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Nov 18, 2010 10:00 AM

need help with cookware set up on a budget

hi all
im not very knowledgeable with cookware surfaces. need some help.
first thing is budget..while i would like to spend hundreds for a super nice set of goods, i cannot afford to.. =(

so please help me decide on how to build my set on a budget.
for frying pans (eggs, fish): non stick? hard anodized?
sauce pans for soups, etc: stainless?

i was going to get just a 10pcs set of hard anodized non stick, but i keep reading everywhere that they dont last, etc.

but what worries me about stainless is how food sticks, clean up without dishwasher, etc.

should i just go with a nonstick set or get a stainless set? im thinking of a 10 pc set for less than $200.

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  1. If you are into a triply stainless steel cookware set, then I think it will be very difficult to beat the Tramontina set:

    A lot of people prefer nonstick Teflon for eggs, but it is probably unnessary for fish. As for nonstick vs stainless, that is really your choice. Each has its pros and cons. There are other materials as well, like cast iron and carbon steel.

    Do you want to tell us what you are looking for specifically beside the price.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      a lot of people rec this set so it's worth checking out (i don't have it) note that they also sell a set with more varried materials.

      I'm not sure if it's as good a price as etting the other set and then adding the cast ison and non stick, but certainly worth looking into

    2. If you can, I'd avoid getting sets for either cookware or knives. Yes, you may save money in some ways with a set, but if you get good quality a 3-4 qt saucepan with lid ($30-60), a 9-10" frying pan / chef's pan / saute pan (one of those 3), a cast iron skillet, and *maybe* a nonstick skillet if you really insist, I think you will have most of what you need for day to day cooking, and you can add other pieces you might need later on. The advantage of building things this way is that you can start to get an idea of what you like / don't like, and what you need / don't need, and you can spend the money to get nice pieces where it matters (for example, a pan with a copper base for things where precise heat control is useful), and cheap pieces where it doesn't (if you're using the saucepan mostly for boiling stuff rather than making delicate sauces, having that level of responsiveness to changes in temperature is kind of besides the point). In other words, it lets you focus your purchasing a little more, and lets you benefit from your own experiences.

      You can get some great deals by buying commercial / restaurant cookware - Sitram (Profisserie is a little cheaper line of stainless with aluminum disk base; Catering is a little more expensive with a copper disk base). You could also check out Vollrath; US made, and they have a wide range of stainless stuff w/ aluminum bases.

      If you use stainless right, food shouldn't stick much, but if it does, elbow grease and Barkeeper's friend are your friends - you shouldn't be washing stainless steel pans in the dishwasher anyway.
      See the advice in the video referenced in this thread:
      It goes a little further than "hot pan, cold oil", and really explains how to determine when your pan is at the optimal temperature to avoid sticking.

      Spend some money on a good 8-10" chef's knife if you don't already have one.

      Have a read of:
      if you haven't already.

      And remember that kitchen supply stores are your best friend in terms of outfitting a kitchen with good quality stuff that isn't hugely expensive.

      1 Reply
      1. re: will47

        I think this is excellent advice, particularly your recommendations to avoid sets and to buy individual pieces from kitchen supply stores. After dabbling with some pricey "kitchen jewelry", I've found that the pans I like best are the solid, no-nonsense ones that I order from an online restaurant supply store (mostly stainless steel with a thick aluminum disk base).

        As for individual pieces, I think it's nice to have *both* a 2-qt saucepan and a 4-qt saucepan, an 8-qt stock pot/pasta pot, a roomy carbon steel "chef's pan", a cast iron skillet, and a nonstick frying pan for eggs and fish. That would cover more than 90% of my (far from fancy) cooking and should easily be within a $200 budget.

      2. What you need is a GOOD skillet, and a lot of GOOD pots.

        For a skillet, start with a basic non-stick aluminum pan. Ten-inch is a good size. Yes, it won't last. Yes multi-ply/cast iron/copper/anodized aluminum is nicer. It's also way more expensive. Assuming you are starting out, hopefully you will be in better shape in a year or two when the Teflon wears out. Then you can buy the nice stuff. Get one at Marshall's or TJ Maxx. Get the thickest pan you can afford. (It still shouldn't be more than $20). No need to buy anodized with a non-stick finish. Buy new -- this stuff wears out.

        For pots/sauce pans, search your soul. What do you do with them? Really. Most of what MOST of us do with them is boil water, heat/re-heat food, pretty mundane stuff. You probably aren't doing things that demand uber heat control. So skip multi-ply/copper/enameled cast iron/anodized etc., at least for now.

        I would look for a used stainless set (Farberware) at garage sales and Goodwill. Make sure the handles are OK (Though replacements can be had at many hardware stores.) Get as many as you can, lots of different sizes. (1-qt, 2-qt, 4-qt 8-qt). Best of all (unlike everything else), just toss in the dish washer to clean. Stainless doesn't wear out, so used is no problem.

        The guys on the food shows are knuckleheads when they improvise with covers -- don't settle for stuff without nice-fitting lids.

        Knives. More soul searching. What do you really do with your knives? Most of us have little or no use for cleavers, paring knives, boning knives, filet knives, etc. A couple of santuko knives for chopping meats and veggies should suffice for now. A large serrated knife for slicing bread and carving roasts is also nice.

        Don't forget the following!
        -measuring cups and spoons
        -high-temp plastic and wood cooking utensils (spoons, spatulas, ladles, etc.)
        -can opener
        -mixing bowls
        -cutting boards (plastic with rubber grips that keep it from sliding on the counter top)

        I've left baking gear off, because that's a whole 'nother ball of wax.

        Best of luck!

        1. Thanks everyone for the good info.
          quick question...if you were to stirfry some rice and veggies, what type of pan do you use? would stainless actually work?
          what about pan frying heaving marinated meats? still okay to use the stainless?
          i dont know why, but i keep visioning a sticky mess! because of this i keep looking at non-sticks. but i guess the suggestion to buy pieces instead of sets make sense.

          4 Replies
          1. re: samtron608

            Carbon steel or thin cast iron for stir fry.

            Yes, you may very well get a sticky mess by stir frying meat in a stainless steel wok.

            1. re: samtron608

              You know, if you are REALLY tight with money, a carbon steel wok set (dome lid, bamboo steamers, and utensils) can be had for a song at an Asian market. Seasoned properly (not that difficult, and not quite the project that cast iron is), it is virtually non-stick, and replaces the skillet and all but the two largest pots (you still need something to cook rice, pasta and soups in).

              1. re: MikeB3542

                I agree with Mike. I'm reminded of a friend who started cooking in a wok, and he kind of specialized in that throughout college. And he was a good cooker. I know. I was his roommate.

                I'm not wokky enough to recommend anything specific. My approach to beginning to cook was to have a reasonably large dutch oven (enameled cast iron is what I bought, 4.5 quarts, and it was expensive, Le Creuset. I was working, but it was a splurge) and another pot (cheap, thin stainless) to boil pasta in, because that was what I liked most.

                Either way, you'll also need one good chef's knife and a cutting board. Victorinox makes the best cheap knife these days.

                I've used wooden and plastic cutting boards. I prefer wood, but I worry about contamination from chicken, plus the picking up of garlic and onion smell. I inscribed an "X" on one side of my wooden cutting board. It means "no onions or garlic" on that side, as I use those in cooking all the time, and I don't want chocolate, for example, to pick up onion odor as I chop it.

                I've grown so paranoid/sensible about chicken, I use a plastic cutting board for it; for all meats, really.

                I hope this helps. Keep asking questions until you get what you want.

                Oh, I'm not big on sets, either. That dutch oven I spoke of came with a set of pots I really didn't like that much. I wish I'd bought it separately.

                1. re: MikeB3542

                  You can use a flat bottom carbon steel wok as a frying pan or a saute pan. I have done that for years. However, that only works for a flat bottom wok, not a round bottom. For example, I imagine it will be odd to make a pancake or pan fry a fish fillet on a round bottom wok.

              2. One stainless may stick sometimes, but as you get used to it this happens less. Heat the pan a little before adding oil, make sure the oil is heated before adding anything else. I still burn the *beep* out of stuff, but I have an old stove and few patients.

                I second the call for used goods for some (cast iron pans for under $10 that just need a good scrub and seasoning) and TJ Maxx.