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Best cookware set for college apartment

Hi everyone.

I'm getting ready to move into my first apartment, and I'm having a bit of a tough time deciding on what cookware I want to purchase. I do think I want a set, as it seems to be the best bang for the buck, but I don't want to get something horrible, just because it's cheap. I was wondering if you had any tips on where to look for someone who is on an intense budget, doesn't cook all the time, so I'm not in the need of something phenomenal, just something sturdy and reliable.

Hope you can help!

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  1. You might get something at BIG LOTS, or you could pick your own set at a thrift store (you might even get better quality stuff at a thrift store or garage sale)

    1 Reply
    1. re: lifeof spice

      my first kitchen was outfitted from a thrift store for very little money. That's what I would suggest as well. Then you'll figure out what things you really want to upgrade and what things are fine for a few more years. You really *need* very little to be able to cook what you want. If you don't want to go the thrift store route, then an inexpensive set from Target or whatever will get you started. You may get lots of advice about "buying the best, it will last you a lifetime" which while undeniably true, isn't necessarily where you are in life right now. At least I know I wasn't.

    2. Are you in the states? If you're in England You can get a set of anolon pans for about £80 (3 saucepans, small frying pan and stir fry)

      1. Go to Target or Costco. You can get a full set of whatever for under $50. It will more than suit your needs. My son still has his after 3 years and it's absolutely fine.

        1. You may want to try Tuesday Morning (it's a smaller closeout chain and the merchandise changes regularly) along with Target/Costco. Ikea's kitchen department is also surprisingly good for the price (not like the furniture that has about a 1-2 lifespan for certain pieces).

          2 Replies
          1. re: queencru

            Ikea is a great suggestion but may not be local to everyone. Mostly a la carte offerings but the prices are excellent and quality is good.

            1. re: queencru

              I'd disagree from a limited experience. Ikea is a lucky dip IMO, 50% good, 50% trash.

              I got a stainless steel mixing bowl for gods sake, and it lasted less than a week before the inside bottom corroded somehow.

              *edit* I was using it to make dough, mainly too.

            2. Go to several of your local Ross/Marshalls/TJMaxx/Homegoods(my preference) and pick up a few heavy non-sticks like Circulon or Calphalon.

              1. Where do you live? For example if you were in South Florida I would recommend a trip to Brandsmart.

                And Cary is spot on with her Ross/Marshalls/TJMaxx/Homegoods suggestion.

                And how much do you want to spend. Here is a large (probably too large) , good value, good quality set at Costco, but $200 may be outside your budget.


                1. I hate buying junk, knowing I'm going to throw it away in a year, so I would recommend 2 good cast iron pans, one a frying pan/skillet and one larger (I have one from Wagner that's called a 10 1/2 inch "chicken fryer." It's big enough to hold a whole chicken for roasting.) Properly seasoned, they won't stick, at least not much. If you cook pasta, you might also want an 8 quart stainless pot with a cover to cook your noodles in. Add a 3- or4-quart saucepan and maybe a 1 1/2. After that, you can buy as you need, but you should still be able to use these and they should be sturdy and reliable for many years and they won't cost you an arm and a leg.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: chuckl

                    Unfortunately student apartments are often pretty small and student loans are even smaller. What counts as an "arm and a leg" for an employed person is probably not within reason for someone buying everything on student loans and/or a small summer salary and hourly job during the school year. I think there are plenty of discount stores where the OP can get a good set/pieces for well under $100.

                    I don't know this OP's situation, but many people just don't want to to pay to transport/store the items from the college apartment either. Buying pieces you'll have for the longterm doesn't always make sense.

                    1. re: queencru

                      you can get the two CI pans I mentioned for less than any but the cheapest sets -- certainly less than $100-- and they will be useful and reliable long after you dumped the cheap stuff. Cast iron is pretty inexpensive and some people don't use anything else.

                  2. First ask yourself what you cook? Do you cook? Make a list of the 10 things you know how to make and decide what pots or pans you'll need. Buy accordingly. Cast iron is always a good, cheap, healthy choice, but if you are not familiar with how to clean and season it properly, you might be better off with something else. In general, buying sets of pots and pans is a waste of money because you will probably only use one or two of them. Buy according to what you cook. For me, a saucepan (3 to 4 quart), a 10 inch skillet, and maybe a dutch oven (3 to 5 quart) would be enough to start. TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods all carry the same brands. You can get some excellent bargains there.

                    1. Ikea has great starter sets that include everything you'll need for a kitchen - and they're a great price. The cookware isn't restaurant quality but honestly, when you consider the abuse your first cookware will probably be subjected to, you're better off with something cheap and replaceable. I'm guessing you're sharing your apartment so your cookware will be used by idiots who don't give a s**t - leave it on the burner to scorch; let the rice dry onto the bottom until it needs a nuclear weapon to dislodge; "borrow" it and forget to return it; use it to hammer in picture-hanging nails. I've seen it all. Don't buy anything expensive until you can trust your roommate with it.

                      1. A few years ago I got my son a decent set of Stainless Steel cookware with glass lids at Walmart, if I remember correctly it was around $50, he loved it and used it more than I thought he would

                        1. Everyone here has good advice. However, everyone here is an adult, willing to take the time to take care of their "things". The one question I want to ask you is this: Will you have roommates, and/or are you willing to take care of things like cast iron? I had a roommate who had no problem leaving a sink full of dirty dishes and pots for DAYS (I ended up cleaning up, because I can't stand that), and if you were using sturdy and cheap cast iron, it would be a rusty mess by the time you got to it. Think cheap stainless steel pots and pans, and consider that they are going to be mistreated. Same with knives -- go cheap. Try a warehouse club for those.

                          If you are going to be alone, by all means consider cast iron. You just have to make sure that it is DRY and not left in water or dirty for hours. You can also try a restaurant supply place if you can get to one or find online. Most of those have inexpensive sturdy stuff. Best solution is a cheap set, or perhaps even hand-me-downs or thrift store items. Avoid used non-stick unless it is in great condition, since the surfaces tend to scratch and wear off.

                          1. Thanks for all of these helpful suggestions! I actually do live in the states, in michigan, and am close to an ikea, which I was planning to look at. My boyfriend is actually who I am living with, so I don't have to worry too much about the abuse they're going to be undergoing. That being said, I am probably going to only be using these for two years max, and was hoping to not spend upwards of $50. Again, this really helped!

                            1. My advice is learn how to cook. If you're moving into a college apartment, all you really need is a large pot (say a dutch oven type) that will serve for soup, pasta, everything else and a good chef's pan. If you know what you're doing, you won't need anything more unless you're constantly entertaining at your pad (in which case, maybe you should think about focusing on your studies...:-).
                              I prefer aluminum, it's a much better conductor than stainless and heats up evenly and quickly and is more stick-resistant. Hard anodized ones will last a while without looking beat up.
                              You don't need a big name brand, just make sure it feels good in your hand and it is built solidly. For example, I have some cheapies from Ikea that I've beat around for nearly 15 years and they are still in excellent shape.

                              1. when I moved out for the fisr time I bought some really cheap and nasty pots and a frying pan. Two weeks later the frying pan was pitched but 8 years later I am still using the same pots. Yes some of the glass lids have broken, one of the plastic handles have broken off, and to be honest I hate the pots. However they did a good job for 3 years and then went down hill very quickly.

                                My advice to you is that an inferior frying pan is THE most unforgiving thing in the whole world. Spend your money here!!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: snax

                                  I think Snax has it right about the frying pan. You need a good one because it will generally see a lot of use under harsh conditions, including cooking at high heat, which non-stick doesn't do very well. I would add that having one that you can put in the over after browning on the cooktop can be quite useful. No non-stick will do that, to my knowledge. Thus you're looking at cast iron, stainless or aluminum, or copper. For many, copper is the right choice for heat sensitivity. CI takes a while to heat up but ultimately will retain the heat quite well. A clad stainless will do the job also, but you might have to learn to live with some spotting, which for some (not me) is a drawback.