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Any advice on buying vintage/tag sale/thrift shop cookware?


Any advice?

I know that our little economic hiccup has a lot of people feeling like they really need to learn to cook, or learn to be better cooks, or just cook a whole lot more than they have in the past. And isn't that fabulous?

In the spirit of hopefully helping to keep the cost of doing that down (hopefully an encouragement to those who have under-equipped/badly equipped kitchens and are not enjoying their cheap knives and thin pots and pans), I'm looking for any advice you have on how to buy/what to buy. Ideally, I'm not aiming so much for Williams-Sonoma vs. Amazon. More for what's good (and usually inexpensive) on sites like eBay, what is worth lugging home from tag or estate sales and what, finally, it's just not wise to scrimp on. I'm suspecting you all will say "cuisinarts... you can pick up at tag sales. Old cast iron: fabulous, and much cheaper than Le Creuset! Your chef's knife... prepare to spend a little!"

In any case, examples, suggestions, ideas: all welcome.

Much obliged, everyone!

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  1. I've been finding some nice deals on eBay for certain items.

    Older Sabatier carbon steel knives other than chef's knives, which are in higher demand, tend to be really good deals, if you're looking to expand your knife collection. Pay close attention to the shape of the knife in the pictures to be sure it won't need major reshaping, and figure that it will need to be sharpened professionally unless it comes from one of the dealers who know what they're doing, or you happen to be good at that yourself. I once bought a whole set of these knives at a stoop sale (the Brooklyn version of a garage sale) for $40, gave an 8" chef's to my father, used the 10" chef's for a few years until I decided it was too light for my taste and sold it for around $85 on eBay, and I'm still using several others and a knife block from this set.

    Used Sitram Catering pieces tend to be really cheap on eBay, when they show up, because most people don't know what it is--first class French stainless steel commercial cookware with heavy copper bottoms. I picked up a second hand 34cm skillet not long ago for around $36--normally about a $200 item new. Don't worry about the cosmetics. These pans can take a lot of abuse and can still sit perfectly flat and the inside can just about always be cleaned to near new condition.

    Old cast iron--very cheap at garage sales, but Griswold pieces attract collectors on eBay and often go for outrageous prices.

    Then if you find yourself accumulating lots of used pots and pans, look for a Cuisinart universal lid (buy it new; it's cheap). There are a few other universal lids out there, but they tend to have the knob in the center, and on many pots and pans, they won't fit right, because the handle of the pan gets in the way. The Cuisinart lid is eccentric and has a cutout for the handle, so it will really fit on a wide variety of pots and pans up to 12 inches in diameter.

    5 Replies
    1. re: David A. Goldfarb

      David A. Goldfarb: "Old cast iron--very cheap at garage sales, but Griswold pieces attract collectors on eBay and often go for outrageous prices."
      True, but not universally true; in other words, the operative word in your caution is "often." The collectors want some very specific pieces: "slant logo," for instance. The wonderful thing about eBay is that if the price seems to be going through the roof, you are not committed to continue bidding. With a little patience, anyone should be able to purchase excellent quality Griswold from eBay sellers for under $20, plus shipping.

      Other cast iron worth seeking out: Descoware enameled cast iron often shows up, and it is excellent, easily the equal of Le Creuset. The Michael Lax-designed Copco enameled cast iron, also, shows up often on eBay, and is even more finely finished than Le Creuset.

      1. re: Politeness

        Thanks for the cast iron tips. We had some of those Copco pieces in the 1970s growing up. I have a vague memory of a bright yellow squarish covered casserole. Alas, I think my parents must have sold them at a house sale when we moved once.

        1. re: Politeness

          Well, I finally got the Griswold #9 cast iron skillet of my dreams, and it didn't come from eBay or a thrift shop, but from my father who got it from his mother, and I still remember my grandmother using that pan quite regularly. She may have had a larger one too, but that may just be my childhood sense of how big things were sticking in my mind. Alas, my father has a neuromuscular condition that's made him too weak to cook anymore, so it's my turn to keep the fire going.

          My family and my sister's family were just out at my parents' place for a visit, and I made scrambled eggs for the group one morning, and that pan's as slick as ever.

          1. re: David A. Goldfarb

            Congratulations. May you use it well for many years.

            1. re: sueatmo

              Thanks! Using it a bit more, I'm beginning to understand why some people get so obsessed with these things.

      2. I do this kind of thing myself and I agree - some things are fabulous second-hand, and some, you just want new. I started a thread about this myself awhile back; here's the link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/510895

        1. Like Mr Goldfarb, I shop ebay (wonder if we're bidding against each other). There are some great deals on pots and pans (and you're being a good green recycler). It's also an easy place to find a classic (the best) KA. I wouldn't buy any cast iron from ebay or elsewhere online - the shipping cost is just unreasonable - go to thrift store (why are people throwing out such great pans).

          Another place where I can occasionally find good prices on kitchenware is at TJ's. The pots and pans are typically half retail. They tend to be scratched but consider them 'broken in' instead (it's like getting the first scratch on a new car - you stop worrying about it).

          Other than ebay, knives often be found at knife seller/sharpener shops or authorized knife repairers. They will often just replace a customer's knife if there's a complaint and then resharpen the old and sell it. There can be some good deals on beater knives.

          After thinking about it a bit, the only thing I can think of to buy new is a microplane and a pepper mill (with one or two exceptions).

          1. I think the best bargain I've ever found was several years ago in the clearance section at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The stock clerk was putting out some new items including two Mauviel 2.5mm copper/stainless-lined 9.5" Windsor (evasee) saucepans with cast iron handles for $19.96 each. I asked the clerk if that was really the price, and he confirmed that it wasn't a mistake. They looked like they had a couple of scratches on the bottom, as if they'd been used once for a cooking demo, but no different than they would look if I had used them once on my own stove. Those sell for about $400 each today.

            I kept one for myself and sent one to my father. I've always checked the clearance section at BB&B ever since, but haven't found anything quite so generous.

            2 Replies
            1. re: David A. Goldfarb

              has BB&B ever carried Mauviel? I'm tempted to think some poor associate was forced to return something by a demanding customer...

              Mind if I get a peak at the Windsor? For $20, I gotta see this.

              Edit: Huh, I just did a google and there they are on their website... crazy stuff o.O Is mauviel becoming the all-clad of the copper world?

              1. re: mateo21

                They used to. I found these about seven or eight years ago. I own several Mauviel copper pieces and have shopped around a fair amount for such things, so I have no doubt about what it is. This was before Mauviel started stamping their own logo on their cookware, but the weight, dimensions, shape, shape of the handle, and "Made in France" stamp are all as they should be. Quick snapshot attached.

            2. I have been turned onto cast iron by reading Chowhound. I've gathered a small set of nice second hand cast iron skillets which I am finding useful. Another thing you might find useful is an old fashioned rolling pin. You should be able to get a 50s era pin if you look. The older ones are made of solid wood. I like the kind that spin freely on a pin between the handles, not the really old one-piece ones.

              I also use a pastry cutter I bought second hand ages ago. And I picked up everything I needed for my first foray into canning many years ago at a garage sale. I have the best potato masher--solid one-piece shaped steel. I bought it a flea market years and years ago. I guess I would recommend being on the lookout for good serviceable cooking tools at flea markets, etc.

              1. I would mention one other thing. I have picked up almost all my new pans and knives by peiodically visiting Home Goods or similar stores. In the last 2 years or so I have upgraded my knives quite a bit as I have found heavily discounted Henckels knives there. My chef's knife is a twin 4 star which I love to use.

                1. I shop at thrift stores, yard sales, etcetera a lot so naturally I buy a lot of my kitchen gear there as well. I also buy most of my knives via eBay - find a great tip below...

                  I think you are right about the cast iron idea - something like that lasts more or less forever, yet people still buy new ones, so it shows up used a lot. I am sure there are tricks, but basically I just look for ones that I like the feel and weight of and that still have a decent surface on them - and then remember that you will probably be re-seasoning them anyway. Really it could be argued that an old pan is better than new!

                  It is harder, but possible to find really amazing old knives used. Some of my favorites have wood handles and blades that rust, but they cut SO well. Surface rust will wash right off and then remember to wipe them dry after washing. (There may be more to this, like a way to keep the rust off better, but I am content with my method.)

                  The very best tip I can give is to use America's Test Kitchen product reviews at www.americastestkitchen.com under Equipment Corner. (It is the same people who make the PBS show of the same name and Cook's Illustrated magazine.) Take their reviews to make your eBay purchases and I predict you will be very happy.

                  You need an account, but there are a few options - You can get a free acount just like here and view everything from the current season. Or you can subscribe for a year for $35 and get access to everything. Or, you can get a free two week trial to check it out - and maybe go read the reviews of everything you are interested in buying in the near future.

                  Looking right now at their serrated knife reviews from this season the top 2 are $86 and $25 - a huge difference. Both got the same rating, so I would say go for the cheap one!

                  I really think that this a great resource and worth the money. I haven't been disapointed in a product I have bought based on their reviews and as you can see from the knife example above you can save quite a bundle.

                  In general I have been very happy with Forschner Victorinox knives, which rate well with ATK.

                  From there go buy the knives of your choice on eBay or your choice of stores. I like having them just show up at my house!

                  Good luck shopping!

                  1. Thanks so much, everyone! These are fabulous posts.

                    David, your Sabatier suggestion sent me scurrying to my ebay homepage. I have a good, workmanlike set of Wusthoff's (sp?), but remember that my parents' knife block has an old Sabatier in it that I just ... COVET. Yes, it's blackened and ugly, but it takes such a great edge. It's the knife I always reach for in my mom's kitchen. And I never thought to try to find one for myself!

                    Mawrter, I LOVE your link. Thank you, thank you!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: linengirl

                      Oh, you're so welcome! I don't get to prowl through junk as often as I'd like, so when I do, I always wonder if I'm being a shrewd and eco-conscious shopper or just a big bozo throwing away money on other people' crap.

                    2. Restaurant supply stores can be a great resourse. My $5.00 sheet pan is probabaly getting the most use in my ktichen now.
                      I'm a great descoware fan. I have 2 pieces of my mothers and 50 years later they are still fabulous (perhaps even better than LC!)

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Stuffed Monkey

                        Joyous! I had forgotten all about that resource. Thanks so much, Monkey! And I know nothing at all about descoware. Will inspect forthwith...

                        1. re: linengirl

                          linengirl: The late Julia Child used and loved Descoware, which was made in Belgium. The company was named after its Connecticut-headquartered North American importer, the Charles E. Sanford Corporation, IIRC. The Belgian company was purchased and liquidated by LeCreuset some years back, but there is a lot of Descoware in good condition that shows up on eBay.

                          1. re: Politeness

                            I did not know this. How great! I'm going to go look... Thanks P!

                            1. re: linengirl

                              linengirl, to preserve my credibility, and because it is too late to edit my earlier entry, I must point out that the importer was D.E. Sanford, no "Charles" about it (after all, the company was not called "Chescoware"). Ms. Child apparently liked flame orange colored Descoware, shown here: http://americanhistory.si.edu/kitchen...

                              1. re: Politeness

                                Much obliged, P! And it is beautiful stuff...

                            2. re: Politeness

                              I *love* my descoware dutch oven. Otherwise known as the mac and cheese pot because it was my mother's and that's what she made in it. It was a wedding gift to my parents about 62 years ago. I love the Markley design on it too.

                        2. I think I've bought all my good knives on ebay. If you have a good knife store in your area, go and check some knives out and hold them. Some stores might even let you try them. Once you've determined what feels good in your hand, do some shopping on ebay based on your research. I'd recommend checking out forschner chef's knives on ebay if you like the way they feel. I've gotten an 8- and a 9- inch chef's for around $25. They make a nice santoku too. I've bought lots of sitram on ebay too, great stuff, but I havent seen much on there lately. Sometimes you can even buy all clad for a good price, but not that often. The most important thing, I think, is to have good communication with the seller. If you find some old Sabs, don't be thrown off if they look a little dark, but make sure the blades are straight

                          1. I would steer clear of non-stick at thrift stores and yard sales. IIRC, the teflon (and similar) coatings break down if they're overheated and start giving off toxic fumes. After a single overheating session, it's all downhill for the pan.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: ricepad

                              I agree with ricepad. For non-stick buy new and use at low heat.

                              Chuckl has a good point about handling knives to see how they fit in your hand. I like to do that myself with pans. You can just feel the balance of the pan, if the handle hurts to grasp or if the pan it too light or heavy. Handling the good stuff will help you know what you like when you see used stuff. You'll know if it is good enough for you.

                              1. re: ricepad

                                There's an article about this on AlterNet today July 10---toxicity of non-stick pans.

                                1. re: Querencia

                                  If you have ever gotton a non stick pan really hot, you will never forget the smell. It can't be good for you.

                              2. Estate sales are ace. I once bought four Henckels knives for a dollar apiece. Be careful of anything ceramic that you might want to put in the microwave as older pieces sometimes have a design made with metal-containing paint that will flame up. Also, check all the kitchen drawers for 100% linen dishtowels, very common back in the day.

                                1. At resale shops, ask about the knifes- some are smart enough to keep them at the counter instead of putting them out on the general shelves. I found that out at one local place & was shown to 2 extremely large boxes behind the counter. With nothing better to do, I started going through them, carefully, sorting out what I might want to try or add to my collection. The best part was when I finally asked the price & the clerk said its usually 59cents each, but we'll give you a good deal...and they did, I bought 12+ for 25cents each.

                                  Ebay can still surprise you, especially if you really learn the product you're looking for. I came across my VitaMix 5000 blender for $10 on ebay because the seller didn't list it correctly. Considering the same age VitaMix 5000 go for $250-300+ on ebay, it was a major bargain.

                                  1. Considering that Le Creuset has a lifetime guarantee, you can't go wrong buying the cast iron/porcelain pieces at yard sales. I think the Copco look nice, but aren't thick enough. Same with vintage Dansk.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Ideefixed

                                      Actually, I have found Copco to be thicker and better quality than le creuset.

                                      1. re: Leolady

                                        Copco may have different lines. I was given several Copco pieces that I think are enameled steel, not cast iron (from the 1980s). Overall they've been quite serviceable, though prone to hot spots. And I have had to retire one (a small DO) due to chipping of the enamel.

                                    2. If you're interested in copper cookware, there are great deals out there waiting to surprise you. eBay, Craigslist, garage sales, etc. Antique dealers seem to have an exaggerated idea of value and an underappreciation of quality, though. As I have posted in another thread, I am completing a battery of copper cookware, all but 1 piece scrounged and gleaned, and the total cost has been less than I paid for fewer pieces of Le Creuset new--in the 1980s. If walls are 2mm thick and up, the linings are in good shape, and the handles aren't loose you can't go wrong.

                                      My best deal comes close to davidgoldfarb's: A complete, pristine, never-used Mauviel 16-inch domed fish poacher for $25 on Craigslist.

                                      I don't know where you live, but if it's near a major metropolitan area with large "anchor" businesses, many of those businesses have internal "classifieds". If you can gain access, those things are GREAT for finding deals on high-ticket-price items that rich people are replacing with other things, and they just want rid of the things we'd never be able to afford otherwise. An example in my area is Microsoft.

                                      Also, some of the bigger thrift shops (Salvation Army in my area) have central stores where they carry nicer items than the outlying stores. They will regularly have clearance days where already low prices are cut in half (or more).

                                      1. I am an avid yard sale / tag sale / thrift shop forager. I've bought some amazing stuff! My latest was a Shun knife block with a 9" Shun bread knife, a Shun paring knife and Kershaw shears. I paid $4 for all of it.

                                        One bit of advice: 2-day tag/estate sales (at least around here) operate at full price the first day. Then often drop prices for the second day. Smalls, meaning non-furniture items, usually drop 50%. So you have to decide if it's worth the risk of losing the item in order to get the better price. It's like gambling!

                                        Also look closely at thrift shops, stuff can be buried. They also often have boxes full of knives behind the counter at the front of the store. I found a carbon steel Sabatier that way for $5.

                                        Good luck and have fun! It's a treasure hunt.

                                        1. Hi linengirl! You got lots of advice. How did you do for yourself? Have you found any good second hand stuff? Equipped your kitchen on a shoestring? Can you update us on your progress?

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                            Well, still looking. It's a slow look. But I do find that cast iron is pretty readily available. Nobody seems to want the bother of looking after it. Lucky me! I continue to pursue the elusive carbon steel Sabatier of my dreams, whether for $5 or more... spring yard sale season is coming, too. Wheeee!!!

                                            1. re: linengirl

                                              Good luck. I don't find anything at thrift stores in my area. I haven't done yard sailing in decades. (Mainly because I don't need anything!) When you find something great, keep us posted. It would be fun to hear about your finds.

                                          2. I've found a few Ecko Arrowhead knives at thrift shops for $4 apiece. I really have enjoyed them a lot more than some of the more expensive knives I've owned. TJ Maxx recently had their Baumalu copper half off in my area after xmas. I scored a couple piece there.
                                            One thing I've been collecting for a year or so now is Revere Pro Line stainless steel, copper disc bottom cookware. It usually can be had at thrift shops for bottom dollar, and is really amazing stuff.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Ninevah


                                              Looks great! Congrats on being a super shopper. You are buying this through Ebay, or at second hand places? Garage sales?

                                              1. re: sueatmo

                                                Almost all garage/estate sales and Goodwill/Savers/Value Village. Thanks. :)

                                            2. The best advice I can provide about shopping thrift stores for vintage cookware is to stop by the thrift store with some frequency. Most times you will not find anything worth purchasing but then you'll be surprised with a great find. We have an 11 piece set of Wusthof classic knives that cost well under $20 for all of them. I have found tri-ply Tramontina, Cuisinart, and Calaphon pans, As well as vintage cooking utensils. Most of the big thrift stores get their donations from large non-profits (Disabled American Vets, Lupus Foundation, etc.) so the geographic location of the store usually will not indicate the quality of the goods in the store.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: John E.

                                                If you live near a big city google "estate sales [name of city]"---extensive listings of sales in greater city area will follow, and most show pictures of what they're going to sell.