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How important are quality of pots and pans in cooking. Which brands are best?

I got a basic set of stainless steel pots and pans from Martha Stewart's KMart collection for my wedding 7 years ago. I'm just starting to cook more seriously and I worry that these pots&pans are not up to par and will affect the quality and taste of the food I prepare. However, I'm also cooking on a crappy apartment electric stove. Maybe it's that, rather than the brand of pans, that's affecting my cooking.

I recently bought a Lodge cast-iron skillet that works great. Other than that, I use a 12-inch skillet, pasta pot, and saucepan the most frequently. I have a dutch oven from TJMaxx somewhere, but I never use it. I tend to slow cook meat more in a crock pot.

If I need new pots&pans, which brands are the best? I've read All-Clad is amazing, but I worry that's out of my budget. Any recommendations? Does using All-Clad make that much of a difference?

ETA: Other than my cast-iron skillet, I don't want to get overly heavy equipment. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and Le Creuset seems like it'd be too heavy for me to use on a daily basis.

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  1. Given your stove and cooking style (e.g.use of crock pot), fancier pans are not going to improve the taste of your food. Your stainless steel does not impart a taste to your food.

    One area where fancier pans might help is in heat distribution. Do you have problems with the food burning at certain parts of the pans, and not cooking at other parts? You might notice that more with the 12" skillet.

    Most of my recent pans have come from TJMaxx, and still stop by periodically to see if they have anything new and interesting. Look at their All-Clad and note the feel, especially bottom thickness. And then see if there are alternatives with a similar feel. I've some Tramontina skillets there, and have 4 Berndes pans that I'm quite happy with.

    7 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      It's heat distribution that seems to be the problem. Some things burn at certain parts of pan, while others don't cook. I notice this mostly with vegetables. Also, it seems like it takes FOREVER for certain things to cook. Caramelizing onions is a nightmare. Reading this thread though, that may be more the fault of my crappy electric stove than the pans. .

      1. re: kdlalib

        yes, it sound like the quality of the heating elements is poor. this is not endemic to all electric stoves.

        imo, this is a problem you should complain about to your landlord. it is potentially dangerous ... i once had an element hot spot blow a hole in the bottom of revereware. luckily i was only boiling water. obviously there's plenty of potential for a fire. do you have an extinguisher?

        as a fallback, you could see if you might be able to deduct the cost of one or more new heating elements from your rent.

        you could also look at other methods, like roasting vegetables. maybe an electric skillet?

        1. re: kdlalib

          The electric coils on the stove are probably warped. So it's not making perfect contact with your cookware. Which could also explain why things are taking forever to cook. You can identify where the coils aren't making contact because certain parts of the coil would be glowing orange. Replacing the coil is less expensive than buying All-Clad cookware. I've cooked salmon on a stove with badly warped coils and it was not a pleasant experience.

          1. re: kdlalib

            i sear all the time on an electric stove. if you have too much liquid to get a good sear, you can remove it. i've cooked on an electric stove my whole adult life ... it's totally possible. maybe not on your stove though--'crappy' seems more than justified ;)

          2. re: paulj

            Yes, go to Ross or TJ Max, or someplace similar, try one pot at a time, and you are not out a whole lot of money.
            I use electric, always have (except in cooking school). Our house is all electric. I don't have a problem with it.

            1. re: wyogal

              Hi, wyogal: "...go to Ross or TJ Max, or someplace similar, try one pot at a time, and you are not out a whole lot..."

              For those of us who incessantly try different wares, this is an OK strategy, provided we follow what we already know and discard. Depending on one's starting point (namely, what we're used to), there's a fair chance of improving one's lot, and for cheap.

              Still, there are a lot of schlocky pans at that level of discounters, and trying them all at $20/pan isn't necessarily a good or economical strategy. Many people will conclude after the fourth or fifth unsatisfactory experiment that the problem is them, and simply give up (or conclude that since the 2nd-rate pan they just bought is better than the 3rd-rate pan they had, that it is a 1st-rate piece). Absent knowledge and vigilance, perhaps it's better to buy a good pan from open stock at retail to begin the experiments.

              Aloha,
              Kaleo

            2. re: paulj

              I agree.

              To the OP, when you upgrade your stove, perhaps you could upgrade your pans.

              And when you visit Home Goods or TJ Maxx, handlel lots of pans to see what sorts you like best.

              And, learn when to use medium heat, especially on your high heat burner. (tip; almost always.)

            3. I agree, Pans wont make much of a difference, and they wont effect flavor. But the electric stove, What a bummer, I hate them. They dont get hot enough as a good gas stove. This will IMO effect things. The lack of heat will make it hard to get a good sear on food, so any liquid in food might cause your food to steam, and ruin a good sear. This will and does effect flavor.

              Again, IMO unless you can switch over to gas, then dont waste money on high quality pans.

              10 Replies
              1. re: RickDavidBeaudin

                Is there any way to remedy the searing problem? I can't replace the stove, since I rent.

                  1. re: kdlalib

                    <Is there any way to remedy the searing problem?>

                    Yes, but the remedy goes against your Arthritis problem.... the remedy is thicker and heavier cookware.

                    Edited: Paul is correct. Crowding is probably the most common mistake. Even if you have a good stove, if you toss in too much food, you will have a problem.

                    1. re: kdlalib

                      If your coil stove is functioning properly, you have ample heat to sear. You should be able to get your Lodge screaming hot.
                      If your coils have dead spots in them, replacement coils are about $20 each. Turn each of the hobs on High--if they don't glow red everywhere, you have dead spots.

                      IMO, far too much is made of very high heat searing in a pan at home. Clad may not take it. Your oil will smoke up your kitchen and burn. And you will have to resort to a preheated oven to finish. Most people are far better served with Med to Med-Hi hob settings. Just make sure the pan is hot at the flop and don't turn the meat too soon.

                      Aloha,
                      Kaleo

                        1. re: kdlalib

                          You're welcome. You might consider Sitram's Catering line. See, e.g., http://www.bridgekitchenware.com/brow... This stuff has a big share of the European restaurant and hotel market.

                          Aloha,
                          Kaleo

                          1. re: kaleokahu

                            That looks amazing. The prices are reasonable too. I can use a fry pan to saute veggies?

                            1. re: kdlalib

                              Yes, of course you can. The shape is not ideal for jumping as others have pointed out, and, because saute'ing takes place at the bottom of the pan, a fry pan has considerably less floorspace than does a saute.

                              But if you're just shaking the pan, moving the food with a utensil, and you saute small enough quantities to "fit" your frypan, you're golden--literally.

                              Aloha,
                              Kaleo

                              1. re: kdlalib

                                I have some Sitram Catering pieces and am always ready to sing the praises of this well-made line. It performs extremely well and is remarkably easy to clean. It's also rather utilitarian in appearance--but I like that look.

                    2. For most of us, the most important thing, of course, is the cooking skill. The proper cookware also makes a big difference too. For example, using a nonstick pan for blacken tuna is probably not a good idea. However, "slightly better cookware within the same style of cookware" isn't going to make a huge difference of day and night. All Clad triply stainless steel cookware is going to be better than your Martha Stewart's KMart collection, but the difference is small. If you want something better, but not as expensive, then look for triply cookware like Calphalon Triply or Tramontina Triply (from Walmart) or Cuisinart MultClad. All of these are full triply, whereas the Martha Stewart's KMart is disc bottom cladding.

                      < I have Rheumatoid Arthritis>

                      In that case, you want lighter cookware, and disc bottom is generally lighter. Tramontina All Generations cookware have been recommendated by the Arthritis Foundation for "Easy-of-Use". *Tramontina All Generations is not the same as Tramontina Tripl, though both of them are sold by Walmart.

                      http://www.arthritis.org/resources/ea...

                      I agree with Paul. You can visit TJMaxx, HomeGoods, Marhsall....etc, and see if there is anything you like. Also, do not limit yourself in "cookware SET". Think about buying cookware individually.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Do you think the Tramontina All Generations is a quality brand? Or will I be compromising quality for ease-of-use?

                        1. re: kdlalib

                          I agree with foiegras' point. A so-call higher quality cookware take certain burden off you making your cooking experience more enjoyable. Like you said, a thicker aluminum based cookware (like All Clad) is likely to provide better heat distribution than the thinner counterpart. You can overcome the less-even heating surface by checking, moving and flipping the foods more often, but it is additional work. However, in your case, having a more evening heating but heavier cookware with painful handle may not be a good trade-off, right?

                          I see your response below. If the heat distribution is bad, then you can improve this by acquiring better cookware. However, your "food taking forever to cook" sound to me like a stove problem than a cookware problem. Most cheap low quality cookware do not have problem heating up. In fact, most so called low quality cookware heat up very fast, so I am guessing this part of the problem belongs to the stove.

                          Back to cookware. Since both Tramontina Triply and Tramontina All Generations are offered by Walmart, I would suggest you to check them out in person if they are available (they may not be in the stores). If Tramontina Triply cookware do not seem too heavy for you, then get them because this line of cookware has a solid reputation -- check for all the past posts on Tramontina on CHOWHOUND. If Tramontina Triply is too heavy, then don't even think about All Clad or Demeyere ....etc, because those are even heavier.

                          <Do you think the Tramontina All Generations is a quality brand? >

                          Tramontina Triply is well regarded, but I don't know much about Tramontina All Generations. I suppose it cannot be too bad, but I really cannot say.

                      2. what problems do you think your cookware is causing?

                        what i use is primarily le creuset & stainless. not sure of exactly what you're using as we don't have kmart here ...

                        personally i think cookware quality may have more to do with ease of cleanup & quality of cooking experience than the quality of the food itself. some cookware is more tolerant of being left for longer periods (advantage le creuset), but this has more to do with material than brand probably. a good cook is a good cook ...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: foiegras

                          Mostly heat distribution and food taking forever to cook

                        2. Before you decide to go buy new pans, I would suggest asking your friends if they have any of these brands of pans. My guess is you will know someone who has one or two of them. If they do, ask if you can borrow them to see if they work for you.

                          If no one has any of these pans, Visit a store like Williams and Sonoma or some other cooking store, ask them for advice about pans with an electric stove. Advice if free and your not required to purchase anything.

                          And if you have friends that are cooking in resturants or in school then they can get a discount of 10 to 20 percent off at cooking stores. I am a pro, so I get 20 percent off at a local cooking store. Hope all of these people's ideas help you.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: RickDavidBeaudin

                            Great idea! I never thought of borrowing. I'll have to check with friends. My mother is the most accomplished cook I know, but she mostly uses calphalon non-stick and Le Creuset. Le Creuset is too heavy for me to use when I'm home alone and I'm not wild about non-stick for anything but eggs.