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Nov 24, 2010 07:17 PM

Starting an a la carte cookware set

I know there are lots of posts on this topic, and I've read a lot of them already, but I still have some questions.

Background: I want to buy all the necessary pots and pans for me and my boyfriend to use for the home when we move out together. He is a professional cook, and I want to buy him really good cookware as a Christmas present this year. I've pried some details out of him as to what they use in the restaurants he's worked at, but it's been difficult as I don't want him to know my intentions.

I am a college student, so I am really not looking to buy things I could do without--NECESSARY is the key word here, what I need to live with. I can always supplement later.

Here are the questions:

- I was thinking of a #7 or #8 Griswold CI skillet. My boyfriend knows how to season these things. Therefore, is a frying pan really necessary? Could I use the skillet for eggs? Would 7's and 8's be too small or too large for the versatility I have in mind?

- I've looked at All-Clad saute pans, but according to descriptions my boyfriend has given me, the pans they use at his work to actually saute seem more like saucier or chef pans, i.e., with curved, sloping sides. Do saute pans with steeper sides do something special the saucier pans can't? I am pretty confused about this, honestly. If I were to use an All-Clad saucier pan in a saute pan capacity, what size should I get?

- I probably want an All-Clad sauce pan. What's the ideal size: 1, 1.5, or 2 qt?

- Stock pots: what brand? What size? We do make a lot of stock.

- I've heard a lot about Le Creuset on these boards. Are they really necessary? He does make a lot of French onion soup. Is this also something I could forgo?

- Anything that I'm missing? We will also be making a lot of rice, beans, soups, and stews. Oh, and fried chicken. Any recommendations?

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  1. I don't know where the boyfriend works, but what they use at the restaurant is not necessarily what you want to use at home, mainly because restos are very concious of cost and expensive pans add little to the quality of the food and they tend to disappear. My only experience as a professional is a few months as a short order cook, but here's my two cents, keeping in mind that everything depends on what you usually cook:

    Cast iron skillet: excellent for high temperature searing. Not so good for eggs because it takes a long time to heat up. For eggs I suggest an aluminum skillet (see below).

    Saute vs skillet/saucier: Go with sloped sides. I don't know why the call a straight sided pan a saute, but it's easier to toss food (which is basically what saute means) in a curved sided pan.

    Sauce pans: no ideal size. It depends on what you cook and how many you cook for. You probably should have a 1 qt and a 2 qt at least.

    Stock pots: depends on how much stock you make each batch. Go to your local restaurant supply store and check out their aluminum pots. Best buy you'll ever make. You can waste a lot of money by spending it on a fancy stock pot.

    Le Crueset: Forego. There is nothing you can do in enameled cast iron that you can't do in a good sauce pan. The only advantage I can see is they look nice on the table

    Anything you're missing?: Sounds like you might need a larger than 2 qt sauce pan if you make lots of big stewed dishes. For sauce pans my preference is not all clad (stainless inside and out with aluminum core), but anodized aluminum with stainless interior. The ones I use are made by Cuisinart. Cheaper than all clad, just as easy to maintain, and slightly better heat transfer (in theory, since the extra layer of stainless should reduce overall conductivity compared to a pan of the same thickness with stainless only on the inside).

    And for deep frying, what you want is a pot that is tall relative to its width so you can use a good amount of oil and not worry about boilover when you add the fish/chicken/falafel or whatever. I use a copper pot that is 7" diameter and 6" tall, but I've never seen a US made pan with similar dimensions, so use whatever sauce pan comes close.

    1. bella: You pose--and phrase--excellent questions. You are`wise in titling your post "Starting..." and especially so grasping the fundamental truth of a la carte. Your`care and concern for the`BF and right choices is a breath of fresh air. And yet you have already done your research.

      Starting... SOMEWHERE... Uncoated CI doesn't get any better than Griswold. Starting at the beginning of your battery, I might suggest that you first find a Griswold #10 DO. It is large enough to get utensils into for frying and searing and has two handles for saute, and can also excel as a chicken fryer and DO. Perfect for your beans and stews.

      Saucier/chefs... These geometries SEEM to be all-purpose, but I'm unconvinced. At best they seem to make the saute ('jump") more certain, but the bottoms are small for saute and the rims too wide for many sauces. If you go for a CI DO/Chicken Fryer as your first piece (and default saute), I would then suggest a first-quality copper saucepan for a second. These can be had, used, for not a lot of money on eBay, and some of the best pans ever made, i.e., no longer in production, are offered there right now, often going for less than $100. I think a 1.5Q is a nice size to start. Do not consider any under 2.5mm in thickness, 3mm and above is even better.

      Stockers... Here it doesn't matter so much as to brand and composition, most of the action being convection currents WITHIN the pot. But if you make a lot of stock, go bigger. A 14-18Q is not all that big, and you can always skim from inside. Volrath is a good make, bulletproof and serviceable. I like taller and narrower shapes rather than shorter and wider, but it really makes little difference.

      LC... I own quite a lot of it, and there is no shortage of folks here on CH who will say it's necessary. IMO, it's not. But it is versatile. If the BF is a FOS afficianado, a couple--or quad--of LC cocotes for that might be nice, but some inexpensive, stylish porcelain or pottery ramekins are equally authentic and functional.

      Beyond that, I might suggest a mid-to-large sized gratin pan that can double as an open roaster. These make excellent presentation platters as well.

      I hope this helps you make a start, but I sense you already have things well in hand.

      1. * I think having a stainless steel or stainless lined copper frying pan is a good idea, even if you have a cast iron / carbon steel skillet as well. But since you'll have a sauté pan, probably not the first thing to pick up (I'd go for a #8 or #9 over a #7).

        * Depending on what you're using it for, All Clad might kind of be overkill for saucepans, especially larger ones. Nothing wrong with All Clad - I have a few pieces, and like them Ok, and it is nice not having the disk bottom for certain things. But check out Sitram's "Catering" series for saucepans (and sauciers, for that matter, as long as you don't mind the disk bottom); it's usually quite a bit cheaper than All Clad (you can check out "Professerie" series too - aluminum disk instead of copper, and the handle is a little different). I think you will want to have a large saucepan (or casserole) as well (~ 3-5 qt).

        * I think steep vs. sloping sides is more a personal preference thing than anything else. If he's already used to the rounded sauté pans, go for it - a chef's pan / saucier is useful for more different things anyway. If you really want the nitty-gritty details on the differences, one take is here:

        * How big a stockpot do you want? 12 qt? 18 qt? For stockpots, you could look at French brands like Sitram or Bourgeat ( ($90 for the 12 qt pot only; a little more for the lid) or look at US brands like Vollrath, which makes a couple of stainless lines. The All Clad "multi-cooker" thing can be found for $100 sometimes isn't bad if you can find it for that price (comes with steamer basket and pasta insert; while I rarely use them, they don't take up much extra space).

        * You can get an enameled cast iron dutch oven for way cheaper than Staub or Le Creuset (Lodge, Costco, etc.), but I don't think it's really necessary. A stainless steel casserole that's large enough could be used for the same sort of things.

        1. If my boyfriend were a chef, I'd likely consult him as to what to buy. But if you're wanting to surprise him, well, you've come to the right place.

          1. I've never had much luck with bare cast iron, so I'll not comment.

          2. This is an area where I'd consult him to see what he likes cooking with.

          3. I have 2- and 3-qt. All-Clad saucepans. I prefer the 3-qt., partly because it has a much wider bottom, so making a roux is easier. The 2-qt. All-Clad saucepans are as high as they are wide, which I find strange in a saucepan. Most are wider than they are high.

          4. Before you buy a stockpot, measure the clearance from the bottom of your sink to the lowest point on your water faucet. Don't buy a stockpot that's taller than that, as they're a PITA to clean. I have a 16-inch stockpot I haven't used in so long, I turned it into a trash can.

          All Clad has what they call stockpots that are wider than they are tall, which is not what a stockpot is supposed to be (see what kaleokahu posted). They are shaped like a Dutch oven. I have an 8-qt., in which I've never made stock, but it's a wonderful thing in which to make stews, Bolognese, chili.

          5. However, I prefer Le Creuset for Dutch oven duties (those same stews, beans, chili, Bolognese). I don't know if it's just aesthetic, my preference, but I really like Le Creuset. I'd go for a 5.5-qt.

          6. The best rice I've ever eaten at home came out of my next-door neighbor's rice cooker. A bare cast iron 12" skillet is what a lot of people use to fry chicken. This is another area where I'd ask your boyfriend.

          Best of luck. You sound like a great girlfriend.

          1. Every kitchen needs a cast iron frying pan. You'll learn to use it as the years go by, and it'll last for generations.

            Saute pans - first of all I don't really know why they're called "saute" pans. I have a 3-qt Calphalon tri-ply that I use mostly for braising. I use regular tri-ply skillets - 8, 10, and 12 inch - for actual sauteeing and other skillet stuff.

            I have a 16qt stainless steel stock pot that I bought at Sears. It was on sale at a cheaper price than I could have gotten for the equivalent on It is stainless with a tri-ply bottom and covered handles for heat protection, and it came with a cover. I won't use aluminum because of all of the problems with its reaction to acid in foods. I like to make bone stock, which requires the use of small amounts of vinegar and/or wine, and I'd rather not have my pot leaching into my food.

            I found Le Creuset equivalent made by Lodge at the local WALMART (!!) and picked up an 8 qt Dutch oven for about $40 on sale. True, it's a bit thinner and lighter than the Le Creuset, but for my needs, it works fine.