4 Kitchen Items Chefs Always Buy Thrifted (And One Thing They Never Do)

published Apr 2, 2024
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Seasoned thrift shoppers love the thrill of the hunt, combing through racks of secondhand items hoping to find an elusive vintage find or a hidden treasure for their home. You may be well-versed in thrifting for home decor, but how often do you hit up the kitchen section for cookware? 

Whether you’ve been saving up for an expensive appliance or dreaming of a perfectly seasoned skillet, your local thrift shop or antique store could be hiding some covetable kitchen gems that won’t break your budget. I asked three chefs for the kitchen brands and items they recommend keeping an eye out for when secondhand shopping — plus, the one thing they never buy thrifted.

KitchenAid Mixers

If you’ve lived through a wedding season, you know that the KitchenAid mixer is a requisite on registries. And for the lucky couple that actually receives one, sometimes they’ll use it regularly, while other times it sits on a countertop and simply adds a pop of color to the kitchen. 

Chef Tamara Earl, executive chef and CEO of Delectablez, a vegan restaurant located in Wilmington, Delaware, has them at the top of her “buy secondhand” list for exactly that reason. “Whether you’re a seasoned chef or an amateur cook, a KitchenAid mixer is indispensable. Many people purchase them, only to relegate them to a corner as decorative pieces, often barely used,” Earl says. She adds that you can often snag them at unbeatable prices at thrift stores or on online marketplaces compared with buying one brand-new for several hundred dollars. 

Magnalite Cookware

Chef Kevin Tien, executive chef of Moon Rabbit in Washington, D.C., is originally from Louisiana, so he knows his way around a gumbo. That’s why he’s carefully attuned to the best cookware for authentic Cajun cooking, and that cookware is Magnalite.

He says this century-old cookware company is the only one that Louisiana chefs trust because its aluminum and magnesium alloy makeup, dense bottom, and thinner sides are ideal for the even heating you need to make New Orleans favorites like jambalaya, shrimp creole, and, of course, gumbo. 

You could buy it new, but Tien prefers to find it secondhand because the older ones feel heavier and more solid. “In Louisiana, everyone has their grandfather’s Magnalite. Like they say, ‘They don’t make them like they used to,’” Tien says. 

He looks for all shapes and sizes, though says the oval pots are the type you’ll see most often. “My wife loves antiquing, and we’ll come across a Magnalite pot or pan. We have to buy it. They’re a super Cajun thing to have, and there’s a lot of sentimental value in having the old ones.”

Lodge Cast-Iron Skillets

Cast-iron pans are one of those items you pass down from one generation to the next. They last forever, and the cleaning and maintenance aren’t difficult, which is why you’ll find them in every thrift shop and antique store from coast to coast, often for just a few dollars. 

“I’m a devotee of all things vintage; their timeless appeal and superior quality always captivates me. Among my favorites is my trusty cast-iron skillet,” Earl says. She uses everything from deep dish cast-iron pans to shallow sauté and grill skillets.

Earl says she’s seen them all over Facebook Marketplace, which is just where you should look if you have your eye on a specific type of cast-iron skillet — like maybe one of those mini skillets for whipping up eggs or making one big chocolate chip cookie.

Unbranded Kitchen Items

Chris Morgan, chef and owner of Joon in Washington, D.C., loves shopping at antique stores for old butcher knives and spoons. “As most chefs do,” he says. “These antique knives and spoons are fun to clean up and add to the ever-growing arsenal of tools that I have piled in my kitchen.”

As for Earl, there’s another catchall item she always looks out for when thrifting: “Canisters are among my top picks,” she says. “I’ve amassed a collection of them secondhand, and I adore the unique character they bring to my kitchen. They infuse warmth and charm into the space. I utilize the canisters to organize serving utensils.”

Are There Any Kitchen Items You Should Avoid Buying Secondhand?

“Never, ever purchase nonstick cookware secondhand,” Earl warns. “The nonstick coating contains hazardous chemicals that can leach into your food if the pan’s surface is scratched.” Instead, stick to the well-made classics and, if something looks like it’s been damaged, know that it’s probably no longer safe to use.