Are you just starting out or do you already have the kitchen basics? If you are just starting out (or need to replace that abysmal cookware you had in college) What I would consider the kitchen essentials would be the following.
Cookware – look for a nice heavy piece with a combination of stainless and aluminum. Look at reviews, quality varies widely. All-clad is top of the line. Faberware is good serviceable long lasting cookware. Tramontina makes a good mid-range cookline. I reccomend strongly against non-stick. It is delicate, and will wear out and the health affects are quesitonable.
1 good quality stock pot 10-12 quarts, I like my Tramontina alot (came from walmart at a good price) All-clad is supposed to be amazing, but is very pricey.
1 2 quart saucepan faberware is a serviceable brand (my mother is still using hers from when she got married, except for the one she gave me)
1 3 quart saucepan
2 skillets, 14″ and 12″ (a 10″ would be a nice third) cast iron from lodge is the best value. It cooks beautifully and is only ~$20. If you do any fancy cooking I would recommend 1 all-clad skillet (I really want one) as it will cook very evenly for crepes, potato pancakes etc, but it is not essential
For me, I want a wok, but it depends on what you cook
Cutlery – Forschner is supposed to be the value brand, also check out saber for good valeu. For the best look at Japanese brands
1 chef knife
1 paring knife
1 serrated bread knife
1 large wood cutting board
Bakeware (pyrex is the best in my opinion)
9×12 or similar glass pan
9×9 glass pan
2 heavy guage half sheet pans (I have hear Lincoln wearever recommended
1-2 cooling racks (half sheet pan size)
mixing bowl set
measuring cup set (liquid and dry)
1 wooden spoon
2 metal spatulas (with heat resistant handle)
1 metal spoon with long handle
1 metal slotted spoon with long handle
serving untensils (two sets)
storage containers – I reccomend pyrex with plastic lids (or glass lids)
cups and glasses (although this is a good place for thrift stores)
Small appliances – You really don’t need these, but they can be nice, think about whether you have anyplace to store them before you get too many.
Toaster oven (skip the toaster)
immersion blender (for my money more versatile than a blender, unless you make mixed drinks)
coffee maker (if you drink coffee)
combined food processor and blender (if you are going to bother you need to get the most bang for your counter space)
George Foreman grill (these are nice)
Microwave (ok this one is near essential)
Coffee (spice) grinder – if you are going to grind both you need two separate ones.
If you are anti-appliance like me I would recommend a few hand appliances
mortar and pestle (nothing grinds a mess a pepper faster)
mezzaluna and curved cutting board (or bowl) to go with it
hand cranked mixer
I think that is everything in my kitchen that gets used regularly (plus a few things I don’t have and don’t want)