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What cookware is essential? Help me build my kitchen..

Hi all,
I am not an experienced cook by any means. I love to mess around in the kitchen though and recently bought a new ge profile gas range with the dual ovens, etc. I saw a set of viking cookware and it really got me thinking about upgrading my stuff...very nice. This has inspired me to start rebuilding my cookware setup. I have a random assortment of pots and pans that I basically randomly choose when cooking based on no real knowledge of what I am doing. I think i have too much clutter and should probably just start over and focus on the basics. I do however like to get quality things, i have learned my lesson buying cheaper inferior stuff that doesnt cut the mustard and will be garbage in a year. I cook for myself, wife and 6 year old mostly, but do entertain once a month or so. I like to sear things...steaks, fish, etc. I would like to try to make sauces from the seared bits. I was hoping you folks could help me understand what someone like myself should start looking at in terms of types of cookware (x" fry pan, x" xyz pot, etc) to start building a NICE set of the essentials. I was thinking about the all-clad stuff or the paderno stuff, but not really sure what route and what styles of stuff i need. Thanks so much for any advice.


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  1. I highly recommend AllClad. After my husband and I got our set, we realized we never really knew how to cook properly :) We have the Stainless line, but the MC2 is perfectly fine - it is the cheapest AllClad line but by no means cheap (and easier to keep clean than the Stainless). Start with a 12" saute pan (round pan with straight sides and a lid). I can't recommend the saute pan highly enough - it will do just about anything for you, and for searing nothing's better (transfers to the oven nicely too). A saucier in the 2-3 qt range is great for making sauces, risotto etc. The 10" or 12" fry pan comes in handy too. I would also recommend the large griddle - we use it all the time for easy stuff like pancakes, french toast, bacon, and even sandwiches (nonstick finish is great). Good luck and happy cooking!

    1. As far as what's essential, you should definitely read the minimalist's article in the NYT (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/din...). See especially his comments at the end about what stuff you (probably) don't need. I don't 100% agree with him on some items, but he makes some good points.

      Cheap (price) doesn't have to be bad quality, and his point (that you can save a lot by shopping at commercial kitchen supply stores) is well taken.

      For pots and pans, I'd suggest Sitram, which is good quality (and stainless steel if you're worried about Aluminium), and mostly has a copper disk on the bottom. Cheaper than All Clad for the most part. To start with, a 10 or 12 inch frying pan or chef's pan (the latter will be a little more versatile), and a 3.5 - 4.5 qt saucepan... maybe a stockpot if you think you'll need one. What ever you get, get something with a nice heavy bottom. Definitely get a cast iron skillet (you can get a preseasoned Lodge for like 10-15 bucks), and maybe a Dutch oven (you can get a Le Creuset style enameled one for about $40 - Lodge makes one, and some other brands as well). I don't sear that much myself, but I think a regular stainless steel frying pan or a cast iron pan will do well for you.

      *Don't get a knife set.* Read the various articles about knives on CH - I suggest getting 3 knives: Chef's knife (or Santoku if you prefer), serrated slicer (bread knife), paring knife. Spend the bulk of the money on the chef's knife (don't spend more than 20 on either of the other two). Mundial's forged stuff and Forschner's stamped stuff get good reviews here for utilitarian cutlery that's good quality. If you want to spend a little more, get a high quality Japanese chef's knife (8-10"), and maybe a beater knife for less delicate work.

      My only other advice is go slow and see what you need.

      3 Replies
      1. re: will47

        will47.. where have you seen Lodge Enamel for $40???? The Lodge Logic 5qt dutch oven is $50 (which is plain cast iron)... if you've got a good source, hook us up!

        And to the OP, check out carbon steel skillets from de Buyer. $50 for a high sided 10in skillet, that will put a perfect sear on meat every time (I haven't tried mine with fish yet though...); reletively inexpensive, and will last a lifetime.

        1. re: mateo21

          Ok - maybe it's $50... I bought one recently, so I should have remembered that. The Tramontina ones from Wal Mart are $40, though (haven't had personal experience with them, but they're supposed to be pretty good).

          1. re: mateo21

            > where have you seen Lodge Enamel for $40????

            Amazon has the 6qt enameled dutch oven for $49-$59 depending on color and whether they're trying to shift units that day. I think I bought mine for $49.99 and then bought a replacement chrome steel knob for $9 at a local hardware store, bringing the total to $59 for a dutch oven that looks and feels suspiciously like Le Creuset at about 1/4th the price, and which is now good to 550 degrees and beyond for baking. (I've verified this numerous times by preheating it to 550 for bread baking)

            Just saying. I like the Lodge product and I think it's a good value.

        2. Start with "I want to do _this_...." or, "I did _this_ and wasn't pleased with the way the cookware performed", or "I cook _this_ type of thing fairly often and want the best cookware for that job".

          Next, research. Start with Googling for things like "cookware materials", "cookware shapes", etc. You'll learn about aluminum, copper, stainless steel, carbon steel, cast iron, teflon, anodizing and enameling and how the choice of a metal can make a big difference. Shapes are easy.

          For your above example:
          Searing... so probably cast iron. Making sauces from the seared bits probably merits enameled cast iron. A good brand of enameled cast iron is Le Creuset. Browsing Le Creuset products will let you pick a shape and size that fits the things you cook.

          You don't need to (and probably shouldn't) stick with one manufacturer. All-Clad doesn't make thick copper cookware like Mauviel, Le Creuset doesn't make stainless, etc. *Your* essentials will most likely differ from *my* essentials, simply because of eating preferences. However, if you do as you did above, and ask for a recommendation for a particular cooking task, it's much easier to get good recommendations that aren't generalized to the point of uselessness.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ThreeGigs

            Just as a side note, Le Creuset actually DOES manufacture stainless steel cookware... though I have no experience with it.

            Everyone is different and has different needs/opinions; however, I would recommend the following as a good starting point consisting of quality pieces:

            8" non-stick free pan (for eggs and delicate cooking). This could be Teflon or cast iron. I would recommend NOT spending a great deal in this department, particularly if you get Teflon... as you'll need to replace this from time to time.

            12" saute pan. I would go with stainless steel (for ease of cleaning and maintenance). You will be able to both sear and create pan sauces in this piece. All-Clad is my personal preference, though Viking and others produce high quality SS.

            4/4.5 qt saucier or saucepan. Stainless. Again, All-Clad is what I use.

            12+ qt. stockpot. I have a couple large stainless stockpots and I truly believe that bigger is better for a stockpot. I would avoid all aluminum anything, even in a stockpot.

            5.5 qt dutch oven. I'd go Le Creuset or Staub. Good for braising, etc.

            As for knives, I echo the chef/serrated/pairing that others have recommended. You can always add others if you feel the need, but these will probably be your kitchen workhorses. Knives are VERY personal, and I recommend going to a store and checking the feel before you consider brands.

            I would also have a few quality pieces of bakeware, starting with 2 commercial-quality half sheet pans. I personally avoid the non-stick and "gold tone" stuff that's on the market... and just go the traditional route - aluminum coated steel. You can use them for cookies, etc... but you could also roast veggies, etc. with them. Also, I'd pick up a Silpat.

            1. re: jrhsfcm

              Excellent advice. I would agree with all of it, and would add, however, some kind of smaller sauce pan or saucier, perhaps in the 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 quart range. This can be stainless steel or one of the small LeCreuset sauce pans (if heat retention before serving is an issue, say, for boiled green beans. The enameled cast iron gives you about ten minutes more before everything gets cold). I would also recommend getting a 12 inch Lodge cast iron skillet if you like to sear fish or meat and then put the pan in the oven to finish. Nothing beats this for pan frying, if you pan fry. You may also want to add a roundeax or small stock pot in the six to eight quart range for boiling corn and pasta and the like. Stainless steel is the choice here.

              As for brands, all brands mentioned are fine quality and you really can't go wrong. I have some of most of them. If you are going really high end, there are better choices than All Clad for the money, or of course, for more money. You might want to look at Demeyere Atlantis, which is made in Belgium and has welded, not riveted handles. It puts All Clad to shame. Great choices also include Sitram Professional and Paderno Grand Gourment. I've included the lines here because there are differences between lines from the same manufacturer. Viking pots look really great, but I am not a fan of scrubbing around rivets so I haven't purchased one. I am a big fan of LeCreuset and Staub.

              As for All Clad -- very easy to find at a discount and most is great stuff. However, I do think there are times when a disk bottom pan is better, especially for a large saute pan, and maybe even a small sauce pan. Just stay away from anodized aluminum. It is the one and only All Clad that ever warped on me and it tends to scratch. Ditto for Calphalon, which is all aluminum and not made nearly as well as the steel/anodized aluminum All Clad.

              As far as the "fully clad" versus disk bottom argument, if you control your heat source and avoid sending flames up the sides of your pots during cooking, there is little difference to a home cook on any kind of cooktop. It is, however, a religious matter for some people, but those people all tend to be All Clad owners who use nothing but All Clad, so their perspective may be tainted.

              I would also invest in several locking tongs, whisks, small and large ladles (here All Clad is fantastic), and spatulas. Get a great cutting board in a large size for all the veggie chopping you intend to do with your new knives. Use a washable one for meat and fish. I also use a lot of plastic mixing bowls. WS has them with rubber feet and handles in a nested set, and they are out all the time in my kitchen.

          2. Congratulations! You've just figured out that you need good stuff to do a good job in the kitchen, and you're willing to think and lay out some dollars to get what you need. One thing to think about is cleanup. I recommend you buy cookware that can clean up in the dishwasher! At a store which carries several brands, spend a little time. Hold the pan in your hand. Does the handle fit your hand? Is the pan the right weight for everyday cooking? (Not too heavy, not too light?)

            And, you do not have to buy sets. Or you could buy a basic set, and add other pans later as you want them. Remember, form follow function here. Have fun with the search!

            1. Some odds and ends I am fond of - a silicon 'spoonula' - spatula/spoon/scraper combo - I use mine all the time, can use it in a hot pan, as well as a cold batter scraper. Pampered Chef (yes, really) bread knife and my Kuhn Rikon paring knife - I can't remember how much for each, maybe $15 max - and I've had both of them for at least 3 years. I'll add on to this as I think of more.

              1. Thanks all, great info and advice. I never thought about the cleanup and being dishwasher safe. How do i know if the cookware is dishwasher safe? I am leaning towards starting with an 11" or 12" pan (haven't figured out if fry or saute is more functional for everyday cooking). My guess is saute is more versatile. I am thinking about searing salmon then throwing the lid on and popping it in the oven to finish cooking type of stuff. Then getting a nice saucier or saucepan. I really don't know which of these would be best for general purpose use. I am trying to think of what i would cook and cant come up with anything for the life of me...that may mean i need to cook more :) To be honest i usually end up focusing on the main protein and usually end up boiling some frozen veggies in the sauce pot or making a gravy packet, etc. I really need to step up my game in this area. I am really trying to get serious about health, so the searing/roasting of lean meats and veggies will probably increase. I am pretty good on the knife front. I spent a massive amount of time researching my chef knife and ended up with a higher end model of the zwillig henkels. My wife bought a set of cutco for all the other serated types of knives. I picked up a nice paring knife, a nice ham slicer (i use to slice all my meats) and a nice boning knife. I really dont have a good slicer to handle the veggies that the chef knife doesnt chop though.


                3 Replies
                1. re: justinandlaura1

                  Stainless steel pots (which are nickel and stainless alloys) are usually dishwasher safe unless they have copper showing somewhere on the exterior. Copper cannot go in the dishwasher, which is why I didn't suggest any Mauviel or Falk. The most expensive Copper Core line of All Clad can't go in the dishwasher either.

                  I usually wash my pots by hand, but once in a while it is nice to cheat. Just be sure to read about care before buying. Once will ruin the finish if it is not dishwasher safe.

                  1. re: justinandlaura1

                    Cleanup is a big issue for me. If you go to Bed Bath and Beyond or a similar store, read the descriptions on the boxes. That's how I did it. Also, I have found that often the people at BB&B know a little bit about their merchandise. So you could always ask. If you visit a higher end cooking store, you can definitely ask. The first new pan I bought was a lidded saute pan. I think you are on the right track.

                    Your chef's knife should be able to chop anything unless the item is big and tough like a large squash. I slice and chop everything with my chef's knife.

                    If the saucier has a lid, you should be able to use it as a saucepan, I think. Perhaps someone else out there has more experience with sauciers?

                    Previous poster is correct about stainless, which is my personal favorite. If stainless gets scorched (heaven forbid!) you can scour it. Not a fun task, but at least you have recourse if something bad happens to your pan. And it does go into the oven.

                    1. re: justinandlaura1

                      If you do a lot of the sear/ pop in oven deal, I would go with the basic skillet with the sloped sides as opposed to a saute pan. This is the only way I cook salmon- sear on high for just over a minute per side then pop in a 375 ish oven for 5-10 minutes depending on thickness. I NEVER use a lid here- I suspect it would ruin the slight "crust" created by the searing. I like my saute pan when what I'm making is particularly saucy or if I'm making a large quantity of sauteed veggies (mushrooms tend to escape from my fry pan). I'm sure I could use that pan more but I find the fry pan to be the one I use daily.

                    2. Good advice overall on this thread. Some other things:

                      1) If you get a 8"or 10" nonstick omelet/fry pan, you can also use it for fish or seafood, where you don't want the fond/seared bits stuck on the pan; you want the crust on the food item.

                      2) Read this post on another foodie site:
                      then one of the followups:

                      One of the key takeaways, is that for most cooking tasks you don't need full cladded or thick-all-around aluminum/copper cookware: a pan/pot with a thick (4-5mm+) aluminum base is perfectly fine.

                      3) Even if you end up buying stuff from amazon.com or some other online site, it's always a good idea to find a store with the cookware you want so you can see if you personally like the balance and the handle, and examine the thickness of the metal.

                      It seems you're on the right track, hunting down bargains at stores, and not focusing on expensive, popular brands.

                      1. I have a suggestion on kitchen knives: Half a dozen inexpensive small knives will prove much more useful than you think. Every bit as good as a $100 monster from Germany for separating sausages, opening pre-packed meat etc. and then straight into the dishwasher with it and grab another for trimming the broccoli, another for unpackaging thr cheese and another for slicing the lemon to go in the cook's gin & tonic!

                        The singleton in most knife sets is not enough.

                        1. Build as you go.

                          One person's essential cookware is another person's indulgence.

                          No two people cook, or use the same utensil, the same way.

                          Some people could not boil water without a butcher's knife; while another person couldn't imagine doing anything without having a sturdy chef's knife.

                          To each her own.

                          Spend a couple of weeks, or a month in your kitchen. You'll seen realize just exactly what's "essential" for you. And really, that's all that's important, right?

                          1. Thanks for all the great info everyone. I like this site. So after doing a million and one hours of research i ran across the tramontina tri-ply clad line. I saw some peices at tues morn for a very good price. I really liked the peices, very solid, quite heavy, etc. Then i found the same EXACT pieces at walmart for a fraction of the price. Unbelievable. $300 and I have the 8", 10", 12" fry pans, 12" saute pan, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 qt saucepans with lids and lifetime warranty. I think this is an amazing deal and definitely accelerated my quest for better cookware. I still need to get the enamel cast iron dutch oven and a big pasta pot, etc.

                            Thanks all,

                            1. jfood redid the kitchen four years ago and went crazy with pots and pans. And he decided on Calphalon. Thirteen pans, eleven pots plus griddles and roasting pans. Both NS and regular. He almost always reaches for the NS.

                              Thinking of the most often used which would be a good indicator of the "essentials":

                              1 - 8" saute
                              2 - 12" saute
                              3 - saucier with long handle
                              4 - dutch oven
                              5 - small (1-2 qt.) pot
                              6 - medium (4-5 qt) pot
                              7 - large (8 qt) pot

                              That would be jfood's first seven purchases

                              1. I agree with the tone of the posts: one person's essential is another one's indulgence. That said, I will give my opinion of cookware. I love my All Clad stainless steel. However, for searing, I find that enameled cast iron does a superior job. For that I use a Le Creuset skillet and Dutch oven. When I bought a set of All Clad pots, it included a saucier. I am surprised at how often I use it. Enjoy the cookware you eventually select!