How to shop at restaurant supply stores to outfit your kitchen on the cheap

First of all, yes, it’s called a “restaurant supply store”, but you don’t necessarily have to work in the restaurant industry to shop there. (Although some require you to be part of a real food business to shop, many are also open to home cooks.) A simple Google search can help you find if there are any in your area – just make sure they’re open to the public before you visit – and a number of them allow you to shop online, such as WebstaurantStore, which bills itself as the largest catering supply store online.

What sets these stores apart from your standard housewares retailer? The selection. They can carry just about any kitchen equipment you can think of, like pots and pans of all kinds of sizes and shapes, pizza peels, mini fluted quiche pans, food grinders, giant ramekins, dinnerware and serving platters for your next party, and more. Whether for ordinary or special use, you will probably find what you are looking for at one of these suppliers.

Price and quality are often hard to beat too. Items sold at restaurant supply stores are meant to withstand the wear and tear of professional kitchens. If they can survive hundreds of busy restaurant shifts (according to the article), they should be able to handle anything you throw at them while cooking meals for your household. On top of that, they’re often available at a fraction of the price of what you can find elsewhere, since catering supply stores primarily act as wholesalers for businesses that buy in bulk.

Your first experience shopping for restaurant supplies can be daunting, whether in person or online. Department stores have so much to offer it can seem overwhelming, and if you’re looking for the finest kitchenware, you should look elsewhere (unless you’re really into the industrial chic aesthetic). But the price, selection, and durability of the cookware you’ll find will be worth it.

Here are some of the items you should pick up on your next trip, as well as a few to avoid.

Sheets and grids. They are workhorses in my kitchen. I use them for baking cookies, roasting meats and vegetables, baking dishes on a griddle, draining fried foods, etc. They come in a range of sizes, and while you might think you should buy the “full” size, these are actually too big for standard residential ovens. Opt for “demi” (13 x 18 inch) or smaller pans and the racks that come with them. I’ve become particularly fond of quarter pans when cooking meals for one. WebstaurantStore sells individual plates for just over $5 each, while other online sites list them for double that or more.

Storage containers. One of the benefits of containers found at restaurant supply stores is that they are designed to nest, which means they are easier to organize and will take up less space in your cupboards. If you’re like me, you already have a collection of pint-and-a-quart sized deli containers that you get to go, which are great for storing and freezing sauces, soups, and broths.

If you’re looking for something sturdier, Cambro’s plastic containers are standard in many restaurant kitchens. They are available square or round and come in sizes ranging from 1 to 22 quarts, with the larger sizes being particularly useful for storing dry goods such as flour, sugar, rice and beans. Some people also like rectangular metal vessels meant to be used as table steamer inserts.

Stainless steel mixing bowls. They’re cheap, lightweight and durable – what more could you ask for? Well, since you asked, they come in a range of sizes that are ideal for holding your mise en place or tossing a big salad for your next dinner party. The icing on the cake is that they are sold individually, allowing you to buy only what you need instead of being beholden to an entire set of bowls like in some retail stores.

Pots and pans. You can find a range of inexpensive heavy-bottom stainless steel cookware, carbon steel pans and woks for all your high-heat cooking needs, and affordable yet worthy non-stick pans for cooking eggs. As Daniel Gritzer wrote in Serious Eats, “Like toothbrushes and underwear, you should approach nonstick cookware with the intention of replacing them often.”

Kitchen tools. This is where things can get derailed. There are whisks of all sizes – from small ones that appear to be intended for toddlers to gigantic ones capable of stirring a cauldron. You can find all kinds of knives, but I would recommend the paring and serrated knives the most as they are best replaced once they are dull. You can easily find large, thick and sturdy cutting boards that are not prone to warping.

One of my personal favorites are the pans, aka spoons, which I often use to portion batter into muffin pans and cookie dough. They are much sturdier than other cookie scoops I have tried. This is just the tip of the iceberg! Other items worthy of your attention include vegetable peelers, tongs, spiders, nutcrackers, squeeze bottles, and thermometers.

What to avoid. Restaurant supply stores are great for many things, but there are a few items that home cooks are better off buying elsewhere, especially when it comes to appliances. Restaurant stoves aren’t as well insulated as those intended for residential use, and installing one can void your home insurance policy. And while an industrial refrigerator sounds like a great idea, it can be extremely noisy and might make you regret deciding to buy one when you’re trying to sleep.

Whether you’re on a budget and need to outfit your kitchen on the cheap, or a home cook obsessed with food and cooking who needs special equipment for your next recipe project, supply stores restaurants are the places to go.

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