HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >


paralysis by analysis...what type of pans to get?!

Let me preface by thanking you profusely for reading this long winded post....

OK, i have read the plethora of posts regarding SS, CS, CI, NonStick, ECI, etc. I feel like I'm still in the same boat, except to say that I definitely don't want any of the chemical nonstick stuff....and I'm possibly a bit turned off by the heavier CI stuff (with the exception of allowing one piece: a 10 or 12 inch skillet for searing meat if there's no better/lighter alternative).

Since I agree that there's no one type of pot/pan that's good for everything, let me quickly explain what I usually cook:
1. Steaks, chicken, pork chops on the stove top...on occasion I would try to do a pan sauce with some of these but considering i was using non stick, no wonder it tasted like crap (i realize that now after reading thru this site). If I decided to finish something off in the oven, I usually transferred it to a glass pyrex
2. Eggs...with bacon once in a blue moon
3. Pancakes on a center griddle rack that needs to be tossed (from GE).
4. Frozen skillet side dishes (trader joe's asparagus risotto and veggie fried rice, etc)
5. Spaghetti sauce/Pasta
6. Ribs (in a slow cooker or the oven)
7. Stewed meat in the slow cooker (I have decided I either suck at it or the slow cooker isn't the best use for that type of meal)
And most of the above stuff I cook in old teflon type crap or an old set of Anolon anodized non stick that have not been non stick for some time now....which has led me here because I want to replace that junk.
So that is pretty much 90% of what I cook...and I'm looking to take some cooking classes so hopefully that list will expand greatly.

Also to note, my husband has an old 18 piece stainless steel Wolfang Puck Cafe Collection set he got years ago that are in very good shape and I do use the pots more often than the pans because...well, because I don't know how to use the pans without making stuff stick. I realize from reading here that the trick is preheating pan/oil and then being patient with the food before trying to turn things...patience grasshopper, patience.

So, I can use those stainless pots/pans but realize adding other types of pans can be helpful/better options for certain foods.
1. I'm thinking some sort of enameled aluminum (cuz CI is so stinking heavy) pan would be great for browning/deglazing and can also be used for starchy stuff or some of those frozen sides I like?
2. Also, one CI skillet for searing when I'm not deglazing?
3. Something truly non stick for eggs or dishes I dont want to have to add significant oil...or can I use the enameled aluminum pan?

Is there something I should be adding/removing from this list...or considering I already have SS, can I get away with just adding one more type of pan that can do the non stick stuff....seems like enameled aluminum is a good "main-go-to" option?
I really don't want to have to buy a bunch of stuff that will get relatively little use...I don't mind dropping some $ if it's trully worth it but I'm definitely not into the name brand for the sake of the name brand.

There's something to be said about communism....no choices! Lol

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Hi 71ailmar:

    OK, I'm just going to focus on what you say you cook...

    It sounds like to me you might be one who could use 3 skillets (or two skillet and a saute). I'd say get 1 nonstick for eggs, 1 SS-clad for searing with pan sauces (and acidic preps), and 1 bare cast iron for searing and oven-roasting.

    I'm actually a big fan of thick aluminum, so you might just consider one CI skillet and one thick saute from a resto supply store. If you have a choice in equal thickness, pick an anodized aluminum pan.

    IMO, you will also need a saucepan or two, a medium-sized Dutch oven, and perhaps a stockpot. The saucepans should be made of conductive metal; the oven and stockpot are less important from a construction standpoint.

    I Hope This Helps,

    2 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      Thanks Kaleo for your input.

      I do have a stockpot as well as sauce pans and skillets that are part of that stainless steel set my husband has (the Wolf Gang Puck set - they seem very sturdy and thick)...are those ok or does the skillet for searing with pan sauces and the sauce pans need to be of a different type of SS? You mentioned the anodized aluminum pan....you prefer that to the SS-clad?

      Is there a specific brand or certain construction type you recommend for the dutch oven? I've seen ones that are cheaper versions of the expensive LC brand...not sure if they're "good enough" or if I'll end up having to buy a new one every few years.

      Thanks again!

      1. re: 71ailmar

        Enameled Cast Iron -

        There is a reason why some is cheap and some is expensive. Personally, I'm more of a Staub fan but, I also won LC. The finishes on these are better (not as likely to fail, prettier, etc.) and the pots and ovens are designed better.

        Knock offs on the design are pretty good but, they can't match the durability and quality of the finishes. Whether the knock offs seal as well and preserve moisture varies from pan to pan and brand to brand.

        LC and Staub are held in high regard for good reason. The knock offs don't seem to have the same brand loyalty which also speaks volumes.

    2. I solve that problem by having one or two of everything.

      Nothing is "truly non stick" except PTFE (Teflon). If you will not have such pans, then I suppose a well-seasoned carbon steel pan used with a little butter will do for eggs. I don't cook eggs this way, but it works well for crêpes.

      1. A cast iron brasier could be really useful for the types of food you cook. Yes, they can be heavy, but not so bad, and the flavor one can create is wonderful and worth the heft.

        I too am tired of the non-stick pans, and have been happy with the carbon steel, and just today, I got my Vollrath thick cast aluminum skillet that I hope will replace my tired non stick omelette pan. Haven't tried it yet, but thick aluminum seems to be the king of omelette pans
        Sure beats the Pot Shop prices.

        1. <1. I'm thinking some sort of enameled aluminum (cuz CI is so stinking heavy) pan would be great for browning/deglazing and can also be used for starchy stuff or some of those frozen sides I like?
          2. Also, one CI skillet for searing when I'm not deglazing?
          3. Something truly non stick for eggs or dishes I dont want to have to add significant oil...or can I use the enameled aluminum pan?>

          Enameled aluminum pan... can you be more specific about it? As for your challenge of "because I don't know how to use the pans without making stuff stick", the least nonstick pan is going to be the typical Teflon pan. However, Teflon pans usually do not extremely long and certain should not be used for high heat. This get you to carbon steel and cast iron pans. Both are more or less the same, except that carbon steel can be made thinner and therefore lighter. They are both nearly nonstick when seasoned. However, neither are great for deglazing. It can be done, but not with acidic deglazing. Now, we get back to stainless steel cladded cookware. Stainless steel cookware can handle high heat and can be used for deglazing for all conditions. However, food readily stick to stainless steel surface. So there you have it.

          You may able to get with just a carbon steel pan and a stainless steel surface pan.

          Pot selection is a bit easier in my opinion. This is because pots are mostly used for liquid cooking, and food sticking rarely occur. On top of this, thin liquid cooking do not require very good even heating surface or quick heat respond.

          1. Since your Wolfgang Puck cookware is in good shape, I'd not replace any of that or get more new stainless steel. Stainless steel does tend to be a sticking surface. Not familar with any enameled aluminum, though I have seen enameled steel. Enamel is not a good non-stick surface, especially on a thin (i.e. not cast iron) metal.

            Aluminum clad pans are a good alternative to (or a middle option) cast iron and stainless. Aluminum tends to be less prone to sticking, but often times its the cooking tecnhique that is faulty not the pan, if food sticks. I love my clad aluminum skillet (which I picked up in the restaurant supply aisle of Sam's Club) and use it way more often than I use my clad stainless skillet. Actually, come to think of it, I only use the stainless skillet for poaching eggs, because I can easily see the bottom of the pan! The aluminum skillet is what I use when I want a pan sauce.

            As for non-stick, it is essential for eggs IMO, but others will disagree I'm sure. I love my aluminum non-stick skillets from Sam's club restaurant supply aisle. They're cheap, great quality, don't warp, heat evenly, and with normal hand washing have lasted for the last 8 years so far.

            So, to summarize, it feels like you need two skillets to supplement your fine stainless set: one non-stick, for which I recommend cast aluminum with some cladding or layered construction, and one for searing, for which I recommend cast aluminum with layered or cladded construction.

            Good luck. I thank my lucky stars that I live in a place where I have so much choice and freedom, and the ability and freedom to say so. Do not take it lightly.

            1. I'd suggest learning to use the Wolfgang Puck stainless cookware you already have.
              Supplement it with a new non-stick pan, since your non-stick pans are old and past their prime. Use it for eggs, pancakes, and fish.

              With the exception of non-stick, just about every other kind of pan listed requires similar skill or techniques to use well as the stainless steel you already use. It's just a matter of degree. Stainless steel pans are only a bit less forgiving than some other surfaces in terms of sticking, but that can work to your advantage - you'll learn faster. And if you want to be trying out and cooking on various non-teflon surfaces, you have to learn anyway.

              You can use it for sauteeing, deglazing, searing, pan-roasting, sauce-making... just about anything.

              As you've said, the trick to using stainless steel - really the trick to using everything but teflon and cast-iron that is well-seasoned, older and well-maintained - is in heating the pan, adding oil, and letting the oil get hot (not warm, hot) before adding food. The higher the temp, the less sticking you'll experience. Learn what tends to stick and what doesn't - what can be tossed around in the pan (most vegetables) and what needs to brown on one side before turning (most meat).

              Once you can cook in a stainless pan, then you can decide what kind of pan could most benefit your cooking - and you'll be much more capable of using it well. You might find that you don't much need any new purchases anyway.

              1 Reply
              1. re: cowboyardee

                This is good advice. Supplement. I have non-stick pans that are many years old because I follow the directions for cooking and cleaning. Get one CI enameled with two handles. The weight makes stirring easier because you don't have to hold it, and with two handles you don't have to be a he man.

              2. Thanks everyone for your input! From reading on the forums and all your responses so far, I'm feeling like I have a better handle as to which way to go with all the choices...one thing for sure is that I will continue to practice with my current stainless because I'm well aware my lack of technique is most to blame for my cooking issues and not necessarily my cookware.

                ChemicalKinetics, I read on the forum someone mentioning enameled aluminum and thought it would be the best of both worlds - nonstick and light and good heat coverage. But I see from the comments that it's not necessarily non stick....I think I may just breakdown and get 1 teflon pan for really delicate stuff till I get better with my skills.

                And JannieCooks, I apologize if any offense was taken with my silly and poor attempt at humor with the "choice vs communism" comment. It wasn't my intent....I'm well aware and quite thankful of the true freedom we have. I am Cuban and my immediate family fled the island in the 1961 after Castro took control...and most of my extended family fled in the 70's and 80's at the height of the cold war. Family members were political prisoners...my grandfather is still there. I'm well aware....

                Again, thank you everyone for all your time and sharing your cooking experience. Great forum!

                1. I agree with using the pans you have, plus buy an inexpensive non-stick skillet for eggs. Maybe a 10" cast iron skillet and invest time in using it so that it becomes somewhat non-stick over time. My well-loved CI pans are my go-to cookware for meats (stove top and oven), roasted & sautéed veggies, fried eggs, etc.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: tcamp

                    Hi tcamp.
                    As for the cast iron - is the only difference between a flat skillet and one with the ridges/lines is to get grill marks? I wasn't sure if there was some other benefit to using one over the other.
                    I assumed I'd have to break down and get at least one good CI skillet for searing meats and finishing off in the oven.
                    As for saute/roasted veggies - I would have never thought CI was a good option for that. I just assumed the lighter option of SS would be fine for that?
                    What about the enameled dutch ovens/pots/pans - that basically is CI but with a finish on it...what is the best type of stuff to cook in that, IYE?

                    1. re: 71ailmar

                      I believe, yes, the grill marks are the main point of the ridged pan. I find the flat CI skillet to be very versatile. I do just as you say, sear meat then finish in the oven. Or toss veggies with olive oil and garlic, then roast in the oven. I even use my 12" CI skillet to roast chicken (whole or parts).

                      I do have a Martha Stewart brand enameled dutch oven which I rarely use. When I'm making a soup or a braise, I reach for one of my two SS pans. I have Sur La Table brand and like them just fine.

                      1. re: 71ailmar

                        "is the only difference between a flat skillet and one with the ridges/lines is to get grill marks?"
                        More or less, yeah. A grill pan works best on fairly high heat with good ventilation. Many people who have one don't use em very often. It wouldn't be one of my first suggestions as an important pan to buy.

                        "I assumed I'd have to break down and get at least one good CI skillet for searing meats and finishing off in the oven."
                        CI is good for that, but your stainless steel will work just fine too.

                        "As for saute/roasted veggies - I would have never thought CI was a good option for that. I just assumed the lighter option of SS would be fine for that?"
                        Stainless steel is indeed fine for that. So is CI.

                        "What about the enameled dutch ovens/pots/pans... what is the best type of stuff to cook in that, IYE?"
                        They're best suited for braises and stews. They can be used for other things (sauces, casseroles, even stove top sautees), but they're expensive and don't really let you do anything you can't already do with what you have.

                    2. You might consider looking on ebay and etsy for bare aluminum, if you want it thick. It's mostly roasters and dutch ovens, but there are some saucepans and skillets to be had.

                      Even the thick vintage stuff will be much lighter than cast iron. It can become pretty nonstick with use. Bonus - it's all DIRT CHEAP!

                      1. The ridges on a grill pan allow liquid to drain away from the meat. I use a carbon steel grill pan to cook a hamburger, and I pour off the liquid as it accumulates.

                        1. Here's what I recommend for basic pans: 1 chef's pan (I like stainless, and you can decided to go multi clad, or aluminum bottom), 1 CI skillet for searing and some cooking of meat, 1 smallish saucepan for boiling water or a few eggs, 1 non stick skillet for eggs only.

                          After you buy the most suitable basic pans, then you can buy other pans for special purposes, like woks, braisers, Dutch ovens, grill pans. But you can do an awful lot with those four basic pans listed above.

                          It might be that the Puck saucepans are perfectly fine. I don't know about the chef's pan. That, to me, is the most important pan, because you will use it so often. I'd spend the most money on that. The Puck pans I've seen at Home Goods are OK, but not the best. I do think they are usable.

                          I want to recommend that you get rid of Pyrex for oven use. Please see the numerous threads on CH that talk about the dangers of Pyrex used in the oven. You can use a CI skillet in the oven. I use mine to bake cornbread.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: sueatmo

                            Hi there. Thank for your input...from what you mentioned as the "basic pans" needed, I'm missing the CI skillet for searing and a good nonstick for eggs - that's actually what I'm going to buy this weekend and then as I get better with my skills I'm definitely going to add a dutch oven. Although I'm curious about the carbon steel pan so I may try our restaurant supply store and see if I can get a cheap one there to start practicing.

                            As for the glass Pyrex - I have the really old stuff passed down from my mom and that thing has seen more than it's fair share of hot oven use....from some of the posts here it seems that the newer stuff made with different glass is what's more at risk for shattering? Either way, with some of my new cookware and using my existing stuff in better ways, I don't think I'll be returning to baking/roasting in glass very much at all.

                            Thanks again!

                            1. re: 71ailmar

                              New Pyrex is made the same way it has been for decades, according to its manufacturer. The reason that people believe otherwise is just a phenomenon of culture, in my opinion. In the olden (pre-internet) days, we expected glass to break now and then. When a glass baking dish broke, we swept it up with a whisk broom. We had good gloves to wear when picking up glass. If we were careless and cut ourselves, we put a bandage on it and went on with our lives. Over time, the pieces with minute defects which could lead to spontaneous fracture broke and were therefore removed from the picture. The old pieces which survive are defect-free. The population of old bakeware has been improved by attrition of the weak.

                              Today, a buyer of new bakeware has a small chance of getting a piece with an imperceptible defect which can lead to spontaneous breakage. When a piece does break, people are able to go online to web sites such as this one to complain about it. Many people today are apt complain about things that previous generations took in stride. It's a side effect of living a good life, I think. Most Americans today don't know what real hardship is.

                              1. re: GH1618

                                <New Pyrex is made the same way it has been for decades>

                                Not quite. The processes may be the same, and it's still made in the US, but it's composition has changed. Old Pyrex was made of borosilicate glass. New Pyrex is made of soda lime glass.

                                1. re: DuffyH

                                  It's more complicated than that. Both glasses have been used to make bakeware for home use. Soda lime has been used for a few decades, at least. I have two pie plates which are a few decades old, and they seem to be made of different glass. I have no idea whether I have both types of glass or two variations of one type of glass. It doesn't matter — they both work for me.


                                  1. re: GH1618

                                    Thanks for linking the article. I've seen the CR video and based my comment on that.

                                    No matter when it was made, I'm concerned enough to retire my glass baking goods from oven duty, replacing them with durable ceramics as needed. I've kept my glassware, as it's still useful for many other applications.

                          2. OK, again, let me just say that all of your input has been very useful for me! Thank you so much....

                            Another question - as for roasting pans, is there a specific type that is better or certain qualities that are a "must have?"
                            I do roast whole chicken in the oven sometimes and I've just been using a flattish baking pan that I line with foil...it's a bit of a pain because sometimes I want to baste or put onions and other stuff in there and it ends up sloshing everywhere...
                            At HomeGoods I saw everything from 14" to 18"....stainless steel to nonstick to enameled cast iron....most all of them had a rack and cover which I would assume you'd want regardless of the material used. I dont' feel like spending a ton of money on one of those.
                            Any advice?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: 71ailmar

                              Specific to roasting pans my main criteria are that it is not nonstick and that it is heavy enough not to warp, plus if you like to deglaze the fond and make pan sauce or gravy, it is nice if it is sufficiently conductive that you can use it on top of the stove over two burners. For lots of smaller roasts I don't use an actual roasting pan but just a large gratin. That works for things that aren't really going to produce a lot drippings and make me want to deglaze, like pork tenderloins.

                            2. First of all, I am a huge fan of heavy tin lined copper. However, most people are, for a variety of reasons not all IMO, well founded, not going to go there, and while steel lined heavy copper may be excellent, most steel lined copper is not all that thick and is generally way too expensive. So, other than heavy copper (which is wonderful for many things but not optimal for all things), I'd go with a heavy SS clad for saucepans, roasting pans, and sauté pans or rondeaus; aluminum if not nonstick lined also makes a nice roasting pan; heavy carbon steel for fry pans, restaurant supply store aluminum or SS for a stockpot, and enameled cast iron for a Dutch oven. Restaurant supply unlined aluminum is a good alternative for lighter weight fry pans. I like like a lighter weight carbon steel as a dedicated egg pan. They are cheap enough that this is not as silly as it might sound. They season quickly and if used only for eggs will quickly become pretty much nonstick if cleaned by simply wiping them out with a paper towel. I still haven't found the griddle of my dreams. It is about twelve by twenty, SS clad with a hefty aluminum or copper core; and reversible. It has only a minimal lip, like a Lodge. As regards all pans, the way they cook is important, but so is the way they feel. Heft them. Focus on the handles. One of the reasons I greatly prefer carbon steel fry pans to CI is that CI usually has a short, flat handle, and CS is usually a Lyon style, with a long, wide, sloping handle that can be two-handed and has good side to side torque for pouring, etc. Also, I think lids matter. I don't like lids with small, hard to grab knobs. Lollipops are my favorites (hard to find at reasonable prices...cruise eBay) for saucepans and I like loops for others, when available. Many pans take the same size lids. I never use the glass lid that came with my stockpot (actually a multipot, which is another good option if you like the quality of the pot). The glass lid sits down in the lip and firms enough of a seal to sputter. As for heavy aluminum, including enameled, it is neat, but no longer ubiquitous. The key word would be thick. Look for thick. Thick aluminum is a great second best to heavy copper in my experience. Dehillerin used to carry a lot of it, but they appear to have taken it off their website. I'll bet they have some in the basement, though, if you can deal with them in French...heh heh. Bottom line, use what you have that you like and really noodle over each piece you add and you'll have fun both cooking and collecting.