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Narrowing down basic cookware purchases

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Hi all, we recently got married and are looking to invest in new cookware. I have read so much on other threads that my head is spinning, and I'm having trouble synthesizing everything into what I should actually buy. Here are my major considerations:

1. I have done a lot of research on toxicity and leaching and so I do know that we are only looking at cooking surfaces that are stainless steel, cast iron, or enameled cast iron, or glass.
2. We have limited storage so I am looking for the most functionality with the least pieces, but willing to invest in good quality for those pieces - I may not know the nuances now, but I am prepared to learn and also to take care of pieces as needed.
3. We are Indian vegetarians, so won't be cooking meats, but might need some uncommon things like a really small frying pan to fry spices to finish dishes
4. I already have one Le Creuset 6 qt dutch oven that I've been using for everything so far, one round Lodge cast iron griddle, and one round ceramic baking dish that I want to keep.

If I put the recommendations from other threads together, I would need to get 10 difference pieces (small, med, large frying pans, small and large saucepans, stockpot all in stainless steel, braiser/cassrole/buffet, skillet, gratin in cast iron or enameled cast iron, 2 sizes of bakeware, baking sheets, wok, loaf pan...) so just looking for some advice to help me narrow this down to 3-4 additional pieces that I will get the most out of for now that I can add to later as we can.

Also, I appreciate the sentiment that it really depends on what you cook and what you experience as you do it, but I really do need to stock up before the holidays so would appreciate constructive input on specific recommendations on a set of cookware I can piece together by size/type/material/brand.

Thank you!

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  1. I love Indian foods, and have tried to cook Indian foods -- or as much as I can. Based on my experience with Indian foods, it involves quite a bit of slow and moist cooking. I love the using a frying pan to roast spices and seeds too.

    In reality, many of the cookware you have suggested will work. I know you don't want to hear that "it is all depends", but that is the truth.

    If you like to able to put your cookware in a dishwasher, then pretty much you are down to the stainless steel cookware. Enameled cast iron and bare cast iron are not dishwasher friendly.

    Your entire cook set can be stainless steel surface cladded cookware. It is alright if you want to mix in some bare cast iron or enameled cast iron cookware, but you definitely should have a stainless steel surface saucepan.

    <If I put the recommendations from other threads together, I would need to get 10 difference pieces (small, med, large frying pans, small and large saucepans, stockpot all in stainless steel, braiser/cassrole/buffet, skillet, gratin in cast iron or enameled cast iron, 2 sizes of bakeware, baking sheets, wok, loaf pan...) so just looking for some advice to help me narrow this down to 3-4 additional pieces>

    Alright, since you have a Le Cresuet Oven. Then the least you will need are:
    a 10" frying pan (stainless steel surface)
    a 4 quart saucepan (stainless steel surface)
    a half sheet baking sheet (if you bake)

    Now, if you want to get a stock pot say 6-8 quart stock pot, then you can get a smaller saucepan instead.

    As for a wok or a karahi, that really depends on your cooking style. Some people never cook without one. Other can live the rest of their life without ever seeing one.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      Ok, this is really helpful. I can manage those 3 pieces :) A few questions...

      - I still can't 100% understand what I would do with a stockpot that I couldn't do with an oven and a saucepan. Is this distinction really important for now?

      - I just googled "karahi" and turns out I have 5... I just didn't think to include them because assumed they were an Indian thing. One came from my great grandmother... I have no idea what it is made of but it is completely black and crusted like old super seasoned cast iron would look... but not as heavy as I would think iron would be. Also, I'm sure the way it's been cared for would offend a lot of folks on this board, but it makes some amazing food! Another looks like it has a copper bottom, and some kind of steel or aluminum for the rest of it. The other set of 3 are new as wedding gifts, and the exterior is copper. I can't tell what the interior is. I tried to use one on the stove and it let off a toxic smell and burned the exterior metal. I am including pictures of all of them - is there any way to tell what all of these are made of so I know whether they're safe or not? I think if I can get a frying pan to free up any of these, I don't need to get anything to fry spices.

      - What are good materials for baking sheets? I have seen stone ones that look interesting, is that a good option?

      The DeBuyer country fry pan looks pretty close - and actually the train of thought (and googling) makes me think what my parents use might be a really small camping frying pan.

       
       
      1. re: deraj

        < I still can't 100% understand what I would do with a stockpot that I couldn't do with an oven and a saucepan. Is this distinction really important for now?>

        Not really. I think it is more of a size thing. If you want to make a large pot of vegetable soup or stock, a 2-3 quart saucepan just isn't good big enough, so a stock pot is better. Regarding the Le Cresuet French Oven and a regular stock pot, I would say Le Cresuet is just as good for slow cooking as a typical stock pot, but a stainless steel/aluminum stock pot is better for quick cooking. For example, if you want to boil a pot of water for noodle, then a stock pot is probably faster. I would say this. I have had only use a Dutch Oven without a stock pot for years, so you really do not need one right now. However, after I got my large 8 quart pressure cooker (I use it as stock pot too), it did make life a bit easier. So if you want, you can wait and see if you need one.

        <I just googled "karahi" and turns out I have 5>

        They look so beautiful. You need to teach us (at least me) how to use one of these beautiful cookware. I know the name, and I have seen one, but I have never used one.

        <Also, I'm sure the way it's been cared for would offend a lot of folks on this board, but it makes some amazing food!>

        I doubt it will offend that many people.

        <I can't tell what the interior is. I tried to use one on the stove and it let off a toxic smell and burned the exterior metal. >

        I have a guess, but I cannot be sure. Here is the guess. Often, these shiny cookware are sold with a plastic-like coating to reserve its shine (for store display). However, upon heat, the plastic or whatnot can melt and smell. I would think it is really a one-time thing, and that the smell will go away eventually.

        <I am including pictures of all of them - is there any way to tell what all of these are made of so I know whether they're safe or not? >

        First, they are beautiful. Second, I am guessing that most of them have stainless steel interior just because Indians like stainless steel and copper (I know, I am so stereotyping here....). Seriously, though, I cannot be sure, but here is a quick test. If you bring a magnet to the karahi and you feel an attraction, then this means it is very like to have steel, and in this case it will suggest it is stainless steel as opposed to carbon steel. Carbon steel, unless seasoned, will rust, so you will know right away.

        <What are good materials for baking sheets? I have seen stone ones that look interesting, is that a good option?>

        To be honest, a stoneware baking sheet is cool and interesting, but probably not as durable and easy to control as metal baking steel. Among metal baking sheets, there are several kinds, like aluminum, stainless steel, and aluminized steel. Aluminum baking sheet has better heat distribution, but stainless steel baking sheet is structurally stronger. Aluminized steel is supposed to have the best of both world, but it is more expensive.

        <The DeBuyer country fry pan looks pretty close - and actually the train of thought (and googling) makes me think what my parents use might be a really small camping frying pan.>

        Oh yes, you did say you are interested in bare cast iron cookware. In that case, you should also look into carbon steel cookware too, and DeBuyer is famous for making carbon steel. Carbon steel cookware is really similar to cast iron cookware in many aspect Really, cast iron has a bit more carbon than carbon steel, so if you believe cast iron to safe, then so is carbon steel.

        P.S.: John Francis is correct. If you have a large pot, then I won't get a 4 quart sauce pan. I think a 2-3 quarts saucepan is more useful on a daily basis.

      2. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Excellent basic choice of cookware. The only thing I'd add, if the OP is cooking mainly small quantities for 2, is a smaller saucepan (I use 1-quart) with lid, for cooking a cup of rice, heating a pint of soup, and so on.

        I have a stock pot but hardly ever use it; cooking for one, when I make pasta or other food that needs boiling or simmering in a lot of water, the large saucepan is fine.

        1. re: John Francis

          <The only thing I'd add, if the OP is cooking mainly small quantities for 2, is a smaller saucepan>

          I agree. I think the original poster have to make that tough decision. If all she/he can have is one saucepan, then I rather it is at least slightly larger. Personally, I think a 3 quarts saucepan is sufficient, and you are correct that often a smaller one (2 quart) is more handy.

          The suggestion for 4 quart is really err on the side that there won't be a large pot.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            If the OP needs a 4 quart pot to cook in, the Dutch oven will do the job, or the stockpot if she gets one. If there's to be only one saucepan, then yes, 2 quarts is a useful size for a couple cooking for themselves. Large enough to boil or steam vegetables and make soup (though not stock).

            As for material, I'll complicate things by suggesting that hard anodized aluminum is a viable alternative to clad stainless steel for the saucepan. It's maybe not a lifetime purchase but mine is showing no signs of age after a couple of years, including some whisking, and the finish is non-reactive. It's the Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 2-1/2-Quart Shallow Saucepan with Lid, a Cooks Illustrated best buy recommendation.

            1. re: John Francis

              <I'll complicate things by suggesting that hard anodized aluminum is a viable alternative to clad stainless steel for the saucepan>

              GH1618 mentioned this as well (see below), and I agree to this. His is also Calphalon.

      3. Despite your constraints, I think a hard-anodized aluminum frying pan would be the most suitable for frying spices, because of its even heat distribution and inertness. I have a 7" Calphalon Commercial pan which I would use for that purpose (although I haven't).

        1 Reply
        1. re: GH1618

          <I think a hard-anodized aluminum frying pan would be the most suitable for frying spices>

          Very good point.

        2. I would check out what I believe DeBuyer refers to as a country fry pan, much deeper than a regular fry pan, sort of like the traditional pans used for Indian cooking but with a handle.

          1. You don't mention if you are Indian, or just eating an Indian vegetarian lifestyle, but if you are in fact Indian what were the main cookware items that your mothers used? I think back to what my Mom used, and it was just a few basic items; Griswold/Wagner cast iron frying pans, 9x13 pyrex baking dish, a couple of RevereWare SS pots, and one big stock pot. Mom had several other items, but these got the most use.

            Another option would be to ask relatives, or even an Indian restaurant in the area since there may be some specialized items that are essential.

            I love Indian cuisine, and need to start making some at home. I know the owner of an Indian restaurant in Las Vegas (Namaste), and need to pick her brain about this.

            4 Replies
            1. re: BIGGUNDOCTOR

              We are Indian and vegetarian... the reason I already have my karahis and cast iron skillet is because of that :) And a few other Indian-specific things like an idli pan. My husband and I make a lot of every kind of cuisine, though, so that's why I am asking this group what an overall basic set would be. I think chemicalkinetic's list works well for starters. I have read everywhere that All-Clad is the best so will probably just go with that.

              1. re: deraj

                <I have read everywhere that All-Clad is the best so will probably just go with that>

                All Clad may not be the best, but it is one of the best in term of its structure integrity. One major problem for All Clad is that many people find All Clad's handle to be painful or hurtful, so I like to suggest you to hold a few pieces to make sure you are fine with it. Some like the handles, but many hate them.

                Now, in term of stainless steel cladded cookware, many people here believe Demeyere to be equal or better than All Clad. Something to think about:

                http://www.demeyere.be/

                Now, that being said, the food quality is 90% the cook, 10% the cookware.

              2. re: BIGGUNDOCTOR

                <I love Indian cuisine, and need to start making some at home. I know the owner of an Indian restaurant in Las Vegas (Namaste)>

                An indian restaurant named Namaste? :)

              3. Just to make sure I understand the parameters: For cooking you currently have a (1) 6 Qt Dutch Oven, (2) a Round Griddle, and (3) a Round Baking Dish, and you want to round out your cookware (for 2 people) with 3-4 more pieces?

                In this instance, I'd get a 1.5 Qt (anything between 1Qt and 2 Qt would work) Saucepan with lid. Then I'd add a Saute with a lid--something in the 9"--10" / 3 Qt--4Qt range. This provides both a frying / sauteing option and, because of the lid, can double as a pot in the gap between the small Saucepan and the Dutch Oven. Then I'd get a 12 Qt Stockpot.

                For my cooking style, if I could only have one piece of cookware, if would be a toss-up between a saute and a dutch oven. If I could have two, it would be a saute and a dutch oven. Third, I'd bring in a small sauce pan, and fourth a stockpot. Fifth, I'd add a frying pan. Sixth, a roasting implement larger than the saute and frying pan. Finally, I'd start doubling up on extra sizes of saucepan, saute, and frying pans. A small griddle would come way down the line of priority and and a round baking dish probably would never appear (other than for pies or as a serving piece). But that's for my style, not yours!

                Regarding materials: If you want economy, get a stainless/aluminum tri-ply for each of the three I've suggested. If you want to spring for a higher quality and performing pan, get a stainless-lined copper saute--unless you are wedded to the dishwasher, I simply cannot imaging anyone not loving a copper saute.

                Hope this helps,

                Jeremy