Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Finding Quality Kitchen Equipment on the Cheap

Last week, we talked about what cooking equipment is best for kick-starting a new kitchen and/or stocking an old one. Turns out? Though rice cookers and garlic presses tanked in my survey, they were sky-high on almost every commenter’s list. Oversight City, Population: Me.

Today, we look at another, more complex apparatus issue: where to find everything at a somewhat-to-severely discounted price.

This article took awhile, mostly because I wasn’t quite sure how to organize everything. Eventually, I settled on the following:
  • FIRST STOP: Try this first, before anything else, whether you’re actively pursuing a Wusthof chef’s knife or casually looking for a Santa Claus spatula.
  • IF YOU NEED IT NOW: Go here if you have a list of kitchen equipment in mind, and nothing but your specific ideas will do.
  • IF YOU’RE BROWSING: Check these places if you’re not terribly pressed for time, but would be thrilled to trip over a certain piece of cookware.
  • CONSIDER: This may not be your first choice, but it’s a valid one.
  • KEEP WALKING: Don’t bother with these.
  • DUNNO: I’ve heard of folks obtaining equipment through these methods, but don’t know much about them myself.
So, without further ado, (and just in time for Black Friday), the list. Comments and suggestions welcomed!

FIRST STOP

Friends and Family
Whether it’s a 2-quart saucepan, the world’s most adorable whisk, or a vegetable peeler from the Clinton years, odds are your loved ones have unused kitchen paraphernalia lying in hidden corners around the house. (Mayhaps in the kitchen?) With permission, raid their stashes for valuable booty. It’s good for you, good for the environment, and best of all, free.


IF YOU NEED IT NOW

Amazon
The King Daddy Mack of all online retail outlets, Amazon often offers the best possible prices for a range of cooking gear (especially the big stuff). The Markdown page and Bestseller columns are good places to start looking for bargains AND you might even be able to snag a partial refund through this site. Plus, Super Saver shipping is often available for the low, low cost of $0. Not too shabby. (Caveat: always read the reviews. Sometimes, that cake pan is discounted for a good reason.)

Spotted recently

Bargainist and Dealhack (with an order of Retail Me Not on the side)
Instead of perusing individual cooking websites looking for faboo deals, save time and money with sites that do it for you. Bargainist and Dealhack monitor tons of online sales (Amazon, Linens N Things, etc.) while Retail Me Not offers the latest and most updated coupon codes.

Spotted recently

eBay
Still the online leader in person-to-person goods exchange, auction icon eBay has a great advantage over Craigslist for finding bargain kitchenware. The range of items is unmatched, and coast-to-coast sellers mean you can have a pot shipped from close to home. Plus, detailed descriptions, pictures, and customer ratings help ensure safety and quality.

Spotted recently

  • New Wusthof Ikon 8” Chef’s Knife for $8.99 shipping, plus bid ($120 on Amazon)
  • New Circulon 5.5 Quart Dutch Oven for $6.99 shipping, plus min. $19.99 bid ($100 on Amazon)

Ikea
Measuring cups for a $0.99. Colanders for $1.99. Three mixing bowls for $4.99. Ikea, though not ideal for sturdy cookware (leave that to Amazon), is THE place to go for gadgetry that never seems to last that long anyway. For college kids to first-time apartment dwellers on down, the Swedes know the score.

Restaurant Suppliers
This may be difficult in small towns and the ‘burbs, but according to New York Times expert Mark Bittman, “Every metropolitan area has at least one [supply shop].” This means you can grab everything from a wire whisk to a heavy cookie sheet for way less than you’d pay at Macy’s. “In fact,” he claims, “I contend that with a bit of savvy, patience and a willingness to forgo steel-handle knives, copper pots and other extravagant items, $200 can equip a basic kitchen that will be adequate for just about any task, and $300 can equip one quite well.” Grab a muscular friend and go crazy.

Wal-Mart and Kmart
(Leviathan-esque big box stores are terrible at promoting community and competition, but they’re still some of the only options many people have, which is why they’re listed.) A brand name is a brand name is a brand name, wherever you buy it, so often, a discount store can offer you a much better deal. For example, a 14-speed Oster blender will cost $60 at Macy*s, while a roughly comparable one will only be $24.96 at Wal-Mart. It’s the same thing, so why pay twice the price?

Spotted Recently

IF YOU’RE BROWSING

Clearance Sales – In Store
While popular, high-quality items are rarely located in the clearance section, smaller gadgets and seasonal gear are rife on the racks. Make it a point to take a gander each time you visit a home store, because hey – you never know.

Clearance Sales – On Line
Crate and Barrel, Crate and Barrel Outlet, Sur la Table, Bed Bath and Beyond, Linens N Things, Williams-Sonoma, Target, Sears, Kohls, JC Penney, Cooking.com, and Pfaltzgraff (to name a few) all have Sale or Clearance sections on their websites. Price varies wildly and shipping charges add a little extra, but you can occasionally score a faboo deal.

Spotted recently
Craigslist
Now available everywhere but Mars, this classified-section-turned-website offers some killer buys from real people. While the downsides are annoying and plentiful (dealing with flaky sellers, finding exactly what you want, etc.), the upside is gently-worn cookware for good prices. Think of it as a ginormous online garage sale.

Spotted recently
  • New Mini-Prep Plus Cuisinart Food Processor for $18 (was $40-45 retail)
  • New Pampered Chef Cookware set for $149 (was $300 retail)
Garage Sales
Speaking of garage sales, they’re another option for the kitchen completist hoping to get lucky (in a Rated G kind of way). Pick an early weekend morning (before everyone else wakes up) and cruise your neighborhood for bargains. Get Rich Slowly has some tips from The Yardsale Queen to help you along.

Outlets
Proximity and price are the two issues with outlets, since they tend to be sporadically-placed and costs are frequently comparable to their parent stores. That said, there are good values to be had, and if there’s an outlet mall near you, you can hit up several stores at once.

Thrift Stores and Flea Markets
Perhaps better for dinnerware and linens, thrift stores and flea markets can turn up the occasional pot, pan, or cooling rack. Quality is the question here, so take a good long look before making that purchase. This site can help you pinpoint thrift shops in your area.


CONSIDER

Independent Retailers
No, they're not often the least expensive option, and they may not have the exact Le Creuset Dutch Oven you want. Odds are they’ll order it for you, though. Small businesses do that kind of thing, and it’s our responsibility (and our pleasure!) to support them.


KEEP WALKING

The Dumpster / Sidewalk
Most people wouldn’t and shouldn’t have a problem with this. HOWEVER, there’s been an issue with bedbugs in quite a few North American cities lately (Seattle, Toronto, Cincinnati, New York, Vancouver, Lexington, etc.), and it doesn’t look to be improving. While I’m not sure these disgusting critters hang around cake pans, I have read they’re nearly impossible to exterminate. So … yeah. Avoid discarded equipment if your area’s at risk.

Overstock.com
I came, I browsed, I wasn’t impressed. Overpriced.com is more like it. (Haw haw.)


DUNNO

Restaurant Auctions and Liquidations
I did look at some of these, but they seem to be more pertaining to other restaurant owners. If anybody has any input, I’d love to hear it.

Estate Sales
Found on Cragislist and in your area (most likely) Estate Sales occur when someone passes away. Having never been to one, I’m not positive of the ins and outs, so if anyone has an opinion, bring it on.


In the past, I’ve found Amazon, Ikea, eBay, and the occasional yard sale most helpful, but I hope everything listed here is a relevant to someone. If y’all have anything to add, I welcome the comments. Happy Thanksgiving!

(Photos courtesy of Flickr.)

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7 comments:

Karen said...

There's an Ace Mart restaurant supply store basically down the street from us. It's a wondrous place!
Restaurant supply stores have websites and will sell to the individual and in onesies and twosies, depending on the item.
For instance, I use a plastic "fast food" tray under my teamaker to catch drips. It was like a dollar and a quarter.

PJ said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, I just purchased my sister's Christmas gift thanks to your links. She's getting the Kitchen Aid pots and pans. For what it's worth, it's now 89.99 marked down from the 114.99 you have listed.

Keep up the great recipes and postings, I read everyday.

Kris said...

PJ! That's awesome! I'm so glad the link worked!

Good call, Karen! Thank you times ten for the suggestion.

Anonymous said...

For knives try Warther knives in Dover, OH. Awesome, unique knives for about a third of the cost of the high end ones.

Chris said...

Hi - thanks for suggesting my website The Yardsale Queen (www.yardsalequeen.com)

Chocoholic said...

I've found that places like Marshall's can be good for those higher priced cookware items. They are usually at a decent price. I bought my Nordicware bundt pan and a springform pan there and it was about half the price if I bought them at regular retail prices. You can't always find the same things there, but if you are near one, it's worth a look and some digging to see what they have.

Anonymous said...

One thing to keep in mind is that certain pieces are WAAAY more versatile than others. Steel, NON-TEFLON cookie sheets get such a workout at our house that I have half a dozen and am always looking for two more, just to avoid having to stop cooking in the middle to wash and dry them! Find out from friends what item or two they wish they had doules of-- always a good gift choice!

The other thing to remember are non-standard uses for less "necessary" items. Ramekins- the 7oz ones, or the new, 16oz "soup mugs" which are microwave and oven safe and come with a plastic lid. Why buy a jumbo-muffin pan if you have four or six 7oz ramekins? Set them on a cookie sheet for easy carrying/handling, and dont fill completely--there's no support for really big muffin tops.

I've used our "super-ramekins" for everything from cream soups (microwaved) to individual souffles to single-meal casseroles which baked, froze and microwaved so easily that hubby didn't even miss his usual fast food lunch. Fill one with meatloaf or turkey loaf and bake, then slice into rounds to serve. 7oz ramekins are *wonderful* for making individual meatloaves or meatless quiches, and actually cook faster and more evenly in the smaller containers.

Small batch baking, especially, takes advantage of non-traditional bakeware, but many of the same principals are useful to those of us who like to build "freezer assets".