you may think the idea of a 14-inch skillet is too much, but having a large skillet will ultimately save time because it evenly cooks food, meaning you won’t have to cook in batches. The Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless Open Skillet features steel riveted handles that stay cool on the stovetop ($28.24 from Amazon).
• Bamboo cutting board: A sturdy, large cutting board is a must in any kitchen because it can be used to cut vegetables or fruit or carve meats. The OXO Large Bamboo Cutting Board features handles and nonslip edges as well as a juice canal to keep your counter clean ($22.49 from Target).
• Measuring cups: We love this OXO 3-Piece Angled Measuring Cup Set. Perfect for wet or dry ingredients, the cups feature soft, nonslip handles, and the angled surface makes reading the markings from the side or the top easier ($20.00 from Williams-Sonoma).
Photo credit: iStockphoto/hudiemm