Time for new cookware
And I am on a budget, so that means using my 20% discount at Big Lots.
They currently have a Paula Deen 12-pc porcelain non-stick that will run me $72 or they have a T-Fal Royale 12-pc non-stick for $48 with my discount.
Any comments, good or bad, about either?
I wouldn't buy a set of non-stick, or a set of anything, especially a lot of such mediocre stuff. What pans do you need the most? Try to buy two or three better quality pans, and then buy what you need as you feel the need. You might want to start with a non-stick frypan, a good medium sized saucepan, and a stainless saute pan. You might want to ask your relatives for any iron skillet sitting in a cabinet unused. You could do a lot with those pieces.
I recommend visiting a store like Bed Bath and Beyond. Handle pans and see what feels good in your hand. You can also visit Home Goods and Tuesday Morning, to see if you spot any good deals there on good quality pans.
A good stainless pan is built like a tank, with a sturdy well connected handled and encapsulated disk bottom. I am using some stainless pans not made as well, and they were not as expensive, although they are performing well for me. I found them at Home Goods.
For a non stick fry pan, have a look at Home Goods. A perfectly fine pan can be had for a fairly small price. A non stick fry pan will not last forever, and needs to be used on no more than medium heat. There is no reason to pay more than $20 dollars or so for a non-stick frypan, IMO.
A saute pan is extremely useful, and you should spend the most for this pan. It should be sturdy, well made and have a nice lid. You will use this pan again and again. It would be best if the pan could be used in the oven, as well as the stovetop.
There are many threads about vintage cast iron on Chowhound. A cast iron skillet is very versatile, and even when you upgrade your other pots and pans, you might well still be using your original cast iron skillet.
Good luck. Remember, you can always find things as you go along on your cooking journey.
If you want good cookware and budget is really tight, I'd recommend going to Bed Bath and Beyond and looking for the Calphalon Stainless Tri-ply series. It's like All-Clad, but made in China and uses glass lids. They usually have several "special priced/try-me" pieces at substantially lower prices than the normal individual prices. You should be able to get a sauce, saute, and 2 frying pans for $80. It really is good cookware, I generally preferred to my All-Clad when I used Tri-ply cookware on a regular basis.
Alternatively, I hear that the Tramontina cookware at Walmart does a good job at a great price.
The last option, and maybe the best option if you know what pieces you want, is to hit up every T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Homegoods in your area and dig through their cookware selection. You can find cast iron skillets, nice enameled cast iron dutch ovens, good quality saucepans, stockpots, saute pans, and stock pots.
As sueatmo has said, it is best to avoid cookware set because (1) cookware set often offers what you don't need and do not have what you want, and (2) almost all cookware sets are made of the same materials within a set. Yet, many believe that different cookware require different construction (e.g. nonstick vs stainless steel vs cast iron..etc)
Between Paula Deen 12 pc porcelain and T-fal Royale, I pick T-fal.
I have a T-Fal nonstick 10-inch open skillet, recommended by America's Test Kitchen, and after I seasoned it according to the instructions (at first I didn't realize I was supposed to), it's served me well for the 6 months I've been using it almost daily. How long it will last, I don't know.
Conventional wisdom is not to buy high-end nonstick cookware because no matter how much you pay for it, you'll often have to replace it sooner than you expect.
(I don't know the Royale line or any other T-Fal cookware.)
re: John Francis
I lost sight of an important consideration for GroovinGourmet, that he gets a 20% discount at Big Lots and this is important to his budget. It looks like the rest of us haven't been paying attention to that either. Big Lots doesn't carry most of the brands that have been suggested here, only Paula Deen, T-Fal, Famous Maker, and a few pieces by Farberware and WearEver. We aren't being very helpful, then.
Do you really need a subpar cookware set? Figure out your most used pans, and they try find the "find me pieces" at a big chain place that are ~$30. Even on a budget, a few good pans are much better then a whole set of bad pans.
And, don't discount Lodge cast iron from Wal-Mart too much. In my college years in sub-standard apartments, I found that heavy cast iron evened out "hot and cold spots" in the oven for roasts and similar things. The skillet could sit on the anemic electric coil long enough to get really hot which allowed me to sear meats. The comparable cookware to what you looking are at ruined more food then it properly cooked for me. Thin stainless steel and cheap Teflon skillets are a waste of money in most cases.
re: Sid Post
"Do you really need a subpar cookware set? Figure out your most used pans, and they try find the "find me pieces" at a big chain place that are ~$30. Even on a budget, a few good pans are much better then a whole set of bad pans."
Exactly my thought. I've been using cookware daily since 1970. A bad pan is bad at any price. Target what you need, find a good enough pan for multiple needs, and acquire more pots and pans as needed.
If you do buy a set, just know that you will be replacing pieces of it when they don't perform, or are hard to use. And you will almost never use other pieces.
Inexpensive porcelain such as the 12-pc Paula Deen for $72 is going to chip in an instant. If that doesn't bother you then that's ok, but it would bug the daylights out of me. The biggest problem is that Big Lots is not exactly known for carring even mediocer cookware, so by setting that parameter you have locked yourself out of what would be better value cookware. By better value, I'm talking about items that provide a better experience for either little or no extra cost. As has been posted by others, there are better pots and pans available that you could find on sale or at a discounter, where perhaps you could only get a 6-pc set for the same money, but the set would cook better and last longer, thus being a better value in the long term.