Coming up with gift ideas for the beginner cook is pretty easy—even if they already have the essentials. But that doesn't mean you can't go wrong. There's a host of bad products (and product bundles) marketed toward the novice cook, and the sellers are counting on the neophyte to know no better and opt for an expensive nonstick skillet over a cheap cast iron pan. Luckily for them, you're around to steer them in the right direction, and give truly useful gifts that will reward their early ventures into cooking.
Whenever we shop for new cooks, we think back to our own starting mistakes. Why did we wait so long to buy an instant-read thermometer? Or a scale?
In part, that's because once we've replaced a poor tool with a superior one, we have a far greater understanding of its value. The gift you're giving is more than just the item in question: You're passing on the wisdom of your experience.
A Nice Pan
Cooking is a lot more enjoyable if you have a decent pan or two. For novice cooks who are in the market for a Western-style skillet, we recommend investing in both a cast iron and a tri-ply stainless steel pan.
Cast iron pans are prized for being durable, versatile, and affordable. They are kitchen workhorses with excellent heat retention properties, making them well-suited for a wide range of tasks like searing steaks, frying latkes, and baking cornbread. Sure, cast iron requires a little extra care, but with just a few seconds of upkeep, this is a pan that will last well past a lifetime.
Tri-ply stainless steel skillets are much lighter than cast iron pans, better at conducting heat, and won't react with acidic ingredients. They're ideal for quickly sautéing vegetables, making pan sauces, and tossing ingredients like a badass.
An Awesome Chef's Knife
Picking a knife can depend on a range of factors, such as hand size, experience level, and intended uses, which is why we've devoted an entire guide to knife-related considerations. But we're confident recommending our house favorite, the Misono UX10, to the majority of cooks. This knife is sharp straight out of the box, and it will stay sharp despite repeated use. It's light, well-balanced, and it will certainly make the prospect of learning how to chop and slice all the more enticing for someone setting out to master knife skills.
Another benefit: It's nice enough that it'll provide ample motivation for the new cook to learn how to properly store and take care of their knives, and the importance of keeping them sharp, either by sending it out for proper sharpening or learning how to sharpen it themselves.
A Set of Tongs and Tweezers
A pair of tongs is invaluable for moving food around during cooking, acting as an extension of your hand. From fishing out noodles from boiling water to turning steaks or cutlets, these tongs from OXO can handle it all without damaging or scratching your pans. And if you'd like to get really cheffy, pick up a pair of tweezer tongs. They're an affordable stocking stuffer that will impress and excite any kitchen newbie.
An Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven
A Dutch oven is another piece of equipment that we use all the time for making soups, stews, and braises, as well as for deep frying, and even baking bread. They're sturdy, easy on the eyes, and will last a lifetime. Staub and Le Creuset make the best investment piece Dutch ovens on the market.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
A Digital Thermometer
We're constantly singing the praises of a digital thermometer here at Serious Eats. When it comes to preparing any kind of meat at all, the gadget is key to knowing when your meat is cooked exactly how you want it. Our longtime favorite is the Thermapen, but we also love the Thermopop by Thermapen and the Javelin by Lavatools as inexpensive alternatives.
The Right Stand Mixer
If the budding chef in your life is in fact something closer to a budding pastry chef, they won't be able to realize their dreams without a good stand mixer. Many baking recipes pretty much require a stand mixer. Stella recommends the KitchenAid Pro due to its powerful motor and its solid-metal gears, which help it power through things like cold butter easily and quickly. Throw in standard attachments, like a pasta maker or meat grinder, and it's basically a one-stop shop for specialty food production.
A cook can't accurately follow a recipe if they don't have the correct tools to measure out their ingredients, so getting your giftee a set of measuring cups and spoons is a great place to start. But also, keep in mind that volume isn't the only (or best) way to measure out a recipe's ingredients. For accuracy and ease of use (especially with baking projects), a digital kitchen scale is hard to beat, and it makes for a great gift.
A Wooden Spoon
A sturdy, reliable wooden spoon is a must in any kitchen. Like many kitchen tools, there are a number of varieties to choose from, and the "best" is really a matter of personal choice. While our favorite is this Le Creuset one, we reviewed a handful of others to find the ones that performed best at stirring, scraping, and tasting. Because, after all, your beginner cook should be armed with nothing but the best!Continue to 9 of 11 below.
A Cutting Board
If you give a mouse a cookie, he'll probably want some milk. If you give a cook a knife, they'll need a cutting board to put it to use. Whether you choose plastic or wood is up to you. (Of course, we did the research and can help you find the best of each.)
Plastic cutting boards are inexpensive. Our favorite from OXO is sturdy, but light, and it's dishwasher-safe. It's the kind of thing a new cook can feel comfortable using because they're hard to damage and easily replaceable. However, a good wooden cutting board, like this one from The BoardSmith, is worth owning. It's extremely durable, gentle on your knives, and very good looking.
Spices (Fresh Ones!)
It's possible that your beginner cook already has a few basic spices in their pantry, but lord knows how old they are. If they're over a year old, they might as well be sawdust. So do your giftee a favor and pick up a bundle of fresh spices from Burlap & Barrel, one of our favorite spice purveyors. You can build your own bundle with classics like dried thyme and ground turmeric, while also adding a couple exciting options in there, like Icelandic kelp and urfa chile, to inspire your giftee to experiment in the kitchen.
Fun Pantry Ingredients
A few weeks ago, we wrote a story about our favorite pantry ingredients worth the splurge.
There's no better way to get a new cook in the kitchen than a basket full of tasty ingredients, like Sicilian tomato estratto for rigatoni alla vodka, fish sauce for Brussels sprouts muchim, and olive oil for well, everything.
There aren't any hard and fast rules with this one. But if you love cooking with a certain ingredient, chances are your beginner cook will too.