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$250 to spend to update cookware--what would you do?

Apologies that I lack the kitchen vocabulary to do this post justice. Love to cook, but don't *study* cooking. You know?

I have hand-me-down pots--non-stick Anolons that I've had for YEARS (maybe close to 20 years?). Time to do some updating. I have a stockpot, a 10-inch and 12-inch pans, a couple of saucepans/lids.

I have some cheapy Costco non-stick plans that have sloped sides (vs. the 90-degree-angle sides my Anolons have) (again, apologies... I know there are skillets and saute pans, and just don't know the right lingo). They are worn.

I have a 5.5-qt. Le Creuset oval oven, and two All-Clad tri-ply stainless skillets (10 and 12-inch, I believe) without lids that I splurged on in the last year.

There are some random things in there... a Calpalon big 14-inch saute pan with lid, some cast iron.

So as I am a grown-up now, with kids to feed and a true enjoyment of cooking, it is time to update my everyday Anolons (well-worn, ill-fitting lids, plastic-y handles that prohibit oven use). I clearly have a hodge-podge of stuff, and it would be nice to streamline a bit, ensure I have decent quality work-horses, and maybe a few pieces to aspire to. I have a newer electric stove (alas, no gas line where I live).

So if you had $250 (give or take) to spend, how would you spend it? Do you have go-to, can't-live-without pieces that you use regularly? I know cookware sets often have lame sizes, so it could be that I pick and choose the right pieces.

I have a husband and two boys that will soon enough be three hungry men, so while bigger isn't always better, it is a consideration. I work full-time and know some pans will make their way into the dishwasher, despite any effort to keep them "handwash only."

Do you like stainless? Non-stick? Is one flat-out more versatile?

I would love your opinions, as I assume you are all far more seasoned in this arena than I am. :)

Really, really appreciate your consideration and thoughts.

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  1. Do you have sauce pans? I like stainless because it is easy to take care of and can take a beating. I'm not a big fan of nonstick because of the chemicals that get released from scraping and high heat.

    If you haven't needed new equipment yet, then save the money.

    Since you work full time, maybe get a good crockpot so you don't have to spend too much time cooking.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gotsmack

      Agreed on the crockpot - I don't work, but live with chronic illness, and several times, the crock pot has saved me when I just can't do a full meal over the stove. I used it a ton when I worked full time as well.

      Similarly, something that you may want to consider is oven-proof soup bowls. Obviously, you can then make delicious French onion soup, but I also use mine a lot for making individual shepherd's pies, mac and cheese, and other individual sized casseroles - then I can cater to different tastes if I want to (my DH LOVES onions and would be fine if a casserole was pretty much half onion, my step daughter likes them, but not to that extent), plus if your kids/DH get home at different times due to activities, work, etc, you can bake one at a time so everyone gets a hot and fresh meal.

    2. <So if you had $250 (give or take) to spend, how would you spend it? Do you have go-to, can't-live-without pieces that you use regularly?>

      That depends from person to person. Some people spend more time with dry heating cookware like fry pans and saute pans. Other people utilize slow wet cooking vessels like saucepans and stock pots. So the answer lies largely on your own cooking style.

      <Do you like stainless? Non-stick? Is one flat-out more versatile?>

      Stainless steel surface cookware is much more versatile than nostick cookware, but nonstick cookware can be very useful for certain applications. Now, personally, I like cast iron and carbon steel, but they simply cannot be washed in a dishwasher.

      1. You have good tri-ply stainless 10-, 12-, and 14-inch skillets, those should last more than a lifetime before they need replacement. Likewise with the cast iron and a 5.5-qt ECI dutch dutch oven.

        If this were my kitchen, I'd spend the dollars on getting lids for the skillets that have none, a good heavy stockpot or a good sauce pan (wider than a stockpot ) with a heavy base that can do double duty (cook a pot of boiling water for pasta, make soup/beans/lentils,etc.). I would need two or three saucepans in varied sizes: one, two and three quart. And I would need one or two non-stick skillets for omelets, eggs and other things that may not be best cooked in stainless.

        I have stainless, cast aluminum, anodized aluminum, and non-stick over cast aluminum. I use the non-stick and cast aluminum skillets most of the time, but one is not more versatile than the other, the cooking task dictates which cookware I choose. Thick cast aluminum is my favorite material for cookware - it heats quickly and evenly, responds quickly to changes in temp on the cooktop, and it's easy to clean. But I can't do poached eggs for example in the aluminum skillet or the non-stick, for these I use the stainless skillet. Stainless is more appropriate for acidic foods than aluminum, but I make tomato sauce in the anodized aluminum with no problem.

        Cookware sets tend to include pieces that go unused. Aluminum and non-stick pans should not go in the dishwasher. The only material not harmed by cleaning in a dishwasher is stainless steel.

        There's no reason to have a battery of cookware all of the same brand or material. It isn't necessary to spend All-clad dollars to obtain high performance cookware. You can blow your budget on just one All-clad pan. It depends on what's important to you and what and how you cook.

        1. It seems like you have a couple good pieces, so it would probably be a waste for you to buy a set of pans. I think I am in a similar position, as I have my starter cookware and I have been upgrading as I find the cash or the need.

          I would not spend a lot on non-stick cookware. I have been trying to get away from it for health reasons and I also have never found that the non-stick surface stays where it is supposed to even in the more expensive brands no matter what the guarantee,

          I have been spending my money lately on stainless pans and I find them to be worth the money. I haven't bought All-Clad, but there are a number of other nice options out there.

          One pan that I love, I bought about 15 years ago. I have seen it called a braiser, a sauteuse and Calphalon calls it their everyday pan. There is just something about the size and the shape, I use it all the time. You can use it on top of the stove and it also slides easily into the oven as it is not very heavy and it has handles on both sides instead of a long handle with a helper on the other side. I have attached a link for the everyday pan so you can see what I am talking about.


          1 Reply
          1. re: NE_Elaine

            That's a good pan - excellent reviews too.
            I have something similar to that, but mine has a handle. It's great for cooking large meals, sauteing, etc.

          2. What you need to cook in depends so very much on what you cook that it's all but impossible to make an overall suggestion for a particular type of cookware. However, I can suggest you purchase good quality as you have done with the All-Clad fry pans. Having quality pots and pans makes cooking more enjoyable. Nothing is worse, in my opinion, than fighting a tool.

            1. I really depends on your cooking style and your most important needs. I personally hate non-stick, love cast iron and like stainless. I never put any pans in the dishwasher. My go to is probably my cast iron skillet and my enameled cast iron dutch oven with the 2 qt stainless sauce pan the close 3rd.

              1. Hi, boxocereal:

                You have the skillet thing covered. Stop while you're ahead. You also have probably the best LC piece ever made--the 5.5 oven. You could probably toss all the Analon (with the exception of the 14" saute, and still be fine.

                What else to add in depends on you and your cooking. A logical first choice might be another Dutch/French oven in a larger size, say 9Q. Then perhaps a rondeau (aka "everything"), but make sure it has a lid. Then probably two saucepans, maybe a 1.5Q and a 3Q. Followed by a roasting pan.

                You're not going to get all these for $250, and even one new premier-grade pan is going to be hard to find for that.

                If you share more about what and how you usually cook, I can be a little more specific.


                2 Replies
                1. re: kaleokahu

                  I don't think I've ever paid more than $250 for an individual piece ...

                  I have a stainless saucepan from Lagastina that I consider quite perfect--beautiful and functional. I also really like my Le Creuset saucepan, but it is on the small side. I would start with replacing the saucepans ...

                2. Here is a tri-ply line from webstaurant store. If you need saucepans, it has some nice ones much more reasonable than AllClad. I have the 12 inch gratin and am very happy with the quality. I don't have the saucepans, and the handles are a bit similar to my AllClad saucepans - but the Vollrath Mirimar have that great helper handle! I've had great luck with this online store.


                  Good luck in your search!!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: breadchick

                    I love that store! I can not imagine how much I've saved after discovering Webstaurant. Reviews are really helpful. One of the surprisingly good buys was the 9" cake pan for under $4. I've baked in it several times and it's great. I also stock up on their pre-cut parchment paper for under $4 - everywhere else, it's $20.

                  2. I love you people. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my question. I love hearing how people cook and what they love.

                    A couple of you asked what we cook regularly, as that might tip you off in terms of what we need. Despite the fact that I hoard recipes pulled out of magazines, we make a lot of pasta dishes and use our broiling pans a ton (my husband never met a cut of meat he didn't like to place under high heat). I like braising and making soups/stews (it rains a lot here--comfort food is key.) We do have a crockpot that I really need to use more (my crockpot cookbooks are uninspiring).

                    It sounds like I have a bit more research to do--you've inspired me to learn more! I welcome additional thoughts, but thank those who took the time to weigh in. And thanks, too, for the specific links to what you love--super helpful!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: boxocereal

                      Steel cookware can't go in the dishwasher without adverse effects but, it really does work well for the high heat cooking. DeBuyer and Paderno/World Cuisine are the two brands I have experience with and they work very well.

                      4 crepe/pancake pans in the 12" size can be delivered for ~$110 from several places. I like them for Pancakes (one on each burner ;-), eggs, various meat (patties, steaks, chicken breasts, etc.). The Fry Pans and Country Pans are good for things that splatter, are wetter, and need to be tossed, flipped, or stirred. They are durable and are not phased with metal utensils, high heat, etc.

                      I really dislike the All-Clad handles so, no skillets, sauce pots, etc. for me. I do like welded handles because they are easier to wash and it's easier to scrap down the sides while cooking.

                      Vollrath gives you a lot of value for your money but, you really need to handle the various pans first at a restaurant supply store.

                      For your growing "crew", a larger tri-ply stock pot for larger stews, soups, etc. seems to be a prudent expenditure. A 12 quart Vollrath will run ~$100 delivered. A large roundue/roasting dish will serve you well for large cuts of meat in the broiler. Add a good 3~4qt sauce pan and you should have a well rounded cookware set for your growing appetites.

                    2. I'd replace the pans you hate, but which you need to use the most, first. It sounds like you are frustrated with your old lidded Anolon stuff. I recommend this so often, but here goes for you: go to Bed Bath and Beyond, if possible, and handle pans. You know you don't want Anolon, so handle the Caphalon and whatever else looks good. A good stainless pan will be built like a tank. Does it feel good in your hands? Does it have straight sides? An encapsulated bottom?

                      You can buy a perfectly acceptable non-stick frypan at Home Goods for pretty cheap. You'll have to replace it within 10 years, if you are a typical cook. One time on high heat, and finish might be damaged. You have to use it on medium heat whenever you use it. So, you would need an iron or stainless frypan (or saute pan) to sear things. I really think iron is best for this, but you can use stainless--again on mostly medium heat, depending on your stove.

                      I want to encourage you by saying that good enough brands, like Cuisinart and Caphalon, work well enough for most home cooks. You don't have to buy French or exotic to get a good pot. All Clad is expensive, and I am not sure it is worth it, but you also have that option. Just be sure to handle a few pieces of whatever you end up buying. Other places to handle pans at are Macy's, Williams Sonoma, Kohl's. You'll see a real cross section of what is available at those places, and Bed Bath and Beyond. (Kohl's is on the lower end, obviously.)

                      All of use make recs based on our own experiences. But we can't know your circumstances, what you you like to cook, or your cooking environment. It is up to you to do due diligence. But I want to encourage you to look till you recognize the right pan for you. Good luck.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sueatmo

                        I agree ... I typically buy everything in person so I can handle it. You want things to be comfortable in your hand and comfortable to lift, and the design/shape makes so much difference to how much you'll use a pan.

                        The Lagostina I recommended has several advantages. I really appreciate a beautiful design, so there's that. But the handles (top and side) have an open design that means I often don't need to use a potholder, unless they've really been on the burner a long time. I also find it easier to clean than my All-Clad. They also make extremely good use of their volume, so a relatively small size is very versatile.

                        Another brand I keep returning to is Le Creuset, which you have. If you like it, you may want to see what else they have that would work for you. If you've had it awhile, the new interior finish is exponentially better than the old, along with other improvements.

                        I try to keep non-stick pans to an absolute minimum. These others will last a lifetime (with luck--I know it's possible to break cast iron), and no non-stick pan can truthfully make that claim (not even close!).

                      2. Sounds like your hodgepodge of stuff is mostly nice name brands. I would agree with earlier responders that - assuming that most of the non-Anolon stuff is in good shape - you'll get more bang for the buck buying just the pieces you need open-stock. Look for reviews online, but also heft pans in a store - and wait for a good sale on open-stock cookware in the brand you decide on. Definitely get a slow cooker (you can find a good one for $30 or less on sale - a 4qt.-6qt. one should be a good size).
                        The stuff I currently own is mostly Macy's house-brand hard-anodized aluminum (nonstick without the Teflon), although I also own & love a Cuisenart hard-anodized aluminum "everyday pan."
                        Finally, train those 3 guys in your family to hand-wash the cookware for you! Whatever you get will last longer if you can do that. (I don't have a dishwasher in my house, so everything here gets hand-washed anyway.)