Is the cost of your cookware leaving you with no funds for food? Celebrity chefs like Mario Batali and Marcus Samuelsson endorse their own expensive lines of kitchen tools, but you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment to create a delicious meal.
We asked the experts which items warrant a splurge, and which are simply overpriced.
Fork Over the Cash for a Few Nice Knives
The most important thing to splurge on is a good set of knives. But you don't need the big box set, says Aaron Baer-Harsha, line cook at Ouest in New York City. "The average home cook only needs two knives: a chef knife somewhere in the range of six to 10 inches, and a paring knife.
Baer-Harsha recommends the Wusthof brand of knives. You can find a six-inch chef knife for $75 on Amazon.com, and a 3.5-inch paring knife for $35 at Macy's (M).
If you're investing in good knives, it's also important to take care of them. You will need two things: a sharpening steel and a good cutting board.
Baer-Harsha recommends buying your sharpening steel -- also called a honing steel -- from a reputable store like Williams Sonoma (WSM), where the staff can teach you how to use it properly. The diamond sharpening steels can cost as much as $100, but it's OK to buy the cheaper, metal sharpening steel. You will still have a useful tool to keep your knives sharp.
Aside from sharpening your knives, you also should buy a good cutting board to protect your tools. "Bad cutting boards do a lot of damage to knives," says Baer-Harsha. "So if you're going to buy nice knives you might as well buy a good cutting board as well." He recommends wood, not glass or plastic.
Pass on Pricey Pots and Pans
When it comes to pots and pans, our experts say a big expense is unnecessary. Paul Vandewoude, head chef at Miette Culinary studio in New York City, says that it's important to have a pan with a thick bottom but also one that is light enough to hold comfortably.
Vandewoude warns against using nonstick pans: They release potentially toxic gases when heated to high temperatures. He also doesn't recommend pans with plastic handles. "It should be able to go in the oven," says Vandewoude. "So if you're cooking a large meal you can use all surfaces of your stove top as well as your oven."
Baer-Harsha also recommends going for cheaper pots and pans. He identifies All Clad as a solid brand for home cooks, but at about $90 for a 10-inch stainless steel frying pan at Macy's, the prices of this line are at the upper limit of what it's worth spending on them. As an alternative, Consumer Reportsfound that Bonjour is a top quality brand -- and it's cheaper. For an eight-inch skillet, you'll pay about $40 at Macy's.
At the end of the day, you have to prioritize your kitchen purchases. Spend your extra cash on knives, and go with a cheaper set of pots and pans. You'll have the tools for a successful meal without paying professional prices.