January 20, 2010 2:51 PM   Subscribe

What pots and pans should I get?

I've got £250 to spend on pots and pans. What should I get?

I've got a mixed up bunch of pots at the moment; the only decent one is a big Le Creuset casserole. I've got a bit of money to spend on new stuff, but what should I get?

I'd prefer not bare aluminium (long term health issues I believe), and I'm not really bothered about non-stick. Copper seems expensive and I've heard it's pretty high maintenance, also it needs to be robust and dishwasher proof.

Any advice from the hive?
posted by BadMiker to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
You really can't beat All-Clad.
posted by electroboy at 2:54 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Cook's Illustrated covers this kind of thing fairly regularly.
posted by box at 2:56 PM on January 20, 2010

Without knowing what you already have or what you like to cook it's hard to say. I think having mixed up pans is fine, and I think buying a set is a waste. Why not just buy a great version of the pans you use the most where evenness of heat matters?

For example, the money I spent on a huge All-Clad saute pan was well worth it, because I use it all the time for things where I need good even heat, but I won't be bothering to upgrade the cheap-but-decent pots I use for pasta.

Also, this is unromantic, but once you decide what you want, your money will go much further if you buy on ebay or from a store like HomeGoods. You could probably get two big All-Clad pots for that money at HomeGoods.

Don't bother with copper unless you love the look, and don't spend much money (if any) on non-stick IMHO.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:57 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I will be the first of many to say that you should get the biggest cast Iron pan that you can comfortably move around your kitchen, if you don't have one already. Nonstick (ish), not as hard to clean/maintain as some people say, and ovenproof to boot.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:57 PM on January 20, 2010

Aside from being pretty, there is no reason to use copper.

I'm a big fan of enameled cast iron, like your Le Creuset, but all-clad is also a good bet. Consider carefully how many pots and pans you actually want/need/use. A lot of people tend to have more stuff in their kitchen than they really need. This is especially true if you get a couple of sizable pieces.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:58 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Was going to say the Le Creuset french oven, but I guess you have that covered. You probably need at least 2 pots and 2 saute pans. I have hard anodized aluminum and it's great. From what I've read, it's not harmful to your health because of the super-hard coating; it's also really easy to take care of.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:58 PM on January 20, 2010

Lodge makes some enamelled cast iron that's comparable to Le Creuset, but half the price.
posted by electroboy at 3:02 PM on January 20, 2010

Ok, upon further research it seems that hard anodized cookware is not dishwasher safe (I had no idea, since I don't have a dishwasher). In that case, nthing All-Clad!
posted by melissasaurus at 3:05 PM on January 20, 2010

Ultra-mega comprehensive resource right here -- Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:10 PM on January 20, 2010

All clad is pretty expensive, they got great stuff, it's the stainless/aluminum/stainless ply that works so well. Other brands may offer the same but cheaper.

For pans, start your cast iron collection now, cheap and durable.
posted by Max Power at 3:14 PM on January 20, 2010

You can get All-Clad-like pans from the restaurant supply!

You are looking for sturdy rivets, metal lids, thick stainless steel.

Also nthing having a mix. Le Creuset for the casseroles and grill pan, a quality cast-iron fry pan, maybe? You get the idea.

Mostly, I always look for things that will go in the oven!


My most favorite-ist pan of all time, that magically disappeared somewhere around 2005, after I worked a fantastic 10 year patina onto it??

My magic TITANIUM ScanPan frying pan.

They've gotten heaps more expensive in the last ten years, but if you can find one for cheap - BUY IT.
posted by jbenben at 3:26 PM on January 20, 2010

Get at least one good cast-iron pan and learn how to season and care for it properly. You can use it for so much.

Also get at least one good non-stick pan for eggs and other delicate things.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:26 PM on January 20, 2010

Nthing cast iron. I use a cast iron wok by texsport everyday. I use an 8" cast iron skillet for most other things that my grandmother acquired as a new bride that made the ride to texas in a wagon. When i need a sauce pan i use a plexiglass (just like what scientific equipment is made from) that my mom-in-law got me for a house warming present. Keep it simple, small number and learn to use what you have. Technique is way more important than have a fancy pan for every use-my recommendations for cast iron

round skillet (8 or 10 inch)
dutch oven with tight fitting lid
season per numerous guides online-its not hard

about 95% of all cooking needs can be done with these three.

additionally get two rectangular cookie sheets and a grilling rack for one of them (get from a restaurant supply)

get two medium saucepans (i really like the plexiglass)

use wooden spoons and spatulas (dont trust plastic) or silicon rubber

only buy additional stuff as you need and buy what alton brown recommends in his book.
posted by bartonlong at 3:27 PM on January 20, 2010

You should go to a restaurant supply store and buy stainless steel kitchen pans, which should run you from $15-$40 a pop. Don't drop a bunch of money on All-Clad packaged in a pretty box for Food Network-watching dilettantes with too much cash. If it's good enough for a working restaurant kitchen, it is good enough to use (much less frequently) with your (much less powerful) stove.

Two saute pans (a small and a large), three saucepans (a medium and a large, with lids), and a really big stockpot are plenty for even a reasonably complicated dinner. Add a smaller saucepan for sauces if you like. A big, wide straight-sided saute pan with a lid is nice to have for braising on the stove top and using as in impromptu roasting pan. And if you prefer not to go with Teflon or something, get a carbon steel omelette or crepe pan for stuff that really should be cooked in non-stick. A big roasting pan is good to have, too.

Then get some porcelain ramekins and gratin dishes, sized for whatever you cook in the oven. They can go in the oven and then go to the table. Some real half-size sheet pans (with rolled edges, not "cookie sheets", wtf). Other baking things as required; again go for rolled edges on cake and loaf pans. Pick up nested bowl sets in glass or metal (you can never have enough) and stainless steel no bullshit utensils, too. OK, maybe some silicone spatulas and wooden spoons.

Then, go to a thrift shop and buy a large and a small cast iron skillet and clean them up.

You will have so much money left! You could spend some of it on a plain white service of plates and real wine and water glasses for twelve people, in patterns that won't be discontinued or look stupid tomorrow so you can replace items as they break and use them for a long time. Keep an eye out for a real silver service in a pattern you like at estate sales (use it every day, and toss it in the dishwasher with everything else). You'll never want to spend that much money in one go again, and it sucks to need to run out and buy plates for a dinner party because you don't have enough.

Really. Don't go to a department store or fancy kitchen store, ever. The scam places like Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table are putting over on self-proclaimed "foodies" - you have to own all this overengineered crap to cook well at home - is ridiculous, almost criminal. I mean, $180 for what? Pah. You can be serious about cooking at home without needing to spend serious money. Goes double for if you just want to cook enough not to starve. Expensive cookware is better at only one kitchen function - impressing people.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:28 PM on January 20, 2010 [25 favorites]

BadMiker: “Copper seems expensive and I've heard it's pretty high maintenance...”

There's a lot of good advice here, so this will just be a tiny point, and maybe not that big a deal at all, but:

Copper is an excellent cooking metal chiefly because, of all the metals used to make cookware, it is by far the most evenly conductive. That's why you often see copper-plated cookware - because the copper plating makes the cookware much better at heating evenly and regularly. Depending upon the stove you use, you might find that copper really improves your cooking experience; especially electric (or maybe really primitive gas) stoves work best with copper cookware, I find. And, yes, completely copper cookware can be a little more expensive, but it's only high-maintenance because the surface admits of polishing, so if you don't polish it regularly it'll look a little dross; it's not really an issue for me, since I polish maybe once every two weeks, and since I'm not exactly personally invested in having my pots and pans be absolutely shiny all the time.

But other metals can be almost as good, and you might not even notice the difference. Just thought I'd point out the practical purpose of copper.
posted by koeselitz at 3:38 PM on January 20, 2010

Frankly, I agree that stainless steel is really going to be an all-around great type of cookware for almost any kitchen, and I'd throw my support behind it. It's pure enough nowadays that it seems to heat just fine, and it's robust and cheap enough that you'll find great sturdy stainless steel pots and pans for a good price.
posted by koeselitz at 3:40 PM on January 20, 2010

It's definitely better to pay more for fewer pans that you're comfortable with, and will actually use. That takes a bit of hands-on.

Nigel Slater's advice in Appetite is for "a couple of deep pans, a frying pan, a roasting tin and some sort of ridged grill pan", though he expands it out along these lines: a cast iron griddle or grill pan; a couple of big, heavy stainless steel pots; a frying pan or two (if you get two, get ones of different sizes and thicknesses); a sauteuse (deep-sided frying pan); a couple of saucepans; a "diddy pan" for sauces or heating milk; a roasting tin; an enamelled casserole; a wok.

I'll elaborate further: perhaps a French carbon steel frying pan, much easier to find in the UK than the US. Not dishwasher-safe, but well worth the effort to keep it at its best. Also, if you're inclined to use a pressure cooker, the 6.5 or 8l versions can be used unpressurised as good heavy 18/10 stainless stockpots or pasta pots. Stainless with copper in the base is also going to be the best compromise between price, performance and

Lodge makes some enamelled cast iron that's comparable to Le Creuset, but half the price.

Lodge isn't so ubiquitous (or as cheap) in the UK, and unenamelled cast iron doesn't really have the same prevalence in British kitchens as the US, though it probably ought to.
posted by holgate at 3:47 PM on January 20, 2010

ahem: "price, performance and cleanup."
posted by holgate at 3:48 PM on January 20, 2010

And for what it's worth: my current mainstays are the two solid 18/10 pans from my Fagor pressure cooker, an enamelled casserole, a Lodge skillet, a small Anolon egg pan, and cheapish 3L and 1L stainless saucepans. I have other pans, but very rarely use them.
posted by holgate at 4:00 PM on January 20, 2010

i'm really happy with the all-clad saucepans i have, as well as my lodge logic pizza pan which i use for everything from pizza (duh) to pancakes, steaks, eggs...yum. both are easy-to-clean, low maintenance, will last for a long, long time (knock on pans).
posted by xiaolongbao at 4:05 PM on January 20, 2010

Holy crap, peachfuzz, I knew WS sold some ridiculous things but that.... Anyway, if anyone is considering that contraption, you can achieve the same result by roasting your chicken directly on the oven rack with your skillet\whatnot full of veg and aromatics below.
posted by sanko at 4:11 PM on January 20, 2010

When mentioning copper, it helps to be clear about what this means.

There are all-copper pots which are unlined and are used for making candy. They can only be used for making candy, because pretty much all other foods will cause copper to leach into the food, which will poison you.

Then there are copper pots which are tin- or stainless-steel lined. Tin-lined pots do indeed require more maintenance. If the soft tin is scratched away from using metal or other sharp utensils, this exposes (poisonous) copper and requires re-lining, which is annoying. Stainless steel is more forgiving of abuse.

All told, the benefit of using copper ware is that heat conducts through it quickly and evenly, which can make your cooking results better.

All-Clad (and others) make multilayered pots and pans, some of which contain a copper core. You get the ease of maintenance of stainless steel and the heat conductivity of copper. All-Clad stuff is tough as nails and I'd highly recommend taking a look at their stuff.

You can't go wrong with a cast iron pan, but it does require a bit of work to get it seasoned. Once seasoned, however, it works well for low-acid food. It browns meat much better than my All-Clad pans. Plus, cast iron is cheap as hell. You could even go cheaper, getting one used and just re-seasoning it.

Le Crueset makes a nice enameled saucepot, which also does a good job of browning.

All Clad, cast iron and Le Creuset(*) can all be moved from stovetop to oven.

(*) Under 400 degrees, anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:33 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

All-Clad is nice but insanely, stupidly, insultingly overpriced. Also, many people find the handles awkward, and the lips are not rolled, so pouring is difficult. A very high-quality product at a much saner price, although not as well-known, is Sitram. I own pieces of both Sitram and All-Clad and vastly prefer the Sitram. They are disc-bottom, not straight-gauge, but there are very few circumstances where you really need the cladding to go up the sides anyway. Google around and you will find that many serious cooks like it quite a bit. But really, for the amount of money you're talking about, I think you'd do best to follow the Mark Bittman strategy linked above.
posted by HotToddy at 5:07 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

One small point about copper that I didn't see made above: a fair number of saucepans are copper-based - with a slice of copper right across the entire base, but normally protected by some other metal on the upper & lower sides.

As copper is an excellent conductor of heat, this helps prevent uneven hotspots that you might otherwise get from your cooktop - burning parts of your sauce while underheating others.

The idea of using all-copper to transfer heat to the walls of your saucepans seems a bit of overkill to me, but you really do want a nice, even spread of heat across the base of your pans.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:32 PM on January 20, 2010

Nthing the stainless steel; just don't go to a specialty place for it. My dept. store pans have lasted over a decade, and it's as easy to clean as ever.

The only Teflon pans I have are for crepes. If you make crepes, get a pan with as small a lip as you can; it makes flipping easier.

Another reason not to use copper pans would be if you cook with an induction range; copper transmits the induced current less well than iron or steel.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:24 PM on January 20, 2010

If you are near an IKEA, they do very good deals on nice, heavy-bottomed stainless and non-stick cookware. You need heavy bottoms, or food will burn. But other than that, go on size of pan. If you are cooking mainly for 1-2 people, a 2.5 - 3 litre (8") non-stick pan is the most useful size - plus a 2 litre non-stick pan for rice and a 5 litre stainless steel pan for pasta. I find an 8-10 litre stockpot or large casserole is good for larger groups of people.
I have an 8 litre pressure cooker that doubles as my large stovetop cooking pot. Buy as heavy a stainless steel pot as you can find - John Lewis has some good quality pressure cookers and the sales associates are not on commission so they won't mislead you about what is the best deal.
Then get a large, oven-proof casserole. Make sure that both the finish (if non-stick) and the lid are oven-safe to at least 400ºF. This is where a good quality cast-iron pan can come in useful (oven-safe to any temperature you can generate). Cast iron has to be seasoned properly and periodically or food will catch and burn. You can get just as good quality as Le Creuset way more cheaply from IKEA.

Finally, as you're Scottish, you'll need at least one IKEA frying pan for the Mars Bars and Pizza ... :-)
posted by Susurration at 6:58 PM on January 20, 2010

I have a mix: Le Creuset casserole, All Clad saucepans & saute pan, cast iron frypans & griddle, French steel frypan, plain steel wok. I do find that the All Clad stuff spreads the heat better than the cast iron, and the cast iron & plain steel pans are close to non-stick if I treat them right. Woks are very cheap & easy to come by here in the states, if you live in a big enough city. I buy my cast iron pans on eBay, I think the old stuff is better than what's being made today & even though it's somewhat collectible it's cheaper as well. In the US, Griswold & Wagner made the best stuff.

re: copper - not really worth the money in my opinion. A hundred years ago, a tinned copper pan offered a combination of heat conduction and an inert cooking surface, that couldn't be beat; enameled cast iron (as in Le Creuset) was the relatively cheap alternative. Today, some variant of a stainless/aluminum sandwich performs arguably as well as copper, is indestructable, and even all-clad is cheaper than copper or enamel.
posted by mr vino at 7:30 PM on January 20, 2010

I just got a few SafePan frying pans and they're awesome. They're non-stick ceramic.
posted by Nameless at 8:49 PM on January 20, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, it's very interesting the cachet given to uncoated cast iron, I'd only ever thought of enamelled cast iron. I have a wonderful, but ancient and chipped, Copco pan which I much prefer to Le Creuset; lighter, more versatile, better shaped.

Regarding aluminium; I believe that there are questions on the safety of aluminium and, although hard anodising is a durable surface, it will still be scratched and I'd rather avoid.

Remarks on copper are very helpful. It seems best used as a thermal conductor in a composite pan. On its own it's pretty, and that's about it.

It's not just the thermal conductivity of the material which is important; thermal capacity also has an effect on the even distribution of heat and the way heat transfers to the food. This is one of the big attractions of cast iron, and another of the reasons to avoid pure aluminium.

I should have mentioned; I am in the UK so a lot of the US cookware is not readily available here. All-clad looks great. And expensive! Unfortunately Sitram doesnt seem available in the UK.

Any opnions on the stainless clad Raymond Blanc stuff made by Meyer Anolon?
posted by BadMiker at 5:17 AM on January 21, 2010

I believe that there are questions on the safety of aluminium

There are not. This is a terrible example of bad science & reporting from the 70's confusing the cause of Alzheimer's disease with symptoms. It is utterly unfounded and complete rot. There are lots of good information on this, but this myth has long legs. Here's the US NIH, for example.
posted by bonehead at 7:01 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, many people find the handles awkward, and the lips are not rolled, so pouring is difficult.

Their new d5 line is nice, with rolled lips and big handles. I had a gift card so I managed to get a 3 qt pot to replace an old scratched non-stick pot.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:31 AM on January 21, 2010

Oh, by the way, IKEA's most expensive cookware range (FAVORIT?) is actually excellent, the best non-All-Clad stuff I've cooked with.
posted by crabintheocean at 1:43 PM on January 21, 2010

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