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Apr 23, 2012 08:08 AM

Do I really need stainless and Le Creuset?

I'm trying to edit my list of kitchen essentials down (small kitchen, minimalist inclination), and wondering if I really need traditional stainless cookware that my family wants to get my fiance and I for our wedding.

I recently received two Le Creuset dutch ovens- one 9qt round and a 6 3/4 qt oval. I love them both, and use them all the time, but there are some things they are just too big for. I have a 3.5 qt. braiser and a 5.5 qt. round coming my way that my parents have purchased for our wedding gift. I am loving the Le Creuset- it cooks perfectly on our quirky glass stovetop, and it's practical for the kind of meals we make in our limited prep-space kitchen. A former roommate had several smaller Le Creusets, and I remember them also being awesome for rice, veggies, eggs, pasta- they were the only cookware we had so I used them for everything.

Some family members expressed wanting to buy us some cookware for our upcoming wedding. I did a lot of research about what the "essentials" are supposed to be- but we're not exactly starting from scratch. We will have 4 pieces of Le Creuset, an uncoated cast iron skillet, and a large pasta pot. Truthfully, our collection of Le Creuset is more than is necessary, but I prefer it to anything else and am hoping that it makes other cookware unnecessary for us. I think I'd be better off getting a small (2 or 3 qt. round) oven to round out my collection. Is there anything I couldn't cook with that collection of cookware? The only potential advantages l can think of for stainless (I'm looking at Cuisinart Multiclad) is that it heats up faster and is lighter.

What do you think- can comparably-sized Le Creuset stand in for stainless or do we really saucepans and all that? With this collection, do you see any need for a slow cooker, rice cooker, or wok?

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  1. Hi, HungryHoya:

    It sounds like you want a particular answer here, so yes you can make do with all cast iron. People have done just that for a very long time. You are especially fortunate that your LC "cooks perfectly" on your stovetop--most of us are not so lucky.

    When you speak of stainless, I think you really mean clad (either the bottoms or throughout). The better grades of clad not only heat faster, but they do a better job of spreading heat evenly throughout the pan than does CI. This is *not* because there is SS inside and out, but rather because what's inside--usually aluminum or copper. In fact the quick/even aspect of clad is actually *in spite* of the presence of SS. It is used because it is cheap, nonreactive, durable and shiny.

    Still, if you just started (or stuck mostly) with the "good stuff" inside, i.e., properly designed aluminum or copper pans, you'd typically get higher performance. In the case of aluminum, higher performance comes at a much lower price than most clad, and with far more "good stuff" inside. Copper is even better, but more expensive and a little less convenient.

    Again, by your minimalist standard, you can dispense with the crockpot, rice cooker and wok, although some other minimalist might choose just those three and forego all your LC. Personally, I find all three useful, although I couldn't tell you where my rice cooker is right now! If I were you, I'd be more interested in a deep fat fryer as a countertop extra.

    Another thing... This is your wedding that's coming up, and I bet your family and friends want to give you two some nice things. Having just passed Anniversary #19, I can tell you that I have "grown into" liking a bunch of kitchen wedding gifts that I didn't much care for at the time. Like you, I was completely smitten with LC... Let's just say my tastes and cooking have gone in a different direction since then.

    If I were you, having it to do over again, I would stop where you are with LC--don't waste your time and others' money with LC saucepans, skillets, etc. or more ovens/cocottes. Given your space constraints, I would ask for one really good saute and 2 or 3 decent-to-good saucepans in clad, aluminum or copper. Also, remember that gratins make great multi-purpose pans, especially in metals other than CI.

    Have a ball cooking in whatever you receive, and see where your tastes and interests take you. Just don't drink the Kool-Aid about LC being the Be-All-And-End-All.

    Hope This Helps, and Congratulations,

    3 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      Thanks for the thoughtful response, Kaleo. I don't see the point of LC stuff that isn't the french ovens, so I will stay away from that. I will have to do more research and tell my family to relax about the sales at the LC outlets.

      When you say that you grew into wedding gifts, are you referring to your level of skill or the size of the cookware (or something else, a combination)? It's tough to predict how our tastes will evolve or our cooking styles will change, but I'd definitely be interested in hearing what pieces you have that don't get a lot of use anymore, and what you replaced them with or if you just found some things redundant.

      1. re: HungryHoya

        Hi, HungryHoya:

        You're very welcome.

        "...level of skill or the size of the cookware (or something else, a combination)?"

        Well, a little of everything applies. Even though my mom was a phenomenal (if insecure) cook, like a lot of young people, I didn't have much hands-on experience, and almost ZERO of that applied to comparing cookware. Mom had Revereware, and I never had any idea anything else existed until I left for college. So I was a sucker for LC--its colors, newness, the heft, the Franco-styles and yes the faux status--and I invested heavily. For maybe 20 years after that, I thought I was doing things wrong--and then dishes started turning around when I started grabbing different pans. Today the only time I put a LC on the stovetop is to sweat mirrepoix or aromatics before shifting the thing to the oven. I'm admittedly prejudiced, but LC gives me no pleasure and little return on the stovetop. Even my cracked, old 5.5Q round (which IMO is *the* most useful piece LC ever made) now gets used most for no-knead bread. It's orphaned lid fits a big Bourgeat saucepan perfectly, though!

        I don't know why, but I still have all of my LC, skillets saucepans and all (except the 9Q round Wahine ruined). It is redundant. I'm probably avoiding the pennies-on-dollars returns. I joke here on CH about making boat anchors out of it, but I should eBay it--my cabinets would sigh with relief!

        For replacements, I have focused mostly on heavy vintage (cannot afford new) copper, although with the advent of my "new" 1910 wood cookstove, I'm picking up some vintage CI pieces, like a waffle iron and baking pans. My beach house has mostly aluminum. Ironically, the LC stovetop pieces would cook a lot more evenly on the woodstove, but once you've cooked on thick copper, it's very hard to go back.

        Yes, yes, it is impossible to assess how your tastes and interests and skills may evolve. But if you believe that good cooking is fundamentally an act of love, rest assured it will be a *forward* evolution for you, whatever particular direction(s) and distance(s) it carries you.

        One last point about your registry or wishlist: Don't underestimate the value of quality serving pieces, flatware and good everyday tableware. This has a sexiness factor of about +25% for brides and about -25% for grooms and your giftors, but things like a quality set of plain oval serving platters (the smaller ones' best use: plates) will change the way you cook and eat. Same with stem- and barware, except it needn't be $$$.

        Have Fun,

        1. re: kaleokahu

          +100 on good serving platters! I own way, way, way too much kitchen stuff, and yet can never find a proper platter to put anything on once I'm done cooking. And it sucks to spend hours on some project and then have to present it on a cutting board or something else that looks like it's seen better days.

          I also use my LC 95% of the time for bread and only 5% for anything else. (Stews, braises, and similar in-oven preparations.) Never anything on the stove; it doesn't react quickly enough for my cooking style, which is heavily stir fry and quick saute oriented. But with the added constraint of the glass cooktop perhaps the rules change?

    2. <I am loving the Le Creuset- it cooks perfectly on our quirky glass stovetop, and it's practical for the kind of meals we make in our limited prep-space kitchen. >

      For most people, Le Cresuset enameled cast iron cookware can only handle so much. I am assuming you are talking about the enameled cast iron cookware -- though Le Cresuset does offer stainless steel cladded cookware as well.

      <We will have 4 pieces of Le Creuset, an uncoated cast iron skillet>

      Le Cresuset cookware are almost always coated with something. It does not offer bare cast iron cookware. Take a close look at this Le Cresuset skillet. It is coated both inside and out:

      <The only potential advantages l can think of for stainless (I'm looking at Cuisinart Multiclad) is that it heats up faster and is lighter>

      Stainless steel cladded cookware (in this case cladded with aluminum for Cuisinart Multiclad) offer many advantages. Yes, it can heat up faster, cool down faster, ligther..... but Cuisinart Multiclad also provides a more even heating surface, more robust (you can drop your Cuisinart in your kitchen sink and it won't crack), more acceptable for dishwasher cleaning....etc. Many other advantages. There is a reason why very few professional kitchens use enameled cast iron cookware as the workhorse cookware. I am not saying that you should switch to stainless steel cladded cookware, but rather there are some advantages for the stainless steel cladded cookware.

      <can comparably-sized Le Creuset stand in for stainless or do we really saucepans and all that?>

      If we are talking about a saucepan for making sauce. I do think a cladded stainless steel-aluminum saucepan would be better than Le Cresuset enameled cast iron saucepan. This is not to say cladded stainless steel saucepan is your only choice.

      <do you see any need for a slow cooker, rice cooker, or wok?>

      Slow cooker probably not. Le Cresuset cookware is pretty good at slow and low cooking. Rice cooker -- yes, if you want to make rice often. A wok? Do you want to make Chinese stir fry often? If so, yes. If not, then you can use a frying pan or a saute pan. In addition, if there is one thing you should get out of this post, then it is this following:

      Do NOT ever consider the Le Cresuset enameled cast iron wok. Do NOT. It does not make any sense to pay >$200 for an enameled cast iron wok. It make no sense.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Thanks for such a thoughtful reply. Just to clarify, I was talking about the LC enameled cast iron ovens. My uncoated skillet is Lodge, I believe. I have it nicely seasoned and it works great, despite what I sometimes read about the newer lodge skillets.

        I will definitely stay away from the LC wok. I wouldn't spend that on such a specific piece, myself, but it might be time to spread the word to family that we have enough LC.

        1. re: HungryHoya

          <My uncoated skillet is Lodge, I believe>

          Got it. I read the previous post wrong.

          <I wouldn't spend that on such a specific piece, myself,>

          It isn't so much that the wok is a specific piece. It is that a $20 carbon steel wok will work better than this >$200 enameled cast iron wok.

          I agree with Paulj's post below. I think if you want to expand, then you should consider a frying pan or a saute pan. A saucepan is also very nice to have.

      2. I, too, love Le Creuset and received them as wedding gifts. It's just the 2 of us, so the 5.5 round, 3.5 oval and 2.5 round are perfect everyday cookware for our needs. The only pans we use as frequently are our 10 and 12 inch skillets and a ceramic non-stick grill pan which is awesome for grilling meats with no oil (and no Teflon). I do have a large pasta pot and a 4 quart saucepan which does come in handy when the pasta pot is too big for my needs.

        We don't make rice very often, thus a rice cooker would take up needed cupboard space and like you said, the LC works great when we do want rice. We also don't stirfry much, so no wok. I do like my crockpot for transporting hot items to parties a few times a year. The LC retains heat, but the outside of the crockpot stays cool and the lid is secure.

        My suggestion would be to register for a few key cookware items (maybe a saucepan or two?), and then focus on other things you really want. We were able to completely replace all our dishes and silverware with wedding gifts, and I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to have everything match! Nice glassware for cocktails/wine/beer replaced freebies we'd collected. And new sheets and towels are always nice. One again, these gifts replaced older items so there was no space issue. We also had a link to Visa gift cards under the Registry section of our wedding website, and that turned out very well for us indeed!

        1. You seem to be lacking in the small pan area. When cooking for one and two, I find that I use 8" fry pans, and 1.5-3qt sauce pans a lot. In this size, stainless steel is great, though for certain items (eggs, starchy things) I also like nonstick cast aluminum.

          4 Replies
          1. re: paulj

            I agree with paulj. If you want to boil 4 eggs, are you going to use LC? You need a good small, lidded saucepan. I also think you might need a slightly larger s/pan. There are only the 2 of us now, and the smaller pans are my work horses on the stovetop. You are lucky enough to have people who want to give you nice things, so I'd choose a good quality stainless tri ply or similar in a couple of the smaller sizes. I recommend stainless because it is easy to clean, dishwashable, and performs well. Try out what you ask for by visiting stores and picking up pots. Handles can make or break how you like using your pan. At a higher price point you should not have trouble with an unbalanced pan.

            I ruined my smallest pan last year, and I had to replace it at once. I used if for everything.

            1. re: sueatmo

              Pretty much what I was going to suggest. For small soups or quick 1 person meals like pasta, rice, sauces, etc, you should consider adding a 1.5 or 2 qt saucepan. I use SS for everything because it's durable and versatile. But oatmeal still cooks and cleans better in my nonstick Calphalon saucepan.

              Do you cook any foods in small portions?

              I also love my 8" AC SS D5 skillet. Makes good scrambled eggs because I can easily control the heat.

              1. re: unprofessional_chef

                With oatmeal in stainless steel, if I lower or remove the heat for a few minutes, the stuck stuff works softens and can be stirred back in. So wet sticky stuff works in SS, I just have to be more careful about heat level and stirring.

                1. re: unprofessional_chef

                  I cook many single portions, some double portions, and often more than that if I want to use the leftovers for something. I tend to use the small saucepan for boiling eggs and other small jobs like boiling water for the teapot. Mr. Sueamo uses it often to heat soup.

                  I cook Scottish oatmeal (Bob's Red Mill) in the microwave at medium power for 4 minutes. I get fine oatmeal. I immediately soak the cooking vessel.

            2. I have a variety of LC including the sauce pans and they get heavy use in my kitchen. They were what I replaced my non stick with, when I tossed it all. Having said that in the last couple years I've added a few stainless all clad pieces and I'm happy to have the versatility. But then I'm not much of a minimalist lol.