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Cookware--Shiny & New vs. Vintage & Used

How to frame this question?... There are probably many variants of it that can be loaded one way or another, but lately I've been musing over the issue of why one would settle (or pay 5x) for a *new* piece of cookware when there are many equal or better pieces that can be had used? I'll try to avoid loading in phrasing a half dozen below.

Variant #1: If you must have Saucepan X, are you open to buying an equally functional used one that has some minor signs of prior use? Would buying used detract from your satisfaction of having or using the pan? Would it always be "someone else's" or could you make it your own?

Variant #2: If you learned that vintage Toaster Y (e.g., manufacturing ceased in 1953) is considered the *ne plus ultra* of that appliance and can be found occasionally on eBay for $25, would you nonetheless go out and spend $75 or more for a 2011 Toaster Z that had no crumbs inside? If both toasted equally well, which one would give you more satisfaction or tempt you to use it more?

Variant #3: If you had the choice between one vintage pan that has 25% better performance characteristics than another new pan, but the vintage pan required one additional minute of care per use than the new one, which one would you choose?

Variant #4: Are you open to the possibility that some particular thing made before you (or before your grandparents) were born will outperform anything that is offered new for sale today? Note Bene: I'm not talking about general technological progress here, but strictly Item Alpha vs. what's available new in 2011.

Variant #5: I know there are folks out there who treasure Gran's Griswold or their own antique-store rattail Sabatier for various reasons or purposes, but I'm curious if that value gets compartmentalized when it comes to adding pieces. I.e., If you have a valued vintage piece, are you really likely to go looking for another one of a different size, material, configuration, etc., or are you more likely to buy new?

Variant #6: You're at your friend's or neighbor's for a meal (the pay your voice!), and the cook is using a banged up, mongrel set of vessels and tools, none of which you even faintly recognize. When you lift fork to mouth, are your expectations likely to be *any* different than they would had your host been cooking in/with new-looking, shiny things perfectly-matched and -coordinated for finish, color and popular brand?

Just a little food for thought this weekend, take your truth serum and let us know.

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  1. Variant #1: I have among my cookpieces a number of used items. While I remember specifically many things I bought new, there are other pieces I'm not actually aware of whether they're used or new. I'm very able to make used things my own.

    Variant #2: Something electric (are you being that kind of specific?) I'd be more inclined to buy new. This comes from having wasted more dollars than I want to admit on "vintage" stereo equipment. I don't have any comparable experience with cooking equipment.

    Variant #3: I don't know. Theoretically, I wouldn't mind an extra moment's care, but in truth, I might. Not enough info.

    Variant #4: I'd be drawn initially to the older piece, but I'm not sure I'd choose it every single time. I'd much rather have a new electric ice cream maker than an old one I'd have to hand crank, but I'm not sure if that's a proper comparison (FWIW, I don't have *any* ice cream maker). In a more exact comparison, I think I'd rather have an older electric ice cream maker than a newer one, just as I prefer my original Cuisinart (1977) to the ones available today.

    Variant #5: IDK.

    Variant #6: I don't judge other people's food based on their cooking equipment. I base my opinion on the food, and whether I like how it tastes.

    1. Variant #1 - Have bought both new and used; have also given or been given pieces. I've never given it a moment's thought - once it's mine, it's mine.

      Variant #2 - That would be a decision of price and performance for me. If the vintage was less expensive and toasted as well, no thinking involved.

      Variant #3 - not really sure what kind of vintage cookware could require a moment's more maintenace ( cast iron is the only example I can come up with and new cast iron would also require maintenance) BUT I never make decisions based on ease of maintenance unless there's something really, really extreme involved in maintenance.

      Variant #4 Open to the possibility though hard to think up an example

      Variant #5 I have in fact searched out other vintage pieces based on my experience of something I already own and value so I guess the answer is the value doesn't get compartmentalized. I don't get nostalgic about the vintage pieces I own any more than the newer pieces but if something works well in my kitchen and if there is a need ( let's face it for most of us need is better defined as want when it comes to reasons to buy more cookware) I would make the new/old decision based on what the need is.

      Variant #6 - Nope. I would only judge the outcome. A good cook gets to know his or her equipment to the point that he can control outcomes. On the other hand a poor cook doesn't get any better whether the cookware is old/new/battered/cared for.

      Have to say though that Variant 6 always makes me laugh when it comes up - turn it around and ask whether shiny, new and even matched cookware would somehow detract from the food if the food was prepared by an absolutely great cook who just happened to like shiny??

      1. The kosher laws pretty much rule out used cookware and electrics. Some cookware *can* be kashered, but it involves a rabbi and blowtorch.

        2 Replies
        1. re: E_M

          "The kosher laws..."

          Really? Even if you put them in self cleaning oven for cast iron cookware... etc. What about knives? Can you sharpened a non-kosher knife (remove the edge steel) and start using one?

          I just don't see a rabbi can do a better job than you and I. I always imagine rabbi as some old dudes.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Yes, you need to completely strip the seasoning and start over, or re-tin the pot. The blowtorch is used, I believe, for stainless. Or maybe the oven. In any event, the rabbi is needed to oversee, approve, and bless the transition. Much like you don't NEED to be married by a religious head, you can stop with the civil license. But people invite religion into their lives (and kitchen) anyway.

            Our new rabbi looks like he's 16. Our old rabbi would have been fun to kasherize a kitchen with, he was also a chef.

        2. 1 possibly, but I haven't done it so far

          2 I'm happy with what I have. I'm likely to roll my eyes at anyone spouting off that I need a 1950s toaster.

          3 not enough data

          4 well ya, I cook waffles on a 80+ year old cast iron stove top iron

          5 yes, I have more than one Griswold cast iron pan

          6 I'm usually too busy visiting to notice other peoples cookware, unless they are also a cookware hound and it's the topic of conversation.

          1. #1: Absolutely fine with vintage when quality is high and price is low. Best example: Got three LeCreuset gratins of different sizes for less than $100 on ebay. All show some signs of use but still beautiful and highly functional for the next 20 years. Have made them mine; it may help that the LC gratin already here before the ebay acquisitions is itself a vintage, previously used item: my mother's.

            #2: Am in the midst of deciding whether to replace our impossibly slow-toasting and space-hogging toaster oven, which we use only for toast, with a mid-20th century one. My reluctance has much more to do with the 1960s-at-best wiring here than with the used nature of the toaster.

            #3: The better-performing pan would win, assuming it also won out in crucial matters like balance & weight, handle comfort and angle, etc. I would never decline to get a great pan because it doesn't go in the dishwasher; I rarely put pots and pans in the dw.

            #4: My grandparents were born in 1887. I'm sure there are some cast iron and copper pots out there that were made before then that are still in kitchenworthy condition, but that's going a long way back. I use several items that go back before I was born, my favorite being the Wagner skillet.

            #5: Have already shown that I don't compartmentalize (see gratins above). Am idly seeking small cast-iron skillet from same era as my existing ones (1930s).

            #6: My expectations are actually slightly higher from a host with banged-up, mongrel pans, because they're evidence s/he actually cooks. But I judge the food on the basis of the food, period, and have had delicious and ho-hum meals from both kinds of kitchens.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ellabee

              Hi, ellabee:

              Re: #4... If they were taken care of, there's no reason pieces a *lot* older than 1880 wouldn't be kitchenworthy. There is an inn on the Douro in Portugal that is an unofficial copperware museum, where they still cook in wares made up to 400 years ago. I don't have any pans *that* old, but my drip coffeemaker was made in 1844, works really well, and is sweet eye candy to boot. I have several pieces of heavy copper dating from the 1880s to 1920s that I use regularly. Then there's a stone pounder/pestle I found on the beach--maybe 1,000 years?

              We should start another thread."What's Your Oldest Piece of Cookware?"


              1. re: kaleokahu

                Do start that thread. It won't be a competition (since you've swept the field in advance with a millenial pestle ;>), and the range should be very interesting. Trying to think if anything here is older than the skillet...

                The drip coffeemaker needs to be in your post -- ideally with a photo!

                1. re: ellabee

                  Hi, ellabee:

                  I'll dig out the camera. I have it dated to 1844 because I saw exactly the same 'maker --called a "Potsdam Boiler"--in a treatise on coffeemaking. The maker is E. Dehillerin (I get to use the present tense!).

                  I'll also start the new thread, but I think the snark factor will bode ill for it.

                  There is a nice lady here on CH (from California, I think) who has the most amazing cooking fireplace. All the hearths, trivets, crane and trammel. I tried to hook her up with a place in Italy that does clockwork rotisseries. If you like older stuff, you should check out her threads on Home Cooking.


                  PS But do look-see if you have something older than your great skillet.

            2. #1. I prefer vintage almost always for pots and pans. I have no desire to try the latest and greatest new metals...I like tried and true.
              #2. I might not buy a vintage toaster, but I have vintage waffle maker(s), percolators, meat slicer, etc. A toaster, I use almost daily and I am not convinced some vintage electric items can handle that level of use, I treat them as "special".
              #3,4,5. I think many vintage cookware items are truly better made and I would almost ALWAYS choose a vintage item over a new one. However, I *use* all of them, I don't want them for collector reasons -so I run the risk of ruining them and not being able to find another one! That is sad when that happens.

              #6. I would trust a cook MORE that understands quality over appearance in cookware items. But the opposite is true with serve ware. I love antique and vintage serving pieces too, but they must not be banged up, damaged or stained. It grosses me out to drink coffee from a stained mug at someones house. I know it is clean...but it's just gross and not appreciated by me. The presentation of the food is important to me and if it is not important to the cook...well, that might effect my enjoyment of it.

              1. My vintage toaster is the best thing I have. It gets much hotter than the new ones because no one worried about cool sides. It toasts the bread quickly and evenly and dries the bread out less. It was cleaned up like new in the antique mall and around $30. I have since bout 2 back ups (50 cents and $2)but haven't needed them. It also raises and lowers by itself.

                2 Replies
                1. re: wekick

                  Sounds like my vintage chrome appliances! You can get some serious burns on them. You also need to be careful about what is under and around them. I set something plastic to smoking (on the counter) with a waffle maker once. I forgot to unplug it (no other shut off) after I was finished making the zillion waffles for a brunch. It works like no other though!!!!

                  1. re: sedimental

                    This doesn't stay on long enough to get hot.

                2. #1 Yes, no, no! Cookware can be cleaned -- what's important for so much of this is function. I won't buy a saucepan that has a large dent in the side because the lid possibly wouldn't fit tightly; I won't buy a pan with a loose handle; etc.

                  #2 I don't care too much for the vintage movement, personally. I think there is something to be said for quality vs. age ("don't make 'em like they used to")... e.g. -- I dearly hope I inherit my Mother's Kitchen Aid stand mixer, which says "Hobart" on it, but again if functionally those two pieces were identical, age wouldn't matter; I do think, however, that safety is linked with functionality -- if that awesome vintage toaster toasts as well as the modern, but isn't up to snuff on safety, I might think twice.

                  #3 Performance. I consider my carbon steel pans to be 100% better performing than any non-stick, why? Because they'll be working just as well in ten years; the same would hold true for ancient cast iron and the like.

                  #4 Yes, if we're talking non-technological advances -- copper is copper, 3mm is going to heat more evenly than 2.5mm, than 1.5mm.

                  #5 I think this is a question of time and patients. If I needed a cake pan tonight, then I'd go buy a new one. My kitchen set is pretty well established where I want it at this point. Sure, I could "use" a 300mm gyuto, but I don't need it, thus I'm willing to take my time and shop for a pre-loved version, with no drawbacks because of that. I own a decent set of cookware, but I still walk into goodwill/value village every time I drive past one, as I've seen some amazing deals on someone else's "junk".

                  #6 This one is tricky. I'd love to say, emphatically, no; but results are ALWAYS biased -- I'd love to say honestly that I would have an equal level of expectation from a meal from a $100k kitchen vs. a $1k kitchen, but my expectations going into the meal are FAR higher for that fancy kitchen -- there is slightly absurd (potentially American) notion that gear = interest = skill. This can also be negative as well. Take a popular restaurant, for example, that everyone and their mother (or brother!) has been raving about -- and you go, with this epic meal already arranged in your brain, what happens? Or that 5 euro bottle of wine you had on vacation that tasted better than any $30 you've had here, why? Context and expectations matter.

                  Now that I've written a book! Peace!

                  1. One thing that I look for is vintage equipment that says Made in USA. If it says China, it stays on the shelf.

                    I have lots of vintage gear in the kitchen that was mostly Mom's from 1950 when she got married to Dad. Sunbeam CG-1 waffle iron (have a backup, and just bought a W-2), KitchenAid c-3 w/glass bowl, Wagner, and Griswold cast iron pans, and even my Hobart buffalo chopper, and A-120 mixer are pretty old. I feel that the old stuff was made better, and will last longer than some piece of crap Chinese item at Wal-Mart.

                    I just bought some stuff at SAVERS this weekend, so I have no problem with used. Matter of fact I rarely, if ever, buy anything new IE; cars, clothes, kitchen stuff, tools, ,,,,,,,,

                    I rate the food on taste alone. I have had excellent meals that were cooked on open fires in the backwoods with primitive gear. Gear does not a chef make.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: BIGGUNDOCTOR

                      Hi, BIGGUNDOCTOR:

                      Thanks. I'm familiar with Hobart, but I have to ask: What's a buffalo chopper?


                      1. re: kaleokahu

                        My Hobart Buffalo Chopper is the 14" model. It has a bunt pan looking bowl that rotates, and runs the veggies, meat, whatever under a pair of rotating knives under the back guard. I will be using it tonight to make a big batch of salsa. Google buffalo chopper, and you should get some pics to pull up. The are expensive, even used -$900-$1000-but I found mine at an estate sale for $100, and that included a rolling SS cart, and the meat grinding attachment. They are mainly used by restaurants to chop large volumes of veggies, or meat to be ground. The longer you let the items run around, the finer the dice.

                    2. #1: Doesn't matter to me whether a used pan's "minor signs of wear" occurred on someone else's watch or on mine--I'd inflict them on a brand-new pan within a week or two anyway. So if the used one was available at a substantially lower price than the new one, I'd choose the used one. If the prices and quality of the two items were about the same, I'd probably go with the new one, to have the pleasure of breaking it in.

                      #2: I don't care about old crumbs, but I also don't care enough about toasters to risk losing my $25 plus shipping on an item that might turn out to be non-working. (Not all eBay sellers are good about giving refunds.) However, if I somehow obtained an exemplar of Toaster Y that was fully functional and in good cosmetic condition, I'd probably enjoy using the vintage item more than its modern equivalent. Indeed, I've picked up several pieces of non-electrical vintage cookware on eBay in preference to buying their modern equivalents, and have been pretty happy with those acquisitions. I love to work with well-made things that keep functioning properly, year after year.

                      #3: The vintage pan. I handwash all my cookware anyway, so what difference does an extra minute make?

                      #4: Sure. Who isn't? (That was rhetorical.)

                      #5: Apparently so, since I started with one flea-market Griswold skillet and now have five in different sizes. And do I actually need more than one? Of course not.

                      #6: No, I would keep an open mind. Even good cooks occasionally get stuck with brand-new matched sets of celebrity cookware.

                      1. The only reason I would replace a used item with a new item is if the older item ceased to work to my standards. For example, my original Calphalon when the brand was new has worn off. Pieces have warped and the annodization has worn off.There are also some pieces I'll not part with. I have 2 1qt. sauce pans that are nso heavy I do not need a double boiler when making delicate sauces. I have bought several toaster over the years, now that I can find the old wonderful Sunbeam '50's toasters on line, that will be my next toaster. My husband can replace the cord. i have my mother's Sunbeam waffle baker from about 1952. The grids are heavy steel and produce a crisp waffle that no current model can produce,

                        I have gone through all variations of ice cream freezers possible. Give up my Cuisinart with its own compressor...don't make me laugh!

                        1. In response to #5 and #6 only. 5 going out to the mother in laws in a few minutes where there are a couple of cast iron pans which need to be used more than the (#6 now) crap worn out nonstick pans she uses. Same for my sister in laws pans as well. Thanks K for letting me vent a little.