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