Apartment Kitchen Essentials: The Best Checklist

apartment kitchen essentials
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When furnishing your apartment kitchen from scratch, focusing on apartment kitchen essentials is key for creating a functional cooking space on a budget.

I learned this firsthand while recently helping my daughter set up her college apartment and stocking a vacation rental property. After spending hours browsing appliance showrooms and cooking stores, I now know exactly which items are true apartment kitchen essentials.

My daughter can finally whip up ramen and scrambled eggs in her new apartment kitchen, while my rental property welcomes happy guests with everything they need to cook and dine comfortably.

So whether you’re off to college or settling into your first “adult” apartment, use my hard-won wisdom to strategically equip your new culinary space. I’ll walk you through must-have gear for cooking, baking, prepping, and storing food like a pro – even in the smallest kitchen.

Chop Like a Pro: Knives and Boards

person cutting vegetables with knife

A good chef’s knife is the foundation of any well-equipped kitchen. Look for an 8-inch or 10-inch knife made of high-carbon stainless steel. This all-purpose workhorse will be your go-to for chopping, slicing, and dicing everything from vegetables to meat. Invest in a knife from a reputable brand and properly maintain it by honing it before each use and sharpening annually. Complement your knife with a range of boards and tools to handle any slicing task with ease.

Essential Knives

  • Chef’s knife: Your primary chopping tool. Get an 8 or 10-inch.
  • Paring knife: Ideal for peeling, coring, and mincing. 3.5-4 inches.
  • Serrated bread knife: Slicing loaves without crushing them.
  • Boning knife: Removing meat cleanly off the bone.
  • Carving knife: Trimming roasts and slicing cooked meat.


Must-Have Cutting Boards

  • Wooden: Gentle on knife edges while naturally antimicrobial.
  • Plastic: Affordable, dishwasher safe, non-porous.
  • Marble: Retains cold well. Avoid heavy cleavers.
  • Bamboo: Sustainable material, easy on knives.
  • Epicurean: Composite won’t dull knives.

📌 Regularly oil wooden boards and sanitize plastic/marble ones to prevent staining and bacteria growth. Rotate between a few boards to prolong their lifespan.

Chopping Tools & Gadgets

  • Mandoline slicer: Adjustable blades for paper-thin slices.
  • Apple Corer: Removes cores quickly and safely. -citrus zester: Microplane grater makes zesting a breeze.
  • Herb scissors: Chop soft herbs without bruising.
  • Garlic press: Crush cloves easily.
  • Strawberry huller: Core berries in seconds.


Mix, Measure & Whip: Essential Mixing Tools

white ceramic bowl with brown powder

Preparing your kitchen with quality mixing bowls, utensils, and measuring tools means you’ll be ready to easily whip up everything from salad dressings and marinades to cake batters and bread dough.

Mixing Bowls

  • Stainless steel: Long-lasting, neutral material. Get a nesting set.
  • Glass: Allows you to monitor color changes.
  • Mixing specific: With spouts and handles for controlled mixing.
  • Double boiler: Fits bowls for heating delicate sauces.

Measuring & Portioning

  • Liquid measures: Essential for accurate pouring.
  • Dry measures: Scoop and level flour, sugar, etc.
  • Measuring spoons: For small amounts like baking powder.
  • Food scale: Weighs ingredients for precision.

Mixing & Stirring

  • Whisk: Incorporates air into ingredients.
  • Wooden spoon: Gentle, non-abrasive stirring.
  • Spatulas: Great for folding and scraping.
  • Tongs: Toss and serve salads.

Rolling & Mashing

  • Rolling pin: Roll out doughs. Choose wood, silicone, or French style.
  • Potato masher: Mash potatoes or cauliflower smoothly.
  • Pastry cutter: Blend butter into flour for tender dough.
  • Pestle and mortar: Grind spices, garlic, and herbs.

Cookware: Pots, Pans & Bakeware

peppermill beside cooking pots

Any dish you want to make starts with having the right cookware on hand. Equipping your kitchen with quality pots, pans, and baking dishes provides endless flexibility to boil, sear, braise, roast, and bake.

Pots & Saucepans

  • 2-3 quart saucepan with lid
  • 4-6 quart stockpot with lid
  • Steamer insert
  • Double boiler

Frying & Saute Pans

  • 8-inch nonstick skillet
  • 12-inch skillet with lid
  • Saute pan with sloped sides
  • Grill pan or ridged griddle

Bakeware Essentials

  • Rimmed baking sheets
  • 8×8” glass baking dish
  • 9” pie plate
  • Loaf pans
  • Muffin tin
  • Cooling racks

Extra Tools

  • Roasting pan with rack
  • Colanders & strainers
  • Basting brushes
  • Steamer basket
  • Mixing bowl lids

Handy Kitchen Appliances

white plastic container with lid

While not strictly essential, certain specialty appliances have become hugely popular for their ability to simplify cooking and expand your culinary repertoire. Consider adding these handy electrics to your new apartment kitchen:

  • Instant Pot – These multi-cooker pressure cooks, steams, sautes, and more in one pot. Great for soups, stews, and beans.
  • Air fryer – Give fried foods a healthy makeover by air frying everything from fries to chicken wings.
  • Electric griddle – Pancakes, grilled cheese, and veggies all get crispy edges from this flat-top surface.
  • Rice cooker – Perfectly cooked rice at the push of a button. Some models include steamers.
  • Toaster oven – Toast breads, broil meat, and bake small portions in this compact oven.
  • Slow cooker – Throw in ingredients in the morning and return to a cooked meal. Great for stews, roasts.

Dinnerware & Serving Essentials

white ceramic plate beside stainless steel fork and bread knife

The way you present and serve food is just as important as how it tastes. Elevate your humble table with an array of dinnerware, drinkware, serveware and linens. With the right pieces, you can set a stylish scene that suits everyday meals or impresses at luxurious dinner parties.

Dinnerware & Drinkware

Invest in classic white porcelain or stoneware with simple, clean lines:

  • Dinner plates
  • Salad plates
  • Soup bowls
  • Mugs & teacups
  • Water glasses
  • Wine glasses
  • Barware

📌Aim for 8-12 place settings so you can entertain guests.


  • 20-piece stainless steel set: Enough for 4 with spares.
  • Steak knives
  • Serving utensils

📌Spend a bit more for weighty, ergonomic handles and balanced pieces.

Linens & Decor

Linens protect and beautify tables:

  • Cloth napkins: Choose cotton or linen in a classic color.
  • Placemats: Set the table in style.
  • Tablecloths: Formal dinners and holidays.
  • Runners: Decorative but functional accents.
  • Napkin rings: Add personalized panache.

Serving Pieces

  • Platters: Present roasts, poultry, and mains.
  • Bowls: Salads, sides, breads.
  • Cake pedestal: Display desserts like royalty.
  • Gravy boat: Serve sauces and condiments.
  • Salt & pepper shakers: Season to taste.

Storage: Containers, Canisters & Shelving

two clear glass jars on brown wooden floating shelf

Maximize vertical storage with shelving units and utilize containers, canisters, and turntables to keep your pantry and fridge organized. Proper storage not only keeps ingredients tidy, it also ensures food stays fresh longer.

Pantry Storage & Organization

  • Canisters: Store flour, sugar, coffee, tea.
  • Glass jars: Display pasta, rice, beans, cereal.
  • Spice organizers: Wall racks, drawer organizers.
  • Shelving units: Optimize vertical space.
  • Turntables: Maximize corner cabinets.
  • Basket Organizers: Divide shelves.
  • Built-in racks: For cutting boards, trays, pans.

Fridge Storage & Organization

  • Produce bins & crisper drawers
  • Condiment & sauce racks
  • Beverage organizers
  • Cheese box: Stores blocks neatly.
  • Butter dish: Keeps butter soft.
  • Leftover containers: Glass and plastic.

Counter & Cabinet Organizers

  • Spice drawer organizers
  • Pot lid racks: Free up cabinet space.
  • Towel bars & rails: Easy access.
  • Under cabinet hooks: For utensils and towels.
  • Cutlery trays: Keep flatware tidy.
  • Chopping board organizers

Soaps, Tools & Cleaning Essentials

a white table topped with a bottle of lotion and a brush

Regular cleaning is the only way to maintain a beautiful, hygienic kitchen. Stock up on essential soaps, rags, sponges, brushes, and cleaning solutions to stay on top of dirty dishes, messy counters, and grimy appliances.

Dish Duty Supplies

  • Dish soap: Look for eco-friendly brands.
  • Dish brushes: Scrub stuck-on food.
  • Dish rack: Allows dishes to dry cleanly.
  • Dish towels: Absorbent high-quality fabric.

Surface Cleaning Tools

  • All-purpose cleaner: Remove grease and sanitize.
  • Disinfecting wipes: Quick clean-ups anytime.
  • Microfiber cloths: Won’t streak or scratch.
  • Old toothbrushes: Good for hard-to-reach areas.
  • Vacuum: effortless crumb cleanup.

Additional Cleaning Supplies

  • Trash bags: Empty the bin regularly.
  • Recycling bins: Sort glass, plastic, cans.
  • Garbage bin: For food scraps and waste.
  • Mop, broom, and dustpan: Sweep and scrub floors.
  • Gloves: Protect your hands.
  • Step ladder/step stool: Reach top shelves and cabinets.

Extras to Make Your Kitchen Complete

a kitchen counter topped with a mixer and potted plants

While not strictly essential, certain appliances, tools, and decor items can transform your new kitchen into an inspiring workspace.

Handy Electrics

While not essential, certain electric appliances can expand your culinary capabilities and streamline everyday cooking. With compact, multi-use gadgets like mixers, blenders and processors, you can whip up dishes with speed and ease.

  • Stand mixer: Effortless dough kneading and whipping
  • Immersion blender: Purees soups and sauces.
  • Food processor: Slices, shreds, and chops in seconds.
  • Electric kettle: Boils water in a flash.
  • Kitchen scale: Accurate ingredient measurements.

Luxury Serveware

Serving pieces go a long way towards elevating your table, whether for casual family dinners or entertaining guests. Invest in a few heirloom-quality plates, boards and crystal that communicate sophistication.

  • Cake stands: Display pastries and desserts.
  • Charcuterie boards: Arrange meats and cheeses.
  • Crystal drinkware: Elegant goblets and cordials.
  • Silver/pewter platters: Heirloom-quality pieces.

Inspirational Wall Decor

Even in a small apartment kitchen, don’t overlook the power of wall decor to personalize the space. Framed art, floating shelves and warm lighting make the room feel like home.

Make the most of vertical visual space by arranging framed prints or photos above the countertops. Opt for food-inspired artwork like vintage kitchen prints or herbarium drawings. Floating shelves are ideal for displaying cookbooks, plants, ceramic bowls, and other décor.

  • Framed art: Vintage kitchen prints or herbarium.
  • Chalkboard: Scribble grocery lists, quotes or menus.
  • Spice racks: Display jars decoratively.
  • Floating shelves: Plants, cookbooks, ceramics.

Final Touches

Those final whimsical touches like plants, textiles and scented candles or oils add a dose of charm to your new kitchen. Focus on pieces that spark joy while you cook. A mini herb garden of basil, thyme and parsley looks cheery on the countertop or windowsill. Light a scented candle that elicits happy memories in the midst of meal prep. Infuse your space with little decorative elements that make you smile..

  • Cookbooks: Build your culinary library.
  • Plants and herbs: Bring nature indoors.
  • Scented candles: Set the mood.
  • Cozy textiles: Tea towels, napkins, potholders.
  • Kitchen radio/speaker: Listen while you cook.

Coffee/Tea Station Essentials

black laptop computer on brown wooden table

For many, a hot cup of coffee or tea is how mornings begin. Carve out space in your new apartment kitchen for a coffee and beverage bar to start each day on the right foot.

  • Choose an area with access to plumbing for installing a sink or faucet. Near the stovetop works well.
  • Select a coffee machine like a drip coffee maker, French press, or single-serve Kuerig.
  • Include electric kettle, tea infuser, and loose tea tins or bags.
  • Install shelving above or near the station to hold mugs, sugar, sweeteners, and creamer.
  • Add personalized touches like printed coffee mugs, custom canisters, framed art.
  • Keep counter space free for prepping drinks.
  • Optional upgrades: espresso machine, coffee grinder, flavored syrups.

Pantry Staples for Everyday Cooking

three clear glass jars with brown and white stones

A well-stocked pantry makes throwing together meals easy, even on your busiest days. Focus on keeping these versatile ingredients on hand:

Grains: Brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta and bread provide balanced carbs. Stock up when they’re on sale. Consider pre-portioning into freezer bags for grab-and-go convenience.

Canned/jarred goods: Canned tuna, salmon, beans, and coconut milk provide protein, fiber, and healthy fats when in a pinch. Tomatoes, artichokes, and olives finish off salads and pasta. Look for low-sodium and BPA-free options when possible.

Sauces/condiments: Soy sauce, vinegars, olive oil, mustard, and ketchup add big flavor. Buy large bottles, then decant oil and vinegar into smaller dispensers. Refrigerate mustard, mayo, and opened condiments.

Herbs/spices: Start with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, cinnamon. Buy small jars until you determine frequently used spices. Toss and replace any that lose potency.

Baking essentials: All-purpose flour, baking powder and soda, granulated sugar, brown sugar keep cookies, cakes, and bread loaves at arm’s reach. Use zip-top bags for flour and sugars to keep pests out.

Snacks: Choose nutritious grab-and-go options like mixed nuts, granola bars, popcorn, dried fruit, and dark chocolate. Store appropriately to maintain freshness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much should I budget for fully equipping an apartment kitchen?

A: Expect to spend $1,000-3,000 to outfit your kitchen with quality essentials that will last. Invest more in key appliances and cookware.

Q: Small kitchen storage tips?

A: Optimize vertical space with wall-mounted rails, floating shelves. Keep counters clear with hanging utensil racks. Go for stackable, nesting cookware.

Q: Essential cooking for one recipes?

A: Focus on dishes you can repurpose like roasted chicken, quinoa, soups, roasted veggies. Prepare a few servings at once.

Q: Where to splurge vs save on kitchen purchases?

A: Spend more on knives, pots/pans, and small appliances. Save on glassware, utensils, storage containers.

Q: Should I install a pot rack or open shelving?

A: Probably not – these collect dust and clutter. Opt for closed cabinets with organizers.

Let me know if you would like me to add any other specific questions to the FAQ. I can also expand the answers with more details.

Additional Tips for Stocking Your First Apartment Kitchen

Stocking your first kitchen on a budget can feel daunting but follow this advice to make the process manageable:

  • Make a list of everything you need and be realistic. Stick to true essentials first.
  • Measure your space carefully so appliances and counter items.
  • Invest more in versatile pots, pans, knives, and other basics you’ll use constantly.
  • Start with a couple of multi-use small appliances like an instant pot and air fryer.
  • Buy dried herbs and spices in bulk; they last a long time.
  • Wash and dry hand-wash items right away to maintain them.
  • Organize with baskets, turntables and racks to optimize small spaces.

Taking it step-by-step will make furnishing an apartment kitchen manageable and affordable. Focus on quality essentials that serve you well for years to come.

Recap: Apartment Kitchen Essentials

There you have it – a comprehensive guide to stocking your new apartment kitchen with all the tools and touches that make cooking a joy. Follow this framework and you’ll create a warm, welcoming workspace brimming with essentials and extras tailored to your needs.

Most importantly, remember that your kitchen should inspire you. Surround yourself with pieces that spark creativity and pride whenever you tie on that apron. Treat your kitchen as a creative canvas – infuse it with pieces that make you smile, from charming wall art to fresh flowers.

Though furnishing a kitchen requires thought and budgeting, take it step-by-step. Focus first on quality tools and appliances that serve you for years then gradually incorporate decor over time. Soon you’ll have a cooking oasis productive and pleasing enough to rival more experienced home chefs.

Happy cooking in your thoughtfully furnished, personal kitchen sanctuary. May it nourish not just satisfying meals but also memories with friends and family for years to come.

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