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Need good cookware

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My fiance and I live in a condo so we don't have a lot of space but we desperately need good cookware. He got wiped out in a divorce and I never had much to begin with. I'm no gourmet cook but I'm getting better and looking to start taking some cooking classes. What would you all recommend to get us started with the pots/pans basics. Does brand really matter and should we go all stainless steel or non-stick?

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  1. Get a cheap non stick 8" omelet pan. Just make sure it is heavy enough for good heat distribution. The expensive ones don't last that much longer. A 12 " non stick skillet is handy too. Get a few top quality pieces, like All Clad. They will last a life time and are a pleasure to cook with. A 4 qt sauce pan, 12" skillet and 8 qt stock pot will cover a lot - almost everything you need. Also get a couple good knives, try several to find a good fit/balance with your hands. One chefs knife and a pairing knife is all you need for most stuff. Restaurant supplies, like Star, have good prices

    2 Replies
    1. re: rednyellow

      Rednyellow,
      Thanks for the advice particularly about the cheap 8" nonstick. I was given a Calphalon nonstick last year and I started peeling a couple months ago...and I'm really good about not using metal in nonstick pans. I know I'll be getting a 7 piece Henckles knife set from my sister.

      I forgot to mention that this info is to help me figure out what to register for. In these tough times I don't want to go overboard.

      Will check out Star for anything I may need that don't come as gifts.

      Thanks.

      1. re: lonnken

        Find out where the Calpholon nonstick was purchased if you can. Williams Sonoma, among other retailers, will replace the pan.

    2. The epicurious guides on essential equipment can be very helpful to the inexperienced cook: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesgui... . Also, many good cookbooks have sections on equipment.

      One of the best (as well as cheapest) places locally to shop for equipment is Surfas. See: http://www.surfasonline.com/index.cfm . At dinner last night in Las Vegas I sat at the open kitchen of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon and saw a lot of unfancy, professional pots and pans, available at restaurant-supply places like Surfas that sell to the public.

      1. A good 5 or 6 qt cast iron dutch oven and a 10-12 cast Iron fry pan, both by Lodge, if you shop around you should be able to get both for around $60-70. A good 10-12 stainless sautee pan along with an 8-10 non stick pan. You should go to Charlies fixtures or Alpine Fixtures, even Surfas sometimes has prices that are in line

        6 Replies
        1. re: Burger Boy

          Burger Boy --
          We have been to Charlie's Fixtures many times and been happy with our purchases.
          I don't remember ever having shopped at Alpine Fixtures. How does it compare to Charlie's? Do you know if Alpine is open on Saturdays?

          1. re: liu

            Not sure if Alpine is open on saturday's. Alipine is loctaed on Washington, west of Western. Shop around though, sometimes some things are better at Surfas than Charlies, price and quality.

            1. re: Burger Boy

              Thank you. We have shopped Surfas and Charlie's, but I am always interested in finding new "fixtures" stores.
              I'll give Alpine a call.

              1. re: liu

                Burger Boy and Liu,
                Will definitely check out those locations in the future. As I mentioned to Rednyellow in my reply above, I'm getting married soon and am trying to figure out what to register for. I do have the LeCrueset dutch oven though I've no idea what to do with it. Maybe I can register for cooking classes! :)

                Thanks for the input!

          2. re: Burger Boy

            Where is Charley's?

            1. re: perk

              Charlie's Fixtures carries a variety of housewares and cookware. We bought dishes there that have served us well. The back rooms are very dusty, with many dishes in cardboard boxes, but there are some good finds! And Charlie himself is a character...but extremely friendly and nice.

              Charlie's Fixtures
              2251 Venice Blvd. in Los Angeles
              #323.734-9771

          3. In the opinion of many, the expensive gourmet store
            stuff is overpriced (though you might
            want an enamelware dutch oven
            to bring from stove to table). Check out
            this article:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/din...

            Web sites I've dealt with include
            Surfas, Web Restaurant Supply
            and Restaurant Source.

            For eggs and such, I have just one non-stick pan, an 8-inch
            Wear-Ever that cost $23.

            1. To get you started?
              Especially since you don't have much and just starting to take some cooking classes, you really can't be sure where this this going to lead you. You might adore it and want to put the money into top-of-the-line equipment, or decide that regular old pots and pans are sufficient for your needs. It's even hard to tell when you're just starting out which size pots and skillets which end up being the workhorses in your kitchen and which will gather dust.
              I have a 12" cast iron skillet that I use for one pork chop but it also doubles as my roasting pan for a chicken or small roast. However, if you're not used to cast iron, it might seem like a lot of trouble to maintain. You won't be happy if you're not willing to put in some effort.

              You might consider getting a basic set like this one from Costco. http://www.costco.com/Browse/Product....
              Most of the time, CHs knock sets and it's easy to agree but this would give you a chance to see what you really like and need - and to do that at a reasonable price with something of good quality at a reasonable price.
              If you decide that you want to upgrade to All-Clad or go all the way to fine copper or whatever, you haven't wasted a lot of cash.
              The set doesn't have a dutch oven but you can pick up one at Target (house brand), buy a Lodge, or splurge on a Le Creuset, which you'll have forever if you care for it.
              Roasting pans (including racks) are always on sale near holidays at places like Linens and Things for about $20. Unless you roast big things often, that will do for a few years, and then you can decide if you want to spend more.
              As someone suggested, an inexpensive non-stick is terrific for eggs. Plan on throwing it away every couple of years. They never last that long. Wearever makes good quality heavyweight ones for a decent price.

              Brand? I have expensive name-brand things that are great and some that proved to be clunkers. Some didn't live up to the hype and went to Goodwill.
              I also have cheap things and stuff I bought at garage sales. One pot that I paid $1 for is a favorite.
              It's more important to go slow and not waste big bucks on things that you will be disappointed with or find that you don't need or won't use - especially since you don't have much space. Nobody needs dust catchers.
              And we sure don't need to waste money these days.

              12 Replies
              1. re: MakingSense

                I am usually very impressed with Kirkland stuff, and that set looks excellent value, especially the 5 ply copper bonded bases. One warning, though. The shape of those pans with the narrower bases is not ideally suited for gas.

                1. re: Paulustrious

                  One of the customer comments mentioned that. If you put that small saucepan on a large gas burner and crank up the fire, you'd waste a lot of energy and probably get some heat scale on the sides of the pot.
                  Kirkland brands are usually very high quality. At $199, you're getting stainless for close to the price of aluminum from a restaurant supply house - probably the most economical way to purchase good quality for a starter kitchen.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Tell me about it, already.

                    I have a very similar set and very good they are. Externally they have a high gloss surface that cleans easily. Good heat dissipation. (ie if you accidentally leave them on, they burn uniformly across the bottom.)

                    Here in Canada I am not so worried about heat loss. The burners are an extremely efficient way to heat the house for about 7 months of the year.

                    1. re: MakingSense

                      It always vexes me when people say the bottom of a pan is to small for a gas burner.
                      HUH???
                      Turn zee gas down!
                      It's a good thing there's not a Windsor pot in that set. LOL
                      I've seen this Kirkland set in the store and the quality is incredible for the price. Super heavy and thick copper bases. A single all clad sauce pot from the standard SS line will set you back nearly $150!
                      I agree The Kirkland set is a great suggestion for a starter set and in the stores here it is $189.

                      1. re: Fritter

                        Do you actually use gas? A wider base is better. Turning the gas down is not an option cus you want a lot of heat. The only solution is to use a wider flatter pan. I end up using skillets rather than pans when I need all that energy in my food.

                        1. re: Paulustrious

                          Do you actually use gas
                          ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
                          Arggggggh Brain Freeze!
                          Do you even know what a Windsor pot is? Or are you seriously suggesting that you need a skillet to make sauce? or rice?
                          Gas has to be adjusted so the flame is no larger than the diameter of the pan. If not you fry the sides of the pan and waste energy.
                          That's not a brand related issue with Kirkland Signature cookware as the one reviewer on the Costco web site suggested.
                          You have to turn the gas down.
                          I wonder if you have actually seen theese pots in person because the bottom of the pans in this set are not "to small for gas". Especially with those thick copper bases. Copper transfers heat more in a more efficiently so you don't have to keep the gas cranked full bore.
                          That's the whole point.
                          Lets not forget the entire set is under $200 not $150-$350 per piece. IMO that savings buys a good bit of foregiveness even if some one sees them as slightly less than perfect.

                          1. re: Fritter

                            I may have seen the set. I've got a very similar set under another brand name. (photo below) I am telling you that with the smaller pots in this set that you had to reduce the heat so much that they are not very flexible in use. The base narrows in. For example the smallest pot is 5.75 inches across the top but only 3.5 inches across the base. Those flared-out sides catch too much heat. No matter how low you reduce the flames heat leaks from the edges. Straight sided pots work better - I have those as well. I am not being hypothetical here. I use them every day of my life.

                            And it was your quote: "to (sic) small for gas". My exact phrase was:

                            "One warning, though. The shape of those pans with the narrower bases is not ideally suited for gas."

                            I can say that in general they are good value for money, but I stand absolutely with my original phrase.

                            an irrelevant ps: I used to live by Windsor, and I spent too much of my valuable life with thermodynamics, writing heat transfer and boundary layer equations.

                             
                            1. re: Paulustrious

                              I think the disconnect here is that perhaps you felt my earlier post was directed at you? Looking back I can see why you thought that but I was really making reference to the person who left the feed back on the Costco web site and that's why the quote in my post differs from yours. :)
                              I do agree with you about the bottom on the smallest pan. That is why I was making the refernce to the Windsor pot which it resembles.
                              As you suggested the sides on these are not ideal however this is still a very good value. I rarely suggest sets because inevitably there is almost always something in the set you don't want. In this case I think you could donate a pot if you found it unsuitable for your style of cooking and still have a very nice set.

                  2. re: MakingSense

                    Really good info. We actually do have a couple of LeCrueset pieces, a small sauce pan and a dutch oven my fiance got as a gift from his mother years ago.

                    I should have mentioned that we are getting married soon and the cookware is something we are registering for. I had my eye on the All Clad line but it's so expensive that I didn't think it right to request all the pieces I thought I might need. I did also look at the Kirkland stuff (Consumer Reports recommends it) but I just can't bring myself to registering at Costco...not that they even have a registry. :)

                    Should I take it that getting an All Clad roasting pan is not necessary and that any roasting pan will do? I would probably use it to cook whole chickens most of the time. My fiance and his son prefer fish and chicken to meat.

                    Glad to know I don't need more than an inexpensive 8" nonstick (already had to throw one away that started to peel) and a 10 or 12" stainless steel skilletl. I thought I had to have like 5 or 6 of them. Although I do like paella and risotto and look forward to making those...I would need a deeper skillet for that right?

                    1. re: lonnken

                      If you are only going to use a roasting pan a few times a year, skip the trophy name-brand version and go for a utilitarian Linens and Things special. You can get them for as little as $9.99 after all the coupons around the holiday. Some on CH will go apoplectic about the fond and all that, but you'll do fine. I have for years. I got one when my roaster was still in storage when we moved back from overseas during the holidays and I had to have something. I've kept using this one and it's fine.
                      For a chicken, you'll more likely be able to use a 9 x 13 pan or something else rather than dragging out a large roaster anyway.

                      I frankly think that most All-Clad saucepans aren't worth the money but their skillets are sweet indeed. I have a 12" in their copper series and I love that thing.
                      The saucepan that I use the most is a 4 qt Windsor shape. Slightly flared for good evaporation but it boils quickly because of the small bottom. I use it to cook pasta for 2, make a small batch of herb jelly, boil 1/2 dozen eggs, steam a pound of broccoli, or improvise a quick soup. It's my workhorse. I have a Calphalon one in the city and an aluminum one in the farmhouse in the country. I would love to have it in beautiful copper but that's an unnecessary luxury in these times I fear.

                      Don't forget to add some good platters, serving bowls, and bakeware to your registry. These are things that you will always have but may not be able to buy when you want them. Get classics that will endure.
                      I've got Pilluvuyt and Apilco porcelain pieces that I've had for more than 30 years (wedding gifts) that look like new. They can be used everyday but look elegant enough for the most formal table. The companies have been around for 100 or 200 years and make great classic stuff.
                      They also make excellent classic white porcelain dinnerware that is far more durable than ordinary dishes. Again you can use it everyday but also set a formal table and mix it with trendy or quirky things over the years. A good backbone for tableware.
                      Make sure to get some pretty things for entertaining.
                      A great icebucket. A silver tray.
                      A punch bowl that can double as a huge salad bowl for parties.
                      A cake stand. It works for elevating other foods on a buffet.
                      A small chafing dish - useful for a brunch or football party. They aren't stuffy.
                      I make these suggestions because you probably will buy pots and pans when you want them as you cook more and more. You might not be so inclined to buy luxuries so get them NOW.
                      Lots of friends and relatives will enjoy giving you lovely things that aren't strictly utilitarian so ask for some things for entertaining. They'll love to see the things when they come to visit.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Thanks for the advise about getting the serving platters and such. Most of what I've registered for is the utilitarian daily need things but I also wondered about people not really wanting to buy that stuff. I mean who really wants to give a blender or a vaccum cleaner. :) Beautiful serving dishes here I come!

                        1. re: lonnken

                          I agree with MakingSense about serving pieces; I think every single one of my serving pieces was either a wedding gift (20 years ago) or gifts from my generous MIL. Those are the kind of things that you just never buy for yourself (you "make do") but it is such a pleasure to have lovely things at holidays and for parties and so on.

                  3. I'm surprised that my usual fellow Chowhounders haven't jumped on this thread. So, here goes:

                    1) Stay away from glass lids (they always break or the knobs come loose) and rubber "comfort" handles, which burn and can't go in the oven.
                    2) Don't buy a set. Visit various cookware sites and see how amazing your choices really are.
                    3) Figure out if you are fanatical enough to hand wash, or if you are a dishwasher person. Cast Iron and Copper must ALWAYS be handwashed. At LeCrueset's prices, you would be crazy not to hand wash. Stainless steel (pure, no copper trim, no glass lids) can last decades and comes out of the washer looking great.
                    4) Recognize that some pots are best clad while others are best made with a disk bottom. Sauce pans can be either, but sautes and skillets are better made with disk bottoms, regardless of whether you have gas or electric.

                    You should have the following items in you cookware arsenal:

                    10 or 12 inch cheap non-stick skillet. Brand is irrelevant. Stay away from rubber handles. This is for omelettes and eggs, and if you can find one with oven-proof handles, you can make a frittata in the oven. Calphalon anodized aluminum can also work well for this, but most people go for TFal or Circulon. Just pay attention to the maximum oven temp. 400 is kind of low because most ovens aren't that well regulated.

                    2) Stainless steel sauce pans in 1 1/2 quart, 2 and 3 quart sizes with lids. You will use these for veggies, sauces, rice, etc. Brands range from moderately priced disk bottom construction (some Cuisinart, Tramontina) to more expensive clad (such as All Clad) and even more expensive Paderno Grand Gourmet, Sitram or Demeyere. They can all be put in the dishwasher unless you spring for the copper core All Clad, which must be handwashed.
                    -4 to 5 quart enameled Dutch oven. LeCreuset is the standard bearer here, but Staub, Chausser, Mario Batali, Lodge and Ms. Ray make alternatives. Again, use caution and choose oven proof handles because you will use this pot in the oven and on the stove top.
                    -12 inch cast iron skillet. It is a workhorse that you will use for decades. Lodge is most common, buy one that is pre-seasoned for convenience. Learn how to care for this pan (Blasphemy -- I use soap, and mine is still well seasoned). One of these will outlast ten other skillets, and you can bake and roast in it in a pinch
                    - 4 quart or larger saute pan with a cover. This handles your saucy dinners, paella, skillet meals that you want to take to the table. One of my favorite pots Make sure that the cover is stainless steel and that the handles are ovenproof.
                    -5 or 6 quart rondeax or covered stainless steel Dutch oven. Boil pasta, make soup. It is easier to lift and to store than a stockpot. A lighter version of your enamel Dutch oven, you will be able to lift and pour the contents easily into a collander. Brands are the same as the stockpots above.

                    I have several brands that I like the most. Demeyere, Paderno Grand Gourmet, Sitram, All Clad and Cuisinart have served me well. I used a T-fal skillet until the coating wore off, and my Lodge and LC have been with me for a long time. I have copper too, but I don't reach for it nearly as much as what I have listed here.

                    1. Rule #1. Never pay full price. Cookware is always on sale.

                      #2. Don't buy a set.

                      COOKWARE AND MORE sells All Clad cosmetic seconds for cheap. Especially during their sales. With warranty.

                      Le Creuset has outlet stores that also sell cosmetic seconds and discontinued colors for cheap. Marshall's and TJ Maxx do, too.

                      I bought an 8 inch nonstick Emerilware skillet for $12 at the WSonoma outlet store last week. E-ware isn't the best, but it's made by All Clad.

                      1. Go with the best, not the best you can afford, the best. It will never let you down, and will likely out last both of you.

                        Good is in the eye of the beholder... to some the cheapest aluminum pan with a non-stick coating from the 99¢ store is the best. Not for the way I've learned to cook, and not for anyone ho plans to cook anything on higher than medium heat.

                        The best value for the dollar over the long run, at least in my opinion, is copper cookware with a stainless liner.

                        There are many post about cookware, read through them and decide for yourself what's best for you and go with that.

                        1. - Brand matters, but there is no single "best brand" across the board.

                          - Don't go "all" anything. Different materials have different cooking properties and different maintenance requirements. You need both regular and nonstick frypans and saucepans.

                          - Sometimes there is a price:quality relationship; often there isn't.

                          - Sometimes high quality makes a difference: sometimes not.

                          - You will never find agreement across the board.

                          - Many pots and pans are made in absurd sizes. Pans sized appropriately for your burners are important, especially if you use gas.

                          - It's a good idea to have some 12" skillets, but some stoves can't accommodate more than one at any time.

                          - Many pots and pans of the same nominal size have very different usable cooking areas.

                          - One thing that determines quality is how easy or difficult a pan is to control. Really good skillets heat slowly and retain heat. Fast heating pans tend to burn food before it is cooked properly. However, you want a pan that will cool quickly when you make a tricky sauce. Hmmm...heat slowly, retain heat...cool quickly: not so simple.

                          - Several manufacturers may make pans of similar objective "quality", but specific characteristics of your body, your stove, or something else can make make any specific high quality item unsuitable for you.

                          - Some manufacturers make pots and pans of virtually every possible material and at every common price point. Examples include T-Fal, Sitram, Cuisinart, Calphalon, and many more. Some of these products are excellent and some are awful, with price NOT being the determining factor.

                          - You will undoubtedly find some materials more to your liking than others. For example, I do not like using hard anodized cookware. It isn't bad as such - I just don't like it.

                          - On the whole, All Clad doesn't make any reasonably priced products. The quality of what they make is usually extremely high. However, I can't see any reason to buy an All Clad pot with a nonstick surface - it's just a waste of money. Ditto an All Clad roasting pan, or, for that matter, most of what they make. If you can afford it, though, you will be very happy with All Clad stainless frypans (12/10 in) and saucepans (2/4/6 qt).

                          - According to the current Cook's Illustrated, a Tramontina set available only at Wal-Mart (18/10 stainless steel, tri-ply-clad) gives you All Clad quality for peanuts. I hate shopping at Wal-Mart and I've never used the product myself but, if I found this set, I'd certainly take a chance on it.

                          - All Clad and Calphalon frequently offer promotional items, sometimes only at one store, that are great values.

                          - You've been told to buy cheap nonstick pans because nothing lasts. That's often, but not always, true.

                          Sitram makes everything from ultra cheap to some of the most expensive cookware on the planet. I have two cheap Sitram nonstick skillets from 1997. The nonstick surface is fine, though cooking is hard to control (they heat much too fast). I bought another cheap Sitram pan a few years later. It was terrible.

                          I have three Jamie Oliver branded T-Fal stainless steel skillets that have extraordinary cooking AND nonstick qualities (this isn't common) and have not deteriorated in several years of heavy use. These are mid-priced (+/- $100 depending on size) and were worth every cent. My opinion of these does NOT extend to other Jamie Oliver branded items (none of which I've used) or to other T-Fal lines (many of which are trash).

                          - I don't know to what extent Calphalon warrants nonstick surfaces, but they do have a lifetime guarantee on many of their products. You should pursue this issue.

                          - Beware of outrageous claims. "Never needs fat" is an absurdity unless you will never eat any fried/sauteed food. "Waterless" is similarly meaningless. You don't need a wok - if you don't happen to have a Chinese stove, a saute pan will work better. Calphalon One does NOT give you the best of raw metal and nonstick in a single pan and Calphalon One nonstick doesn't make sense.

                          - You should get a 12" cast iron frypan. It will be heavy. You must season it, and keep it seasoned, or it will rust and it will wreck your food. It means work. But nothing is better for searing protein foods. Price is virtually irrelevant. I have a very old Lodge, which is still like new (only seasoned). It can't go into a blazing hot oven (wooden handle), so I bought another one for $10. No difference in cooking quality that I ever noticed.

                          - Of the cheaper brands, I've been happiest overall with Farberware, over many decades, but I've had some good Wear Ever items as well. I've also had poor Farberware and horrible Wear Ever, though.

                          - Lightweight pots are rarely good, but one you can't lift is worse.

                          - You'll enjoy having an enameled cast iron Dutch oven. Le Creuset is usually good, but much cheaper ones are available. Be sure you can lift it when it's full.

                          - Copper is wonderful, but there's no need to spend that kind of money (not to mention the upkeep involved)

                          - Victorinox/Forschner knives are as good as many expensive lines for much less money, as is the Dexter line.

                          - Comfort in use is important with all cookware. It is especially critical with knives. Don't buy anything that you can't return.

                          - Ekco Baker's Secret bakeware works wonderfully and costs almost nothing. No, it isn't durable, so you'll eventually need new ones. In your lifetime, they'll never add up to the cost of a comparable All Clad item.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: embee

                            Superb post, Sir.

                            Next time I buy a pan I'll re-read this first.