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Which pots/pans should I buy in cast iron, which in stainless steel, and which in copper?

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MellyB Jan 1, 2011 10:31 PM

Hi All!
I am brand new to this forum! I found it while researching cookware. I am looking to replace my Teflon Kirkland pots and pans with some quality cookware. I keep reading that different materials are best for different dishes but can't find which are better for what.
I'd like to know if I should get my saucier, for example, in All-Clad stainless steel, Le Creuset cast iron, or copper. What about the fry pan? I am looking to just buy a few key pieces right now and add to my collection piece by piece. I already own a Le Creuset D.O and LOVE it! I also have 3 cast iron skillets from my grandmother 12 in, 9 in, and 6 in.
I am really leaning towards the 3 or 5 qt LC braiser as one of the pans as I do a lot of this type of cooking.
So, what pieces do you all suggest I get to start off with? And in which material?
Thank you in advance!

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    ThreeGigs RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 02:19 AM

    If you're going piece by piece, tell us which piece you'll be buying next, or which piece you use most and what kinds of things you cook in it. For a saucier, I'd say copper, but if you don't cook many sauces it's not something terribly useful. My most used piece is a copper saute pan, followed by an 8 qt All-Clad stockpot. Your usage will be different than mine, so it's hard to give advice.

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      E_M RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 04:13 AM

      If you already have 3 cast iron skillets, why do you need a fry pan?

      Ditto 3Gigs. What particular piece are you looking to upgrade? Between 3 skillets and a DO, it seems you have everything covered for the basics except for a small & large saucepan/saucier.

      1. SanityRemoved RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 06:00 AM

        Based on what you have, it appears that you have a good sense of what cast iron and enameled cast iron can do. The question is are you comfortable with the reaction time of cast iron in regards to temperature change to use it for a saucier? If you want the fastest reaction then copper would be the way to go and then stainless steel.

        The cast iron skillets have you covered for the majority of frying needs with the exception of acidic foods. Stainless steel is a good choice to supplement what you have.

        The LC braiser seems like a nice fit as you already know how it will act and like that method of cooking.

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          sueatmo RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 10:09 AM

          It depends on how you cook. I have cast iron skillets, but I have 2 much used non-stick frypans. I use all of it. I like stainless for saucepans, and I have a large stainless vessel with copper bottoms for boiling pasts or occasionally making soup. (We are only a household of 2 right now, so I don't generally make lots of soup at a time.) I have an open saucier and a lidded Windsor pan, and use the saucier the most often. I think it is an All clad. Most of my stuff is moderately priced Cuisinart and I do just fine with it.

          I have a Berndes braiser I really like. It is cast aluminum and very versatile. But I've used an enameled cast iron braiser and it worked fine too, although too heavy for my kitchen. What you buy depends on what you feel you need, or what things you want to try. If you want to do low fat sauteeing or egg frying, perhaps a good quality non-stick is what you want. Or if you are opposed to non-stick, then I agree with another poster. Why not just use your cast iron?

          1. m
            MellyB RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 10:45 AM

            Thank you for your replies.
            I'm new to cooking. I was raised in a family where we were always told that the women in our family didn't know how to cook (and they really didn't lol) so I was raised on packaged food and was never taught how to cook anything else. There are no real family recipes that have been passed down. I only recently discovered that I really enjoy cooking. That being as it is, I don't yet have a real sense of "what kinds of things I cook"
            I do enjoy making my own sauces. There is almost always some type of meat in our dinners (this is probably where I have branched out the least, I was a vegetarian for many years) lasagna, enchiladas, beans, vegetables, stir-frys, soups, curries, etc. Just the basics so far but made with all fresh ingredients and spices instead of from a box.

            E_M I don't know why I thought I would need a fry pan. I think I read a post that everyone should have a SS fry pan. I figured there must a reason one would need something other than cast iron.

            SanityRemoved-reaction time of my pans is something new to me. I've been cooking with my non-stick and cast iron and have never noticed anything about different reaction times. I only read about this once I started researching. (told ya I was new to all this :-)

            So, based on your comments, I need a couple different sizes of saucepans to start. Should I get Stainless Steel, Cast Iron, Copper? One of each?
            Thank you!

            2 Replies
            1. re: MellyB
              Chemicalkinetics RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 11:13 AM

              For frying pans, stainless steel cladded with aluminum and carbon steel are good choice. The reasons people prefer stainless steel (cladded with aluminum) for frying pan as opposed to cast iron are: (1) stainless steel is nonreactive so it is better for deglazing and (2) heat response is important for pan frying and heavy cast iron is too slow.

              Technically, you don't really want pure stainless steel cookware because of the poor heat conductivity of stainless steel. Therefore when people say stainless steel cookware, they are really talking about cookware with a stainless steel exterior and an aluminum or copper interior. As for copper, it is a toxic metal, so you don't see fully exposed copper cookware. The interior surface (cooking surface) of a copper cookware is always lined with tin or stainless steel or something. Consequently, when you asked earlier about stainless steel vs copper. Keep in mind that stainless steel is always refer to the interiror surface and copper is always refer to the exterior or core layer, so these two specifications do not mutually exclude one another. For example, Mauviel Copper Cookware are stainless steel lined on copper:

              http://www.metrokitchen.com/mauviel/

              1. re: MellyB
                SanityRemoved RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 03:57 PM

                It's great that you are taking the plunge into cooking and enjoying it. Cast iron of any type holds heat for quite awhile. I love it but it does have a problem when you need to lower heat quickly, it just can't react/respond quickly enough. Copper, aluminum and stainless steel all respond much faster which is better for more delicate sauces that may require a faster lowering of heat.

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                suigeneris RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 10:47 AM

                I think a lot depends on what you cook.

                I don't make many sauces, so my saucier gets used as a saucepan more often than not. If I did make sauces, I'd probably get it in copper or copper core stainless steel.

                I think you're fine on fry pans. My cast iron is not quite non-stick so I have a cheap non-stick omelet pan for the interim, but if your cast iron is from your grandmother they're probably quite well seasoned. If you make lots of steak with reactive pan sauces, you might consider a 12" stainless steel skillet. But again, if your cast iron is well-seasoned, it can probably take a quick pan sauce.

                I have a 4 quart Staub braiser, I use it all the time to braise chicken parts. I think this size is perfect for an entree. I don't think I could personally go even one quart less, but we all eat different amounts.

                Alternatively, you could get a 12" stainless steel saute pan and use it to make reactive pan sauces and also use it as a braiser. The main disadvantage of a saute pan versus a fry pan is the sloped sides of the fry pan allow better browning along the edges of the pan. But if you're just searing a steak, the saute pan should be fine. The lid won't be as tight as a dutch oven for braising, but if you're just braising chicken parts for 45 min to an hour, it'll be fine.

                I also use my Le Creuset ~1.5 qt saucepan (I don't know the exact size) all the time to reheat frozen sauces, soups, braised meat, etc. for one.

                1. m
                  MellyB RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 11:06 AM

                  Thank you sueatmo and suigeneris. We must've been posting at the same time. You both have confirmed the braiser for me. Thank you!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: MellyB
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                    sueatmo RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 11:11 AM

                    You are welcome. You know what? You are making your own traditions. In a few years you will be passing down your wisdom. Learning to cook is a lifetime process.

                    1. re: MellyB
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                      E_M RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 11:43 AM

                      If I may offer a differing point of view.

                      First, look at your most often-used piece of the teflon, and just replace that to start. If you tell us what kind (size and shape) we can offer opinions. Second, take a good hard look at the piece and fill in the blanks: It would be perfect if it were ____ (smaller, bigger, lighter, heavier, oven-proof, shorter, taller, etc.) Again, that will help you find a better replacement.

                      What size is your DO? A DO can certainly function as a braiser, especially if you cover the top with foil and push it down close to the food. Your cast iron skillets can also braise if they have a lid.

                      When I say a big pot, I use one to boil water for potatoes, pasta, etc. When I say a little pot, I mean for single servings of stuff, or for sauces, or sugar water, etc. But you know, for the big pot, since it mostly just boils water, I would use a dirt cheap one.

                      My favorite pan shape is the rondeau: http://www.amazon.com/Sitram-7-6--Qua... (although I have a smaller one). Some manufacturers call it a casserole or two-handled saute pan. Though it's not really a saute pan because you can't make the food jump, but the body is generally the same shape. As opposed to a braiser, you can boil water in this easier--it is deeper and as it's not made of cast iron will actually boil this century.

                      Lastly, even if you don't know what you like to cook, you must know what you like to eat. Plan out your meals for the next 2 weeks and write down all the cookware you will need. Then compare the list to what you own. If you already have the cookware but it isn't living up to expectations, come back with it's size and shape and let's see what we can advise.

                    2. tim irvine RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 01:30 PM

                      The preceding are regular posters, and I always learn from them and usually agree, too. If I were going to generalize (as you asked a pretty general question) I'd say there are some very specific reasons for copper (responsiveness...great for sauces) and, with tin lining (which seems to stick a lot less than SS) delicate things like fish. Cast iron is awesome for a lot of things once it is seasoned, especially high temperature things like steaks. Carbon steel, aka blue steel, is a great alternative, much easier IMO to season. Enameled cast iron gives you all of those high heat benefits plus amazing heat retention and is non-reactive. The only thing I have decided about stainless steel that is positive is that it is easy to clean. Some SS pans are actually nice to cook on, but it is chiefly because they have some other sort of core or disk bottom. I too have an SS stockpot. Another suggestion I would offer is that when buying frypans, buy larger than you thought you'd need. Frying food needs space between the pieces to brown well instead of steaming.

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                        lovemysweets RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 01:36 PM

                        For cooking I like my basic aluminum pots - I love Lagostina. But you must have at least one copper pot - you can get a really good one from Pottery Barn or specialty cooking stores. Copper conducts heat evenly, so if you ever need to make fantasstic sauces, dessert fillings or just need to simmer things on low heat for a while, they are perfect. And very pretty too. I wouldn't recommend buying a huge one, since they are very expensive to begin with, a small one - 2L would be just perfect (keep in mind that stuff sometime splatters, so you might want a 3L one if you're cooking for a family or a gathering).

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                          Henny Penny RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 04:12 PM

                          I just bought 10 pieces of enameled cast iron from Aldi's for less than the price of one Le Crueset 5-qt dutch oven. I've got some "holes" to fill, still--I need 1 smaller and 2 larger dutch ovens, at least--but the quality is fabulous.

                          I bought Tramontina instead of All-Clad. I got a 10-pc set for $199 with free shipping from Wal-mart--that's less than the price of an All-Clad 12-in skillet. Now that Tramontina has 12-inch skillets, there's no reason in the world to buy All Clad.

                          I have dirt-cheap but heavy weight nonstick pans. I prefer them for boiling pasta, for cooking eggs or pankcakes or French toast or grilled sandwiches, and I use then when I'm basically just heating water and then adding something. I use my nonstick wok for stir-fry because I don't have a gas cooktop.

                          I use soldered-bottom for a huge stockpot that can hold a 20lb-turkey. I keep my chicken scraps in the freezer until I have a ton, then I simmer them overnight, pull out the big stuff, boil it down, strain what remains, and boil more until I get it so thick that it's gelatin at room temp. At that point, when I've gone from 10+ qts of stock to maybe 3 cups, I let it set, I throw away the fat, and I heat the remainder in the bottom of a small glass casserole and let it set one more time before cutting it into fresh "boullion" cubes that can be individually wrapped in foil and frozen. (MUCH more space efficient than stock, without all the additives of buying!)

                          The tri-ply I use for searing food and for general cooking.

                          The enameled cast iron I use for grilling (I have a glass-surface stove, so I like the pans that are enamel on the outside even if they're raw cast iron on the inside), for anything where I need to see really well just how the color of something is changing, and for my dutch-oven needs.

                          The Aldi's 5-qt brazier is less than $30. And it's great.

                          1. m
                            MellyB RE: MellyB Jan 2, 2011 07:25 PM

                            Thank you everyone! I appreciate your time!
                            Thank you Sueatmo! Yes, I really am trying to create new traditions with my own family. This is one of the reasons I am looking at the most expensive cookware I can afford. I'd really like to pass my cookware down to my kids someday.
                            @E_M Great question! I would say I use my skillets, fry, and saute pans the most. I wish they had slightly higher sides and/or were bigger. I also wish they were oven safe and had lids. I guess this is why I most wanted the braiser.
                            My DO is 7 qt. Perfect for my family of 5. I also use this quite a bit and wouldn't change anything about it.
                            I am fighting the urge to buy a set. I only have $500 to spend so with the Braiser and the sauciers I'm looking at, my $$ would be gone and I'd just have 2 new pieces. Whereas the 7 piece (really 4 pots)All Clad set would only be $319 from Amazon although, admittedly, I don't really need all those sizes/shapes.

                            After reading all your responses, I think I need to decide between the big All Clad saute, LC Braiser, and that Rondeau pan that E_M provided the link for(is there a lid I could get wtih it?). Any thoughts?
                            I would love to get a copper saucier but I think its out of my price range. btw thank you ChemicalKinetics. I knew that about SS but didn't realize the same went for copper.
                            I also think I'll need a stockpot and appreciate the suggestion to not go too expensive on that as you're just essentially boiling water in it.
                            Henny Penny-I will look into those other options. I admit I'm a bit skeptical as I generally abide by the "you get what you pay for" but I'm not a millionaire so if I can get good quality for less. I will.
                            Thanks again everyone!

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: MellyB
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                              cabojenn RE: MellyB Jan 3, 2011 05:24 AM

                              Has anyone pointed you in the direction of All-Clad irregulars yet? http://www.cookwarenmore.com/
                              I have not purchased from them but will in the future as we add to our collection.
                              (We went with the d5 and purchased a set so we have to go with W-S, yippie for the sale

                              )

                              I just received my All-Clad so I can't really comment on it yet other than it's so darned PRETTY!

                              1. re: cabojenn
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                                MellyB RE: cabojenn Jan 3, 2011 01:10 PM

                                That is a great website thank you!

                              2. re: MellyB
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                                sueatmo RE: MellyB Jan 3, 2011 06:22 AM

                                All Clads are no doubt excellent quality. I want to suggest that you go where they are sold and hold one in your hand before paying for one. I find the handles uncomfortable. Obviously others like them fine. Imagine holding the pan with food in it. I find the handles of pans used every day a very big consideration. I am not dissing All Clad! It is good stuff. It is probably a lifetime investment. So if it is right for you, I say go for it!

                                1. re: MellyB
                                  Chemicalkinetics RE: MellyB Jan 3, 2011 12:53 PM

                                  I agree with Sueatmo. Many people (including me) dislike the All-Clad handle design, so it will be beneficial if you grab a big All-Clad saute pan and see if it bother you. In addition, I know All-Clad makes good quality stainless steel cladded cookware, but there are many good triply cookware at much lower price points. Other brands to also consider are Calphalon, Tramontina... etc:

                                  http://www.walmart.com/ip/Tramontina-...

                                  You can read about Tramontina triply cookware reviews on Chowhound and I doubt you will find a single negative review here.

                                2. m
                                  MellyB RE: MellyB Jan 3, 2011 06:18 PM

                                  Thank you so much everyone! I have narrowed it down. I will ask in a new post. Thanks!

                                  1. c
                                    clint1245 RE: MellyB Jan 10, 2011 10:51 AM

                                    If you definitely want something for frying and want something a little different a cast iron dutch oven is the way to go, I love braising and use it alot. As for stainless steel if you are a new cook and used to teflon you may want to try one out and clean before you jump into a set. If teflon is something that you find you really like try a heavy gauge core teflon and it will be a drastic improvement to kirkland pots and pans.

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