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Jul 4, 2009 12:36 PM

Choosing First Cookware

We're a household of two. We have a tiny kitchen and I don't want a lot of redundant pots and pans. We don't want to buy sets.

I ordered a Calphalon hard anodized everday pot and made chicken/rice/lemon juice. It cooked and cleaned great. Amazon stated in the description that it was "non-reactive". I was disappointed that the lemon deanodized (turned it a bright silver) the interior of the pan after the first use. Calphalon is sending me another. Amazon says that when Calphalon sends me the replacement that I can send that back to them. What a hassle. I loved that pan but I don't think it's what we wanted.

I want a pan that I can cook everything in and move it from stovetop to oven. After making myself more knowledgeable about cookware materials, I think I should go with truely non-reactive tri ply stainless steel. I think I'll get the Calphalon 12" tri ply SS everyday pan.
It appears that anything can be cooked in tri ply SS without concern of reacting to acidic foods, great for searing and deglazing, braising. If I heat the pan, then add oil and let that heat up and then add room temp meat, I should have no problem with deglazing/cleaning.

These are the basic pans I think we'll need:
1) For most of my cooking (tomato sauces, searing, sauteing, braising, deglazing), I can use the Calphalon tri ply SS 12 everyday pan. Apprx $70.
2) For eggs/omellettes I was thinking of a replaceable 12" non stick for plenty of room, slight sauteing, and for easy clean up. Apprx $30.
3) For cooking pasta noodles, chili and chicken soup for two: an 8qt SS stock pot with just the bottom with an aluminum sandwiched bottom. But what is the nominclature of such a pot with only the bottom aluminum sandwiched at the bottom as opposed to all the way up the sides so I can find one? Can we find a decent one for around $40?

Thanks for any advice. We're both just starting out on our own and beginning to learn about cooking and it's very interesting.

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  1. Cook's Illustrated did a very good piece on selecting the essential core pieces for a kitchen without having to buy a set, whereby you inevitably end up with pieces you don't use. Here is what they recommend:

    12" All-Clad Stainless Skillet ( Your Calphalon tri-ply stainless every day pan is a great substitute for this and allows you braising, poaching and roasting abilities)
    10" Wearever nonstick skillet
    12" Lodge Cast Iron Skillet
    2 qt All-Clad saucepan with lid
    4qt All-Clad saucepan with lid
    Le Creuset enamelled cast iron dutch oven 7 1/4 qt
    12 qt Cuisinart stainless stockpot with lid

    That is I think a VERY good list of cookware to aim for though you may want to make some variations in size or brand to suit your own needs and budget. The brands recommended are a result of the CI equipment tests and reviews but of course there are endless choices in the world as not everyone would choose to pay the prices for All-Clad or LC. I do use All-Clad but I also have the Calphalon tri-ply stainless everyday pan which you mention in your post and I find it a truly versatile, good performer in my kitchen. I have a cast iron but mine is an old Griswold, and I don't yet own a Le Creuset Dutch oven though the legions of happy owners posting about them have me convinced that one day I will bring one home. Lastly I find the 12 qt too big for most of my day to day needs as I also have a small household of two people and I tend to use the All-Clad 4 qt soup pot even to make smaller quantities of stock BUT whenever I need to make larage quantities or to cook lobsters or corn on the cob, for example, I am happy that I have the 12 qt. I bought it on the Cook's Illustrated recommendation and in hindsight I think my household would have been better off with an 8 quart but that's a decision to make on your own needs and storage space considerations.

    7 Replies
    1. re: knet

      I find that a 5 qt pot (dutch oven) is perfect for pasta-sauce making (on large scale, family of 2!) and an 8 qt stockpot (with colander insert) is vital for big items, like boiling up a turkey carcass or pounds of bones and such. The colander really comes in handy on those occasions. For the us, a replaceable 8" non-stick is great for egg items, but a 10-12" is also vital.

      1. re: Sarah

        Sarah.........the tomato/chili sauce pot/pan was the next on my list. Thanks for this info. I don't want to use a sauce pan but as you say: a pot and I was trying to figure out if 8 qt would be too large. I think Politeness was correct in guessing that I may be thinking too large than I need and will go with things on a smaller scale for two such as your use of 5qt for sauce. I was looking at stock pots last night. The one I have now is enamel on metal and inherited. It's way too big and I think I should get a SS one with aluminum bottom. Bottom only, not up the sides. Thanks Sylvan

        1. re: Sarah

          good point on the colander - it's always what I WISH I had when I make stock in the big stock pot and have to drain it!!!

          1. re: knet

            It's usually called or sold as a pasta insert -- but it's great for separating out bones and veggies+ when stock making! Mine was an 8-qt cheapo, but it does the trick.

        2. re: knet

          knet, thanks for this very helpful list. My budget won't allow me to purchase those namebrands at this time, however, I CAN use the type pans/pots and sizes you give as a great guide now. It's just what I needed. Thanks for your help.

          1. re: sylvan

            Hi Sylvan, completely welcome. As I said, you can play with brands and sizes to suit you but it's a pretty good beginners list of items. Personally I use 10" skillets for example but I can see why they recommend the 12". The stock pot is also big for my needs really. I wouldn't worry as much about name brands as I would do about making sure I had the shapes of pots that would suit my cooking needs. Cook's Illustrated makes the recommendations based on their own testing of various products but as I have said and others have as well - there is a world of cookware options open to you. Enjoy your experiences in the kitchen - that's more important than anything else!

          2. re: knet

            I'd say 3 saucepans. I used all 3 of mine the other day just making a bechamel and gnocci:

            small one: heat milk for the bechamel
            middle one: boil gnocci
            big one: make roux, add milk and cheese, then add the cooked gnocci

          3. Ok, first off, I am the opposition. And I know I will have comments against me. But I just can't see buying expensive pans. Sorry, I have cooked since age 12 and other than cast iron I never had decent pans. Now married and all grown up. I have had some given to me as gifts, Caphalon, All Clad, Cuisanart, etc. Not bad. And I do use them. My lodge cast irons are my fave for most. Very inexpensive at Target, Walmart or other similar stores.

            I have my old revereware stainless. Nothing fancy but they after almost 30 years are great and still in great shape. Cast iron is perfect, have several from my grandmother as well.

            My all Clad ok, to me nothing special, same with the caphalon nothing special. I have 3 from target simple non stick pans, 10 years about, perfect shape, and cost me 20 per pan if that. I use those for some things, cast iron for another. 7 qrts is big enough for me unless you feed a lot of people. I started simple and then thought I would upgrade. Funny thing I never did. I figured my grand made dinner in simple pans no nothing expensive, so to me cooking is the cook NOT the pan. Most inexpensive pans are not bad and not all expensive pans are good. I just don't understand the reason for spending the money on them. 30 years of cooking and my same basic cheap pans and I do just fine with no complaints.

            It just depends on what you feel comfortable with and what you can spend.

            7 Replies
            1. re: kchurchill5

              I think I made that point in my first post - that the world is full of cookware choices and not everyone wants to spend the money on the expensive brands. For myself, I have to say that better quality cookware does improve results. It's the cook, not the pan, as you say but a cook has to have some tools to work with and the choice of tools is a personal thing. Personally I would not give up my All-Clad. However, the OP asked for start up cookware recommendations and I think if you look at the Cook's Illustrated list in terms of shapes, rather than brand names, it IS a good compilation of cookware and does demonstrate that a person can put together a good kitchen without resorting to a set.

              1. re: knet

                I have no problems with those liking different cookware, I just don't see the need and never will. A good cook to me should be able to cook on anything. I don't think you need sets, just individual pieces, but I could buy 10 pans of one for the price of one of the high quality pans. And mine has lasted 10 years and still going strong.

                1. re: kchurchill5

                  I have read lots of your posts on cooking and I have no doubt that you DO cook up a storm in your kitchen! I agree that not every inexpensive pan is bad, just as not every expensive pan is worth its weight, so to speak. But sometimes it is worth seeking out quality and that has been my experience in general with cookware. Cast iron and non-stick can be found easily and cheaply but I have to say I would not ever give up my all-clad and tri-ply cookware.

                  1. re: knet

                    I respect your opinion completely. You have to be comfortable with what you cook with by all means. Maybe because I learned from Mom and Grandma and we had just cast iron or every day non stick or revere ware. I might just be used to that. I do have some nice pieces including my All Clad which sits in the back of the cabinet and usually gets used last. I just never see it cooking food any better than my other pots and pans.

                    But like I said, I respect your stand and each person should use which works best for them. The cook makes the food, not the cookware. If I had a garage sale tomorrow, my all clad would go for 2 bucks, even 1. My 7 qt stock I do like however and would keep that.

                    1. re: kchurchill5

                      Hey if you have a garage sale let me know! If you happen to be doing some of your chicken thigh recipes all the better!!!

                      1. re: knet

                        You got a deal ... Buy a pot, get a free thigh... new advertising idea for garage sales, lol.

                        I actually do have a garage sale coming up. Need to empty out my POD.

              2. re: kchurchill5

                Hello kchurchill5 I understand what you say. I am learning to cook and just from sites online my cooking has gotten a lot better. I notice from the pans/pots (cheap, thin ones, materials only guessed at) I've been learning with how much easier it is to clean up using methonds new to me and I'm sure you'r e all acquated with, ie, warming up the pan first, then add oil and allow that to heat up, then add the room-temp meats...these are new to me since I had no one to teach me.
                All the pans/pots I have now are quite thin but not so thin that they dent. I'm not having too much trouble improving my cooking with them with my new-found basic techniques. But, no doubt when I learn more about pots/pans I will enjoy using the proper tools to cook with.
                One big thing I learned: I ordered a very nice Calphalon Hard Anodized Everyday Pan. It cooked great and cleaned up with a breeze. However, when it dried it was all siver inside. I made chicken, rice and 2 Tbls lemon juice. This is how I learned about reactive metals. I went back to where I had purchased it and it stated very clearly that this pan would be non-reactive. The manufacturer is going to replace it which is good. But I'm still going to return it and get a Try Ply Stainless Steel. This way with a SS pan I can use it for all the things that the Hard Anodized would do and more. I know if I keep the Hard Anodized, which I like except for the reacting to acidic foods, it would just be redundant to the SS Tri ply which I can get more of a universal use out of
                Thanks so much again for your help!!

              3. sylvan, I responded to this message of yours in a post in another thread, in case you missed it:

                1 Reply
                1. re: Politeness

                  HI, Politeness...thanks for all your time in giving me your information. I copied and pasted it all for me to save in my Pots and Pans research folder. I really appreciate your kindness and experience.
                  Yes, you're right, I was concerned that I would be getting pans/pots that are too large.
                  I'll take my time when making purchases.

                2. Just about every cookware manufacturer has sent us pots and pans to try out and maybe 'talk about them' or use them in our videos... End of the day, I go back to the Wear Ever restaurant pots that you can get inexpensively at any resto supply house - OR - I'm using the cast iron pans / dutch oven that have been passed through my family for years. High acid foods are the one exception where I'll use a Stainless stock pot, sometimes but not always.


                  15 Replies
                  1. re: legourmettv

                    I am so there revere ware, wear Ever, cast iron. That is me. And my stainless. Someone on my side, lol.

                    1. re: kchurchill5

                      You know, it's occurred to me following this exchange that I have never cooked in Revere or wearever. Simply because neither is available in Canada nor in the UK as far as I know. Wondering how much of an impact that sort of thing ( ie selection of available cookware) has influenced my thinking. I have had some less expensive stainless with a pretty decent disk and had no problems. I replaced them because the plastic handles and knobs couldn't go into the oven. Also one of them did develop a kind of warp or bubble on the bottom and I never did use them higher than med heat so not sure what caused that. I've got cast iron, carbon steel and non stick that were not at all expensive and holding up very well but for the stainless, well I still say I love the all-clad and I expect it to last a lifetime and get passed on. I don't know that I would have thought of replacing my old stainless though, if it had been oven safe.

                      1. re: knet

                        I can relate, my Revere was all stainless so oven wasn't an issue. 40 years and still in good shape, some 30 years and the same. It is a hard call these days. I just don't spend a lot but I can understand and respect the quality of some brands. But for me my cheap brands are as good cooking as the expensive brand. One I bought for 28 dollars, the same pan was 127. Mine is almost 8 years old and great. Now I'm going with todays prices but why change. But I do respect those who appreciate the quality and claim it cooks more equally. Well that is up to the cook. To me the cook makes the dish, not the cookware. If you can cook, you should be able to cook in any pan but that is just my opinion.

                        I know what you mean however. What if they did have solid handles, would you have kept them. I kept mine and wouldn't trade them for anything. My all Clad to me is a pain nice to cook in but not worth the effort. but ok for cooking.

                        1. re: kchurchill5

                          Exactly. In the UK it is still quite difficult to get anything decent at all to be honest and in Canada not anywhere near the variety as in the US. I ended up with a stainless set that was decent in performance BUT had plastic knobs and handles. So yes, I am thinking if they had been oven-worthy I would not have started thinking of replacing them at all. I wasn't having any hot spot problems or anything like that. For me, that was all about being able to transfer to the oven. I still have the saute pan from that old set and I still use it. IT is of course also not oven safe and that means it has to go one day but if it WAS oven safe I'd keep it and be happy with it. Having said all that, though I really have been quite happy with the AC and I find it easy to use and clean so it will be with me for life. But then so will my CI!!!

                          1. re: knet

                            Hey, to me ... if it works for you and easy that is all that matters. Cook what works best for your needs regardless of brand, or cost. Just use what is comfortable and works best.

                            I was lucky with the stainless handles and could do oven cooking as well. My Mom is the one who said no rubber handles only metal, and I trusted her, that was 30 years ago, And I still have all the pots without a ding, nick, warp or anything.

                        2. re: knet

                          I live in Toronto and you can get Wear Ever at the Restaurant supply houses, and most have an off brand that is the same as the Wear Ever in construction / weight etc.


                          1. re: legourmettv

                            thanks! Any specific place in mind? I haven't looked in every rest. supply place because I haven't really needed to but I've been to a few and not seen anything. I'd love a recommendation though.

                            1. re: knet

                              You could try Dinetz on King East:
                              Nikolaou on Queen West.

                              They'll have either Lincoln Wear Ever commercial pots, or the Therm-Aloy knock off. I have both in my kitchen, they look / feel/ cook exactly the same; even the lids silicone handles etc are interchangeable.

                      2. re: legourmettv

                        Is it possible to cook/braise with acidic foods in cast iron? I read people on these boards saying that they cook everything in their CI pans but I wonder if the acid does strip the seasoning off or not. For instance, the other day I made a simple pasta dish, fried some bacon and onions, then added wine and tomatoes, then left to reduce. My only experience cooking something vaguely similar in a carbon steel pan stripped it bare.

                        What are peoples experience of cooking with acid in CI?

                        1. re: pass

                          I've had no problems at all with cooking tomatoes, lemon, etc in cast iron and I haven't had any seasoning problems. My pan is very old and well seasoned and I don't know if that makes a difference.

                          1. re: knet

                            I cook tomatoes in mine all the time. No worries here either. I did a lemon chicken with sauce. I did fresh tomatoes with chicken, capers, olives, etc. So problems. Mine was just fine.

                            1. re: knet

                              I suppose it might, it probably wouldn't work on a developing pan anyway. Interesting. CI has a place for me but deglazing with acid isn't something I would try in mine!

                              1. re: pass

                                One thing that I often do in my cast iron is pork chops with lemon juice, shallots and capers - never a single problem. No off odours, no stripping of seasoning, no flaking. Also have done fried tomatoes frequently enough at breakfast - no issues.

                            2. re: pass

                              Everybody has their own rules but in my experience, once cast iron is seasoned properly, tomatoes and wine won't do much harm, just make sure to rinse the pot with hot water afterwards, dry, and apply fresh layer of oil of your choice, heat that on a burner for a few minutes. Mind you, my cast iron is not vintage. The seasoning on it is only about two years' old, and even mine seems impervious at this stage. The more it's used, the better it is. Of course, you might invest in inexpensive enamel cast iron (which are all around these days) which eliminates the problem entirely, but if you are strapped for cash, I think you'll be fine without it. I do virtually all of my cooking on naked cast iron. For the rest, I have a 35 year old copper-clad Revere Ware saucepan, some aluminum pots I inherited from my mother that must be 70 years old and some pyrex. Nothing beats cast iron, in my opinion....but you have to find what works best for you.

                              1. re: Ambimom

                                Mine has such coating now that rinse, dry and just let dry well before putting away, no need for additional oil. Some of the newer pieces may need that, but I never heat again, I just dry and then rub a little on.

                                Your kitchen problems looks like mine, revere ware, cast iron, some specialty pots, but love the old stuff it cook amazingly. and again as you said. Use what works best for you.

                          2. I do citrus chicken with garlic which cooks long and slow and no problems either. I don't think acid is a problem.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: kchurchill5

                              kchurchill5, did you make that citrus chicken in a calphalon one infused anodized pan?
                              I have one I'd like to use for that but afraid it will de anodize (turn silver)