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First apartment - best cookware to purchase

Having survived most of the first year in a half-furnished off campus apartment, living with little more than a can opener and a pot, It's time to get the oldest child some more *advanced* tools for the kitchen. We are a foodie family, and cook and eat well, and from all over the globe. She has missed some kitchen groceries - excellent soy sauce, salami, brie - that aren't so easily available at the corner store. But, that's not a worry because she knows what she wants and, eventually, as she branches out, she will find the foods she's been missing.

However, her tools are another story.. she was gifted with many cast-off pots and pans, most of which are of little value. Some are falling apart. No tea kettle (that's a pot of water on the stove), no dutch oven (too big.. she would be overwhelmed by the cook-now-eat-later concept), no coffee press (she doesn't drink coffee)... much of what is standard in my tool-heavy kitchen is still somewhat useless to her.

I'd like to do some investment shopping for her - stuff I know she could use. What I am thinking of getting: an enamel cast iron skillet (probably no bigger than 10"), a juicer (she loves fresh juices and frequently eats raw for days at a time... until she gets hungry for a tuna sandwich!), a blender to make smoothies, a small food processor. Also, there is always the threat that a roommate might explode or destroy a piece of equipment: I'd like to buy mid level equipment that she can use for several years until she can afford to upgrade if needed.

So, I'd like suggestions for first time cooks. She is serious about her food, so i know that eventually she will be a good cook, but right now is not the time for the perfect pizza set, the special espresso machine that wakes you up in the morning.. In other words solid, serviceable kitchen workhorses. I would appreciate any and all suggestions for the first apartment for a new cook, especially tools that do double duty - such as a blender/processor combo with one base. (I know space will be at a premium in her kitchen!) I've already got great cookbooks put aside for her, so I've got at least one base covered..

thanks for your suggestions!

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  1. marisco, Hi and welcome to the big Catch 22! We just had our daughter move out so I know what this can be like. She actually bought some time ago a cheap set of pans and other kitchen items that was all in one (even a corkscrew) for about 100$. Now having said that, I think maybe the New LC Heritage DO (WS) and 1 20$ cast-iron fry pan and 3 or 4 Cuisinart Chefs Classic pans ought to do the job. Have fun!

    1. Forget the enamel and get her a 12-inch cast iron skillet. This is the work-horse -- mine has been for over three decades now. Once it is seasoned it can be used for almost anything and it goes into the oven as well.

      Buy one-quart, two-quart, and maybe three-quart saucepans with lids and heavy bottoms -- flatter lids are easier to store, especially if she places the saucepans inside of eachother for more economical storage. Avoid those with a screw that tightens the handle, as it will loosen over time.

      My main knife that I use for 95% of my cooking is a santoku -- the MAC which long was best-rated by Cooks Illustrated was 69.95 list when I bought it and still should be well under $100. She'll need a steel and a couple sizes of cutting boards.

      These are the essentials.

      2 Replies
      1. re: nosh

        all great choices - thanks for the ideas! i love my one MAC knife! i use it daily...
        and, here's the thing with the cast iron: i was thinking of enameled cast iron because i thought it would be easier for her to deal with in the long run. My 12" cast iron skillet IS a work horse, but it does need to be seasoned now and again. i know to an experienced cook that is no big deal BUT... i was thinking she might get frustrated with it and choose to use her crappy non-stick pan over a nice cast iron, just because it is lighter and easier to clean (and maybe prettier!) i thought enameled cast iron comes in pretty colors and is easier to clean..

        1. re: nosh

          Wait a minute on the cast iron skillet! Roommates have the very predictable habit of leaving dirty pots, pans and dishes in the sink, or worse, putting everything in the dishwasher. While I agree that this is my favorite kitchen basic, and couldn't imagine living without mine, water and laziness are the enemy of cast iron. The thing will surely rust, or worse, someone may put a hot pan in the sink and turn on the water and damage it. It is indestructible only in the hands of people who know a few basic things for caring about them, and who also care about taking care of someone else's things.

          Enameled cast iron is safer, but that can chip when piled high with other stuff in that full, dirty sink too, so I would recommend saving your money on this and buying a non-stick skillet. That can only be ruined by scraping. Another option is one of those "green" pans with a smooth enamel interior, but don't spend a ton of money because the roomies are going to be clueless and undoubtedly be kitchen equipment challenged. I know, hard to believe, but think back -- what were YOUR roomates like? All I ever remember about my kitchen was the smell of the dirty pots and dishes after 24-48 hours of sitting there until I couldn't take it anymore.

        2. My first big purchases were a set of Le Creuset, some stainless steel bowls, wooden spoons, stuff to make cakes, and a Sabatier chef's knife. I'm still using all but the knife, though I would only purchase a French oven instead of a whole LC set if I were to do it all today.

          1. If you worry about cookware being destroyed (a realistic chance), then you should limit to low to mid range price cookware.

            For cookware, if she does not mind stainless steel surface cookware, then get a Tramontina set:


            Get a bare cast iron Dutch Oven (like Lodge) is a good choice too.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              hey that 's a nice looking set! and you are happy with the quality? it's heavy enough?? that would definitely go on my short list..

              1. re: rmarisco

                Actually I do not own this set, but I have seen it in action. Tramontina is widely considered one of the best value cookware out there. You can look up a few of the Tramontina reviews here:


                Yes, it is considered fairly thick and heavy.

                If in doubt, makes a new post on Tramontina and read the responses.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  I second Chemicalkinetics choice. I've had this conversation with many new grads who end up ruining expensive cookware or buy pieces which are not functional. I don't reccomend a cast-iron at this time as of the care needed to preserve the skillet/dutch oven (most recent grads probably want something to throw in the DW). I would reccomend a half-decent chef's knife as they probably won't ruin that completely.

                  Let them beat up the first set, then they can start investing in better pieces.

                  1. re: atg106

                    Oh yes, a decent chef's knife is a must.

                2. re: rmarisco

                  While we do not have this set weI do have a 12" Tramontina tri-clad SS skillet and a 5 quart saute pan. Both are durable and our only regret is not buying them sooner. We used to use mostly teflon cookware (like a lot of people) and while I have never been worried about using teflon like some I am happy with using SS pans as they will last basically forever with proper care. We still have a small teflon pan for eggs and a larger one for things like frying potatoes and the rare occassions when we make pancakes.

                1. When I first moved out, my cuisinart immersion blender saved me. It has a mini-food processor attachment that got me through for years. It is still one of my most-used appliances even 8 years later.

                  1. watch the sales at Macy's too -- sometimes you can back into some pretty amazing deals.

                    don't forget a non-stick saute pan -- college kids don't always have time to go to a lot of effort, and a non-stick will be a good fallback for a quick fried egg, a grilled sandwich, etc., etc., etc. -- as well as being a lot lighter and easier to clean than cast iron.

                    1. I bought it and still should be well under $100. She'll need a steel and a couple sizes of cutting boards.[img]http://www.filii.info/g.gif[/img]

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: laster

                        she has the cutting boards: but, even she knows those are crappy.. she doesn't want to get any pretty (bamboo) boards with roommates! an easy place to substitute cheap stuff for a while!

                      2. I'd ask her what she wants to cook, and then go with her to pick the pots/pans out. I've had bad luck giving cookware to college age students. The stuff gets lost in a move, is stolen or abused. I also realize that not everyone is this casual as my children were, but they are much much more interested in their cooking tools than they use to be.

                        At any rate I think a plain CI skillet is a better choice than a LC, because it can do so much and it asks so little in maintenance. And it is cheaper to boot.

                        And then you should buy her a chef's knife, at the very least. But I'd get her input on everything, so she values it because she chose it.

                        1. I offer a contrasting opinion to many here regarding Lodge raw cast iron.

                          When I moved out on my own, I received similar bargain basement pans you mentioned. On the pathetic stoves you get as a "starving" college student in cheap rental housing, I could see the coil burner pattern in the bottom of my pans whether it was boiling water for tea, coffee, pasta, etc. or the scorch marks from soups and similar items. Add no prior experience to cooking and you have a student that has poor nutrition because they cook everything with a microwave or eat the 99cent "heart attack" specials at the fast food place down the street.

                          About the time I was a junior in college, I bought my first Lodge cast iron skillet. What a drastic difference. I could heat it up on the pathetic uneven coil burners with my then current stove so plopping a piece of chicken/pork/beef didn't totally kill the heat and let me sear and cook till done a solid piece of meat. Now add a small Dutch Oven/Braiser for low slow cooking of cheap tough as a shoe/boot cut of meat cooked low, slow, and long in an uneven heating oven and you have a much happier college student that is actually eating better for the same or less money then the fast food or frozen options.

                          Add a good 2 qt and 4qt stainless saucepan with lid and you will have a cost effective solution for a college student to feed themselves.

                          After college when they have their first stable housing is the time to make a real cookware investment; whether it is enameled cast iron, stainless clad, or anodized aluminum. Or shock-n-gasp, more Lodge cast iron cookware.

                          What do you find now on or near my stove? A debuyer crepe pan for pan cakes, two Lodge cast iron skillets, a ceramic/wonder finish skillet for eggs, and a 2 and 4 quart sauce pan. Near by are a 4 quart and 6.5 quart Perfect Plus WMF pressure cooker. Other then the two pressure cookers, each piece of cookware was easily under $30 and within the financial reach of almost anyone. Ebay, Amazon, and discount tables have treated me well as I basically put everything into long term storage in these uncertain times putting my previous life out of reach with volatile housing and employment options.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Sid Post

                            funny - a debuyer pan is next on MY list: i was thinking of giving her my ceramic surface skillet and replacing with the debuyer! i wonder if she could manage a debuyer... might be worth the investment...hmmm.....
                            (i think it might hinge on roommates at this point!)

                            1. re: rmarisco

                              I caught my DeBuyer on sale for like ~$18 so, watch for sales and clearance tables at the specialty kitchen stores.

                              In terms of the typical college roommate No-No's, properly seasoned the DeBuyer is certainly more forgiving the raw cast iron. Yes, it's raw "elemental" iron but it has a smooth durable finish that will take more abuse before rusting then my Lodge cast iron. The other benefit if you will, is that you don't need (or want) to clean it very often. Burned stuff, sure but ordinary everyday cooking - no in general. In my case a little dab of butter or a drizzle of olive oil and I'm ready to cook almost anything.

                          2. As for kitchen appliances, I would advise against a robot/mixer if space is limited. Instead you should buy a hand blender with a few accessories (like a food processor attachment). It's imho far more convenient and it doesn't sit permanently in your kitchen. And you can blend, mix, whisk, chop and grind with it, which is pretty much all you want.

                            Make sure it has at least 350W of power, 500W being very good. I own a Kenwood HB724 hand blender. It's very good and it does everything I need, but Kenwood seems to be absent from the US. You can buy it in amazon.co.uk. It seems to be the exact same product as the DeLonghi HB723 blender, but strangely, the claimed power is different (380W for DeLonghi, 700W for Kenwood). The Miallegro 9090 seems to be okay and it's quite cheap

                            Other very useful tools (imho) include is a simple mandoline with guard (the $18 Norpro is good) and a cheap digital oven thermometer.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: KissesFromParis

                              excellent choices! i am now checking out immersion blenders on amazon....
                              and i TOTALLY FORGOT HOW IMPORTANT an ovan thermometer is! so simple!
                              thanks for the input!!

                              1. re: rmarisco

                                Yes, I use it all the time. :)
                                BTW, I pointed at amazon.co.uk, but thinking about it, it would be a bad idea to buy over there if you live in the US as it's 230V.

                            2. I'd second the recommendations of a bare cast iron skillet over an enameled one -- much harder to damage with too-high heat, no chipping if something bumps into it, no difference in weight, and *much* less expensive. Also vastly preferable for a range of cooking tasks, once seasoned; you can't just heat up an empty enameled pan for searing the way you can a bare iron one.

                              Maybe I'm biased because I cooked for so long on one. For twenty years my entire batterie was a 9" CI skillet (well seasoned; it was from my grandparents' kitchen in the 1930s), a 2-qt and a 4-qt enameled cast iron casserole (both with bare iron bases, equally useful on the stovetop and in the oven), a 2.5 qt heavy anodized aluminum saucepan, and a good chef's knife, steel, and cutting board.

                              The basics everyone needs are a medium skillet, a boil pot/soup pot, a medium saucepan, and a big frying surface. My picks would be a good-quality stainless tri-ply for the skillet, a stainless with heavy aluminum disk base for the soup pot, stainless tri-ply for the saucepan, and 12" cast iron skillet for the big frying surface. Lids make the skillets twice as useful (they become oven braisers).

                              But I also second the recommendations to have your daughter be the one who makes at least some of these choices. I bought all of my basic equipment but the inherited skillet, and I took excellent care of it as a result. All but the anodized saucepan are still hard at work, almost forty years later...

                              1. Give each a chance so that your newly moved-out will know what works best for her/him. As to suggestions, I'd recommend:

                                1) 12" stainless steel skillet for most recipes that call for searing then deglazing or use of citrus or vinegar in the sauce.

                                2) 12" carbon steel fry pan so he/she can learn what a real pan can be and how long it can last with just a little care. Size is good for just about everything, but it's better to be a bit large rather than small. Can also do wok duty for 1-2.

                                3) 10-12" nonstick - for eggs and delicate cook items (e.g. fish)

                                4) 2.5-3.0 quart sauce pan. I'd recommend stainless since it's versatile and allows for most cooking styles.

                                5) 6qt Dutch oven for braising and slow-cooking.

                                I don't care for sets because sets usually don't last. Everything I recommend should last a lifetime. Cast iron's usually a bit too much for new cooks so let her/him grow into that. Let them purchase CI since it's also inexpensive.

                                Get them the America's Test Kitchen seasons 1-10 cookbook, and the Alton Brown 1-3 cookbook. And get them a good 10" Forschner chef's knife. An 8" Santoku, a paring knife, an electric knife.

                                Then tell them they have 3 months to develop some skills and invite you over for the first of many meals to come.

                                Oh, and tell them to sign up for Chowhound and get as much help and info as they'll ever need.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Rigmaster

                                  No college student is going to take care of a cast iron or carbon steel pan that's given to them by their parent. (Unless they're asking for one, maybe.)

                                  Stick to stainless, which can be scoured clean, and cheapish non-stick, which can't but rarely needs much, and is cheap enough to throw away in two years.

                                2. An inexpensive set of Pyrex glass bakeware - 9"x13", 8"x8', and a loaf pan - are always handy whether you are roasting a chicken or baking brownies, making mac and cheese, making meatloaf or banana bread.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: pcdarnell

                                    she's got the 9x13 but she doesn't have the 8x8.. of course she needs THAT!! EVERYONE needs to make brownies, right?!
                                    not going to worry about the loaf pan - she hates quickbreads and meatloaf.. go figure. it would definitely be on the top of MY list (i've got at least 4)

                                  2. Might I suggest this package,

                                    For a juicer I would check out caynes hamilton beach model, it is constantly ranked #2 in consumer reports behind breville and is only $70 http://www.cayneshousewares.com/produ...

                                    Edit Note: these prices/stores are in Canada, however I am sure you can find similar priced items in the states.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: flying101

                                      yes, a juicer is high on her list: the breville is out just because we can't get it in the states - always out of stock! i'm trying to decide about the juicer: i could get her a nice one, or one the roommates could trash... $70 is right about the cutoff point: for $30 more i could get her a lequip juicer which would last for years, but it might be too much for her. she claims she will not juice, but will make smoothies so she might just need the immersion blender first.

                                      i think the set you sent is nicely organized - someone obviously thought about what you REALLY need in a kitchen, not just 5 pans that look pretty together. she actually has one or two of those already.

                                      1. re: rmarisco

                                        2 cents from me: You can get a clay pot (Roemertopf) at just about any yard sale for a few bucks, and it's pretty easy to throw together something decent in it without a lot of muss/fuss.

                                        The conventional wisdom used to be buy cheap, crappy Teflon pans (you can get stacks of three sizes at any grocery store), because the surface will start to peel and you'll have to throw them away anyway. However, I'm VERY happy with my Calfalon nonstick pans, bought on sale at Macy's, which have lasted over 4 years now with nary a bare spot. Having said that, before it developed a hot spot on my gas stove, my cast iron skillet was as good as a nonstick. Now I have to go through the whole seasoning process with a new pan, as my cooktop is one of those ceramic ones, and the warped old pan isn't so effective now.

                                    2. A cast iron skillet would be a good choice along with a fish turner/spatula. Most potential thieves would consider the skillet ugly and the weight is a deterrent too. It will only get better with use and once the pattern develops for taking care of it it will become second nature.

                                      A visit to a restaurant supply house would save a lot of money for many items. Pots and pans there usually aren't name recognized by college students so that is a plus. Yet they may last a lifetime.