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The Southern Kitchen guide to setting up your (or someone else's) first kitchen

I was quite lucky when I moved into my first kitchen after college. It seemed like all of my family members were downsizing, or at least aggresively spring cleaning, so I was gifted hand-me-downs aplenty. From furniture to knives and even pots and pans, I moved into that tiny Boston apartment pretty much fully stocked. 

Of course, most folks are not as lucky as me, and setting up a first kitchen can seem especially daunting. But whether you are setting off on your own for the first time or your loved ones are setting up a life together with new partners, you can help make that transition a little easier.

There are certain kitchen items that every home cook needs — even if all they're ready to cook is spaghetti with jarred marinara sauce. Sharp knvies, well-designed pots and pans, and, of course, measuring utensils, are all important tools for pulling off even the simplest of weeknight dinners. Luckily for you, we've got every gift you need in the Shoppe at Southern Kitchen.
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Photo: Ramona King

GRIZZLY 12-Inch Nickel-Plated Cast Iron Skillet

GRIZZLY 12-Inch Nickel-Plated Cast Iron Skillet ($185)

You don't have to be a mind-reader to know that we're crazy about cast iron here at Southern Kitchen. We think that these types of pans are must-haves for any kitchen, but some are better than others. For a brand-new cook, we love giving the gift of GRIZZLY. Created in North Carolina, and manufactured entirely in the United States, the GRIZZLY cast iron skillet eliminates all of the fuss of caring for cast iron. You can even (if you want) put it in the dishwasher. How? This heavy-duty skillet is coated in nickel, which prevents rust, sticking and the transfer of flavors. Even better: You'll never need to season it, and its smooth surface is engineered to last multiple lifetimes.
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Want something a little more traditional? Smithey Ironworks makes a great introductory cast iron skillet, as long as you (or your loved one) is ready to season and wash it properly. We'll show you how.
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Photo: Ramona King

Ballarini 11-Inch Nonstick Skillet

Ballarini 11-Inch Nonstick Skillet ($49.99)

Along with cast iron, a nonstick skillet is a must-have for any new kitchen. We're big fans of all of the nonstick cook- and bakeware from Ballarni — unlike the ultra-cheap skillets you can find at any grocery store, these are designed for intensive, demanding use. Reinforced with ceramic particles, the (non-toxic) nonstick coating boasts exceptional durability and quick release, and the pan's thick aluminum construction ensures perfect heat distribution for no hot spots. Your loved ones will be searing salmon and frying up perfect scrambled eggs in no time.
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Photo: Ramona King

Demeyere Industry Essential Pan

Demeyere Industry Essential Pan ($99.99)

We call this pan "essential" for a reason. Between its 3 1/2-quart capacity (perfect for boiling pasta for two or cooking up a few bowls of soup) and its heavy-duty, 5-ply stainless steel construction, it'll handle just about anything you throw at it. The rounded interior prevents sauces and any other sticky cooking projects from getting stuck and burning, and the long, ergonomic handles stay cool and comfortable. Plus, we've heard that some Southern Kitchen employees will toss this pan in the dishwasher to clean, so it's ready to withstand even the harshest of cleaning methods.
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Photo: Ramona King

BootHill Blades Cutting Board

BootHill Blades Cutting Board ($75)

I've got quite a growing collection of cutting boards in my kitchen now, but when I moved in to that first place of my own, I only had one, and it was a hefty wooden board just like the pieces we carry from BootHill Blades. While it may fetch a higher price than the flimsy plastic boards you'll find just about anywhere, this edge-grain purple heart, maple and cherry wood board is made to last. Your loved ones can use it to slice, dice and even serve their favorite foods, and, because it is hand made, they'll know that it is unique to their kitchen, and their kitchen alone. Each board has been seasoned and sealed using coats of mineral oil and board butter from locally harvested beeswax, making it ready to use immediately. (For more wooden tool tips, check out this guide to cleaning and care.) 
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Photo: Maura Friedman

Cangshan Knives Starter Set

Cangshan Knives Starter Set ($69.65 for three)

We sell plenty of fancy knives at Southern Kitchen, but for beginners, the Cangshan D Series can't be beat. I particularly like the three-piece set pictured here; it includes a paring, utility and chef's knife, so you'll already have most of your bases covered. Each knife is made from German steel with comfortable handles that connect to the blade with a smooth, blister-free bolster (that fancy term for where the blade meets the handle). Even better — they come razor sharp straight out of the box, so you can procrastinate the sharpening process for at least a month.
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Photo: Ranji McMillan

Ballarini Nonstick Jelly Roll Pans

Ballarini Nonstick Jelly Roll Pans ($19.99 for two)

Every home cook needs at least two baking sheets, and these easy-to-use nonstick jelly roll pans from Ballarini are a great multi-purpose option. Made from durable, pre-coated steel, they resist warping, even in a hot oven, so no matter what is cooked on them, it will always come out looking great.
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Photo: Ramona King

BootHill Blades Spatula

BootHill Blades Spatula ($23)

While there are probably a few more cooking utensils necessary for pulling off a full dinner party, a sturdy wooden spatula is an invaluable part of any collection. We're loving the handmade spatulas from BootHill Blades in our kitchens because they are not only drop-dead gorgeous, they also scrape corners and fond with the best. Made from Tennessee walnut, each spatula has been finished with a mineral oil and beeswax compound so it's already primed for sautes and stir-fries.
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Photo: Ramona King

Staub Ceramics Mixing Bowls

Staub Ceramics Mixing Bowls ($29.99 for two)

No matter what food is coming out of that first kitchen, chances are it has seen at least one mixing bowl. Whether your little brother needs a place to toss his chicken wings in buffalo sauce or your best friend wants an elegant new salad bowl, gifts like these are always welcome. The elegant and versatile mixing bowls from Staub come in a rainbow of colors, so they can match just about any kitchen decor. They're even oven-safe up to 572 degrees, and their highly-scratch resistant porcelain finish means they'll stay looking this good for many years to come.
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Photo: Ramona King

Creative Co-Op Pot Holder Set

Creative Co-Op Pot Holder Set ($14.99 for two) and Tea Towel Set ($39.95 for four)

Oft-overlooked but still crucial pieces of introductory kitchen gear are the mitts and towels that keep our hands protected from all of that hot food. Help keep your loved ones' hands burn-free with this citrus-themed collection from Creative Co-Op. Our pot holder set includes both an 8-inch round holder and a 12-inch long mitt, and our tea towel set includes four different patterned towels. Pick up both to make sure that first kitchen is off to a cute and matching start.
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Get the tea towels

Photo: Ramona King

Creative Co-Op Measuring Cups

Creative Co-Op Measuring Cups ($15.99 for four) and Spoons ($12.99 for four)

I'm nothing if not a stickler for accuracy when it comes to cooking and, especially, baking. So I try to always give the gift of good measurement to anyone stocking a first kitchen. These spoons and cups from Creative Co-Op are not only up to the task of measuring milk to an accurate 1/4 cup, but they also do so with pops of color and sleek design.
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Get the measuring spoons

Photo: Ramona King

Crow Canyon Home Large Colander

Crow Canyon Home Large Colander ($35.99)

No home cook — at least in my house — can get through the week without pasta night. And where would pasta night be without a proper colander in which to drain perfectly al dente noodles? Another not-particularly-exciting but oh-so-practical gift for those building a first kitchen, these splattered enameled colanders from Crow Canyon will keep their pasta cookery on lock. When it's not in use in the sink, the colander can also be used as a decorative centerpiece and/or fruit bowl — a true two (or three) for one!
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Photo: Ramona King

Zassenhaus Retro Kitchen Timer

Zassenhaus Retro Kitchen Timer ($16.95)

Looking for the most practical item on this list? It may just be this kitchen timer from Zasssenhaus. Sure, it looks cool, but it also will help all new cooks keep an eye on their brownies and roast chickens. Modeled on an American design from the 1940s through the 1950s, this timer comes with a magnet on the back that'll keep it within easy reach on the fridge, 24/7.
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Photo: Ranji McMillan


Author image

Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.