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Apr 25, 2012 11:01 AM

What type of cookware is best?

Hi I'm moving into my first house and I'm looking to buy all new cookware? I eat healthy so that is a lot of grilling and light sautéing. So my question is what type of cookware is best? Stainless steel? Cast iron? Enamel cast iron, etc. Any suggestions would be extremely helpful. I've been researching and I don't want to go into deep into the science of conductivity,thermal heating. But I would like to know which is best? Thanks guys/gals

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  1. The answer to such a question will always depend upon the following: (1) best for what purpose, which really depends on (2) your style of cooking, and (3) under what cost constraints.

    That said, here's my quick and dirty take on this for my regular cooking needs:

    Sauce Pans - Copper (tin)
    Saucier or Evasee - Copper (stainless - for durability in whisking)
    Casserole/Dutch or French Oven - Enameled Cast Iron, & Copper (Tin) (each for a different purpose)
    Stock Pot - Copper (Tin)
    Rondeau - Copper (Tin)
    Saute Pan - Copper (Tin)
    Skillets - Cast Iron
    Frying Pans - Carbon Steel (I know not everyone distinguishes between skillets and frying pans as I do.)
    Griddle - Cast Iron (although I do recognize why one might argue that an aluminum non-stick is best here)
    Roaster - Stainless/Aluminum Try-Ply

    I hope this helps, and be prepared for as many different answers as there are respondents!


    2 Replies
    1. re: jljohn

      Thanks Jeremy I'm definitely going to keep your suggestions in mind.

      1. re: jljohn

        In the interest of accommodating factor number 3 above regarding cost constraints, I'll add this. If I were to shift away from copper toward Stainless/Aluminum Tri-Ply, I would swap out in the following order (1) Stockpot, (2-tie) Casserole or Rondeau, (3) Sauce Pans, (4-tie) Saucier or Saute. In other words, If I could only have one copper piece, it would be either the Saute or the Saucier. If I could only have two it would be the Saute and the Saucier. Three copper pieces would allow me to bring in a sauce pan, and so on.

      2. Just read this article earlier this week and it will give you access to their equipment reviews...great info!

        1 Reply
        1. re: kelly2

          Thanks Kelly that article is extremely helpful. It breaks things down to what is essential. Thanks

        2. <Any suggestions would be extremely helpful. I>

          We get this type of question every now and then. The truth is that there isn't one perfect material for all types of cooking. In fact, there isn't a perfect material even for one type of cooking. It really depends on your own personal priority is. We can tell you the properties for these cookware materials/construction, but we cannot tell what is best for you. You have to find that out for yourself. This is the same as asking us: "What vehicle is better? A sport car or a truck?" Well, the truthful answer is: "It depends on what you want"

          Let's just take a frying pan as an example.

          If the most important things to you are high conductivity, even heating surface and quick response, then copper based or aluminum based cookware are best for you.

          If what is most important to you is the nonstick ability with zero learning curve, then a Teflon frying pan is the best. (all other types of cookware has some learning curves.)

          If you want a pan which can heat up to a very high temperature, while still be nonstick-like, then a cast iron or carbon steel pan is best for your need.

          If you want a cookware that can kind of do a bit of everything with decent heat response, dishwasher safe, durable against metal utensils, rust free, no seasoning required...etc and you don't worry about nonstick ability, then a triply stainless steel surface pan will work very well for you.

          I can go on about all the other cookware. Ultimately, the "best" cookware depends on your "needs".

          This is not to say there are no bad cookware materials. There, in fact, are. A glass frying pan probably has few advantages and many disadvantages. An enameled cast iron wok is one of the more confusion (if not ridiculous) design.

          1. Fundamental pieces, in order of importance, and recommended materials in descending order:

            1. Medium skillet - 9.5"-11": 2 mm or thicker copper lined w/stainless, aluminum lined w/stainless (original All-Clad Master Chef is thicker than MC2), tri-ply stainless/alum/stainless (Regal American Kitchen tri-ply has a very comfy handle).

            2. Soup/stock pot - 4 to 6 qt: stainless w/aluminum disk base, tri-ply stainless, or (if keeping equipment to a minimum) an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, which can do double duty. Huge bargains are to be had on enameled CI on ebay and in flea markets.

            3. Medium saucepan - 2-2.5 qt: tri-ply stainless. [Copper lined w/stainless better for sauce-making and risotto, etc., but not worth the extra $ unless that's most of what you'll use a saucepan for.]

            4. Large frying surface (10" or better actual cooking surface): Nothing does more for less of an outlay than a well-seasoned 12" cast iron skillet with a lid that fits (can be stainless, glass, needn't be CI). It's ideal for searing meat, shallow-frying chicken, and can be used for anything you'd use a saute pan for, especially braises that start on the stovetop and finish, covered, in the oven. It also can act as a roaster and a shallow baker (lasagne, cornbread, strata, etc.) If you want to avoid seasoning and minimal maintenance, the original A-C Master Chef saute pan (3 qt, 10.5" x 2.5") is a workhorse that can do almost all the same things just as well (except searing, where nothing is quite as good as cast iron).

            5. Dutch oven, 4-7 qt: enameled cast iron (if you go with another material for soup pot/boiling tasks).

            6. Baking sheets: aluminum half and/or quarter sheets, as useful for prep as they are in the oven. Grid racks that fit make them even more useful.

            7. Small casserole - 2-3 qt: enameled cast iron. Can double on stovetop as second 'saucepan'; if fairly straight-sided can act as souffle pan; great for baking many breads; excellent serving dish as well.

            Disagreements with the ATK list:
            - A roasting pan is in use here once a year at best, though plenty of roasting takes place in enameled cast iron au gratin pans, cast iron skillets, or on rimmed aluminum baking sheets. It's important in roasting to match the pan size to the ingredients, so unless you are often doing BIG fowl/meats or veg in quantity to fill a typical roaster, other pans can fill the role.

            - Don't get a non-stick saucepan. A good tri-ply or other stainless-lined saucepan is forever; you can whisk in it to your heart's content and use metal utensils; the same cannot be said of non-stick. The only really strong case for non-stick is the smallish skillet reserved for eggs, fish, and other delicate proteins.

            Last point, but really should be the first: Don't get a big set of anything; no one material is best for all purposes. Buy a couple of good pieces that you'll use most to start with and let your own cooking habits and preferences guide you from there.

            3 Replies
              1. re: ellabee

                This *is* good advice. I concur that a roasting pan is probably not needed and if space is a concern, they are serious hogs. For family sized roasts, I use my large CI skillet and for big holiday meals, I buy a throw-away aluminum pan. Hey, it happens once or maybe twice a year so i do not feel guilty.

                You are simply not going to find a lovely matched set that answers all of your needs, test, experiment, see what works best for you.

                Right now I have several pieces of Sur L'Table stainless steel (large and medium straight sided skillets) that are mainly used for frying, braising, and soup (medium one). I have some inexpensive stainless saucepans from Macy's - good for warming things up, steaming veggies, etc. I have 4 cast iron pieces that I use constantly for everything, a 30 year old Revere ware stockpot used for big batches of soup and spagetti sauce, and a Le Creuset knockoff (Martha Stewart) that I got for a holiday gift a while back (sadly underutilized).

                1. re: tcamp

                  But the OP asked for the "best.". I really like the original list but (personal preference) go with heavy blue steel over CI for a high temp frying pan and stainless lined copper for a roasting pan.