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Cookware For my needs. Which to splurge on?

So I mainly cook two kinds of meals.

- I make something like stir fryish for dinner one night but want enough to last as leftovers for several days later either at home or work. Think yellow thai chicken curry, asian stir fry, fancy hamburger helper, those sorts of things. The key is that I want to be able to make quite a bit of it so that my girlfriend and I can eat it for several days afterwards. Currently I have a pan that has a 9inch diameter on the bottom and is about two inches high, and its not cutting it. So I've been looking at considerably larger saucepans like this one below... or the others it its family.

http://www.amazon.com/Clad-Copper-Cor...

The other kind of cooking is basic fry a burger in the pan, fry some sausage then fry some eggs in the grease etc... kind of stuff, where I don't need a very deep pan but one of good diameter.

I'm considering the same brand for this, or a comparable quality brand in the 10-12inch range for diameter.

I also boil rice and quinoa like almost everyday, but I don't think quality cookware would help much with tasks like that, but I could be wrong.

On pans that I use frequently and ones that I can use for the rest of my life I am willing to spend a fair amount if the quality difference is proportional to the price

Any advice or corrections on my novice understanding of cooking is much appreciated.

Thanks!

EDIT: Look of the pan is not of great importance to me, nor is dishwasher "safeness" as I'll be washing these all by hand.

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  1. Hi,
    All-Clad makes great products & you would be satisfied. I recommend a le creuset buffet casserole. It's a versitile pan with lifetime warranty. A good multipurpose go-to pan. Sometimes you can find them at TJ Maxx or Home Goods for around $125-$150. It comes in a 31/2 qt size- perfect for my family of 3- a meal plus leftovers. Get the 5 qt if you entertain. http://www.amazon.com/Creuset-Enamele...

    1. A braisier, stew pot / sauce pot / short stockpot, or dutch oven will work well for many of the things you mention. I would tend to get one thing for dishes like Thai curry which are more of a stew than a stir-fry, and something else for pan-frying and so on.

      Examples:
      Vollrath Tribute tri-ply stainless (http://www.katom.com/175-77520.html) ($80 w/o cover; shorter than it looks in that photo; there's also a 6 qt @ $73)
      Sitram Braisier / Stewpot (http://www.deiequipment.com/s.nl/it.A...) ($133 w/o cover)
      Kirkland "French Oven" ($80 w/ cover)

      For stir-fries, even with a very large skillet, you really need to avoid crowding the pan, and there's a size beyond which it will be difficult to get the pan hot enough and may become too difficult or to toss the pan. One thing I've seen suggested is to use a (hot) skillet, and stir-fry each ingredient separately, and then combine them only at the very end. Even so, it's hard to make enough to have leftovers in a home environment, unless you prep everything, and make the recipe in two batches.

      Anything bigger than a 12" straight-sided sauté pan with 3-4" high sides, or 12-13" skillet will probably be too big to really stir-fry in effectively, and even then, may be hard unless you have a pretty powerful stove. In either case, I'd look for tri-ply stainless with aluminum center (not 5 ply, 7 ply, no copper core) -- a skillet or sauté pan that size can be unwieldy to handle. Alternately, if you don't do a lot of tossing or can handle the weight, you could consider cast iron or carbon steel, and pre-heat it in the oven before use.

      I think this All Clad 4 qt straight-sided sauté pan is a pretty good deal, and it's quite lightweight for its size.

      http://www.cutleryandmore.com/all-cla...

      I also like using a curved sauté pan / sauciére for some applications, but you do use a little surface area. I have an All-Clad "chef's pan", which works for some of these kinds of dishes.

      Something like this might work, but not sure whether you'd be able to get it hot enough to work well, and while its total capacity is pretty large, like a wok, you need to not over-crowd the pan for stir-frying.
      http://www.katom.com/175-77754.html

      Carbon steel flat-bottom wok (or round-bottom if your stove can accommodate a wok ring) is another option to consider. Relatively lightweight, should be inexpensive, but not ideal for stews, especially those with a strongly acidic component.

      1. I am going to offer something different than where you are thinking.

        For stir fry, I would suggest using a carbon steel wok and not worry about anything like a Cladded copper core saute pan. I just think it is the wrong tool and also expensive. It is a good pan, just not for stir fry. Stir fry does not demand supreme even heating because you suppose to toss or stir your foods, so why spend extra for an even heating copper core pan when you don't need it. Not only you don't need it, it hinders your ability to toss food.

        Here is a video which demonstrates a good old and inexpensive carbon steel wok. Jump to 1:05 min:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehgnv3...

        If you what to cook for twice as much, then stir fried twice. That is what I do for stir fried rice. I do it twice in a wok. There is a reason for that. The limiting for wok stir fry is really less about the wok, but more about the burner. Stuffing a bunch of foods in a big cookware on a small stove will produce bad results because the heat from the burner is not strong enough. Now, you end up steaming the foods instead of stir frying. A bigger pan is not the best solution in my opinion.

        As for your regular fry pan, I would mildly suggest also looking into carbon steel pan, like DeBuyer fry pan. Thanks.

        13 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          I really need to do a spell check next time.... this is full of typos and misspells

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            Excellent advice, Chem. I was thinking about the same thing. The main problem with the OP's plan is that things that you stir fry tend not to scale to superlarge quantities. Not quite double, maybe, but the texture suffers as too much food in the pan tends to steam the food rather than provide the best that stir frying can offer. I would prep twice the amount of food, and cook it in two batches, one after the other. As for rice, white rice one night and fried rice another night is SOP around here.

            For the plain frying, the OP can't beat a 12 inch cast iron skillet.

            Both of these options are cheap, maybe 1/10th (not a typo) of the cost of AC Copper Core pans, but they do have a slight drawback. They both need care that is more than most stainless steel would require. BTW, I don't own any AC Copper Core, but I think I read that you can't or shouldn't put it in the dishwasher and that handwashing is recommended.

            The cast iron skillet will season itself in a few fries. You can even buy Lodge preseasoned. As long as you fry in it regularly and don't use a steel wool pad to take off the seasoning, it should last you a lifetime provided that you a) wash it gently by hand and don't let it air dry, because it can rust, and, b) don't put a hot pan in water, because it can crack. Once seasoned, they behave much like non-stick and you have one of the greatest pieces of cookware available.

            Now, my other concern about the carbon steel wok: These tend to rust in a few minutes, and nearly always have some rusty smell associated with them when cleaning. I have to dry mine on a burner to make sure that it is dry before I put it away. Maybe Chem can suggest another material? I know he is not in love with stainless steel woks, but perhaps there are other pans that might work. I have seen some cast iron woks before, and these can be cared for the same as the skillet. I think cast iron is actually easier to take care of.

            Chem? Any other ideas?

            1. re: RGC1982

              RGC,

              "They both need care that is more than most stainless steel would require. "

              I think carbon steel and cast iron cookwares definitely require more care in the beginning during the seasoning, but they are also slightly easier in some cases. For one, a well seasoned cast iron or carbon steel cookware is fairly nonstick and fairly easy to clean for that reason. Foods do not stick to them too bad.

              In my current experience, my carbon steel wok do not rust or very rarely rust. I think the last time I have seen rust spot from my carbon steel wok was more than a year ago, possibly more than two years ago. Once a carbon steel wok is seasoned, it should behave like a seasoned cast iron skillet. It should not readily rust.

              A cast iron wok is a fine choice. For a cast iron, there are two main choice. One is the traditional Chinese thin cast iron wok like this:

              http://www.wokshop.com/HTML/products/...

              The other is the modern American thick cast iron wok:

              http://www.amazon.com/Lodge-Pro-Logic...

              The thin one is almost always round bottom. They are slightly more brittle than a carbon steel wok. The thick cast iron one is much like a typical Lodge cast iron skillet. Very heavy, durable, but difficult to maneuver.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                I have never really been able to develop the seasoning on my carbon steel wok that I have been able to get on my cast iron skillet. I guess it may be because I always fry in oil in my cast iron pan, and may actually not use as much oil in my wok.

                I never addressed the rice question. I would say any 3 quart stainless steel pot with a lid will work, or as I found out after 35 years, go for the convenience of a rice cooker. Once I tried it, I completely understood why most Asian families have one.

                1. re: RGC1982

                  RGC,

                  I think it is slightly more difficult to develop seasoning on a carbon steel pan, but once you get it on, then it is fine. I know many people turn on medium or low heat to dry their woks. I am too lazy for that.... rather I afraid I will forget. So all I usually do is to flip my wok upside down and place it on the stove area.

                  How do you season your wok? I know many people including Tane Chan (from Wokshop) like to use the oven method. I tried that many times, and it never worked very well for me. For me, the stovetop method worked better. I use a method similar to these two:

                  http://youtu.be/_SesaUVFZ-M

                  http://youtu.be/nDp_2x9kE8o

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Thanks for these video links, Chem. I think I will try one of the two stovetop methods. I have been doing it in the oven, and I don't think it is getting hot enough for a long enough period of time.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I tried doing the stovetop method like the second video, but it doesn't seem to make my wok really dark. Do you think it is because I have a smooth top cooktop? All of the demonstrations use gas burners.

                      Maybe I can connect my outdoor burner and try it that way. At least then I won't have to worry about smoke in the house.

                      Thanks for the links.

                      1. re: RGC1982

                        "I tried doing the stovetop method like the second video, but it doesn't seem to make my wok really dark. Do you think it is because I have a smooth top cooktop? All of the demonstrations use gas burners."

                        I've actually done my on an electric coil stovetop, so I don't think it matters. What matters is that it has to be done at a high temperature. You also don't need it to be very dark. Once it acquired a brown color, it should be good enough. As you cook, the wok will get darker and darker until black. I won't worry about getting it black the first time.

                        I would do the stovetop method in two sessions, not just once. Seasing the wok, then wait for it cool, then do it one more time. Then stir fry something really useless, and toss those stuffs away. Now, you are ready to use.

                        Outdoor burner is a great idea. Bring a fire extinguisher just in case.

                    2. re: RGC1982

                      The way I've always heard it explained (and my experience seems to back it up) is that carbon steel seasons more quickly than cast iron, but requires more frequent use or re-seasoning than cast iron. The good news is that even if you don't use a pan all the time, you can usually cook pretty well on carbon steel with just a quick mini re-seasoning.

                      I generally use a lot of oil when cooking in our round bottom carbon steel wok.

                      1. re: will47

                        I haven't had a chance to pick up any of the 'new' carbon steel cookware that's selling hot nowadays, but lately I've purchased a few pieces that look like this from thrift stores: http://www.jimforeman.com/Stories/fry...

                        I've had amazing luck after a bit of sanding and a stovetop seasoning. One morning I did two fried eggs and it wasn't quite as slick as teflon, but it was nice. Last night I chose to do fried rice in another of my bigger steel skillets and it turned out amazingly with very little sticking.

                        I guess the point is, it might take a long time to get a reasonable surface from a brand new carbon steel pan. . . might be helpful for some to hunt up some of these old ones and re-use them instead.

                        1. re: Ninevah

                          What material do you use for spatulas, or tongs?

                          1. re: sueatmo

                            Normally I only use wood, but as my kitchen is being remodeled, I only had a stainless Pampered Chef spatula on hand. Worked fine and didn't take off too much of the seasoning.

                2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I realize this is a bit dated, but I suspect the OPs use of 'stirfry' is a bit misleading. Note the other items like a Thai style curry and hamburger helper, plus the mention of left overs. This is mostly wet cooking, not one that requires high heat and rapid movement of the vegetables and meat. This kind of cooking will not develop seasoning on cast iron or carbon steel.

                  A wok is only useful because it has higher sides than a skillet. A wok that is half full is not frying anything. But a stainless steel pan roughly in the shape of a flat bottom wok might work well. For a while I made heavy use of an aluminum nonstick 'stirfry pan', though the coating wore away. A shallow 3qt 'dutch oven' might also work - I that in aluminum and in stainless steel, but enamel cast iron would be ok.

                3. You are getting some good advice. I just want to add that you may not be dishwashing your pans currently, but you might be in the future if the pan is a good pan. I am biased toward stainless because it can go into the dishwasher and come out really clean.

                  For stir frying, I'd get a wok. CK above thread recommends carbon steel for these. There will be a learning curve, but you get good stir fry with carbon steel.

                  For boiling, I suggest a stainless saucepan. You could buy 2 of these in different sizes, and not go wrong. Choose from many brands. Find some to handle before you buy. You don't need the most expensive, and you don't want the cheapest. The pans you buy should have comfy handles and feel balanced when you hold them. I use my small saucepan frequently.

                  For frying a burger, you can't beat a cast iron skillet. I also frequently use a cast iron griddle. If you buy new, I recommend buying Lodge, because the product is made in the U.S. I personally would not buy Chinese.

                  Those are my thoughts. The best thing you can do for yourself is to go handle pans and see for yourself what feels right. In all likelihood, the pans you buy now will not be with you for the rest of your life. You'll learn better what you like, and you will upgrade. But never buy junk. Buy the good stuff, but it doesn't have to be the best stuff, if you get my meaning.

                  Keep us posted what you buy.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sueatmo

                    I have to echo just about everything sueatmo says here.

                    For stir frying, nothing beats a wok, and the advice will47 & Chemicalkinetics give is solid.

                    For boiling get a saucepan. Stainless makes it easy to keep clean. Look for one with solid construction and a heavy bottom. Also if I may suggest, look for one that's entirely made of metal, that way you can stick it in the oven and not worry about the handle melting. If I'm going to be simmering something in a pot for a long time I find it's easier to just stick it in the oven than doing it on the stove top and an all metal construction gives you that versatility.

                    And for the frying, cast iron. If you like making large quantities of food get the biggest one you can handle easily. There's so many threads here on chow on how to season the thing properly, just find a method you like and go with it.

                    For the eggs however, I would recommend a non-stick teflon frying pan. Just don't use it on too high a heat and don't use any metal utensils on it and it will last for a long time, though eventually you'll need to replace it, doesn't matter so much as they are cheap.

                    1. re: TdotNerd

                      Yes to the non-stick skillet. Makes doing a certain sort of cooking easy.

                      I can't believe I wrote upthread that I use a CI griddle. What I meant to say is, that I use a CI grill pan. I probably use this pan daily. But OP indicates she wants to fry hamburgers, not grill them. So, a CI skillet is in order, in my opinion.

                      On boiling on the stovetop, a nicely made saucepan with copper or aluminum core will make all stovetop chores a pleasure. The heavier bottom will help to prevent sticking, and it holds heat more evenly.

                      Be sure to let us know what you decide. Happy hunting.

                  2. All-Clad is great stuff. You won't be sorry if you spend what you can afford to get something that will give you a lifetime of satisfying utility. That said, I wouldn't bother spending the extra bucks for the copper core. I think the ordinary AC 3 ply stainless with an aluminum laminate does an excellent job.

                    Whether that shape is the ideal for the kind of stir fries you're describing I'm not entirely sure. But then I just gave myself a massive headache trying to decide the best shape for my everyday sautéing....

                    What I"d suggest is going to a Williams-Sonoma if there's one in your area. Ordinarily, I wouldn't recommend purchasing there because their prices can be awful. BUT they stock nearly everything AC makes so it's a great opportunity to compare and handle everything PLUS, at the moment, they have things on sale. I got the 3qt sauté pan with a domed lid for just over $100.

                    One of the interesting things I discovered is that AC's 3-, 4- and 6qt sauté pans have the same footprint but deeper sides. There is also a 6qt with a larger footprint and a more shallow profile. And there are simmer/sauté pans with sloping sides and a deep wok with a flat bottom and a sloping profile.

                    Whatever you choose when you talk about a large heavy pan you want the auxiliary lift that the pan you propose is equipped with.

                    1. I always aim for the most versatile cookware shapes to minimize clutter and cost. Getting fewer pieces means I can get quality instead if quantity. I have no problem spending top dollar for workhorse pieces that will get used everyday. For the stir fry foods you can try a saucier which is kinda like a wok but it has a wider bottom that works better with most stoves. And you can probably do your rice in it too.

                      http://www.allclad-stainless.com/sauc...

                      For burgers, meat, breakfast foods, large meals with leftovers you need a wide flat surface. You can try a saute pan. They come in large sizes.

                      http://www.allclad-stainless.com/saut...

                      Check out a Williams-Sonoma, they carry a wider range of AC than most stores. Find the pieces you like then look for cheapest place to get them. The only reason I buy AC is because their SS interior is unique. The surface is smooth and easy to clean than compared to my non AC pieces. But if you take the AC route your looking at steel lids. This site sells discount All-Clad Irregulars which has positive reviews by chowhounders.

                      http://www.cookwarenmore.com/

                      TJMaxx / Homegoods also carry discounted AC.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: unprofessional_chef

                        The OP could do everything mentioned using a 4 qt. saucier. I use mine more than any other pan. Granted, it's easier to flip an egg or burger in a shallower pan, but it can be done in a deeper saucier if need be. If I could have only one pan, that would be it. Using the lid, it even cooks pasta and braises meat in the oven.

                      2. I'd get a big steel wok, a heavy tin lined copper 2 1/2 qt saucepan, and a 10" heavy weight DeBuyer or similar steel frying pan. I have found over the years that for the specific purposes of stir fry, pan fried/seared stuff, and anything delicate those three accomplish the task at hand way better than anything else. If you ever get into braising .and stews enameled CI is awfully neat too. Mine is an oval LC but you hear a lot of praise for Staub. I would ,steer clear of nonstick for the uses you describe.

                        1. Wow thanks for all of the replies... that gives me a lot to think about.

                          One question. Can I poach in cast iron?
                          Often I'll want to heat up leftovers quickly and rather than using my oil I'll just put a little water in the bottom of the pan and keep the leftovers stirred. I guess this wouldn't be an issue in cast iron however as it should be non stick. But occasionally I like to poach meat as well.

                          I think I've decided to get an 8inch and 12inch cast iron skillet for meat, sausage, eggs, etc...

                          A carbon steel wok, maybe though I'm a little intimidated by the seasoning process, and rust issues. Also I don't have a gas stove, is that gonna really hinder my ability to fully use the wok's potential?

                          I think I'm gonna go will the all-clad copper for a6- 7 quart stock pot or this http://www.amazon.com/Clad-Copper-Cor... . I'll use this for boiling large quantities of things like eggs, potatoes, rice and quinoa, as well as stewish things, like curry, chili, homemade hamburger helper, and meat and vegetable stews.

                          Thanks for all of your replies! They've been very helpful. I hadn't considered cast iron and I'd never even heard of carbon steel.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: rores28

                            "One question. Can I poach in cast iron? "

                            Are we talking about bare cast iron cookware or enameled cast iron cookware. In my opinion, this is not suitable for bare cast iron cookware. If all you do is to cook with water, then the seasoning on a cast iron cookware will wear overtime, not that you cannot reseasong the cookware.

                            "A carbon steel wok, maybe though I'm a little intimidated by the seasoning process, and rust issues. "

                            If you are intimidated by the seasoning process, then why do you consider cast iron cookware? If we are talking about bare cast iron cookware, then you will have the same issue.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              The cast iron I found online had been pre-seasoned, and for some reason I was under the impression that seasoning cast iron was easier.

                              I looked up the rust issue and it turns out you just use some steel to rub it off and re-season the pan in both cases... is that right? http://frugalliving.about.com/od/doit...

                              Turns out my girlfriend has been hiding an 8inch lodge castiron skillet from me in our cabinets. Its a bit rusty but maybe I'll give it a go today.

                              Chem, how worse will the wok's potential be for not having a gas stove? Can you use wok rings on electric ranges?

                              Thanks

                              1. re: rores28

                                rores

                                Yes, many cast iron cookware (like Lodge) are preseasoned, but many people like to season the cookware by themselves because sometime (just sometime) the preseason process is not very good.

                                As for removing rust, there are many methods for different situations. For very light rust, you can just remove it by rubbing it with oil and a papertowerl. You can also use salt+oil+paper towel since the salt works as abrasive. For tougher rust, you can use sandpaper or steel wool. The reason one would want to use the milder method for mild rust is that oil+salt+papertowel can remove the rust without the rest of the seasoning. Sandpaper and steel wool are faster, but they will remove the rest of the seasoning.

                                If you are using an electric range, you have the option of using a round bottom wok on a wok ring. HOWEVER, I would suggest using a flat bottom wok instead because you get more heat from the stove and it is also more stable on the stove.

                                http://www.wokshop.com/HTML/products/...

                                http://www.wokshop.com/HTML/products/...

                          2. In my experience carbon steels seasons very quickly and is very forgiving when you need to scrub something that stuck.. cast iron is, in my view harder to season well but still more forgiving than some would lead you to think. I have gas now but ears ago had electric and used my wok on the ring holder. It worked fine. If you want to get it off a high heat quickly on an electric, just move it to another burner. One of the nice things about carbon steel and cast iron is they are about a fifth the price of All Clad.

                            1. HI there! Last I heard you were getting a couple of All clad pans. What else did you decide on? How is the cooking going?

                              1. I suggest an All-clad MC2 sauté pan. The MC2 line is the best value, as the other lines differ mainly in looks but not cooking characteristics. All-clad is professional quality, but without the useless celebrity chef name attached. A heavy, laminated alumunum/steel pan like the All-clad gives you even heat distribution, which is worth the money. The sauté pan style gives you the volume you want. I use the 3 quart, but you might want the 4 quart. It even comes in a 6 quart, but that's awfully large.

                                I can't imagine getting by with just one pan, however, especially if it's a large sauté pan. When I cook a hamburger, I use an old, well-seasoned, cast-iron skillet.

                                I can't imagine frying eggs the way you suggest!

                                1. The copper will add a lot to your cost for an All-clad pan, especially for a large sauté pan or stock pot. It is of no value for these large sizes, which you use to simmer things for a long time, in my opinion. If you want to show off the copper stripe, a small frying pan is a better way to do it. I have only one All-clad pan with copper — the small braiser.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: GH1618

                                    GH, have you ever compared your MC2 pans to s/s (clad) ones? I was just curious as to any differences in conductivity, given the aluminum exterior of the MC2.

                                    1. re: Seitan

                                      I have no All-Clad with SS on the exterior except my Copper Core Petite Braiser, and I haven't used that yet. I have three pieces of MC2. I have no way to compare the MC2 with SS; I just went with the MC2 because I don't see how SS on the exterior can do anything useful. It's just about appearances.

                                      I have a theory about the development of the A-C product lines though, based only on intuition:

                                      1. MC (later MC2) was developed as the entry into the market, targeted at professional cooks who know the value of aluminum for heat distribution, but who wanted SS cooking surfaces.

                                      2. SS (exterior clad) was developed to appeal to the upmarket consumer, who wants professional quality pots, but who also wants a clean, shiny kitchen.

                                      3. SS was found to be less than ideal for heat distribution, having less aluminum and more SS, so Copper Core was developed to compensate, and to appeal to the even more upmarket consumer.

                                      Just my opinion.

                                      1. re: GH1618

                                        The stainless steel exterior lining is for easy cleanup and induction. Only the SS and copper-core lines will work with induction.

                                        1. re: unprofessional_chef

                                          Yes, induction, of course. I expect most commercial kitchens were cooking with gas at the time the original A-C line was introduced, and probably still are, so I see that as part of targeting to consumers. By the way, the early Copper Core was not induction compatible. I'm not sure about the first SS line.

                                          "Easy cleanup" was my second point. It's the consumer who wants shiny pots. When I worked in a commercial kitchen many years ago, we had plain aluminum pots, as I suppose many still do. I don't recall the chef ever complaining that the outside of the pots weren't shiny. They looked like they had been used in a busy kitchen for many years, which, of course, they had. Is it different today? Do professional cooks today want a mirror finish on the (outside) bottom of their pans?