Choosing cookware
November 10, 2004 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some cookware, and need some help choosing. [mi]

My basic needs are non-stick cookware, semi-decent looking to leave out in the kitchen. Right now, I don't have much but a few pieces, so I would like to buy a set.

I was looking at a T-Fal Jamie Oliver set, but thought MeFiers might know better.
posted by benjh to Food & Drink (23 answers total)
I have the mid- to high-end Caphalon non-stick set, and while I like them for cooking I wouldn't leave them out on in my kitchen. My 10" pan that I use the most has wierd blotchy discolorations on the bottom that I can't scrub off.
posted by Coffeemate at 9:21 AM on November 10, 2004

I would recommend buying one piece at a time, and doing that by going down to a store with a wide range of brands to pick pans up and see if you like the feel. In SoCal I usually head to Bed Bath & Beyond.

If you buy a set you lock yourself in to one type of surface. Stainless steel, hard-anodized, cast iron, and non-stick all cook things very differently. Also, you may not need all the pans you'd get in a set. Picking one at a time will let you match your pans to your cooking needs.

Having said all that, I've been happiest with Calphalon. Their Hard-Anodized is wonderful (don't put it in the dishwasher), and their non-stick is better than others I've used.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:24 AM on November 10, 2004

For non-stick pans, head to a restaurant supply store -- you can get an 8" pan for around $15 in NY.

It probably won't meet your "leave out" requirement, but it doesn't make sense to spend a lot on non-stick cookware if you cook often. Teflon wears off, and re-purchasing a $200 pan every three years is kind of a waste.
posted by o2b at 9:59 AM on November 10, 2004

I'll second y6y6y6 and suggest you buy pieces individually rather than a set. In my experience cookware sets always seem to include one piece that I either already have or know I will never use.

I've had excellent luck buying brand-new Le Creuset pieces on eBay. I'm very happy with them for things like risottos and roasts and so forth, and while they aren't officially "non-stick" they have been very easy to clean.
posted by ambrosia at 10:03 AM on November 10, 2004

I know non-stick *seems* like a good idea, but you really don't want non-stick for your skillets or saute pans because you actually do want the food to stick a little in order to create better caramelization and a "fond" for making a sauce.

Even the most expensive non-stick pans are subject to the eventual flaking off of the non-stick surface.

I third y6's suggestion of buying individual pieces, too. You can customize the set to meet your needs a lot better that way, and if you really need a non-stick pan for a particular purpose, you aren't stuck with all non-stick. All the better brands offer their single pieces in both regular and non-stick.
posted by briank at 10:07 AM on November 10, 2004 [1 favorite]

Buy them individually, for sure.

Go to a department store, or Williams Sonoma or Sur la Table, discover what you're interested in, and then buy it from or's clearance section.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:09 AM on November 10, 2004

How/what do you usually cook? You may want a non-stick pan for eggs, but there is some controversy about the safety of teflon coatings, especially above medium heat. Also, what BrianK said about fond. Browning things on non-stick doesn't work so well.

I keep my pans -- AllClad and cast iron -- out on a pegboard, they look pretty good. Barkeeper's Friend will keep the AC shiny.
posted by mimi at 10:18 AM on November 10, 2004

I second o2b. Nonstick = disposable = cheap. The coating will be gone in a few years, so you're better off just getting cheap stuff.


A set of nonstick isn't a great idea as it will really limit what you can cook. Yeah, you want one or two frying pans that are nonstick. But you *also* want at least one frying pan that you can put under the broiler -- great for chicken parmagiana, etc. You want pots and pans that you can take a whisk to with abandon, great for sauces.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it won't be nonstick. Assuming you're not a complete disaster of a fuckhead in the kitchen, it's not going to be a problem. If something does stick, just leave it to soak a bit and use Very Harsh Methods to get it off.

Anything with a thick sandwich / layered bottom (or a full sandwich up the sides too) should be fine. All-clad is *wonderful* but costs the earth. I've heard good things about the Kirkland set ($200) at Costco. Just about any set of stainless will be attractive enough to leave out, and it all looks sufficiently alike that you can mix and match.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:20 AM on November 10, 2004 [1 favorite]

First things first- don't buy cheap cookware. Cheap cookware doesn't cook well and doesn't last. Invest in a few pieces of quality cookware. Ditto knives.

Second, don't buy a set. As others have said, buy the individual pieces you want. A set will come with 2 pieces you want, and 3 you don't.

If you're dead-set on getting non-stick cookware, get Analon Titanium. It's anodized aluminum rather than coated teflon, which means the non-stick material is more durable and less toxic. Basically, it won't flake. It's not cheap, but I have a 10" skillet and that fucker cooks.

Along with non-stick cookware, make sure you have a set of silicone/rubber/plastic tools. DO NOT USE METAL ON IT, as it will scratch the surface and reduce the lifespan of your pan.
posted by mkultra at 10:27 AM on November 10, 2004

Response by poster: As far as what I cook, I suppose I should have prefaced this by saying I am a relative novice to the kitchen. I was raised on fast food and banquet meals as a child (which I would postulate is what led to 25 years of obesity).

But I'm 27 now, lost the weight, and want to cook my meals instead of buying them out, like I was raised to do.

I can do some things, like pasta, some sauces, and the like. But my current cookware stock consist of 2 pieces of T-Fal, some Ikea pots, and an old stove top griddle that someone gave me that covers two burners. The reason I was going to get a set was because I figured it would just be more convenient, considering I won't have overlap because I don't own any.

But what I'm gathering, is that my current non-stick should be enough, and I should get something else besides non-stick. But I've heard people's nightmares about stainless steel cooking. And i don't want to use a lot of oil/butter/etc because of health concerns.
posted by benjh at 10:36 AM on November 10, 2004

I still agree with the buy one piece at a time advice. I lurves my all-clad saute pan (stainless) and frypan for eggs (nonstick). The stainless pan is not hard to clean - a simple soak sorts it right out even if it looks bad. Barkeepers friend is excellent.

Nonstick tangent - how hot can a nonstick coating get? IOW, what temp is 'medium'? I want a small roaster oven and nonstick liner appeals - but roasters go up to 450 degrees.
posted by cairnish at 10:40 AM on November 10, 2004

I'll second the notions of avoiding sets and non-stick stuff.

I have a mix of LeCreuset and All-Clad, which are both great. Both manufacturers give lifetime guarantees.

The LeCreuset (enamel-coated cast-iron) cleans up well even though it's technically not non-stick. You can put it in the oven and it looks pretty sharp too (you can buy it in different colors).

The regular stainless steel All-Clad stuff rocks and it will pretty much always look new if you clean it with Barkeeper's Friend. There are outlet stores which sell "irregular" All-Clad stuff at big discounts. Some of the irregularities are almost impossible to see. You can usually find stuff with no visible imperfections for about 50-70% of the regular price.

The only non-stick piece I regularly use is an omelet pan.
posted by titanshiny at 11:03 AM on November 10, 2004

Another vote for "don't buy a set" here. I also prefer cast iron to non-stick, but appreciate that many people don't like to do an endurance workout when they cook. On the other hand, I don't consider any non-stick pan an object worth display. Buy copper if that's what you're looking for.

Cook's Illustrated this month says that the Jamie Oliver one is an ok pan, and that the Wolfgang Puck ones are acceptable. Their recommendations are usually worth thinking about. If you want to learn more about cooking, CI is one of the best magazines out there.

Frankly, I've had the best luck by ignoring name brands and shopping at a restaurant supply store. It's cheaper than buying name brands and you get very durable cookware. Get a good pan which can work on the stove top and under the broiler, 3-4 qt and 6 qt sauce pans (all with lids) and you can cook almost anything for groups of four or less (the oven pan doubles as a roast pan and so on). Add to this as you figure out how you like to cook.

Cooking with less oil is a matter of technique rather than the pan you use. Grill rather than sear, stir-fry or saute rather than pan-fry.
posted by bonehead at 11:13 AM on November 10, 2004

But I've heard people's nightmares about stainless steel cooking

I'm a klutz and I haven't had problems with stainless.

Worst case if something sticks / burns: you pour some really hot (or boiling even) water into it, add a little soap, and leave to fester for a few hours. It'll clean up easy.

And i don't want to use a lot of oil/butter/etc because of health concerns

You don't need a lot-lot. And use olive oil. Olive oil good for you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:16 AM on November 10, 2004

Dupont, the largest non-stick manufacturer, claims that it's coatings are safe to 500 F, but I'd be careful of taking anything much above 350 F (the smoke point of butter) or 400 F (olive oil). Note that refined oils, canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, peanut all have smoke points in the 425-450 F range, too close for (my) comfort.
posted by bonehead at 11:26 AM on November 10, 2004

Oh, I know this is totally off-topic, but I want to pass along a great tip I got recently regarding smoke points- when you do cook with butter (and you should, when the recipe calls for it), add a liiiittle bit of olive oil. It'll raise the smoke point and reduce the risk of burning your butter.
posted by mkultra at 11:53 AM on November 10, 2004

Why not wait until you have some cooking experience before you try to buy the "best" cookware? You don't yet know what you'll like to cook and how to cook it. If I wanted to learn woodworking I wouldn't rush out to get $2000 table saw. For example, I think you'll find that cheap clad-bottom saucepans will be as useful to you as the expensive stuff for a long time (if not forever). Get a few inexpensive frying pans - non-stick, cast iron, whatever. See how they work for different kinds of cooking and how they hold up, then spring for the good stuff. Roasting pan? It will be a long time before you'll find use for anything but disposable foil ones from the supermarket. Borrow different varieties and brands from family and friends and see how you like them.

And only non-cooks care what their cookware looks like when they aren't cooking. Or when they are, for that matter.
posted by TimeFactor at 1:06 PM on November 10, 2004

Why not wait until you have some cooking experience before you try to buy the "best" cookware? You don't yet know what you'll like to cook and how to cook it. If I wanted to learn woodworking I wouldn't rush out to get $2000 table saw. For example, I think you'll find that cheap clad-bottom saucepans will be as useful to you as the expensive stuff for a long time (if not forever).

I disagree pretty strongly with this. You might decide you don't like woodworking, but you will cook. Cheap cookware won't last and will actually make cooking a more frustrating experience. Good cookware lets you cook better without fiddling with your stove. If you have any doubt about this, buy one piece of good cookware- a nice, heavy frying pan. You'll see the difference instantly.

But, yeah, skip the roasting pan.
posted by mkultra at 1:34 PM on November 10, 2004

'nother vote for the black stuff. it's cheap, non-stick, lasts forever, and it's great exercise. well, there is some stuff you can't cook in it (acidic, etc.)

best of all you can get it pre-seasoned (and no, the shipping was not outrageous... I'm still trying to figure that one out)
posted by dorian at 1:49 PM on November 10, 2004

Cast iron is also a pain if you don't maintain it nicely. Love it well, and it will treat you well. Let it go, and it will lose its seasoning, rust, and then burn your hand out of spite.
posted by mkultra at 3:37 PM on November 10, 2004

Thou shalt put no pan before Lodge.
posted by majick at 8:15 PM on November 10, 2004

mkultra: I have an assortment of cookware that I've collected over the years. I've ended up with (nearly) exactly what I need. Had I gone out and bought a set when I first started cooking 25 years ago I would have 1) paid much too much and 2) ended up with pieces that weren't useful to me and without a lot that are. I'm assuming that benjh does not have limitless piles of money to devote to cookware and money not spent unnecessarily on cookware is more money to spend on cookbooks, utensils, ingredients, etc. which will help as much as cookware to make him a better cook.

And no, cheap cookware can last just fine. None of my cast-iron ware is younger than 15 and some of it is well over 50 (inherited). And all were dirt cheap and, for many things, are the best tool for the job (when well seasoned). I myself use cheap clad-bottom saucepans and they're holding up fine and aren't significantly better than any of the very expensive ones I've used and about 1/20th price. No, cheap no-stick stuff doesn't last but for omelets I actually prefer the cheap aluminum no-stick omelet pans. I just replace them when they starts to get too scratched. Wok? I've been using the same one that I bought in china town 20 years ago for something like $8. Someone who thinks a $150 wok is necessary either has too much money or doesn't know how to cook or both.

I have spent a lot on knives and they've been worth it (although cheap Japanese cleavers are great for many tasks) but didn't get a set and am glad of it because I'd have ended up with knives I didn't need. I'd rather spend more for exactly what I did need (which for me are one each of boning, paring, and chef's knives. I use those ultra cheap "laser" knives from the supermarket for bread and tomato slicing). And I'm not giving up my 12" All-Clad fryer (but probably would have mistakenly bought a too small one when I first started out). I do admit I've wasted money economizing on food processors and would have ultimately saved money starting out with a better one.

So, I'm sticking with my original advice. Don't buy the expensive stuff to begin with unless you have too much money (in which case kindly send some to me - contact me by e-mail, it's in my profile). Wait until you've had a little experience and know just what you want. That's what I've done and am glad for it.
posted by TimeFactor at 8:21 PM on November 10, 2004

Another vote for ditching the set idea and ditching the non stick nonsense and browsing at Bed Bath and Beyond (or Bridge if you are in NY)

I'm going to disagree about buying cheap stuff though. If you aren't completely strapped, at least one really nice pan that cooks like a dream and looks gorgeous - like this All Clad baby - will actually encourage you to cook and make the experience more fun. (I'm fanatic about the All Clad in the stainless line - but shop around, there are always good deals. I just linked there because it was the first one that popped up.)

Also, for all your non stick needs, I got this recently and it's like a miracle with omelets and fritattas and so on. Looks pretty snazzy and it's got a nice heft to it too. And you can't beat the price.

(I would counsel you to avoid the heavy cast iron stuff that you have to season yourself. I can never get it right.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:54 AM on November 11, 2004

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