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New to quality cookware - what to buy (and difference between stainless steel and enamel)?

  • c

Hi

I am interested in buying good cookware. I currently have falling apart IKEA pieces.

I am a beginning cook and and am quickly replacing the items in my kitchen with quality items.

I have identified All-Clad 18/10 stainless, Cuisinart MultiClad, Riess and Le Creuset as being the companies I am considering.

I have read quite a bit on chowhound and I have tried out All-Clad's handles and they are fine to me…

Is stainless steel or enamel cookware considered superior? How do I decide which one is better for my needs?

Also, what would you recommend that I purchase for my first pieces? I suppose I need a 10 and 12 inch frying pans, a 4 quart sauce pan, a 2 quart sauce pan, but cannot think of what else?

Also, what utensils would you recommend?

Thank you!

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  1. "Is stainless steel or enamel cookware considered superior"

    When people refer to stainless steel cookware, they are almost always refers to cladded stainless steel cookware, usually the core material is aluminum, like Al-Clad. As for enameled cookware, the core material is cast iron like Le Cresuet. I would say they are simply different and won't comment which is superior. An All-Clad will have better heat response than a Le Creuset. On the other hand, a Le Creuset Dutch Oven is well-respected.

    I would NOT recommend buying a set. In fact, I would consider other materials aside from the two you mentioned, but if you insist, then a set of cladded stainless steel cookware make more sense than a set of enameled cookware.

    As for utensils, you can pretty much use any on a stainless steel cookware surface, but you will reserve to softer materials for enameled cast iron cookware.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      Chem: Would you please give cmm3 the link to Dave Arnold's or Harold McGee's piece on understanding cookware compositions and shapes? You're so much better at remembering these things than I am. Thanks!

      Edit: Oops! It was Sam Kinsey's article, and it can be found here: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/...

      1. re: kaleokahu

        Actually, I don't remember Dave or Harold pieces on those topics. I know the cast iron skillet test done by Harold, but that is slightly different. On the other hand, I do remember BruceMcK provided two good links regarding cookware materials:

        http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/...

        and the other is shorter:

        http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ar...

        BruceMcK provided these last month:
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7616...

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Thanks, Chem. It's the former one that I was thinking of (and finally found). Thanks again.

    2. I agree with Chemical - don't buy a set! I would use the pieces that you have as a starting point. What do you currently own? Which pieces do you find you use most and why? Take sizes and shapes into consideration. Do you wish some were bigger/smaller? Once you know what you're doing with your cookware and what you wish you were doing, start looking at different materials and their strengths and weaknesses. Enameled cast iron, for example, excels at low temperature cooking for long periods of time. For me, All Clad's stainless steel line is the dishwasher safe alternative to copper cookware (no, it's not totally comparable to copper, but it does a pretty good job mimicking it). Don't rule out other (albeit uglier) materials either. My de Buyer carbon steel fry pan as well as my Lodge cast iron fry pan see a lot of use in my kitchen.

      1. Although you can cook just about anything in just about any pot construction material, some things are better cooked in one type of cookware or the other. I would suggest buying pieces that you believe will complement your cooking agenda and style. I cook mostly Italian, there are a lot of braises and a lot of sauces involved in cooking most of these dishes. I tend to use enameled cast iron a lot as many of these dishes finish in the oven. Look at what you like to cook and what kind of cookware provides the best performance for those cooking styles. You can start out with one piece of enameled cast iron (a 5 to 5.5 qt cocotte is extremely useful) and the remaining few pieces clad stainless and then build from there as you refine what you like to cook and what you like to cook in. The important thing is to be patient, shop around, buy quality not quantity, and slowly build your cooking arsenal.

        13 Replies
        1. re: mikie

          I like Le Creuset, too. I've never tried any other kind of enameled cast iron. It's what I started using 30 years ago, and I definitely recommend it. The size I use the most is the 5.5 qt round French oven. It says 26 on the bottom, which is the diameter in cm.

          Don't buy it in sets, though. I prefer using my All-Clad stainless/aluminum/stainless clad skillets, saute pans and saucepans. I also have some Calphalon anodized aluminum, which I don't use anymore if I have a stainless replacement. I've never used another brand of stainless.

          I have a couple of pieces of bare cast iron. One is an omelette pan that used to be relatively stick-free, but lost its mojo about ten years ago. No matter how many times I tried to reseason it, it was like, "I'm done, dude.' And other pieces never got seasoned in any convincing way.

          I seriously have problems with the blanket recommendations these pieces of cookware get, as it seems it's the newer bare cast iron, i.e., what's available if you order one today on amazon.com, that's the least seasonable. I have never been as disappointed in a cookware type as I was in bare cast iron. (Not looking for seasoning suggestions, btw. I've given almost all of my BCI away, keeping only two last pieces for decorative value and cornbread making.)

          There are many threads on this subject, to which many of us have contributed in the past. I urge you to search through those.

          1. re: Jay F

            I have been searching, but most of those threads talk about what people are specifically looking for.

            Myself, I am just beginning to learn how to cook and I want to purchase good cookware that will last a lifetime and be useful for y cooking habits. Like I said, I make lots of pastas, but I am trying to do more vegetables (viz. in curry recipes).

            Can you tell me when a french/dutch oven is used/needed? I have never seen one used before.

            Please excuse my ignorance.

            Thank you!

            1. re: cmm3

              The French/Dutch oven can be used for many things, soups, stews, braising meat, even baking bread.

              1. re: cmm3

                I don't make curry (the smell...I live in an apt.), but I do make Bolognese and other pasta sauces frequently. A 5.5 qt. Le Creuset round French oven (says 26 on the bottom, its diameter in centimeters) is perfect for making 2 pounds of meat's worth of Bolognese.

                When I make Marcella's simplest tomato sauce, a 28 oz. can of tomatoes, a cut-in-half onion, and a stick of butter, I use a 3 qt. All-Clad stainless steel saucepan.

                I use an extremely light, extremely thin 8 qt. s.s. stockpot for boiling water for pasta.

                My two favorite ways of cooking vegetables are steaming or roasting. All-Clad has two sizes of steamers, one that goes over the top of their 3 (and 4?) qt. saucepan, and one that fits over either their 6 or 8 qt. "stockpot." I put "stockpot" in quotes because both of these are wider than they are tall, i.e., shaped like a Le Creuset French oven of equivalent size. The A-C 6 qt. is simply a shorter version of the 8 qt. I have the larger steamer.

                I like to roast vegetables on one of two things: 1. An aluminum half-sheet pan (cheap), with parchment paper between the veg and the pan, or 2. a Le Creuset roaster. I choose the roaster if I'm going to cook the veg first, then roast a piece of fish in the same pan. The sheet pan is also very light, so it's my first choice for just veg.

                I like using stainless steel because it is lighter than cast iron. I can cook anything in my 8 qt A-C stockpot I cook in my LC 7.25 qt (size 28). I use the 28 LC when I make 3 or 4 pounds of meat's worth of Bolognese.

                I use a Le Creuset skillet for making grilled cheese. It never sticks. The cheese does, a little, but it washes right up. I tried nonstick, but I fear the outgassing. Can't stop thinking about it while I'm cooking or while I'm eating. A little OC, I know.

                I use a 12" All-Clad stainless frypan for some fish. Sole meuniere, mostly. I heat up the pan, then heat up the oil, then put the prepared (egged, dredged) filets in the pan. I flip them when the bottom releases naturally from the surface of the pan (takes practice), and then make a quick pan sauce from lemon and butter. You really want your mise en place for this kind of cooking.

                I haven't made eggs in awhile. I have an 8" cast iron pan, but it has lost its nonstick seasoning mojo, and I've just not eaten eggs at home in about a year. It's okay. I was sick of eggs.

                I am not a lover of bare cast iron. I think some people are good at some things, while some people suck at them. I suck at seasoning cast iron, making coffee without measuring, sharpening my knives, and making turkey. These suckages are okay with me. "Oh, have you tried...?" responses are not needed. I do lots of things right, and can live without being able to these things.

                If I were a curry maker, I would use my All-Clad stockpot rather than my Le Creuset, but only because curry stains. At least, I think it would. Anyone?

            2. re: mikie

              Why is stainless steel recommended over cast iron in general? My friend, whom I trust very much, told me to steer clear of stainless steel...

              How do you keep food from sticking to either enamel or stainless stell cookware?

              I have quite a few pots and pans from IKEA now. The handles do not hold well and they are all teflon. I would like to find a few good pieces to own, plus the required utensils.

              Right now I mainly cook pastas, sauces and pizza. Some vegetables (using a steamer).

              Can someone here make recommendations on either All-Clad or Le Cresuet pieces to buy? I would buy Al-Clad either through the eBay seller highly praised here or through www.cookwarenmore.com .

              I am also at a loss at which utensils I need, and of what finish (cast iron or enamel)...

              I have a 5 quart sauce pan I use often for cooking pasta in and a 2 quart saucepan I use for making sauces (or usually, just heating them up).

              Any recommendations?

              1. re: cmm3

                ^
                ^
                ^
                ^
                ^
                See above for my list of cookware.

                As for keeping food from sticking, my favorite answer is "practice." With stainless, it's a matter of heating up the pan, then heating up your oil a/o butter, and only then putting what you're cooking in the pan.

                I have to go now, but I'll bet others will have lots of specific suggestions.

                1. re: cmm3

                  There is a good list of 'essential cookware' published by Cook's Illustrated that should pretty much cover all your needs right now:
                  1. 12" All Clad skillet ( personally I prefer 10" but all depends on your needs)
                  2. 12" cast iron skillet
                  3. Non-stick skillet ( always debatable due to possible health concerns but easily replaced by a nice de Buyer blue steel pan for eggs, crepes, etc)
                  4.All Clad 3 quart saute pan
                  5. Saucepan ( CI recommends a 4 qt - myself, I prefer to have a range of 1 - 2 - 4 quart)
                  6.Dutch Oven (fry, soup, stew, braise, beans, etc)

                  As to utensils, wood and silicon are always good choices since neither can damage cooking surfaces. Metal can be used in anything but non-stick but wooden or silicone should get you through.

                  1. re: cmm3

                    "Why is stainless steel recommended over cast iron in general? My friend, whom I trust very much, told me to steer clear of stainless steel..."

                    Stainless steel cladded cookware are easier to take care. They can go into dishwasher, they don't break easily, and they can handle a wide range of foods and cooking style. They can handle acidic foods, they can use to boil water for a long period of time and they can use for deep fry at high temperature. However, stainless steel cladded cookware do not excel in many areas. Particularly, meats stick to stainless steel surface more so than most other materials, and they are fairly expensive in comparison

                    1. re: cmm3

                      You don't need 30 pieces of cookware. What you cook or want to cook will dictate what you need, or conversely what you have will dictate what you and cook, or at least cook easily. Certian types of cookware are best suited for the preperation of certian foods.

                      If you want an omlet or over easy egg for breakfast and you don't want the fat from frying bacon first, you will appreciate an 8" non-stick (I use a Scanpan Classic) or bare cast iron, or carbon steel (the latter two will need to be seasoned to be non-stick).

                      If you want to cook stews, or braises, or a pot roast, or any of a number of dishes that may start on the stove to brown the meat and finished in the oven, an enameled cast iron cocotte aka French oven, is invaluable. I use either a 5 or 8 quart Staub, Le Creuset is another very good option and comes in similar sizes, it's a matter of personal taste and what you happen to find a deal on.

                      For most other foods, you will probably be content with some sort of clad stainless steel such as the All-Clad. You don't need that many pieces, likely a 10-12 inch frying pan, a similar sized saute pan, a 1.5 to 2 qt. sauce pan, a 3 to 4 qt. sauce pan. Other options for sauce pans might be Demeyere with the disc bottom, or you could go copper, again some personal choice here as copper has the best heat transfer, but higher cost and arguably higher maintance.

                      You can boil water in just about anything that will hold water, I personally wouldn't use a non-stick for this purpose and you don't need to spend a bundle to get All-Clad. With that said, there is some economy in purchasing a set, which would include some sort of large pot as JayF pointed out. You probably also want the steamer either for the larger pot or the 3-4 qt pot.

                      That would be my bare minimum starter set. Once you have used these, you will have a much better idea of what you need to add both in terms of size and material of construction.

                      1. re: cmm3

                        Watch this video, it shows you how to cook in stainless steel pans without sticking.
                        http://rouxbe.com/cooking-school/less...

                        I've bought all my AC pieces from WS outlet during their black friday sale (it's not as crazy as most people think, and probably the parking god was smiling at me too).

                        1. re: cutipie721

                          How good are the prices on black Friday? I'm wondering if it'd be worth a trip to one! ty

                          1. re: olympia

                            This past season I got a copper core 12" skillet for $90. I am pretty happy.

                            That was the exact pan I wanted to buy and I kept focus. Didn't let my eyes wander too much to tempt myself, you know ;-) I kinda remember some pieces from the d5 line being 50% off, but I didn't go look and see exactly how much they were. I have to say that this last one wasn't as exciting as the previous two BF that I went, maybe because the economy was picking up? The first BF they gave me 20% off $250 total purchase on top of their crazy discounts. The second BF they gave me store credits equal to 15 or 20% (don't remember) of my total purchase to spend after Xmas. This past BF? Nothing of this nature and less things on sale.

                            I'm done with buying cookware for the next 20+ years.

                            1. re: cutipie721

                              Thanks for sharing. My closest one is still something like 4 hrs away! I got my 4 qt saute for $100 which made me happy (it's the D5). It's easy to get distracted though - I spent quite some time fondling and contemplating the other pots!

                    2. Mind if I jump in? Trying to make a long story short; When I quit smoking in Sept. (things do smell better) I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what cookware to buy w the xtra $$$. Trust me, I spent many an hr on the websites. Well I should say I spent alot of time on the websites that we know and love. Here is what I ended up buying...I bought the Cuisinart multi-clad pro 12 piece set and then everything else in their line except the 2qt saucepan and the 12 qt stock pot. My wife thinks I am crazy and there is no place to put everything! Cost for all of that was between $600. and $700. It is THE best $ I have Ever spent! Last March I bought a EH 7L Flame which now sits unused in the laundry room. To cmm3 I say this; If you have the $$$ buy AC, Mauviel Stainless, or any of the other high dollar stainless cookware but if not..... go w the MCP! Thanks and have fun!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: diamond dave

                        I'm like dave and have recently been doing quite a bit of research and building up my collection. So far, what I have and love are:
                        All Clad 4 qt Saute
                        All Clad 3 qt Saucier
                        Le Creuset 5 qt Brasier
                        Le Creuset 7.25 qt DO
                        de Buyer 9.5 in crepe pan
                        Lodge 12 in skillet

                        I've also got a Fagor Pressure Cooker that I've not used yet that I'm trying to decide on size. I've also recently acquired a LC 2.5 qt doufeu and Lodge 12 in square grill pan that haven't been test driven yet. In the future I'd like to add an AC6 qt saute and 2 and 4 qt sauce pans. Those might be a bit down the line though. I've got to say that so far I'm very pleased with my collection. The only thing I might change would be to get the AC 4 qt saute/simmer rather than the 4 qt saute. Maybe in time.
                        Ooh, I've also got a set of 10 and 12 in non stick skillets that I use for eggs. Hope all that helps some!

                        1. re: olympia

                          Hey,

                          Has anyone looked at the NuWave counter top oven from the standpoint of health risk? They use a polycarbonate "dome" and a non-stick enamel base. The non-stick base is PTFE and PFOA FREE. So, the question is, would this "oven" be safer to use than a convection toaster oven? URL: www.mynuwaveoven.com/

                          Thanks,

                          noncook413

                      2. There isn't any thing wrong with stainless, but it is best used for saucepans. You don't want LC as a saucepan, you want it for braises or other slow cooked dishes. You need a pasta pan, I think, but you wouldn't use LC for that either. You need a quick cooking pot, possibly stainless.

                        Don't underestimate the ability to be dishwashed. Having clean pans come right from the dishwasher is wonderful. But probably every pan you ever own, will not be dishwashable.

                        Imagine yourself frying an egg or a piece of fish. What sort of pan would you buy for that? You might use non stick for that, or you might a carbon steel pan. Or maybe you would use cast iron. Cast iron and LC are heavy. Do you want to hoist really heavy pans every day? Now imagine yourself cooking oatmeal in the morning. What pan would work best for that? Making a sauce?

                        You have to think about how you like to cook, and what you want to learn to cook, and what you can afford. We can't really know what pans are best for you. The best advice you've received is not to buy a set of pans. Or, buy a small set. And here is a secret: you can cook very well even if you don't own the best pans on the planet.