Ah, the college experience—four years of education, new friendships, and drinking profound intellectual pursuits. While no student does college quite the same way, one thing is true of all of them: They need to eat. Depending on the school, dorm setups can vary greatly, but whether a culinarily minded student has to make do without a cooktop at all, can swing an induction burner in their room, or has access to a full kitchen, they won't want to be without a set of cooking essentials.
The Best Kitchen Gear for College Students
Before you shop, be sure to check the rules of the dorm where you (or the student you're shopping for) will be living. The list of permissible gadgets differs from college to college; some schools ban appliances like induction burners and electric kettles, for instance, but allow mini fridges and microwaves. You don't want to start off the year with demerits, so don't court an unpleasant encounter with the RA.
An Electric Kettle
Our electric-kettle review offers recommended products that span a range of functionality and price points; any one of them a good choice. We especially like the cordless Cuisinart Cordless Electric Kettle, which boils water quickly and is portable—no more scheming to unplug your roommates charger so you can make some instant ramen. Or you can listen to culinary director Daniel Gritzer and get an electric water pot that dispenses boiling hot water at the touch of a button.
A Coffee Maker
In college, coffee is almost as essential as sleep (perhaps even more so during finals week). Having a good coffee maker ready and waiting in your room makes the prospect of an all-nighter look less daunting, and will save a whole lot of money and time besides.
An AeroPress is ideal for a dorm room setting: It's small, portable, and affordable.
On the other hand, if having a nice big automatic-drip coffee maker will help you get an A, go for the Mr. Coffee Coffee Maker; it's programmable, so if you oversleep, the smell of fresh coffee percolating will get you out of bed in a jiffy.
Airtight Food Storage
The last thing you need in college—or ever, really—is a rodent problem. To keep critters at bay, you'll need airtight containers to store chips, cereals, and other snacks. OXO Pop Containers come in a variety of sizes and stack to save space. But it's the airtight seal that's arguably their best quality, keeping food fresh and safe from unexpected visitors.
For a slightly less pricey option, regular old snap-top quart containers and pint containers will do the trick as well.
A Mini Fridge
To keep yogurt, string cheese, milk for coffee or tea (and maybe the occasional six-pack) cold, a mini fridge is a necessity. And a mini fridge that also has a freezer to stock up on a few pints of Ben and Jerry's? Even better—the RCA 3.2 Cubic Feet Two Door Mini Fridge is a solid choice for chilled and frozen goods.
A microwave is incredibly handy when you don't have a kitchen, and not just for reheating leftovers or zapping coffee. It's convenient for a whole range of tasks, like drying herbs, toasting nuts and seeds, micro-steaming vegetables, and more. Or try Kenji's recipe for single-serving nachos, which sounds like one hell of a study snack to us.
A Pressure Cooker
Going without a stove means nothing when you're armed with a multi-cooker,* a simple machine that does so much, takes up very little space, and will make you look like a total badass.
A powerful pressure cooker can break down tough meats for flavorful chili, cook dried beans, or (for the committed student chef) make a gelatin-rich chicken stock. These machines can also double as rice cookers, and the sauté function will allow you to brown meat and vegetables for stews and braises to keep you nourished throughout the cold months.
We recommend a few different pressure cookers and multi-cookers, but for a student, the Instant Pot is a no-brainer. It's compact and easy to use.
A Plastic Cutting Board
No matter how many gadgets you lug into your dorm room, you won't get very far with food prep if you don't have a surface for cutting. In our review of the best plastic cutting boards, the simple boards made by OXO came out on top. They come in a bunch of different sizes, are dishwasher-safe (not that you're likely to have the luxury of a dishwasher in a college kitchen!), and will be gentle on your knives. You can also use them as a makeshift cheese board if you're feeling fancy.
A Chef's Knife
Our primer on the best knives to have in your kitchen recommends quite a few options, but not all of them are strictly necessary. If you're short on space and cash, Kenji raves about this $60 all-purpose chef's knife made by Misen.
A Paring Knife
A paring knife is useful for small tasks, like cutting citrus, peeling apples, or slicing cheese for the aforementioned cheese board. The paring knife from Victorinox is particularly sharp and easy to hold, and it costs less than $10—oh, and it comes in pretty colors.
A Bread Knife
A good serrated knife (a.k.a. bread knife) is essential if you're going to be cutting soft breads for daily sandwiches.
Opening a bottle of wine with a flip-flop may be crafty, but it's also dangerous, and utterly unnecessary when you can get a perfectly good and cheap corkscrew online. We explored several options for our wine-opener review, but for ease of use and storage, you can't beat a simple waiter's corkscrew. This version has a double-hinged lever system, which makes pulling out tough corks a lot easier. And, of course, it includes a bottle opener, for all your many bottle needs.
A Can Opener
Canned goods have seen generations of college students through many a meal, and we rely on them pretty heavily for a number of our recipes. Don't even think about using that knife of yours to pop the top—you'll destroy the blade. Get a proper can opener instead, like any of the winners from our can opener review. It's worth it.
An Immersion Blender
Traditional pitcher blenders can be bulky, tedious to clean, and expensive. Immersion blenders are the exact opposite. The All-Clad hand blender, a winner in our review of immersion blenders, can perform almost all the same functions, blending soups and smoothies directly in a pot or jar. But it's kinda expensive, so maybe spring for the cheaper (but still solid) Hamilton Beach 2-Speed Hand Blender.
A Water Filter
Adequate hydration is key in college, whether you're studying for a big exam or recovering from a serious hangover (or both at the same time). Keeping a pitcher of chilled filtered water on hand makes this easy, since it promises icy-cold sips while removing any contaminants from the tap water. This one should fit nicely in your mini fridge.
An Induction Burner
If you don't have access to a kitchen and want to develop your cooking skills, an induction burner is a great tool.* We suggest getting one with a single burner for easy storage. Induction burners tend to be more responsive than a hot plate or electric burner, and you can adjust the heat more rapidly for easier, faster cooking.
Our burner of choice, by Duxtop, is both well reviewed and reasonably priced. Do remember that an induction cooktop requires induction cookware; while traditional cooktops transfer heat to the bottom of a pot, induction burners use a magnetic coil to generate heat, which will only work with stainless steel and cast iron.
Good news for safety: Induction burners won't get hot until you place a pot or pan on them. They can still start a fire, though, so heed our safety warning and pay close attention while cooking.
Whether you have an induction burner or access to a real-deal kitchen, you'll want at minimum two pieces of cookware: a three-quart saucier and an affordable nonstick skillet, which should cover you for your eggs in the morning and your pasta at dinner. Don't forget: If you're using an induction cooktop, you'll need a nonstick pan clad in stainless steel. Otherwise, aluminum will work just fine.
All that's left is to fill a sturdy, attractive cooking crock with some basic utensils. That includes a silicone spatula, a whisk, and a set of tongs.
Extras for the More Advanced Cook
If you've been a dedicated Serious Eats fan for years, then obviously you'll want to bring an immersion circulator to college (nerd! but then, so are we...). Let the drunken sous vide experiments begin! Grab a Cambro, too, so you can easily scale up recipes for dinner parties, and some Ping-Pong balls to reduce evaporation. Any extras can, of course, be used for beer pong.
*In addition to following the rules of your dorm, please use all of these items according to the manufacturer's directions. Cooking-related fires can result in serious injury, or, at the very least, a permanent reputation on campus as "the idiot who set the fire." It's not worth it.