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Apr 25, 2012 12:48 PM

Advice on new new kitchen pots/pans based on cookstyle


I will try to keep this post as short as possible so you do not have to read a wall of text. (I often type too much.) Also, I lack cooking vocabulary, so I might use the wrong word at times. Also, after re-reading my post a bit, it makes me sound like a jerk because it is so “to the point.” Apologies. Actual questions are at the bottom, but I have provided additional information should it help.

Edit: This still ended up being very long, sorry. Might help to skip to the questions, then read the other parts if it helps to know what kind of stuff I would be cooking, etc.

I am looking to outfit my kitchen with some new cookware. My entire set of cheapo non-stick pots pans and woks are dying one by one (only a small pan left). I am looking into cast iron. Upkeep/seasoning is not a problem (I have used cast iron cookware when cooking for large groups of people, 40 plus.) Overall, I am starting my kitchen from scratch, cooking for 2, but do not mind getting bigger items in order to make things in big batches. (especially since family is likely to grow. I want these things to last for a while.) I do not want anything that is coated with paint/chemicals that can chip and/or poison.

Basically I will tell you how I cook/eat, and you can give me some recommendations based on your experience/knowledge. If cast iron ends up being the way to go, please recommend a good size/shape. Ex. Are rounded edges better, should I get something with higher walls, etc.
During the time when one generally learns how to cook (out of necessity), I was living in Japan, but have a lot of Texas and Cajun cooking influence. My wife’s cooking style is a mix of Thai and Korean.
So combined, we do a lot of “soft/fall apart” slow meat cooking using marinades, grilling of marinated meat/veggies/noodles, and soups. We use a lot of spicy/salty/sweet marinades/seasonings, such as sugar, soy sauce, that Korean red sauce you find in most Korean dishes, BBQ, and crazy spicy things. (I mention this because, I hear that citrus is bad for cast iron. Not sure if any of the above applies, or if it is a huge issue.)

When cooking, we prefer eating meats that are soft or shredded and are heavily marinated in juices. (Often marinated with soy sauce, sugar, and spicy sauces.) For example, we buy chicken legs or boneless breasts, put them in a glass bowl(?) with a lot of water/marinade, throw it in the oven, and let it boil/cook. Produces incredibly soft flavorful chicken. Rips up easily, and has almost *too much* flavor. (Which I love, but it will have health consequences later I am sure.) We do not like tough dry flavorless meat. I do not know how to describe this, but when chicken rips into strings, that is what we do not like. We spent a lot of time *trying* to like this kind of chicken, going to nice restaurants, etc., But no dice. Might be considered “grilled” chicken? Either way, seasoned on the outside, bland on the inside does not work for us.

Additionally, we like to cook eggs, but we make thick pancake-like eggs, with mayo milk and soysauce mixed in, then slowly cook in pan. (Along with scrambled eggs, bacon, etc.)
We also cook thick soups with meat and veggies in them (hayashi rice, that white soup from olive garden, etc.), biscuits, and make bread.

Eating habits:
We eat on a portable electronic indoor grill a *lot.* It is on our dining table a good 50% of the time. Throw on pre-marinated meats, vegetables, and noodles. Sometimes we eat out of the very pots/pans that we cook in.
We also eat frozen pizza’s and make cookies from time to time. (Was thinking about getting a cast iron pizza sheet for the aforementioned items, fish sticks, something to cook homemade bread on, etc.)

So aside from sandwiches, that is it. We do not make specialized pastries, or care if a thanksgiving turkey is whole or disassembled, and we view uneven cooking as a part of life. We prefer to replace “specialty items” (such as an apple corer) with effort. So we are a no cakes, pies can be replaced by cobbler, “I will throw in some balsamic vinegar and see what happens” mentality. We need cookware than can handle that kind of kitchen atmosphere, and be jabbed with a knife and a fork.

Basically, I am looking to get one or two (Or more) good all-around pans/pots/whatever. I prefer having an *extremely* minimalist kitchen. If a cast iron wok can do all of the things I listed, then that will work, even if it goes against the conventional “must cook on something flat” mentality. (In the past, I have used a flat bottom wok to great effect when cooking meat, as the marinade/seasoning always runs to the center, where the meat/vegetables are.)
My question(s):

1. Is there a cast iron pot/pan that is all around good for everything? For example: If I got a 12 inch pan that is flat on the bottom and has rounded tall (2-3 inch) sides that has a lid, then I could theoretically cook eggs, make soup, and slow cook meat. (Which would accomplish everything really.) Does this exist, and if so, would you recommend this approach? (Ex. I imagine that this would be overkill for an egg, but since this pot/pan would be sitting on the stove 24/7, and all it takes is a flick of the spatula to put it on to a plate, it should work.) Thoughts on this? Based on the cooking lifestyle described, can you recommend a good pot/pan shape?

2. I was thinking about getting a good all-around skillet and a dutch oven. Dutch oven would be used for soup/meat both on the stovetop and in the oven. I am hoping to be able to use it instead of getting a slow cooker. <---- Is this realistic? (We have an electric coil stove by the way)

3. We currently use an indoor electric grill on our table top, but would prefer a less-teflon-y solution. Any thoughts? Needs to use electricity. I was hoping for a cast iron solution, as even our non-stick grill has a nice seasoning on it due to the way we clean it. (Much like Cast iron) But I cannot seem to find any solutions for this, other than getting an electric coil/induction unit and placing a slab of metal on it.

4. Not a question, but here is my theoretical setup, just to show that I have researched this a bit before asking for experienced opinions:

- 1 cast iron flat bottom rounded 1-3 inch walls skillet with lid. Why? The wide flat surface can be used for pancakes, the high walls can be used for small soups or meats that need deep juice marinade. The rounded wall would allow juices to “center” while also allowing for a *slight* additional cooking width, and would be easier to clean as opposed to a cornered wall. (Nitpicking.)

- 1 cast iron dutch oven/pot. Make a soup on the stove, or fill full of meat and use as a slow cooker in the oven. (Or maybe even on the stove if that works. Not sure.)

- 1 cast iron pizza sheet. For pizza’s, homemade bread, biscuits, fish sticks, cookies, etc.

5. It just occurred to me that I need something to boil water in for ramen, etc. Will the cast iron dutch oven on the stove accomplish this? (Doesn’t have to be crazy fast, but if it takes an hour, then maybe a copper bottom pot will do.)

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. wow. that is long post but informative. i'm sure the pot experts will chime in soon but here's how i would go at it:

    yes to 1 enameled cast iron dutch oven like a leCrueset or Staub for the meat braises, soups, and yes, it should be able to handle anything you might want to cook in a slow cooker.. Will go from stovetop to oven and the enameled coating not have the citrus/acidic food reaction concerns of bare cast iron.

    yes on the bare cast iron skillet but i would go with a low 1.5" s-shaped edge if you're doing the thick egg pancakes i'm thinking about. they will slide out easier without cracking than a straight/tall sided pan or bowl shaped pan. The low s-shaped sides will also facilitate evaporation better than tall/straight sides on a pan. plus, though you say you don't do pies or cakes, you can actually bake pies and cakes in a cast iron skillet. if you get a wide enough skillet, maybe your frozen pizza will fit too.

    Item 5. I would go with a stainless steel-aluminum sauce pan, bottom disk or full clad, around 2-3 quarts. It’ll handle your ramen, pastas, sauces, re-heats on soups and other leftovers. Ours is slightly rounded from edge to bottom so I don’t have to worry about the whisk missing the corners for sauces. An example, literally a bowl with a pot handle:

    Item 3. Maybe consider a portable induction stovetop. I know some folks say the fan can be noisy for tabletop use but it depends mostly on the model. It’s electric, and you can use your cast iron pots or induction-ready pots on it. Here’s an example:
    Who knows, maybe you’ll splurge on one of those Korean domed grill plates one day and you can use that for tabletop induction grill cooking.

    nix on the cast iron pizza sheet. we make our own pizza fresh so i don't know what's best for frozen pizza. for high fat and high sugar baking like biscuits and cookies, i'll bet the bottoms will burn on a cast iron sheet before the rest of it cooks through. a regular heavy duty sheet pan (edged only one or two sides, not like a jelly pan) should meet all the cooking items in this category.

    1. I don't think your needs are all that strange. You need a soup pot, a small stainless or other metal pot, and maybe a slightly larger pot, a CI or similar skillet, perhaps 2 Dutch Ovens, and possibly a non-stick fry pan. You can also get a CI grill pan for the stovetop, to take the place of the electric grill, if you want. You can get a CI pizza sheet if you want, or steel might work almost as well.

      You can choose your material for the DOs, but a lot of Hounds swear by Le Creuset. I own a large Berndes cast aluminum DO which works well for me.

      You might also look into a good slow cooker.

      The soup pot can be stainless, and you can find them at all price points.

      I wouldn't make soup or boil eggs in CI, unless I absolutely had to. If the pot was deep enough for those uses, it would be a DO, and really heavy. For those purposes, stainless works really well. And it cleans up in the dishwasher.

      1. You can use regular cast iron with foods that are somewhat acidic, so long as you season it well and don't actually store the acidic food in the pot. Many people make dishes with plenty of tomatoes and chilies with no issues at all. A lot of people swear by enameled cast iron, but once the enamel on my pot started to flake off, I switched to uncoated cast iron. Cast iron dutch ovens are by far the most versatile cookware I have ever come across.

        For the rest, it would help to know what other kitchen appliances you have. Do you have a rice cooker? An electric kettle? If you have a kettle to boil water in, you can probably get by with just a dutch oven and a cast iron or stainless steel frying pan, preferably one with a lid.

        When I make ramen or similar boiled items, I usually boil the water in the kettle first, then pour it into a pot or pan. This really cuts down on the heating time, and would allow you to make ramen/soup in a cast iron pot or a frying pan.

        I have more cookware than I really need, but if I were to cut my own kitchen down to the bare bones that I use the most, it would look like this:

        1. Small non-stick pot. Since I don't have a rice cooker, I use this almost exclusively for cooking grains (rice, quinoa, porridge etc) and small amounts of soup.
        2. Dutch oven. This is for stews, larger soups, bread, baked dishes, etc. This is the most used piece.
        3. 12" Fryer with lid. Basically a frying pan with high sides. This is for eggs, pancakes, or any job where I want fast heating and a lot of surface area. Also great for reheating leftovers (no microwave). 12" is pretty large but allows me to make bigger meals when I need to.
        4. Electric kettle. The fastest and most efficient way to boil water. I generally use this twice or more each day.

        If you also really want something to use as a baking sheet in the oven, you can use an ordinary rectangular baking sheet, or possibly a cast iron griddle. The larger surface area would give you more versatility than just a pizza pan, and it can be used on the stove top as well.

        1. Hopefully, I didn't skip anything.

          Here are my suggestions, and I will start from the top overview:

          You will need one pan for fast cooking (e.g. a skillet, a fry pan, a saute pan...etc) and a pot for slow cooking (Dutch Oven, large sauce pan, a stock pot...etc).

          Bare cast iron and carbon steel cookware can be seasoned and can handle very rough conditions. You can literally hit them with a metal spatula and they are fine. You have mentioned cast iron, but not carbon steel, so you may want to look into it as well. One major weakness of these cookware is that the seasoning surface cannot handle long term acidic solution.

          For pots, I would go with a stainless steel cladded cookware (disc bottom or triply is up to you), like the standard All Clad, or Tramontina triply cookware or Cuisinart Multiclad...etc

          A Dutch Oven is great too if you think you will do a lot of slow cooking like stew.

          <the high walls can be used for small soups or meats that need deep juice marinade.>

          True, but also keep in mind that high walls prevent you from easily slide the food out, flip the foods by tossing or by using a spatula. Just imagine using a spatula for a Dutch Oven and you will know what I mean.

          1. Thanks everyone for the very informative replies. I really appreciate it.

            Elfer asked about other kitchen appliances that I have.
            We do have a rice cooker that gets quite a bit of use.
            We also have a microwave, but we never seem to use it at all. Once every two months?
            That is about it.

            For the oven, we do have one of those rectangular baking sheets, and use it often. (Many of you mentioned using one of these instead of cast iron. Probably a good idea.) Ours however warps, so when it reaches a certain temperature, it “pops” and rotates. Usually not throwing the food though, since the food is stuck due to its rough porous surface. (Actually, we place foil on top most of the time.)
            I was hoping to find something that is more sturdy, easy to clean, and does not require placing foil on it all the time.
            Recently we have been placing foil on the bottom rack of the oven (to catch drip) and put pizzas on the top rack. (Allows us to use less foil, as there is not always dripping)
            Either way, I guess I will need to research this a bit more to find something that might work better.

            As for the dutch oven. Enameled was mentioned. I am trying to avoid having anything that will chip (And I have not researched lead content.), but if I understand correctly, we mostly would be cooking acidic foods in it for extended periods of time. (BBQ, peppers, soy sauce, etc.) If those are indeed considered acidic, then I am not sure how well a bare-metal cast iron dutch oven would hold up.
            But then, if it is “soup-like” marinade going in it, then does maintaining the seasoning really matter?
            Or a better question, does seasoning even matter for a dutch oven? (Especially based on my cook style) I will need to research this, as it is one of the main issues I am dealing with. I might just go bare-metal anyway, because I know I will damage the enamel. If anyone else would like to chime in with their opinion on this, please do.

            The consensus seems to be that the lower sides on the cast iron skillet would be superior. It makes sense, especially if I would be getting a dutch oven and likely a steel pot for quick boiling. I will have to think about going the boiling teapot route. We do not own one, nor drink anything hot really. (Mostly just water juice and milk.) We were at target yesterday and took a look at cast iron. (My wife had never used a cast iron skillet.) She had a difficult time even picking up the 12” skillet (mind you, it was at an awkward height), so getting the smaller sides would help a bit with the weight.

            Cleaning the cooking equipment was mentioned. One of the reasons of having such a basic kitchen is not having to clean a ton. Even with our non-stick, I just run hot water over it and wipe with a towel. (I daresay that they had developed a good seasoning.) Takes a minute at the most. We have a silverware set, but decided to only keep 2 of each item ready, so we can just rinse/clean and place near the sink when done. It is nice not having to do a pile of dishes. I mention this because I feel like the cast iron would “fit” with this mentality, and would thrive in this type of cleaning environment. If I am wrong, please let me know. I do not want to dive headfirst into a problem.

            I will research carbon steel a bit, mainly for the skillet. I would guess that it might be lighter, which is a plus, and if it acts like cast iron in every other way, then that might be the way to go. Especially if it can handle acids. …but a quick search on it seems to point to no. Either way, *I* could use the workout cast iron provides. The real question is, do I want my wife to get popeye arms…
            1x skillet. Cast iron. Lower, rounded sides.
            Not sure on size though. 12” seemed pretty big, so might go with the smaller one. But then, am I cutting myself off from some cooking style that I am not aware of? (Or that I am aware of, but have not made the connection?)

            1x cast iron dutch oven. Not sure on enameled or bare. Leaning more bare though, because even though we cook a lot of acidic food, I *think* seasoning is less important on a dutch oven. Plus, I will chip it a week into its life. (If I am wrong here, and you think the enamel might be better, please let me know. I do not know how big of a problem acidity really is.)

            1x baking sheet of some sort. Need to research this more. For pizzas/cookies/fish sticks

            1x way to quick boil water/ramen/can of green beans. Likely a steel pot with a copper bottom. (Or some other thing I research that is better.) Was able to use one of these for a while a while back. Always seemed to work fine. It is older though, and I got the impression that good ones are difficult to find now. Who knows, anyway, will research.

            Again, I really appreciate the responses you all provided. It has been very helpful.

            5 Replies
            1. re: fondue_set

              Chemical Kinetics mentioned carbon steel. If you are located near a store that sells goods from Mexico or Central America you can probably pick up a plancha for a 10 spot. It's super lightweight and pretty versatile. I use mine all the time as a cooking surface, lid, serving tray, trivet or saucer.

              It's nothing fancy compared to the great carbon steel pans out there... I would avoid the ones from Imusa that are teflon coated as they just won't hold up very well.

              1. re: slowshooter

       Lodge Seasoned Carbon Steel Skillet

                I bought the small size of this pan. I like it a lot. I wish I bought the next larger size, though. One of these should last your lifetime. I have found that the seasoning builds up with use, and I don't do anything in mine (really small) except for frying eggs. The large size might compare with the plancha you recommend, but it would be heavier. The Lodge carbon steel is not as heavy as CI, but it is heftier than I expected. It is well balanced.

                1. re: sueatmo

                  <I bought the small size of this pan. I like it a lot....>

                  Can you write a review on the Lodge carbon steel pan for us? :)

              2. re: fondue_set

                hi fondue_set
                my first enameled cast iron pot from Target was 17lbs...empty. it was cumbersome to wash but i got rid of it because the heft and rocking lid made it unpopular and underutilized. generally, many of the pots/pans i have now are for the long-run and i recognize that 30 years from now my cookware may be young and spry but i will not! i think a lot of people favor the leCrueset and Staubs for their durability, they are also lighter because the bottoms are thick but sides are thinner.

                my sheet pans also make the 'pop' noise but so far my food hasn't suffered from physical or taste problems. i have no idea who made them but they look like this:
                i like that they have no edges on 2 sides. pizza and other stuff just slides off, onto my cooling surface. if i had to do it again, i would get something thicker so it wouldn't warp/pop even though my cookies don't look warped. one of them resides in the oven to catch drips. the stainless steel surface just cleans up quick with a little Bar Keepers Friend.