Whether you’re graduating from the dorm to your first apartment, creating a wedding registry or looking to upgrade your kitchenwares, this collection is for you. We’ve rounded up 10 must-have kitchen items with two options for each: one splurge and one budget-friendly alternative. That way you can decide which essentials you really want to invest the big bucks in. And with all this research already done, you’ll have enough time left over to drool over recipes. Here’s to cooking like a pro and saving dough all at the same time!


1. Colander: This shiny All-Clad Stainless Steel Colander ($80) could easily pull double duty as a fruit bowl when it’s not draining pasta. But for a fraction of the price, the retro-classic enameled GEMAK Colander ($10) from IKEA works just as well.

Dutch Ovens

2. Dutch Oven: The gorgeously designed Staub 5.5-Quart Round Cocotte ($284) is eye-catching enough to leave out on the stovetop 24/7 (a bonus for those of us with limited cabinet space). The black interior may look like an old school cast iron pan, but it’s actually enameled to make upkeep easy as can be. If you’re not quite ready for such a splurge, the budget-friendly Lodge 6-Quart Enameled Dutch Oven ($58) will get you started with Dutch oven cooking, while leaving enough money in your wallet to buy all those ingredients.


3. Fondue: With its precise digital thermostat, the Cuisinart Electric Fondue Maker ($54) will help you replicate a restaurant-quality fondue experience at home. However, if dipping chocolate alone is more your style, the tea-light-heated design from Mastrad ($20) is all you need. As a nice bonus, it’s small enough to pack on your next trip to the ski cabin.

Wooden Spoons

4. Wooden Spoon: Gentle on cookware, but sturdy enough to stir up a batch of cookie dough, the form and function of the Berard Olive Wood Cook’s Spoon ($13) is top-notch. (P.S. The pointed spoon is perfect for getting into the corners of pots and pans.) We’re definitely loving the price tag and long handle of the Williams-Sonoma Beechwood Long Spoon ($5), which will keep you a safe distance away from splatters.


5. Chef’s Knife: The Global 8-Inch Chef’s Knife ($85) is forged out of a seamless piece of steel, so you won’t have to worry about this knife’s handle loosening or collecting bacteria over time. If an eight-inch blade feels too big for you, consider this six-inch model instead — it’s a great all-purpose knife that’s perfect for more than just veggies. On the other side of the price spectrum, you’ll find the Dexter Russell 8-Inch Chef’s Knife ($16). Walk into any professional kitchen and you’ll likely find more than a few Dexter knives around. And with good reason; they’re durable, sharp and cost-effective.


6. Nonstick Pans: The Scanpan CTQ 10-Piece Set ($900) boasts a non-flaking, scratch-resistant non-stick coating that can sear steaks just as well as their uncoated counterparts. For a quarter of the price, you’ll get just as many pieces in the Greenpan 10-Piece Set ($250). You’ll love how evenly these thick pans cook up your latest creation on the stovetop or in the oven. Not in the market for a whole set? Individual items are also available.


7. Slow Cooker: Channel your inner modernist chef with the Nomiku Sous Vide ($300). It yields perfectly cooked eggs, meat and more. Sometimes you just need to keep it old school, and a classic Crock-Pot Manual Slow Cooker ($20) will deliver consistently. Besides, there’s nothing like walking in the door after a long day at work to the smell of a home-cooked dinner. As a nice bonus, you can even hack it to make a thrifty sous vide machine.


8. Thermometer: It’s hard to beat the precision and speed of the Thermapen ($96). Available in an assortment of colors, you can find one that matches your stand mixer. For less than 10 bucks, you can pick up a Taylor Classic Instant Read Pocket Thermometer ($6) — a small price to pay for ensuring that food is cooked to the proper temp. The case is even designed to make calibration a breeze.

Kitchen Towels

9. Kitchen Towels: Featuring a small pop of color, the Festive Stripe Towels ($32) will even look good when hanging out to dry. Equally understated, the TEKLA Dish Towel ($1) will match just about any decor. Plus, at that price point, you can make sure that a nice big stack of absorbent towels is available for cleanup at all times.


10. Kitchen Timer: The built-in timer on our smartphones is great and all, but sometimes seconds matter. The Polder Digital Kitchen Timer ($10) is a sleek, attractive device to stick to the side of your fridge for those occasions, or when you’re juggling a couple different tasks at once. You can always save a few bucks by hitting up your local dollar store to find the Cooking Concepts Electronic Kitchen Timer ($1) — it’s equally suited to the task.

What are your kitchen essentials? Share your top picks with us below!