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May 8, 2011 08:48 PM

How the heck do I choose new pots and pans??

I've been learning to cook for about 5 years now. I've been using a mish mash of hand me down pots and pans. They suited my needs very well as a beginning cook but now that my skills have grown, this set is no longer suitable. I also have a bit more money now to invest in a proper, good quality new set.

I've been looking at flyers and browsing the selection at various stores (e.g. IKEA, HomeSense, Home Outfitters, and department stores like The Bay) but I'm finding it so overwhelming! There are TOO many choices! I have no clue how to narrow down my choices.

Here's some additional info:

- I already have several good pieces that I don't need to purchase: a dutch oven, a cast iron frying pan, a cast iron wok, and a large stock pot. What I'm looking to replace are the little "workhorse" pots and pans for blanching vegetables, cooking dry noodles, making sauces, etc.

- I'm eco-conscious (environmental and health reasons) so I do not own or want to purchase anything with a non-stick coating.

- I need a good variety of sizes of pots and pans.

- I'm ready to move up from my "university student" quality pots and pans but cannot afford Le Creuset-kind of quality.

Any advice??

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  1. LavendarPeony: "Any advice??"

    The main criteria are evenness of distribution of heat and ease of cleaning.

    As to evenness of distribution of heat, you want a highly conductive layer; you want the highly conductive layer to be appropriately thick; and you want the expensive materials where they will do the most good.

    Taking those one at a time, silver is more conductive than copper; copper is more conductive than aluminum; aluminum is more conductive than steel; steel is more conductive than cast iron; cast iron is more conductive than stainless steel; and stainless steel is more conductive than glass. Enamel is a form of glass. The thicker a layer of highly conductive material, the more effective; put conversely, a thinner layer of copper will serve as well as a thicker layer of aluminum.

    For cooking nonviscous liquids, soups, and stews, where a good convection current can be induced in the contents of the pot, a pot with conductive sidewalls is wasteful and counterproductive. Most clad pots (pots with a conductive layer, usually aluminum, sandwiched between low maintenance layers, usually stainless) have a thin and puny center conductive layer that is not terribly effective in conducting heat up from the energy source, and a lot of the heat that _is_ conducted up the sides ends up going out into the room instead of inward to the contents of the pot. Meanwhile, the conductive layer in the sides facilitates the heat that is convected upward by the currents within the vessel to be conducted out through the pot walls, again to the room and away from the contents of the pot. You are much better off with a disk bottom saucepan with a thick disk and plain vertical stainless sidewalls than you are with a clad pot that is thinner at the bottom, where a thicker profile would be more functional, and the clad sidewalls waste the more expensive conductive materials.

    For frypans and saute pans, the reverse is true. There, it is useful to have zones of varying temperatures within the pot, so that you the cook can move the contents being cooked toward or away from the hottest zone to speed up cooking of some parts while keeping other parts from scorching. For that kind of pot, then, clad construction generally is indicated.

    As for clean-up, why not have pans that can be washed in the dishwasher? Many pans, including most anodized aluminum pans, cannot be thrown into a dishwasher. For that matter, why not have pans that occasionally can be used in the oven? Many pans, especially those with plastic or wooden handles, cannot.

    Finally, take into account that sooner or later, you will have an induction cooktop or range. Induction is the wave of the future; resistive electric and gas are the remnants of the past. Induction is faster and more powerful than gas, and can be more finely tuned than gas, and induction will overtake gas just as a hundred years ago electric lighting overtook gas lighting. But not all pots and pans are induction compatible. For any given size or type of pot (except a wok), you can find an induction-compatible pot that is just as high quality as a noninduction pot of the same size and type -- and the prices are likely to be comparable. So now, when it may be a matter of indifference for immediate use whether a pot is or is not induction compatible, the induction compatible pot is the better investment. That way, you can continue to use it when you convert to induction in the future.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Politeness

      Politeness: "You are much better off with a disk bottom saucepan with a thick disk and plain vertical stainless sidewalls than you are with a clad pot that is thinner at the bottom, where a thicker profile would be more functional, and the clad sidewalls waste the more expensive conductive materials."

      Any specific saucepan recommendations?

      1. re: Jay F

        Jay F: "Any specific saucepan recommendations?"

        The Demeyere Apollo line is a good benchmark with which to compare saucepans. Demeyere has gone to a good deal of trouble to assess how each kind of pot or pan is likely to be used, and to optimize the utensil to that purpose. Sitram also makes excellent saucepans, at a lower price point (usually) than Demeyere.

        There are two levels of Berndes cookware, both designed in Germany, but only the higher end lines are made in Germany; the lower priced lines are made in the PRC, and often avalable at places like Tuesday Morning. If you are not concerned about Chinese made products, the Berndes cookware is worth a review.

        And the Chantal Copper Fusion line is always worth looking into.

        Hope these pointer help.

          1. re: Politeness

            Agreed on the Demeyer Apollo benchmark. Use those specs to decide whether a pan should be clad or disk-bottomed. Great stuff, and it will last a lifetime.

            However, I think the prices, at least for us in the US, and pretty high right now, even for Apollo versus Atlantis, which is their more expensive line. Some pans are more expensive than LeCreuset.

        1. re: Politeness

          Politeness: Thanks for the detailed, very informative advice! Wow... I have heard about cladding, conductivity, etc. but it looks like I've got a lot to learn! I really like the suggestion to go for induction-compatible cookware. This set that I am getting, I plan to be able to keep them for many, many years so I'd really like them to last. I also really appreciate items that are very versatile so I'll narrow my choices yet again to pieces that can be popped into the oven. My dishwashers never clean pots and pans well so that's not something I need to look for.
          You've given me lots of great info to take into the stores with me now. Thanks so very much!

          1. re: LavenderPeony

            LavenderPeony, for frypans, in addition to the promotionally priced (about $61 for the 8" size) Chantal Fusion starter frypan, you might also look into the very reasonably priced Matfer Bourgeat "black steel" pans. In many ways similar to cast iron in the way they perform, the Matfer Bourgeats are lighter in weight and a bit faster responding than cast iron. There are several threads on this board about the deBuyer steel pans; the Matfer Bourgeat are similar, but a bit heavier gauge and higher quality, but still affordable.

          2. re: Politeness

            As usual, excellent advice. I actually have an induction-capable wok but I mostly use a large cast iron skillet for stirfry these days. And I think anyone who doesn't go induction-compatible may someday be having to replace what they have. While it's still growing in ownership here in the US, I don't think we're far away from it being the standard. So landlords and developers of housing projects, etc. I believe are going to start installing it. I recently saw it at IKEA.

            I also think a restaurant supply store will give you high quality options for a fraction of the cost of All Clad etc. I just bought a 20 qt. stockpot for $60 at one that's induction-ready. The non-induction equivalent from All Clad was something like $300 or $400. I can do that math all day long.

            1. re: c oliver

              When I shopped for my stock pot, I did like the supply stores' prices too! Ultimately I went with a $30 one at Costco.

              I think I'll start browsing the supply stores again for this set I'd like to buy... thanks for reminding me!

              1. re: LavenderPeony

                You will never find a 20qt stockpot at Costco :) Which I love btw.

                I'd also encourage you to not buy sets.

          3. If you're looking for a good quality budget friendly set I'd look at tramontina at Walmart. It's been compared favorably to All Clad.

            23 Replies
            1. re: olympia

              So the brands mentioned so far are Tramontina, All Clad, Chantal, Calphalon and Cuisinart. Any other good brands?

              1. re: LavenderPeony

                Le Creuset, but you said you weren't interested.

                I have probably used my 4.5 and 5.5 qt round French ovens from Le Creuset more than anything else I've owned, for making Bolognese, other sauces, chili, stews, braising, etc. I'd say it's my favorite brand. It's what I started out with 30 years ago, and I like it enough to keep buying it. I got a lot of new stuff last year at Le Creuset outlet stores that would have cost a lot more at regular retailers, on- or offline.


                1. re: Jay F

                  I am thoroughly convinced that I would love to cook with LC but it's just waaaay out of my price range right now! Being a greenie, you can't beat being able to get decades of use out of a product... so, I will just have to covet LC from afar until I can afford one of my own!

                  1. re: LavenderPeony

                    "I am thoroughly convinced that I would love to cook with LC"

                    That depends on how much you like colors.


                      1. re: Jay F

                        I swear LC retires some colors because there is no way there are only 10-15 colors. There must have been closed to 30-50 colors throughout the history of LC. For one, I remember there was a "silver" color

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          "I swear LC retires some colors"

                          Yes, they do. This is not news. As far as I know, Flame is the only "always" color, and maybe Cobalt and Cherry. Someone here once posted a list of dates for different colors.

                          I found lots of stuff in Indigo at the outlet stores last year. This month, they're having a sale on Citron. I have some things in Jade. All retired colors.

                          I'm glad they have a lot of colors. When I bought my first set, I chose Flame. My alternatives were Yellow and Brown. In 1979, I was not buying LC for the colors, trust me.

                    1. re: LavenderPeony

                      I have an amazing collection of Le Creuset; probably ten skillets, six French ovens, and a bunch of other odds and ends. I think the most I paid for one piece was $50 (the gigantic 15qt monster).

                      Shop your local thrift stores with some dedication. I live in ruralish Minnesota, and I see one or two pieces every month or two at the Goodwill here. Re-using is also pretty green. :) Good luck.

                      1. re: LavenderPeony

                        I'm a huge LC fan and if you check out their stainless fry pans you would probably be surprised at some of the prices. I have an outlet nearby so I've done quite well. If it's truly out of your range, then just pick up one pan that you think would get the most use and add as you go along. For nonstick, you may want to check out the Greenpan at Crate and Barrell. It's touted as environmentally friendly and I bought one that I"ve been pretty happy with,

                    2. re: LavenderPeony

                      There are lots of great brands out there - for copper I'd recommend Bourgeat and Falk, SS All Clad gets good marks as does Demeyer, carbon steel - de Buyer, cast iron Lodge as well as vintage Griswold and Wagner (of certain dates), enameled cast iron Le Creuset and Staub. Some folks also really like Emile Henry for the flame line.

                      There are always great deals out there - either seconds from All Clad, outlets for Le Creuset as well as the Williams-Sonoma outlets. Also, ebay can be great for deals esp if you're open to used pieces. Craigslist sometimes has some gems too.

                      1. re: LavenderPeony

                        Go with Tramontina! They were chosen by America's Test Kitchen (the Consumer Reports of all things food) to be the best pans. They cooked better than All-Clad and are only a fraction of the price. They have many different pieces that you can buy "a la carte" or have sets. But definitely go with Tramontina! I've been a professional chef for 12 years and they're the pans that I have at home.

                        1. re: agreen10

                          Where and when did America's Test Kitchen say Tramontina makes "the best pans," or that they "cooked better than All-Clad"?

                          1. re: Jay F

                            I don't remember which issue but it was in one of the Cooks Illustrated mags within the last 2 years.

                            1. re: agreen10

                              I feel like trying a piece or two of Tramontina. I have a few All Clad pieces, but I didn't really fall in love with them. I don't need a whole set, though.

                              1. re: Jay F

                                Jay, have you tried the D5? I really like the features esp the handle and rolled rims. The updates to the line should add these features to everything.

                                The Tramontina does look interesting though. Definitely a great price point!

                                1. re: olympia

                                  Hi, Olympia. No, I haven't tried the D5.

                                  The specific thing I'm looking for today, and what has me scouring the cookware threads, is a small frypan for heating up seeds and spices for Indian cooking. My small frypan is non-stick, and I guess I'm either paranoid or sensible about dry cooking on non-stick.

                                  1. re: Jay F

                                    Well, for the tiny pans I think the old handle isn't too bad. I just saw Ina Garten doing this yesterday with a tiny All Clad skillet and it kind of made me want one! With all the stores clearancing out the old line it could be a great time to buy.

                                    1. re: olympia

                                      I don't have a problem with the All-Clad handles. And there are two stores in town here having sales. Thanks, Olympia.

                                      1. re: Jay F

                                        Be sure to check Amazon and the department stores - I've got a feeling you could get a great deal with a coupon, etc. You can also call the WS outlets but you loose about half your savings in shipping.

                                        1. re: olympia

                                          Yeah. I guess I'll go downtown and check it out. Thanks again.

                                          1. re: Jay F

                                            Good luck, pick me up a butter warmer while you're at it ;)

                                2. re: Jay F

                                  Hi Jay. I picked up a small Tramontina saucepan to replace a pan I ruined. I am quite favorably impressed with the Tramontina. I found the pan at Tuesday Morning, but I understand their prices weren't all that reduced. Nevertheless, the pan is quite good. If I ever have induction, that pan is fine. It is balanced, the right weight for its size, and it heats fast. If I was buying new stuff, I'd buy this line for saucepans.

                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                    That's good to know, Sue. Thanks. I have a Tuesday Morning in my neighborhood, too.

                      2. Not overly popular on this board, but I have had nothing but great experiences with Chantal enamel on steel. It i a little thin, so it heats a little faster than some like, and when you drop hot food into it, the temp drops (I get around this by cooking in batches), but...it cleans up like a champ, the sizes are perfect, and the surfaces are all easy on the eyes - I can always tell how done a dish is.

                        You mentioend having a cast-iron wok. I am not sure how much I would use one. I think of cast iron as heavy and used for slow cooking. I use a thin, carbon steel one. Heats up quicky and has that nice "hot spot" in the dead center. These are cheap as chips and great. Get a high domed lidded on. Adds to the versatility.
                        I do not have any experience with the new eco-green non-stick pots and pans, but I hear mixed reviews.


                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Westy

                          "You mentioend having a cast-iron wok. I am not sure how much I would use one"


                          There are the Westernized thick cast iron woks like the Lodge one:


                          and there are Chinese version of thinner cast iron woks like this:


                          1. re: Westy

                            "You mentioend having a cast-iron wok. I am not sure how much I would use one." Being Chinese, I just grew up learning to cook pretty much anything in a wok. In fact, I especially love to use it to brown my meats for braises... it contains the grease splatters quite nicely! It'sbeen nicely seasoned so it's a really great non-stick surface for cooking on. Also handles larger batches of food better than my other pots and pans.

                            Mine looks very similar to the 2nd one Chemical Kinetics showed.

                            1. re: LavenderPeony

                              I can see the value in braising and all, but I would think that other pans are better suited to that task. I have used my wok for a lot: stir-frying, steaming (make a lattice using chopsticks to hold a bowl over the liquid and put a lid over it), quick soups... I just don't think I have ever seen a wok made of heavy cast iron. I associate that material with heavier skillets. Thanks for the insight.

                          2. "blanching vegetables, cooking dry noodles, making sauces...."

                            Blanching vegetables or cooking dry noodles do not make high demand of cookware. For making delicate sauces, a lot of people like copper cookware due to the high conductivity as Politeness has mentioned. Copper can be ery expensive, so aluminum-based cookware are great alternative. For cladded cookware, All Clad is probably the most famous brand (not necessary the best per se). I think olympia is correct. Tramontina cladded cookwares enjoy a very good reputation as being "good value". Inexpensive yet functional. Other cladded cookwares to look for are Calphalon and Cuisinart.

                            1. Just had more thoughts:

                              The pots of mine that bug me the most are the ones with the glass lids. When liquids come to a boil (even a low, slow boil), the condensation runs down then sputters out from under the lid, making a huge mess.

                              I also find it such a pain how the handles on these glass lids constantly wiggle loose, and the rubber gasket between the screw and glass get yellow and funky. YUCK!

                              I love how I can see through the glass, however, to monitor what's cooking.

                              Do all glass lids do this, or it just my cheap set?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: LavenderPeony

                                I have several saucepans that have glass lids and love them. The "sputtering" will be limited it you "tighten" the lid. Just 'screw' it down.

                                1. re: LavenderPeony

                                  IME, a good glass lid has a springy stainless steel disk rather than a rubber gasket to hold the knob on, is provided with a vent hole to allow steam to escape, and has a well designed stainless steel rim with an internal lip so that condensation drips back into the pot.

                                  I must confess that I have something of a glass lid fetish, and have even managed to find good ones for my small collection of Le Creuset pieces.