The essential kitchen registry list.

Notes on nuptials.
June 11 2007 12:01 PM

Too Many Gadgets Spoil the Kitchen

The essential bridal registry list.

Click hereto read more from Slate's wedding issue. 

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer. Click image to expand.

Before we became the blissfully married couple we are today, my soon-to-be husband and I had our fiercest fights over stuff—whether to dispose of it or acquire it. This stuff included a futon, some mugs, a shoe rack, and a chips-and-dip plate featuring a three-dimensional lobster. Venal as it seems, the merging of said stuff when starting a home together can be hugely contentious. Mugs are no longer mugs, but fragments of one's soul. Because of this, registering for wedding gifts can get complicated.

When we got through most of our bickering and decided to get married, we contemplated a gift registry. Like so many elements of weddings today, it all seemed uncomfortably acquisitive. In the end, though, we decided that if wedding guests—some of whom we didn't know very well—would be giving us gifts, we might as well give them a sense of what we'd use. The old sparring over possessions remained an undercurrent as we made our list. I remember a certain glee when I realized I could toss my husband's mismatched, circa 1982 Mikasa once we received the pristine set of white porcelain on our registry. Andrew got his dig in at my quest for purity by registering for a bright orange phone that to this day sings out "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?"  every time we receive a phone call.


Household gifts have long been customary at weddings, but back in the old days, you'd never know if guests' gifts would clash. According to the Bride's Book of Wedding Traditions, order was imposed on that process when in 1901 the China Hall of Rochester, Minn., invented the clever notion of a list of the bride's desires, to be checked off as well-wishers bought presents. Department stores like Chicago's Marshall Fields soon followed suit, outfitting the well-heeled with their home-entertaining needs. By encouraging guests to give a single place setting, it became feasible to get a whole set of pricy tableware. In the 1960s, Chuck Williams, founder of Williams-Sonoma, helped shift the focus of the registry from fine china to everyday items.

Now, of course, virtually every housewares store, from your cutesie local cookware shop to Crate and Barrel, is eager to fulfill your gifty desires, complete with Web sites that allow you to monitor your registry midstream, adding to it if your guests need more choices. Because of this ease, the temptation to overlist is great. Here's a rare chance to receive pretty much everything you want—shouldn't you take advantage of it? Why not get the bigger Kitchen-Aid stand mixer—isn't bigger better? Of course you'd like to whip up crème brulée for a dinner party, so don't you need a minitorch and 10 matching ramekins?

No. I urge a certain caution, both for the sake of modesty, and for the sake of sanity. The truth is, space, at least easily accessible space, will always be an issue, even in a dream kitchen. Don't plan for the unlikely eventualities—the huge buffet that calls for chafing dishes. Instead, look at the realities of your life in your near future. Kitchenware stores are endlessly tempting with their hyper-specific appliances (like this margarita maker), but in most cases, something else more all-purpose—in this case, a blender—can do the job perfectly well. Value and versatility should be the ultimate litmus test for whether something belongs in your kitchen. If for some reason you suddenly find yourself in need of your own meat slicer, invest in it then.

While registering for your home is largely a question of personal style, I can tell you some of the anchors of your starter kitchen. In the New York Times a month ago, Mark Bittman did a bang-up job (article purchase required) of stocking a bare-bones kitchen for less than $200. But here are some crucial items worth investing a little money in—yours or somebody else's—as well as some sidebars on additional pans, utensils, and appliances worth considering.

Plenty of people opt for cookware sets, but I've found it's best to cobble together your own set, full of pans you'll use regularly. (Added bonus: No single person is on the hook for a several-hundred-dollar set of pots.) My own desert-island pan would be a braising pan (aka wide sauté pan, aka sauteuse). These are the kind of pans that we fought over when I worked in restaurants. It should hold 3-4 quarts, be about 12 inches in diameter, and have sides 2-3 inches deep. The wide surface area means fewer batches if you are going to be browning ingredients, and faster reduction times if you're a cook of the saucy variety. The medium-deep sides are good for catching spatters and hold a fair amount of liquid if you're braising, say, a panful of chicken thighs in a green olive and preserved lemon sauce. You can even shallow fry in a pan like this. These pans often come in two configurations—with a single long handle, or with two shorter loop handles. Both have their advantages: The long handle is better for shaking the pan on the stove, and the short loops are easier for transferring into the oven. Splurge on this pan (or, rather, let someone splurge for you)—you want solid construction, a lining that won't react with acidic ingredients (I like stainless), and most importantly, handles that can go into the oven. For a list of other pots I recommend, click here.

Again, don't go for a set. Unless you're a knife geek (a wonderful thing to be) or a hunter, you really need only three kinds of knives: a make-you-giddy chef's knife at least 8 inches long; a good bread knife; and a small, inexpensive paring knife. Spend good cash—yours or your wedding guests'—on the chef's knife: You will use this for everything. The money will buy you a good factory edge that's easier to revive with sharpening, too. In general, the now-standard German knives have been outflanked by thinner, more elegantly designed Japanese knives (even German giant Wüsthof now makes snub-nosed Santoku-style knives). Thinner knives make thin slices much easier. Although the highest-end Japanese knives are breathtakingly expensive, there are some great less-expensive options, including those from Mac (their swordlike bread knife has me in a thrall) and Ryusen. If you and your partner like to cook together, you might want to splurge on two chef's knives. A great deal of superstition surrounds giving knives to newlyweds, but that's plain silly, right?

Hand tools
The most useful kitchen tool is a pair of 9-inch tongs. With them you can flip meat, toss salads, turn a pan around in the oven, and twirl elegant piles of spaghetti. Over the years, I've been perfectly happy with plain stainless tongs, but now that I'm retired from restaurant kitchens, I don't mind having a little rubber to cushion the grip. Make sure the blades aren't easily bendable and that the tips meet snugly and securely. In general, kitchen utensils make great lower-cost gifts for your registry: For many more tool recommendations, click here.



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
Dear Prudence
Oct. 2 2014 6:00 AM Can’t Stomach It I was shamed for getting gastric bypass surgery. Should I keep the procedure a secret?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?