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Upgrading cookware

If your parents are anything like mine, they're good cooks (particularly my mom) but they're not very particular about what pots, pans and utensils they purchase and use. As long as it's deemed of good enough quality and wasn't expensive, they bought it.

I'm sure many of us were like that too at some point. No doubt, with more experience we began to appreciate differences in the type of cookware we use and the different materials used to make them. For example, you may now value the difference between an expensive copper saucepan vs. the usual stainless steel, or the benefits of a well balanced chef's knife over the cheaper knives that you usually find in stores.

What are some of the pots, pans and utensils you've found yourself upgrading as you gained more cooking experience? And what items, looking back, do you wish you had invested more in when you "started off"?

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  1. My mom always used very good quality pots/pans but I found myself buying more than she had. I have a lot of different types of pots/pans/utensils, probably because I cook a bigger variety

    1. My mom isn't the best cook but always tried. 40 years later she is still using the same wedding gift stainless steel pots, but they are indestructible and work so that's fine. Because of my influence she has upgraded her frying pans (nothing special just palaerno nonstick) and it has lasted many years.

      I also got her a better set of knives, again nothing special but a henckle line (forget which) but I can at least sharpen them when I am periodically home. Better than her old knives by a long shot.

      1. Well,I am probably the age of your mother... Budget constraints were a huge factor when I was starting out. It took me a long time to give myself permission to get top quality items. But I can tell you that just one top-notch pan, in a size and shape you will really use, and just one good chef's knife that fits your hand perfectly and that you maintain well, will make you happier than a kitchen full of stuff you have to fight with.

        Each person is different. When my DH is cooking, he automatically reaches for a different knife and pan than I do. (For some reason, he likes the smaller saucepans and the bigger skillets.)

        Just FYI, if I were building my batterie de cuisine today, I would look at the Cuisinart French tri-ply cookware. I recently got their dutch oven, which seems to be of the same quality as my older All-Clad stainless, but with chunkier handles. Heavier weight than the other Cuisinart fully clad lines.

        2 Replies
        1. re: texanfrench

          Second the Cuisinart FC line. I have loads of AC, but the handle issue (yes, sorry to bring it up again) had me take a look at the FC 12 inch fry pan and the 3 qt sauce pan. Love them both, and they both shine up very well with the Barkeepers cleaner. Also - pans are reasonable in price!

          1. re: texanfrench

            I'll have to look into not just the Cuisinart cookware, but tri-ply in general. I've seen it mentioned once or twice on other posts but I just ignored it, not knowing anything about it. I need to get up to speed. Thanks!

          2. Buy what you like for fun. The most important aspect of any cookware is that it contain no holes. You can read all sorts of nonsense about limited scientific aspects of marginal differences (think about someone who can tell you how an internal combustion engine works and try to extrapolate that knowledge to knowing how to drive)

            Decide what you want to do and then look for the implement that does it to your liking.

            6 Replies
            1. re: law_doc89

              Exactly. If you have cooked enough to know your own style and preferences, you can make intelligent choices.

              1. re: law_doc89

                So the person that knows all about engines, will they pick a Yugo, a Toyota or a Lamborghini?

                1. re: wekick

                  Well--so the theory goes--the one who knows driving technique will win races with the Yugo.

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    And that's why we so many Formula One Yugos. I always bet on them, there's a driver who knows how to win.

                  2. re: law_doc89

                    It is essential that my steamer insert have holes.

                  3. I may be close to your parent's age. I have some cooking items that I bought starting out as a single grad student, others received as wedding gifts, and still others recently bought at TJMaxx. While I don't use many of the early items, I don't regret buying most. These are all tools, to used now, not investments.

                    1. My mother was also a very good cook, but she didn't have expensive pot and pans or ever have what I would call even an adiqute knife. She was a child of the depression and you don't buy more than you really need. A large cast iron skillet and some Revereware is all I remember. My wife bought what was very expensive at the time, some cookware made by West Bend but sold door to door with another name. She had that when we married and it's been in use for over 40 years. Much of it is shot and we adopted some of mom's Revereware. My first hand experience is that really good clad SS/Al/SS is so much better than the thin Revereware, especially in a skillet or saucepan or sauté. I haven't tried copper yet, and you do reach a point of deminishing returns on your investment, but I intend to get some first hand knowledge one of these days. The short answer is there is a huge difference between a $20 pan and a $120 pan and less difference between that $120 pan and a $220 pan. So what you need to replace depends on what you have. I'd replace the $20 pan first.

                      1. My sister has the set of copper-bottom, Revere-ware pots from house we grew up in. Probably wedding gift from 40's?? A stock/soup pot (lid), 2 sauce pans (lids), and 2 skillets. She kept them locked up in the "owners" cabinet when she rented her place in WV. She just KNEW typical renter wouldn't do well with it and didn't want it ruined.

                        She also hid away a few "good" knives. Dad bought each of us sets of GINZU knives YEARS ago. They were NOT "good" but at least were sharp and she didn't care much about what a renter might do with them.

                        1. My first 3 cookware sets (covering almost 30 years of marriage) were true sets, all one material. That's just how it was done, you know? That wouldn't happen to me today.

                          I wish I had discovered stainless steel years earlier than I did. It was my last set, and wish I'd known about it's wonderful properties much sooner. Not that it's the best for every application, I know better, but it is extremely versatile, especially with a good amount of aluminum in the body or base.

                          And now? Right this minute? I wish I'd known about commercial cookware when I was buying all that Calphalon Tri-Ply. The Calphalon isn't All-Clad, Mauviel or Demeyere spendy, but it isn't cheap, either. My new Vollrath Optio is dirt cheap, and performs as well as my Calphalon ever did. I could have saved hundreds of dollars.

                          FWIW, Mom's knives were awful, dull and cheap. But her cookware... the last was the Kirkland AC knock-off. I hated the handles. But I think that's how you could tell they were AC; the handles were different, but still horrendous*.

                          *I'm kidding, all you AC handle lovers. Well, not really. :)

                          1. I've used all sorts of stuff in my cooking life, but I am solidly behind stainless and cast iron for top of the stove. I upgraded to a nice stainless Cuisinart set in about 2000. They were the best pots for me. I had to get rid of them when I got induction though. Overall, I like certain things in pots and pans: fat rolled handles, responsive handling and the right weight for me. And I really prefer the older cast iron skillets.

                            Where I have really upgraded is with knives. I have a good chef's knife which I use with a lot of appreciation and a few other more or less good knives: a good paring knife, a couple of serrated edge knives, a seconds paring knife, and a medium quality meat slicer. When I started out I had really junky knives, and it took decades for me to get the moderately good stuff I have now.

                            We invested in a well made cutting board recently, and it is a pleasure to use it. It is heavy, artisan made and pretty large. I think I should have had a board like this years ago, except I didn't have a place for it before now.

                            And I have acquired quite a set of mise en place bowls that I use constantly for everything! I should have had these twenty years ago.

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: sueatmo

                              Huge +1 for mise en place bowls. In addition to prep work, I use mine for little snack bowls, dipping bowls and as sue mentioned, everything.

                              I'm currently on the hunt for some deep stoneware vessels suitable for baked pasta for 3 people. All I've found so far are either too small or two large, but I'll find them.

                              1. re: DuffyH

                                I've seen rather nice Le Creuset stoneware bakers at WF in St. Louis. I was quite attracted to them. But I didn't buy.

                                Or, if you do craft fares this spring, see if you can find a local potter, who might have just what you want. A lot of potters work in stoneware. Just make sure the glaze they use is lead free.

                                1. re: sueatmo

                                  Doh! Why didn't I think of that? When we lived in Ventura, I'd hit the Santa Barbara saturday art walk any time I wanted a special piece. So easy to have stuff made to order.

                                  sue, you always have the best ideas. Thanks! <3

                                2. re: DuffyH

                                  The Emil Henry "Flame" line has some really nice pieces of stoneware that can be used both stove top and in the oven and broiler. I got 6 of these:


                                  for a New Year's Eve get-together of French Onion soup grantiné and they were wonderful - plenty of room on top without spilling all over the place, easy to handle and hold - I love these.

                                  It sounds like you may want something larger, and these might be perfect:


                                  1. re: laraffinee


                                    I love the 1 quart pan. It could be really cool for baked beans and such. I mean, I know I can use my SS saucepan, but it lacks the cool factor, and it would look really tacky on the table.

                                    The 1 quart pan is going on my wish list for sure, with a big THANK YOU! ;)

                                    The bean pot is a little bit larger than my perfect casserole/baker. If it were oval, it would be close, although an 8" oval would be great. Something ~2 quarts. The depth is perfect, and I admit I love the handle.

                                    For a shallow baker, I've got LC pieces in both 9x9 square and 5x5 square. One is too large, the other too small. :(

                                    Some people would say I'm too picky. That's what I love about 'Hounds like you, they understand and approve the search. :)

                                3. re: sueatmo

                                  And here I am buying non-stick pots and pans. Never seriously considered anything else. I'll have to look into the pros and cons of stainless steel vs non-stick vs cast iron. Copper ain't in my price range!

                                  I definitely need mise en place bowls! My quality of living will probably dramatically increase once I get them. I didn't know there was actually a name for it, I just know that every time I cook something with more than a few ingredients I wish I had a few bowls to put everything in. Many thanks for that, I'll look for some tomorrow.

                                  1. re: nano404

                                    People will differ, but I fall into the camp that says if you like non-stick, use it. It can last a lot longer than it does for most cooks, if treated right. Medium or lower heat, no cooking sprays and of course, no metal utensils or dishwasher.

                                    Heat and/or cooking sprays cause the nonstick coating to degrade and turn brown. IMO, they're worse than metal utensils. Well, maybe a knife is worse.

                                    This month I gave my son a set of nonstick aluminum frypans that are almost 4 years old and not only still sit dead flat, they still have that new glittery grey/black finish. They've been used several times a week.

                                    1. re: DuffyH

                                      My most recent purchase, a 1.9 liter Circulon saucepan, was bought mainly to cook small to medium-ish portions of rice. It works fine for now. I'll have to see how long the coating lasts.

                                      I may have to invest in pots that aren't coated in teflon or whatever it is they use. For some reason, I prefer metal utensils. Also, it's no fun having the coating scratch and peel off.

                                      1. re: nano404

                                        I hear you. I like metal utensils, too. My favorite spatula is my Mom's old Ecko that she bought new in about 1950-something.

                                        But, consider wood for nonstick. I love my wooden spoons and think it's worth the time to find some that feel good in your hand. They're great for stirring almost anything, and if I could only have one utensil, it would be a wooden spoon. I use them with all my cookware, only using metal to serve.

                                        I use a wooden spatula to break up ground meats and sausage. For things that need to be flipped, careful use of a metal (rounded corners!) spatula shouldn't cause scratches. Tongs are great, too. Well, not so much for fish. :)

                                4. I love science, especially as it relates to cooking. Nothing better to me than that "Aha!" moment. I do wish that I had known what I do now about all the properties of cookware. I would have been looking for copper cookware a long time ago. I like to find vintage cookware and I think how many pieces have I left behind because of what I didn't know. You are ahead of the game just by asking those questions.
                                  You can choose cookware based on their physical properties that will maximize the capabilities of your burners or your oven for that matter. I have a big collection of all kinds of cookware. I have a fair amount of room so I can keep it and use it when I want to.

                                  My most often used -
                                  I have sauce pans and dutch ovens are in tin lined copper. They are 2mm but will upgrade to 3mm if the opportunity arises. Would love to have some skillets or braziers but I might go with the stainless lining on these so I don't melt the tin.

                                  For very high heat I have a DeBuyer Steel and CI skillet.

                                  I have AC LTD 6 and 8 qt Dutch ovens that have seen a lot of use. They are predominately aluminum with a thin lining of stainless. Dumb luck that I picked those.
                                  I have one very old RevereWare squat sauce pan I like and will keep because the handle is very easy to hold and the pan is light and cooks fairly evenly. There will come a day I might not be able to lift the copper as easily so am keeping this pan. Also have a couple of Revere Ware DOs that have a bail handle with helper handle that make it easy to empty the contents. I will keep them for the same reason.

                                  I have an anodized aluminum brazier that I use a lot and it has seasoned and is fairly nonstick.

                                  I have an old Magnalite roaster that is great because it can go from oven to stove top to make sauces with the drippings. Much better than any other steel roasters that I have. It is some sort of cast aluminum alloy.

                                  I have a couple of 14 inch nonstick aluminum pans people have given me. One is much heavier than the other so it gets the most use.

                                  I have a couple of white speckled light blue enameled cast iron skillets I use in the oven. Also some other LeCreuset I use in the oven.

                                  I use "PYREX", (older marked in all caps) for pies. I got rid of anything marked "pyrex", lower case, which is the trademark of World Kitchens that has the Pyrex manufacturing now in the US. I also do not use anything of the "PYREX" line that is opaque in the oven, because it was made of soda lime glass vs borosilicate glass used in the original clear colorless PYREX. The borosilicate glass will withstand more of a change in temperature than soda lime glass. Most if not all glass bakeware made in the US now is soda lime glass.

                                  I use naked heavier gauge aluminum for baking.

                                  1. I recently had to restock my kitchen so pretty much everything was an upgrade. Rather than buy a set, I bought individual pieces to replace the T-Fal and aluminum pots that got me through the post-college years. Given my style of cooking, I focused on acquiring tri-ply stainless steel pots and a couple Calphalon saute pans first. I still plan on getting a couple all-clad and Anolon pieces, but those will require a little more saving. My knives could also do with an upgrade, but the Wüsthof Gourmet set was the best I could afford when I was starting out. I'll have to do the replacement piecemeal.

                                    The pie pans I inherited from my grandmother have also been replaced. Pyrex seems to work much better than metal and being able to see the crust as it bakes has virtually eliminated the risk of any overcooked crusts.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: JungMann

                                      I'm currently buying things to get me through my in-college years. I feel like an outlier amongst college students, but I enjoy cooking and I like quality items regardless, so I'm trying to buy the best that I can afford.

                                      I'm probably going to have to replace my Tefal frying pan soon. In my casual reading on chowhound recently I've seen the Calphalon name a couple of times, but I'm unfamiliar with the brand. Not sure if it's available here in the UK. How have your Calphalon pans held up?

                                      1. re: nano404

                                        Calphalon is a brand of heavy duty anodized aluminum cookware. I have their simply calphalon non-stick saute pans which I am generally pleased with. They have a good weight and do their non-stick job quite well when I am sauteeing or making eggs. The one drawback is the pans are a bit scratch-prone -- I scratched mine using the wrong dishwashing sponge within the first month -- but that does not seem to affect the non-stick surface. They are available in the UK if not at stores, online.

                                    2. Hi, nano:

                                      I have gone from growing up with Revereware, to a large batterie of Le Creuset as a young adult, to mostly thick copper. Along the way, I've tried nearly everything.

                                      The improvements in performance by moving to copper have greatly increased the quality of my cooking and my enjoyment of it. I regret wasting the large sums I spent on Le Creuset.

                                      I still use two bare cast iron skillets, a 6mm aluminum omelet pan, and one clad frypan. But the rest (now about 50 pieces) is tinned copper.

                                      Don't be fooled into believing that there are no salient differences in cookware constructions and materials. This rubbish is commonly spread by someone who takes one or two evening cooking classes at some Gallic-named school in their neighborhood, and claims to have mastered "technique", which then supposedly supplants any need for experience, recipes or good equipment. IMO, this pap will doom cooks to a strange arrogant, disinterested mediocrity.


                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                        Tell us how you really feel, K! I agree though. If you cook and it is important to you to do it well, you need good tools.

                                        1. re: kaleokahu

                                          The venerable Kaleo :)

                                          Appreciate your words of advice.

                                          Regarding copper, It seems as if the only way I might get my hands on any copper pans is by going used/vintage due to prices. Not even sure where to begin looking in the UK.

                                          1. re: nano404

                                            Oh, nano, good vintage is best.

                                            eBay.co.uk features a lot, as does eBay.fr You can beat all us Yanks because you will not have to pay the high shipping.

                                        2. "And what items, looking back, do you wish you had invested more in when you 'started off' ?"


                                          So much so that I recently bought my grad-student daughter better-then-average-grad-student-knives

                                          Half Sheets.

                                          Weird since my mother was a baker, but I ended up with a mish-mash of old wedding gifts (non-stick cookie sheets? ugh) and stuff left behind by room mates over the years.
                                          I finally tossed 'em all and bought some decent, basic NOT non-stick half-sheets. I liked roasting veggies before...now I LOVE turning on the oven!

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: pedalfaster

                                            Half sheet pans - I bought one from a restaurant supply store, and liked. Bought a set of 2 from Samsclub intending to give them to my daughter-in-law. But she had too many (wedding gifts) so I kept them. They are useful for lots of things besides baking - cooling racks, drip pans, stove top burner cover...

                                            comal - Mexican carbon steel baking sheet (disk). I have 3 sizes. Largest (12") is used for tortillas (flour), 10" fits the toaster oven and works great for a batch of biscuits.

                                            tapas pans - enameled steel, like mini-paella pans. Mostly used as utility plates in the kitchen

                                            stainless steel mixing bowls - smallest restaurant size. Better shape and size than the matching set we got for wedding.

                                            1. re: pedalfaster

                                              I really want better knives, particularly a chef's/cook's knife.

                                              My issue with buying knives is: I look at the best knives I can find, Masamoto, Hattori and the like, though I can't really afford it.Then when I look for something in my price range, I compare it to the best knives available and look down on it. Then when I really need a knife I get a cheap one from a store.

                                              I'm hopeless.

                                            2. Cooking style, kitchen size and equipment, family (or entertaining) number, all influence the optimal cookware.

                                              With 2 people and a condo kitchen without gas or outside vent, means I don't need large evenly heating pans. If I need to sear at high heat, my best pans are carbon steel on an outdoor gas burner. I can braise in any ovenproof covered pot, and rarely need more than 3 qts size. I use an 8" skillet and 2 qt (or smaller) sauce pan more than anything else.

                                              1. Heck, I'm still bummed at myself for getting the Calphalon contemporary nonstick set instead of the stainless set (same price or close enough) back from my wedding registry only 8 years ago. All the non-stick stuff has warn out and has been or should be tossed.

                                                On the parent example, for Christmas I gave my mom a stainless store brand 5 quart dutch oven to replace the avocado green formerly non-stick aluminum number she had been using with metal utensils since time/her marriage began. Her cookware is all stainless except for one omelet pan, but she was loving the avocado. I was so proud of her for tossing it!

                                                1. Very little, surprisingly. A few years ago, after the handle broke off my plain SS saucepan (acquired in 1967), I bought a modern bi-ply (aluminum/SS) large saucepan. It is a real improvement because it doesn't have hot spots which cause scorching.

                                                  But other things which cost next to nothing long ago have endured. A cast iron skillet probably bought at a yard sale in the 1970s. A carbon steel Chinese vegetable knife bought ca. 1975 which is still my most-used kitchen knife. A small Japanese paring knife with a SS recurved blade and a nice cherrywood handle with an oval cross section, bought at Tiffany's drug store in 1967 or 68 (my second oldest knife). I've never seen another like it.

                                                  1. Putting the average Yugo driver in a race car will not make him a race drive, only dead. The faulty syllogism is that people who really don’t know how to cook may think that expensive accoutrement make them cooks, it does not.

                                                    Well known that the likes of Jeff Gordon drives a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, David Coulthard, a 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SE, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., a 1967 Camaro, and 1972 Camaro. So? Only a fool would use a race car for daily driving,


                                                    But a real pro knows when to use high end or low end.
                                                    Belies the point, and you guys really do need to check your reading glasses, none if it has anything to do with knowing the physics, thermodynamics, physical chemistry of how an internal combustion engine works, no more than a bee keeper can tell you lots about the bee behavior without any knowledge of aerodynamics. These are analogies.

                                                    People who know how to cook understand cooking, and silly conduction experiments out of context are irrelevant. You want to spend money on high end stuff, do so if you enjoy owning high end stuff. Buy what you enjoy owning and using. A person who spends thousand on a matched set of high end, finds it doesn’t meet all needs well, and then proceeds to use it, stubbornly, for 25 years is dumb.

                                                    The stunt man who did this in an AMC Hornet knows how to drive; a fool with a drivers manual in hand couldn’t do this in a Bugatti: