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Choosing Cookware - Help!

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Hello!

I'd need some advice regarding the purchase of a set of pans… Here's my background: I'm not a professional chef, but I do love cooking, and I take pride in owning good cookware. The main criteria when I choose cookware are that the cookware be sturdy (no warping / scratching under moderate use) and high-performing (evenness of heat dispersal, good heat retention, good reactivity to changes in flame temperature, etc). I don't mind if some types of cookware come with light caveats (like: don't use metal utensils), although I'd like to avoid items that are exceedingly high-maintenance (is there such a thing?). It's great if an item looks good on top of that, but it's not my main criteria, by far. I want something that performs well above all.

As an example, I'm very happy with a Dutch oven from Le Creuset that I have: it disperses heat evenly, it retains heat well, it's very sturdy (will probably last me decades if well taken care of), and I don't mind the fact that I have to take care not to use metal utensils in it.

Now, I need to buy a few pans, and a saute pan. I bake as much as I cook, so here is how I'd use those utensils:
- Saucepans: custards (pastry cream, bechamel, …), pasta (although I may get a dedicated stock pot for this), rice pudding, flambeing, … So a lot of liquids (i.e. gentle for the pot temperature-wise because uniform), and the occasional solid (flour-butter mixture for petits choux, …). Note that I often use a whisk; currently, it's a metallic whisk, but I suppose I could switch to a silicone one for instance if that is problematic with some the materials of some of the cookware
- Saute pans: sweating or browning vegetables, sauces, fonds, deglazing, flambeing, … Maybe the occasional sauteing / stir-frying, although I have a hard anodized aluminium pan that may be more appropriate for that, both from a form factor and material perspective. I also have the Dutch oven for braising, so I'm covered there.

I'd like to be able to make caramel as well, but I understand that given the temperatures involved, it might be unsuitable for some cookware, and I'm willing to get something separate for that (or maybe use my anodized aluminium pan if I'm making enough of it).

I'm trying to figure out which materials the pans and saute pans should be, and which brands are good. Here are my current thoughts:
- 3-ply stainless steel + aluminium core: I'd like something that goes throughout (i.e. not just the base of the pot). I'm very much interested into the Le Creuset 3-ply. I've taken a look at them, they are hefty, but feel pleasantly sturdy throughout, and it's a brand I trust from a quality standpoint. Also rather reasonably priced (around 70 £ for a pot)
- Copper + stainless steel: I found for instance a brand called ProWare, that makes a set of copper + aluminium + stainless steel pots. I haven't had the chance yet to see them in person, and they are reasonably (suspiciously?) affordable, at around 60 - 70 £ a pot. I haven't found much reviews online. I'm not sure how thick the copper layer is, and if it makes any real difference, or if it's purely decorative at this point. There are other well-known brands (De Buyer, Mauviel, …), but they are a bit out of my reach here (between 100 and 250 £ for a pot).
- Copper + tin: I found some pots by Baumalu; they have thin (1mm) and thick (1.7mm) copper pots lined with tin. They look reasonably affordable (60 € / 50 £), and it looks like the quality is reasonably good.

My understanding on the tin vs stainless steel is: with stainless steel, I get more durability, but poorer heat conductivity, so the pot is not as reactive to changes in applied heat; it might also pit and give a slightly more metallic taste to the food. With tin, it's more fragile, I'll have to re-tin it eventually (but for the average home user, is that so frequent as to be problematic? how expensive is it? how hard is it to find someone to do it in the UK?), and it's not good for really high-temperature cooking (so no caramel, and not sure about stir-frying) but it has better heat conductivity and imparts no taste to the food.

Any advice on what I should go with for the pots, and for the saute pan? On a sidenote, I have a good gas range right now; I might switch in the future to induction, but that's not my main choice factor for now (and apparently, I could always get "adapter" plates to make it work with non-induction ready copperware).

And as a bonus question, with respect to copper, what is the minimum thickness to really get the advantages of copper? For the Baumalu for instance, is 1.7mm enough? (although I suppose that, from that 1.7mm, maybe 1mm of it is actually tin)

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  1. Heat retention and responsiveness (what you call reactivity) contradict each other. Cast iron retains heat wonderfully, but is not at all responsive. Copper is wonderfully responsive, but doesn't retain heat all---which is a big thing that people like about it, if you take a copper pan off the heat, it cools down immediately. I'm sure Kaleo will chime in, but most on this board think 2.3 copper is the minimum to get copper's advantages. Tin and ss lined copper both perform superbly, and you might find reasonably priced tin-lined used if you shop carefully. I just wouldn't go with thin copper, rather have 3-ply ss-clad aluminum. Also lower maintenance, goes in the dishwasher. Copper must be hand washed.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mwhitmore

      That makes sense. For cases where I want heat retention (stews, ...), I already have my LC, so I suppose I'm much more interested in responsiveness than in heat retention for my sauce pans and saute pan.

      Regarding the maintenance, I don't mind doing the handwashing - I already do for my LC, and in a way, I feel like it's an acknowledgment that I'm working with high quality cookware :)

      I haven't had much luck finding "reasonably priced" copper >= 2.3mm thickness (i.e. under 100$ - 120$ for a saucepan). Maybe Dehillerin? Looks like their "Cuprinox extra thick" and "Copper lined with tin" series are thick enough (2.5mm, and 2 to 3.5mm respectively) and reasonably priced.

      Does anyone have experiences to share about those, and whether one of the two series would be preferable to the other?

      1. re: mwhitmore

        After reading some more around the board, it seems that some people think that the 3-ply full-clad aluminium / stainless steel cookware is not warranted for saucepans, because you want the heat on the bottom rather than on the side, where it can scorch the food, or dissipate (therefore making the process less efficient); those people advocate using a bottom-disc aluminium + stainless steel, or bottom-clad only 3-ply aluminium / stainless steel construction.

        My gut feeling would be that, when I make a custard, a rice pudding, a sauce, or reheat a soup, having heat from the side is not necessarily a bad thing, because it means more uniform heat. I can't really think of a case where I would want a temperature gradient in a liquid. But perhaps vigorous constant whisking would accomplish more or less the same, making the "full-clad" feature a gimmick? Also, not sure if it's a plus or a minus when one is talking about non-liquids (roux, choux pastry, sweating vegetables, ...).

        I'd be interested in hearing more opinions on this!

        1. I am not an expert on cookware. Just an old fart cook that had the joy of living in Europe for close to 10 years and have acquired a wealth of antique and modern stuff. Of course some of the modern is now closer to antique.

          I have steel-Al-steel clad, Al-steel, copper-steel,-copper-tin, pure nickel, and cast iron. These are sauté and fry pans. Each is good for certain needs. My sauciers and pots are steel-Al-steel, Al-steel, copper-tin, and copper (candy). Again some are antiques. Makes the hunt in French flea markets and British boot sales more exciting.

          So what I am basically saying is that there is no Holy Grail. Mix, match, and experiment. You can always sell the rejects on eBay or distribute them on Boxing Day.

          To address your question on thickness, I bought the cheaper 3mm copper in the traditional copper bashing town of Villeneuve, France. Between St. Lo and Mont St Michel in Normandy. Worth a weekend fun trip.

          Unlike stainless steel lining, tin should not appreciatively add to the thickness. I will leave the recommendation of specific brands to the European experts. :-)

          3 Replies
          1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

            Interesting! By the way, how easy was it to find copperware in France? Did you just stumble across it, or did you go there on purpose? And did you get noticeably better prices by going directly to the maker?

            Thanks!
            Florent

            1. re: Flo_R

              Prices in Villeneuve were very low. But that was before the professional home kitchen. Since it is not well represented on the internet, I think that it is still a bit of a sleeper. The only reason we stopped was because of the many houses with all the copper displayed in the windows. I listened to my mother to stop.

              I love looking through other peoples junk or old stuff to find things I treasure. Professional cookware lets shop keepers know whether they want to spend time on me or not. My quests have been for a sterling cheese scoop(George III on a back street in Brixton) serving platters (George IV heavy plate in Wiesbaden) and any piece of interesting cookware. Double the level of desire if it won't break my wallet and I am not sure what it is. Like my copper jambonnaire that will not fit in a standard oven. Not to mention the duck press.

              So definitely see if the manufacturers you are interested in have a retail outlet for scratch and dent and discontinued lines. I have an embarrassment of china and crystal from the Bavarian and Czech border (Selb) as well as way too much Villeroy and Boch from the store in Luxembourg. Because it was so inexpensive. 25p per stem versus 3-5 pound in the retail store. The internet makes finding these outlets so much easier.

              Please save time and money and do some research about vintage items from local or regional museums that highlight domestic life. Looking at an original beats 10 pictures on the internet. I will say asking Chowhound is an excellent start.

              Happy Hunting!!

              Edit: And Kaleokahu is awesome in knowledge and advice. I always pay close attention when he speaks.

              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                Hi, IRF:

                You're going to reduce me to begging you for that jambonnaire and press, aren't you? It will fit in my oven!

                Aloha,
                Kaleo

          2. Hi, Flo:

            You sound like a serious cook wanting cookware that will take you even further. And your post reads as if you are seriously considering copper.

            Is 4, 3-mm planished tinned-copper saucepans with iron handles for $280 too much? http://www.rockymountainretinning.com... I have this set, and others here have also bought it from RMR. Excellent value and excellent quality. Unfortunately, they sold out of the covers.

            Re: tin- v. SS-lined... There isn't a huge difference in terms of conductivity; both linings are thin. SS is obviously more durable, and (almost) temperature-impervious. I use coated or birch whisks in my saucepans and haven't worn through a lining yet; with care, a tin-lined pan should go 7-10 years of heavy use between tinnings. Retinning usually runs between $5-$8 "per inch" which is diameter + height. So an 11" saute 4" tall is $75-$120. But this includes a complete refurbishment and mirror polish. Yes, there is still an official retinner to HRH.

            IMO tin and SS are also functionally the same in terms of acid reactivity in everything but long braises.

            The biggest factor militating toward tin-lined is the unfortunate fact that the major makers these days of SS-lined are only offering 2.5mm as their heaviest thickness (and this is only 2.3mm of copper). In other words, if you want 3mm or above, with rare exceptions, you must seek out vintage tinned pans. There is a lot of it out there on ebay if you're willing to educate yourself.

            IMO, in general, copperware <2mm is not worth buying, at least for stovetop use. If you found a stockpot in 1.7mm, that would be OK, I guess.

            So, I would recommend the RMR saucepans, and then perhaps Falk or Bourgeat for a SS-lined saute (if the issue of melting tin is a big worry for you). If it's not a worry, I would find the thickest vintage tinned saute you can, at least 3mm.

            Yes, the induction converter plates work. However, the induction zealots will diss them as "defeating the purpose". By this, they mean that the efficiency and the responsiveness suffer, and the disk gives off heat into your kitchen. But very few of these zealots have ever cooked in copper, and no one I'm aware of has ever scientifically compared the efficiency of induction+iron against induction+disk+copper. My WAG is that they're pretty close.

            Have fun with your search. If you wish more information on copper exotica and esoterica, marks and and sources, please feel free to e-mail me.

            Aloha,
            Kaleo

            9 Replies
            1. re: kaleokahu

              Aloha Kaleo,

              Thanks for the advice and recommendations! As you said, I am definitely seriously considering copper, but only to the extent that it makes sense for the kind of cooking I do. If there is some kind of cookware that is better suited to my use cases, then I'm all ears!

              In particular, I'm wondering whether a copper + tin or copper + SS saute pan, coupled with a set of SS saucepans with a thick aluminium base would be a viable alternative.
              My point is: for what I'm using saucepans for (custards, roux, ...), is full copper + lining going to make a noticeable difference compared to a thick aluminium base? Or am I going to be paying (quite a bit) more for extra performance that I won't really take much advantage of, and the pleasure of owning a beautiful pan (which is a valid goal, but just not mine at the moment)? Because when I think about it, when I cook such things as custards, soups, purees, rice puddings, ... in a saucepan, the liquid phase is quite efficient at moving heat around, and therefore at diminishing the impact of hotspots.
              On the other hand, I'm quite convinced that full copper + lining is the way to go for a saute pan, given the size of the item (and therefore the increased chance for hotspots) and the fact that what I will cook in it will not "move" heat around as much, and so will increase the effects of hotspots.
              What do you think?

              Re: RMR. This seems like a beautiful and affordable set with a very thick copper layer to boot! Thanks for the recommendation. I wrote to them to find out what the various fees (shipping, tax, ...) would amount to for the UK. My only reservation (besides shipping cost) would be that they cover a small-ish range of capacities; on occasions, I need more capacity than 2.3 quarts. But I could always complete the set with larger pieces from other manufacturers.

              Bourgeat and Falk look very nice, but are starting to get a little bit out of my price range, especially if I'm getting 3 or 4 saucepans.

              Based on what you're saying about copper thickness, among the brands / makers I had in mind:
              - It pretty much eliminates Baumalu (1.7mm for the thickest copper layer)
              - It definitely eliminates the ProWare set (I couldn't find out how thick their copper layer is, but I'd bet it's < 1mm).
              - The LC set (aluminium fully clad with SS) would still work, but at 70 £ / pot, I feel like it's a high price to pay. I think I'd be better off either forking just a tad more for a copper pot, or less to get SS with thick aluminium base. For the latter, I think that the Inox Pro Range of Dehillerin for instance (http://eshop.e-dehillerin.fr/en/inox-...) would be a good candidate at 25 £ / pot.
              - The Dehillerin Cuprinox (2.5mm) and copper + tin (2 to 3.5mm, not sure how thick each individual item is) lines both seem reasonable, and from what I hear are of good quality. They are pricier than RMR, but not as so as Bourgeat and Falk, and it seems like they would be a good way to at least complement RMR on the higher capacity pots.

              Do you have insights on the Dehillerin cookware? Do you think it's an acceptable alternative to RMR, Falk, and Bourgeat? Or should I scale down my ambitions for saucepans to SS + aluminium base, and just get one really nice copper saute pan?

              Sorry if this feels disorganized and unfocused, but with so many choices and so many brands, it's hard to figure out what one really needs, and how sensible and useful an investment in higher quality cookware is for each kind of pot and pan.

              Thanks!
              Florent

              1. re: Flo_R

                Certainly (one of) the most useful copper pans would be a sauté pan or rondeau (same size, but with two small handles, fits in the oven better). I love the RMR set, but agree that the small sizes get little use. Still, at that price, you could keep the two larger ones and sell off the smaller ones on ebay (or the Brit equivalent). Then go with ss/al for less demanding applications. Demeyere has both fully clad (Industry) and bottom-only disc (Atlantis?). I have All-Clad, but I love the Demeyere handles, especially Industry, if I were doing it all over again. Meanwhile, check out the Bourgeat 8-pc set (4 pans, 4 lids), everything useful unlike most sets. Note the flared saucepan, for those custards and such where easy access to stirring the entire pan can be helpful. Might be all you need besides Le Creuset.

                1. re: mwhitmore

                  Hi!

                  I'm assuming you are talking about this for the 8 piece set? http://www.amazon.com/Matfer-915901-B.... It looks gorgeous, but at the moment it's a little bit outside of my price range. For now, I was thinking of spending around 500 - 600$ for 3 saucepans and 1 saute pan (~ $200 - $300 for the saute pan, and ~ $100 for each saucepan).

                  Likewise for Demeyere - it looks great and sturdy, but a tad too expensive for now.

                  The suggestion about the flared saucepan (same thing as Windsor pan?) is interesting - I'll keep that in mind.

                  Thanks!
                  Florent

                  1. re: Flo_R

                    Understood. But we can dream, can't we. (para) If you look at what Bourgeat calls a 'Flared Saute Pan', you will see that the sides are curved, while a Windsor pan has straight sides at a greater-than-90-degree angle. The curved sides and lack of a hard angle meeting the bottom of the pan make it easier to scrape up everything. (para) If I could have just one copper pan, currently manufactured, I would get the Bourgeat 11" Brazier---what I call a Rondeau. And if I could have two, I would add the Flared Saute Pan. In other words, half of the 8-piece set. Looks like the cost of both is about $800.

                2. re: Flo_R

                  Hi, Florent:

                  You're very welcome.

                  "I'm wondering whether a copper + tin or copper + SS saute pan, coupled with a set of SS saucepans with a thick aluminium base would be a viable alternative."

                  Yes, of course that's viable. You are correct about liquid-phase cooking being all about convection currents. The current fad (e.g., Demeyere) is that tall pans' sidewalls needn't be conductive. My own view is that if the liquid is thin enough, and the hob even enough, convection currents emanating from a 2-dimensional pan base are fine. However, the thicker the liquid and/or the more uneven the hob, the less this makes sense to me. Nor does efficient reduction of sauces without some sidewall involvement. I encourage you to try (borrow, perhaps) a thick copper saucepan or Windsor, and note how the action also happens high up on the pan's walls. IMO the 3-dimensionality of imparting the heat to the food is not a waste.

                  Where are you in UK? There is a very knowledgeable seller on ebay.co.uk from Maidenhead Berks. (Cookham, really) who comes up with *amazing* copperware. His seller's name is Jimsthings. Jim mostly sells pre-1920 pieces, but they are always first-rate. Actually there are quite a few quality vintage listings weekly in ebay.co.uk, and the French sellers are very close, too. I'm jealous that you can pay so much less for French and UK postage.

                  You ask after Dehillerin. Their copper cookware is made for them by Mauviel. It is possible that Dehillerin has a secret stash of other makers' wares in its fabled basement, but what is available on line is assuredly Mauviel. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but Mauviel uses bimetal sheetstock made by Falk Culinaire, so it's basically the same foil used by Falk (there may be a different SS alloy involved with the linings). I would rate modern Mauviel/Falk/Bourgeat copper to be all at the same high overall level. But, the 2 to 3.5mm thickness range given by Mauviel (and Dehillerin) for the tinned line is a little misleading. The only standard modern Mauviel production I'm aware of that ranges 3mm and above is the rondeau. My older (1960s) 3.2mm Dehillerin tinned saute is my most-used pan; there are but a rare few other marks with which I would consider replacing it.

                  I know this is daunting, and it can be a lot of money to hazard. Other than the RMR set, I've only purchased one new copper pan in my life, but my batterie is now more than 50 pieces, everything else vintage and scrounged.

                  You might also check out Mazzetti pans. http://www.rameria.com/english/ I have a 2mm skillet of theirs that I like. There is also rather a lot of Leon Jaeggi & Sons copperware floating around UK, but i would want to know the thickness before buying.

                  Your approach and expression are quite clear and cogent. I agree that a quality saute (or perhaps a sauteuse evassee, fait tout or Windsor) would be the first best place to splurge. Frankly, you can get a gaggle of very good disk-bottomed pans (e.g., Sitram) for the cost of a single first-quality copper saute or rondeau. You can always add more copper later as you like.

                  A last thought; RMR doesn't make pans, and the pans it sells are *assembled* from parts that (somewhat mysteriously) came to it. In other words, the supply is small and unlikely to be replenished. 2+ years ago, Peter told me they only had around 20 sets. I actually planned on buying them all to resell, but it never came about. Peter is a tinner par excellence, and my set has survived a few scrapes without damage (RMR's heavy tin wipe vs. thin plated layer like Baumalu).

                  Good luck, whatever you decide.

                  Aloha,
                  Kaleo

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    Hi and thanks again, Kaleo!

                    I live in London itself. I tried to find a seller named "Jimsthings" on ebay, but the only one with this name that I could locate is a fairly recent profile from Australia; I'm assuming this is not the person you were talking about. Would you happen to have a link to the page of the seller you were talking about?

                    Regarding the purchase of vintage copperware, do you have advice on what to be on the lookout for, what questions I definitely should ask before buying, etc? I wouldn't want to purchase something and be disappointed because I forgot to ask something crucial. I can think of a few basic questions:
                    - Thickness of the copper (obviously)
                    - Are there scratches in the tin layer? Is the pan safe for cooking, or does it need retinning?
                    - Are there dents in the copper? Have there been repairs to the pots, and if so, how have they been repaired? (I've seen a couple of damaged items with brass repairs to replace missing bits of copper)
                    - I remember reading somewhere that one should avoid copper from Portugal, so I guess I should check what the origin is?

                    Finally, if I go for a disk-bottomed pan, do you have recommendations on how thick the aluminium layer should be? I checked out Sitram's website, and they have LOTS of different product lines.

                    On that thought, do you think full-clad aluminium with SS (so 3-ply all the way) is worth considering? Or is it generally going to be so expensive that I'd be better off going for disc-bottom or full copper? I haven't seen many full-clad aluminium items, but they were definitely not cheap (LC, AllClad, ...).

                    Cheers,
                    Florent

                    1. re: Flo_R

                      Hi, Florent:

                      Sorry, the seller's name is jimsthings3. http://www.ebay.com/usr/jimsthings3

                      Things you should ask about with vintage pieces... Definitely thickness, but some sellers don't know or don't want to be bothered measuring. So you ask them to compare the thickness of the pan wall with the thickness of a coin. Sometimes you can just tell from a photo that it's thick, and if you ask on ebay, you run the risk of the seller posting the thickness (and then prices can go up). Once you have a little experience, you can judge thickness well by just knowing the pan dimensions and the *weight* (e.g., experience tells you an 11" saute in 3mm or better should weigh around 10 pounds).

                      I almost never ask about the lining, dents or repairs if there are photos from which to judge.

                      Portugal (like Mexico and Korea) has a long tradition of coppersmithing. There is nothing wrong with their wares, but they tend to be thinner and handled in brass. American coppersmiths were prolific until the early 1900s, and in the last gasps before the industry died out, they tried to emulate the French. Some very nice work, but I haven't seen truly thick American pieces for sale. But fortunately, the French made a LOT of good stuff, and it's found its way all over the globe, so it's offered for resale virtually everywhere. The issue is finding it without paying a premium to someone who "found" it first.

                      Signs of an excellent pan: Extra thick (3mm and above), heavy, classical French proportions and shape, hammering (functional, not decorative), hand-wiped tin or silverplated lining, 3 large copper rivets, iron handle, facets cut into the floor/wall exterior radius.

                      Signs of a good pan: Thick (2.3mm to 2.8mm), iron handle, smooth exterior, SS or hand-wiped tin lining.

                      Signs of a fair pan: Lighter, 2.0mm to 2.3mm thickness, tin-plated lining, brass handle, 2 rivets.

                      Not worth it except for table service: Very light, <2mm, thin "turny" brass handle.

                      There are some marks, e.g., Baumalu, ODI, etc. that are certain to fall short of being first quality. But bearing a *great* mark is no guarantee of first quality--this is because the great French makers usually offered at least 3 thicknesses in each pan. For example, I once thought I got a steal on two Gaillard saucepans, only to discover they were table-service grade!

                      What I would recommend is that you invest some time on ebay learning to recognize quality features and to learn as much as you can from the photos. If you see a pan you think you like and want to bid on, I'm happy to look at it for you and give you an idea as to a reasonable value. Just email me with a link.

                      Aloha,
                      Kaleo

                      1. re: kaleokahu

                        Thank you very much! I have a few items I'm considering, I'll send that over to you.

                        That will sound stupid, but how do I find your email address? I thought it would be in your ChowHound profile, but I couldn't find it...