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Pots and pans on a $200.00 budget.

I’m a retired chef and CIA grad so I have been asked this question many times. I’ve given it a lot of thought. Let’s say you are a beginner cook with aspirations to become a proficient cook and you have a budget of around $200.00 for pots and pans.
I would start out with a set like this:
I like the All Clad style stainless steel fully encapsulated aluminum (not just the base but up the sides too) that this set offers but remember food sticks on stainless unless a few precautions are taken, primarily you must preheat the pan and add oil liberally . Most people recommend not buying full sets because you get pieces you don't need which is true but frequently buying pans a la carte is much more expensive. I would also get a couple of aluminum nonstick pieces for eggs, low fat cooking and other items prone to sticking. Teflon coating is great but many people have health concerns about it leaching into your food. DuPont claims this only happens at higher temperatures but they've got a horse in the race. If Teflon is out there are “green” alternatives like ceramic but none I’ve found are as slippery as Teflon, especially after repeated use. Don’t spend a lot on nonstick coated pans as the coating tends to get scratched and degrade after a few years and they should be tossed. I bought a nice set of Bailetti similar to this one @ Costco a couple of years ago for under $90.00.

I like these nonstick pots for rice and for sauteeing because they transfer heat fast and they're dishwasher safe.

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  1. I saw this just yesterday. I am not in the market for such a set just now, but wondered what you think. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001GD2YRW/?...

    7 Replies
    1. re: travelerjjm

      These look comparable to the Tramontina that I referenced. I looked at the reviews on Amazon and most people are happy with them. It's hard to buy pans without being able to see and hold them. Although I don't own any Tramontinas I've seen them@ Walmart and they have a great reputation as a less expensive alternative to All-Clad among foodies.

      1. re: zackly

        I've never tried Tramontina. I did note that their website says the Tri-Ply Clad line is not for induction. The Emeril ones are.

        I agree, though one needs to really see and hold them.

        1. re: travelerjjm

          Jim, I used to do cooking demonstrations for my job and now sometimes cook for my cigar club where there is no kitchen only two induction portable hot plates. None of my pans worked on them, I think because they are all aluminum based, so I had to get a few new ones. I shopped with a magnet.

          1. re: travelerjjm

            The Tramontina sold clad stuff sold by Walmart is fully induction ready, per Tramontina. The fully clad stuff sold elsewhere is not.

            I've cooked in Tramontina, and can say I hated it, primarily because I like my stainless to look good, and that pan, every time I used it, developed a lovely dark blue rainbow in the pan bottom. Of course, this happens to stainless from time to time, but with this pan, it was quite literally every time, even when boiling water.

            I feared it said something not good about the steel so I returned it.

        2. re: travelerjjm

          I've handled these Emeril's at BB&B. They're quite nice, with a build quality to similar to All-Clad, Cuisinart clad and Calphalon Tri-Ply. The handles are, for me, much more easy on the hand than All-Clad's.

          I don't know if they didn't sell well, but for some reason my local BB&B has switched them out for the Emeril disk-bottom stuff, also under the All-Clad label.

          1. re: travelerjjm

            Sorry Jim, I just saw this.
            Yes, a very nice set.

          2. Hi, zackly:

            6 Tramontina pans w/ covers for $140 is a great price on a good pan set. The Bialettis... I'm not sure I would put them in the DW, regardless of what they say.

            Did you post just for the good of the order, or are you curious what others think?


            1 Reply
            1. re: kaleokahu

              I posted my opinion because I sent it to my niece who asked me for recommendations and I honestly think it is very good advice especially if you are on a tight budget.There will be no need to upgrade the Tramontinas in the future unless new, better technology becomes available. Lets hope one day there will be a nonstick pan that is safe and will last forever.

            2. Aluminum non-stick? I did an amazon search and what came up was "platinum color coated" something. What's the diff? I'm familiar with Teflon and ceramic

              1 Reply
              1. re: youareabunny

                I should have said "aluminum pan with a non-stick coating, Teflon or another brand". Aluminum is a great conductor of heat. unlike stainless steel and they are cheap to produce.

              2. I've been the housewares business for many more years than I want to think about. I had a guy come in the shop with a tight budget and the pans we carried, except for Lodge, were out of his budget range. I told him to go to TJ Maxx. He came back in a few weeks later to thank me for pointing him in that direction. I knew when he had a larger budget he'd be back to buy from us.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Candy

                  Luckily, I can now afford to "spare no expense" when it comes to outfitting my kitchen but I've never felt the need to replace my All Clad Costco knockoffs with a set of real All Clads. They are beautiful works of art, especially the copper but as far as improved functionality I don't think there is an advantage. I do own several All Clad pieces that I've acquired over the years. As my Paris trained French chef (Plaza Athenee) who I apprenticed under used to tell the young cooks "there are no bad tools just bad cooks". There is a grain of truth in that statement.

                2. Assuming a broad range of cooking styles, I'd grab a clad mid-sized saucepan (my daughter got Cuisinart and it is pretty nice), a restaurant supply 10 qt. stockpot, a 10 or 12 inch Lyon style fry pan (carbon steel), and a cheap carbon steel wok. I am not a fan of nonstick, and if I were on a budget I'd avoid it because it wears out so fast. I'd also cruise eBay for select deals on heavy tin lined copper, maybe a sauté pan. Ya never know what you might find. Don't be put off the hunt by prices for steel lined copper. It is much pricier and IMHO less desirable. If you are into sauces a Pyrex double boiler is single purpose but cheap and a great tool.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tim irvine

                    <If you are into sauces a Pyrex double boiler is single purpose but cheap and a great tool.>

                    Wouldn't our budget-minded cook do as well to make a DIY double boiler with a cheap metal mixing bowl over the saucepan? My local Salvation Army always, always has 1-2 quart stainless steel mixing bowls for $1-2. And they're a dual purpose item.

                  2. Recently a friend in the midst of a divorce needed something like this. $95 bought a Vollrath Optio cookware set from that big online place and another $50 at Home Goods netted a 12 inch Calphalon skillet plus assorted tongs, spoons, and such. Result: 1 quart, 2 3/4 quart saucepans, 6 plus quart pot, 9.5 inch pan, and then the skillet. All for a hundred fifty bucks.

                    1. I would no longer recommend this Bailetti set unless it's been updated and coated with the newest generation Teflon, which is PFOA free and hard enough so you can use metal utensils.

                      12 Replies
                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          No, not ceramic but the new generation Teflon. Unless they've improved the technology, ceramic non-stick loses its slipperiness rather quickly.

                          Here are two inexpensive sets with PFOA free Teflon coating from Ikea and Walmart:



                          1. re: zackly

                            Hi zackly,

                            <Unless they've improved the technology, ceramic non-stick loses its slipperiness rather quickly.>

                            Reviews would tend to support this, but it hasn't been a universal experience at all. I drilled down deeper before purchasing one to try for myself. I think what is happening is that cooks are misusing ceramic pans the same way they misuse PTFE pans, specifically by using cooking sprays and high heat. That's what I'm getting from a lot of the reviews. It seems that the propellant tends to gum up ceramic even faster than it does Teflon. Deep cleaning the pan usually takes care of the problem. High heat is a killer for any nonstick pan.

                            Generally, people who are happy with them tend to use them as directed, which is exactly the opposite of the way people generally use nonstick pans.

                            I know there's a lot of "maybe" and "seems to" in here, but it's the nature of the user reviews for these pans. Nothing is universal, not the good or the bad. The only thing I can state with high confidence is that, for the better quality pans, users who write that they followed the directions perfectly and the pan lasted only 3 months are deluded, likely lying to themselves.

                            Of course, the only truly important thing is each person't own experience. Mine has been completely positive, with my pan looking less used at 4 months than my traditional nonstick pans. I normally get 5 years from a Teflon pan. I've even figured out how to develop fond in my ceramic coated pan.


                            1. re: DuffyH

                              I have some ceramic coated baking pans, the William's Sonoma Goldtouch which I've had for a good 5 years and they are still in like new condition. I don't have any nonstick pots so I can't comment on stove top use. Not sure how Zackly is defining rather quickly. But I wouldn't define it as 5 years. When these do go though, I won't be replacing them with nonstick of any kind. They work fine but I want to go back to traditional uncoated.

                              1. re: rasputina

                                Hi rasputina,

                                Ceramic? Cool. I mistakenly thought they had a silicone coating. I don't know WHY I thought that. Perhaps because my USA Pans baking pans use silicone, so if it's not Teflon, it must be silicone, right? Silly girl.

                                It's only 10:30am and I've already learned something. I'm feeling very well-educated and yet incredibly stupid, both at the same time.


                                1. re: DuffyH

                                  I don't have a lot of experience with ceramic pans but I've read that that technology is/was marketed as a safer alternative to Teflon coated pans. I had one of those "green" ceramic frying pans that I bought for eggs and that pan didn't remain non stick for much more than a few months.

                                  1. re: zackly

                                    If you still have it, I can offer an easy fix.

                                    1. re: DuffyH

                                      No, my wife has a two year rule as I tend to never throw anything away. If we don't wear clothes or use something it gets moved out, donated or tossed.

                              2. re: DuffyH

                                Hi, Duffy: "I think what is happening is that cooks are misusing ceramic pans the same way they misuse PTFE pans, specifically by using cooking sprays and high heat."

                                Yes, I know you think that. You've even accused me of it from 3,000 miles away.

                                It 'aint so, at least in my case. I was given a Swiss Diamond nonstick pan (a lavish gift at the time), and treated that pan like a baby. Remember, I'm a guy who thinks PTFE pans are dangerous if overheated.

                                Nary a whiff of cooking spray, either. I even bragged about it here, claiming that it was 5 years old and still going strong.

                                It didn't make it to 6. And--at the time--this was supposedly the ne plus ultra of nonstick.

                                Now, if you use PTFE pans only for, e.g., eggs, and you unstintingly set your heat at the lowest possible setting which will, in the fullness of time, actually cook the eggs, then you'll get more longevity. All the folks who cook otherwise aren't lying to themselves, though.


                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  Hi Kaleo,

                                  I don't think 5 years is bad for Teflon. I think I said that's about how long most of mine lasted. I don't recall saying you misused your pan, but you say I did and I believe you. I apologize here and now.

                                  I do believe that people who claim 3-12 months are misusing their pans, whether Teflon or ceramic. A quality pan, with several properly applied coats of PTFE, or a well-made ceramic pan, should last many years before becoming worn.

                              3. re: zackly

                                I am not surprise about the PFOA free Teflon. I am more surprise that there is a Teflon-like coating that recommend metal utensils. I only knew a few which recommend metal utensils, like the Calphalon Infused One and Swiss Diamond.....

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  I have this one:****

                                  and three sizes of these:

                                  They all have the new PFOA free Teflon which works great and is a much harder surface. I use metal utensils on it and so far so good but I've always considered non stick cookware "disposable" so if I get five years out of it I'll be happy considering how inexpensive they are.
                                  I would not recommend the TeChef pan because of the plastic handle. A few times when the pan was not centered on the large burner perfectly I started burning it. The Ikea pans are great, dirt cheap & supposedly induction capable. I can't confirm because I have a gas range.