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Nov 22, 2010 07:58 PM

Suplementing kitchen cookware on the cheap? Food service grade SS/Aluminum/Carbon Steel?

I'm probably not what you'd call a foodie, but I enjoy cooking and like having the right tools for the job. I'm not one to pay much attention to brand names, shiny chrome or full color brochures; functionality and price are my two main purchase factors.

I have a decent stable of cookware, but some is wearing out, I lack a few items an sometimes become cramped. Currently at my disposal, I have a Lodge 8 inch skillet and 3 qt. dutch/combo cooker (the lid doubles as a shallow skillet) as well as a Camp Chef 12 inch skillet and 5 qt. camp dutch (has legs). Honestly, I prefer the Camp Chef gear. I also have an inherited teflon/aluminum Farberware set I relegate to making grilled cheese, egg cheese combinations or boiling water. Finally, I have a reasonably nice Revere stainless steel set I've been using for at least a decade. It's not the thin, stamped Revere Ware kit with bakelite handles and useless electroplated copper bottom, but rather heavy 18/10 steel with riveted handles and a thick copper slab on the bottom. The set includes the prerequisite 10 and 8 inch skillets, 5 qt. boiler and Lg. & small sauce pans, all with stainless lids.

The Revere set has been a real workhorse for me over the years, but is starting to wear largely due to my own stupidity. I completely forgot that these copper bottomed pans are not dishwasher safe. I discontinued putting them in the dishwasher, but the seam where the copper is fused to the stainless is slowly corroding. They all seem to still heat evenly, but stainless scrubbies frequently get snagged in the seam and I figure it's only a matter of time before they give up.

I also have a single Calphalon anodized "Every Day" skillet that heats beautifully and otherwise is fantastic *on paper*, but is an absolute nightmare to clean no matter how careful I am to pre-heat it before adding fat/food.

I purchased a Lincoln (now Vollrath) Optio 12 inch skillet at Wasserstrom's, our local restaurant supply place and couldn't be happier with it. It has a nice thick 7mm aluminum slab bottom that heats quite evenly. This $30 fry pan has become my "go to" skillet. That the aluminum stops at the edges is a non-issue to me, since I nor anyone else I've ever seen cooks on the side walls.

Since I absolutely loathe teflon cookware and the prerequisite plastic tools for anything but a quick grilled cheese, I've been thinking about supplementing my cook set with a few smaller fry pans and a saute pan from the Optio line for everyday use and perhaps a few general Aluminum clad SS sauce pans for reactive foods and forgiving sauces. This would allow me to retire the Revere set or at least relegate it to secondary duty.

Since I can't justify tin lined copper, I though a few heavy, raw aluminum, tapered saucepans would fit the bill when I need better control and even heating all the way up the sides of the pan. I have no qualms with aluminum cookware and do not wish to debate the junk science used in an attempt to link Alzheimers to the material.

I'm also intrigued by carbon steel cookware. My understanding is CS skillets are somewhere between cast iron and copper cookware when it comes to heat capacity and responsiveness (depending on the thickness) and are equally non-stick (if not better than) well seasoned cast iron. I'm also attracted to the idea of well seasoned cookware that doesn't need to be washed (often) since as an engineer, essentially, I'm lazy.

I suppose the point to the above diatribe is I'm fleshing out the validity of my ideas and am soliciting feedback about the merits of various cookware materials. As I stated in the beginning, I could care less how shiny my cookware or what cache it's name carries. It just needs to do the job unfailingly on my limited budget. I regard stains, patina and scratches as battle scars, not blemishes.

Thanks for your thoughts.


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  1. Carbon steel is great, although I would limit carbon steel for skillet, frying pan or a wok. It can handle high heat and provide a relatively nonstick surface. However, a carbon steel saucepan won't make sense to me.

    I know you don't believe in aluminum being dangerous and all. However, bare aluminum cookware can be a bit difficult for maintance, but it is certainly do-able.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      What's a good, affordable alternative to heavy copper for a reasonably conductive, responsive sauce pan?


      1. re: phreon

        I would look at aluminum with a stainless interior or anodized aluminum - aluminum is a pretty good conductor. check out some restaurant supply stores if they are around you.

        1. re: phreon

          Like dcole and you said, aluminum is right behind copper. I know you don't like anodized aluminum, so how about just aluminum cladded with stainless steel? There are those cladded with both sides and there are those cladded with only on the cooking (interior) side.

          1. re: phreon

            Stainless steel with an aluminum or copper disk base. Sitram Professerie series (aluminum disk) or Catering series (copper disk) are pretty good; there is US made and Asian made stuff that's similar and probably a bit cheaper.

            1. re: will47

              For most things, Al clad stainless steel will be fine. However, when making a delicate sauce, I want a pan that is heavier and more conductive. The unclad sides of most SS pots won't cut it. Tin lined copper is king, but too expensive. Fully clad (triple ply sandwich) SS is good, but again expensive. Raw aluminum seemed to fit the bill for this because it's quite conductive and cheap. Perhaps I should search out a decent heavy (non teflon) anodized aluminum pot.


              1. re: phreon

                Check out Tramontina tri ply @ Wallmart. I don't have it, but others on this board speak very highly of it - it often gets compared to all clad. Tramontina has a number of different lines, so just watch out for that.

        2. I have a couple of Vollrath aluminum tapered sauce pans. Built like tanks, excellent heating and even when I did something stupid like forgetting to turn of the burner and let alfredo sauce turn brown on the sides they have cleaned up easily. I grew up with numerous pieces of commercial cookware but bought into the teflon hype and spent less time enjoying cooking and more time filling landfills. Cast iron and commercial is slowly replacing everything I own and I couldn't be happier.