When it comes to cooking, students don’t always get the best press. But let’s face it, a cupboard full of broken pots and pans and a couple of electric rings would leave even professional chefs at a loss.
Being packed off to university with the right kit will raise spirits as well as keep hunger pangs at bay. Communal cooking is a great way of finding a sense of home, too, in addition to saving money.
We’ve compiled our definitive guide to the top gadgets and kit to stock up on before heading off to university. Once you have your equipment, you’ll need the recipes to go with them, so check out our student meals, healthy student suppers and top 10 basic recipes to take to university.
For more on kitchen essentials, visit our reviews section and find over 400 practical buyer’s guides offering unbiased advice on what equipment is worth investing in. Freshers may be interested in our reviews of the best mini fridges, best saucepan sets, best kettles and best eco-friendly coffee cups.
The best student kitchen essentials to buy
1. Mixing bowl and measuring cups
Mixing bowls can be so much more than just mixing bowls. They’re snack holders for movie nights, serving bowls for salads and vessels for combining what’s left in the fridge into the ultimate leftover surprise.
This nest of nine by Joseph Joseph is the ultimate space saving set, fitting five measuring cups, a colander, sieve and a small jug with a pouring spout stacked within the footprint of its largest 4.5-litre mixing bowl.
Being plastic, they’ll survive drops and knocks, are lightweight and brightly coloured, making them easy to spot in packed shared cupboards.
2. Set of pans
A new set of pans can genuinely inspire a bit of excitement when it comes to cooking. It’s also easier to know which pans are yours in a shared kitchen. You get three different sized saucepans in this stainless steel set from Sainsburys which was rated ⅘ stars and titled the best budget saucepan set by the BBC Good Food team.
Each has a tight-fitting lid with silicone edges so that banging and clattering can be kept to a minimum whilst checking on food. For more, read our review of the best saucepan sets.
3. Food storage containers
A multi-pack is a great way of ensuring you have a versatile bunch of food containers in the cupboard. Each box in this 10-piece stack-a-box set from Lakeland is microwave-, dishwasher- and freezer-safe and as the name suggests, stack away for easy storage. They’re not leak-proof so would work best as easy fridge containers or for solid food storage.
One of our favourite kitchen gadgets, a hand-held spiralizer is a nifty bit of kit that transforms vegetables into spaghetti-like strands that can be used as a lighter alternative to pasta. This compact, hand-held version by OXO is an inexpensive and compact spiralizer perfect for making lighter versions of classic recipes like courgetti spaghetti bolognese or jazzing up your snack game with courgetti fritters and tomato salsa.
5. Oven gloves
Trust us, tea towels are no match for hot dishes and it’s possible to pick up a good quality pair of oven gloves for a reasonable price. These mits have thick silicone layers as heat insulation against hot trays. Rated best silicone oven gloves by our team, they’re a great option for any student kitchen. For more recommendations, discover our pick of the best oven gloves to buy.
6. Kitchen scales
Eyeballing ingredients is great for kitchen experiments. When you’re keen to follow new recipes or get the perfect rise on a bake, a pair of kitchen scales can be the key to perfection. These scales by Jean Patrique are a good budget buy that show metric and imperial weight options clearly on an LED display. The small compact design also makes them easy to store away. For more, read our full review of the best kitchen scales.
7. Garlic press
Garlic will quite easily add flavour to any dish and a garlic press is a great bit of kit for making it easier to manage. You can pop a clove unpeeled into this press and it will still produce perfectly minced garlic. We particuarly like the simplicity of the Lakeland garlic press, which is also dishwasher safe for easy cleaning once you’ve scraped out excess casing.
The canvas eyelet bib apron is a thickly woven number that gives effective splash protection for cooking indoors and out. You can personalise the fit thanks to eyelit fastenings if you’re sharing it with housemates, plus there are two small pockets at the front for holding beers…we mean bottle openers.
With pasta, rice and noodles the most common student fodder, you’ll need a good colander for drainage. Student kitchen space is often at a premium so ditch the traditional clunky colander and go for something more contemporary. This design is genius – the colander collapses flat and can be slotted into a narrow cupboard space.
10. Reusable water bottle
Ideal for lectures, the gym, library sessions and general campus life, a refillable water bottle is an absolute essential. Not only will it help you save on expensive bottled water, you’ll also cut down on single-use plastic. This Bobble bottle filters water on the go and has a replacable filter that’s changeable for a relatively low cost.
11. Utensil set
Spoons for stirring are essential for most simple recipes. Find a utensil set that features a classic cooking spoon, a slotted version and a spatula at a minimum. Some sets also come with a potato masher, tongs, whisks and more. Think about what you’ll most often use them for and go from there. We like this bamboo set as it’s eco-friendly, sturdy and inexpensive. We love the pop of colour on the ends.
Stir-fries are a bit of a lifeline for students; they’re fast, cheap and tend to contain some vegetables, too. Invest in a big enough wok as they’re a great way of feeding a crowd. Carbon steel woks are often inexpensive, but have a tendency to rust if not treated with oil and maintained over time. If this sounds too much like high maintenance, go for a non-stick version like this Tefal wok with a thermospot centre to signal when to start cooking.
13. Non-stick frying pan
Treat it well and a non-stick frying pan can be a friend for life. It’s brilliant for cheap, speedy dishes like omelette and pancakes, and should lessen cooking disasters for the new chef. This thrifty non-stick pan by IKEA seriously impressed when we put it to the test against much more expensive competitors.
14. Slow cooker
Slow cookers may seem a bit more The Good Life than The Young Ones, but they’re a great way of eating well on a budget. With a slow cooker you’ll be able to turn the cheapest cuts of meat into something spectacular with minimum preparation time.
There are lots of pros to buying a slow cooker. They are energy efficient and if you set your timer before leaving the house, you can arrive home from lectures to a freshly cooked hot meal – just like home. This thrifty Russell Hobbs slow cooker has a 3.5-litre capacity so is ideal for batch cooking.
A proper chef’s knife will make the world of difference to your cooking experience if you can invest or ‘borrow’ one from home. Although they tend to come with high price tags, those serious about their cooking will keep theirs throughout their entire student life and beyond. You can pick up a very good knife for under £40, but we love this Kitchen Devils cook’s knife. It’s remarkably cheap, multi-purpose and has a finger stop at the end of the handle for safety.
16. Chopping board
A simple plastic or wooden chopping board is definitely an essential on the shopping list before heading off to uni. A set of slimline boards in different sizes can be useful for multitasking, plus they will store easily. For something more hefty, go for a butchers block-style board. Our cookery team can testify to how hard-wearing this Lakeland beech chopping board is – it’s strong, sturdy and a good size.
Pizza, toasties, pasta bakes – student households can get through a lot of cheese. This 5-in-1 clever gadget has sides for fine, coarse, ultra and slicer grating, as well as a base for ginger grating. It also sits flat without wobbling, avoiding mess and mishaps. Great for shredding vegetables and crushing garlic too, it’s a gadget you’ll use over and over again.
18. Can opener
Cheaper canned foods tend to lack a ring pull, so a good can opener is essential for the student kitchen. This robust OXO Good Grips opener has soft handles and is easy to use.
20. Roasting tray
Less costly than you might imagine, a decent roasting tin comes in handy for a multitude of different recipes from a Sunday roast to a sweet traybake. This Lakeland pan has many positive features, including a non-stick surface, pouring lip for cooking juices and a generous capacity – essential when cooking for a group.
Caffeinated drinks are a mainstay of student life. One way to avoid ever losing your favourite mug without resorting to territorial post-it notes? Get one marked with your initial, like this Oli & Zo Memphis-style geometric initial mug.
22. Mini fridge
Fellow students stealing your milk is a common gripe for freshers. A personal fridge in your room will prevent any crimes against refrigerated goods. This basic fridge from student retailer of choice, IKEA, won’t win any beauty contests but does the job well. Check out our mini fridge reviews to find eight other recommendations at various price points.
More student-friendly product reviews
Student recipes and guides
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Basic recipes for your first year as a student
10 vegan student recipes
10 vegetarian student recipes
Essential recipes for university
Our best ever student recipes
Cheap and healthy recipes
What kitchen equipment could you not live without at university? Leave a comment below…
This review was last updated in June 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.