Give me tips to shop for used pots and pans.
March 25, 2012 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Give me tips to shop for used pots and pans.

I would like to replace several pieces of cookware. I want champagne pots on a beer budget. Rather than buying new, expensive brand-name matching pots and pans, I'd like to try to find good quality individual pieces at thrift stores and places like Goodwill. I prefer that they NOT have a non-stick surface, and I want pans that will last me twenty years. Cast-iron is AOK.

What are the brand names that I should look out for? How can I best spot good quality pieces? Has anyone else done this successfully? Are there certain pieces that will be easier/harder to find?
posted by bq to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Lodge is the standard in cast iron. For others, choose the heaviest pans in the thrift store. Buy slowly. To boil water, any pot will do. For sauces, etc. get heavy.
Consider the high end thrift stores run by American Cancer Society, women's leagues, etc. and consider shopping at restaurant supply stores; good, heavy, useful pieces with no markup due to "name brands."
posted by blob at 5:03 PM on March 25, 2012

Cast iron is cheap. You just have to season it. Lodge is a commonly available brand, but you might luck out and find something really old and unique at a thift store. Cast iron is cast iron, so if you're lucky and someone threw away an heirloom pan, about the only thing you'll need to do is season it. To see if it is in bad shape, look for lots of rust or hairline cracks.

Restaurants are notoriously cheap and don't spend much on pots and pans. If you want something new and inexpensive, you can buy very cheap aluminum pots and pans (we're talking ~$20-30) at restaurant supply shops. Tougher to clean, definitely. But the pros use 'em.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:04 PM on March 25, 2012

I am doing the same thing and just bought a Calaphan pan with lid and two smaller sauce pans for $12.00 at a thrift store. They are in excellent condition. I received a 60% discount off the price because I volunteer at the store but I would have paid the full price of $25.00. Sometimes you can call a store if they know you and they will hold an item for you. Of course I live in a small town where things like that are probably more possible but you never know.
posted by cairnoflore at 5:16 PM on March 25, 2012

I have a few Lodge pans myself, cast iron.
They are great and unlike other types of cookware, I would not be squeamish at all getting them second-hand at a thrift store because you can practically nuke cast iron without damage.
I'd only warn against the "comfort" (wooden) handles that some come with. Weakest point and will eventually break down, plus these can't go in the oven.
posted by bebrave! at 5:18 PM on March 25, 2012

I keep hearing (and have no way of verifying) that chefs who aren't paid to endorse cookware on camera use fairly inexpensive stuff from restaurant supply stores, if that changes anything. Cf. Mark Bittman.
posted by kimota at 5:26 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might check out estate sales in addition to thrift stores.
posted by juliapangolin at 5:43 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only thing I can think of to check is to make sure the bottom isn't warped. It's a sign that the material is either too thin or the core is not working well with the outer metal.
posted by advicepig at 5:53 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

glass/pyrex is a great find in thrift stores-as is cast iron. Seasoning isn't tough to redo. The best way is to burn the cast iron item in a fire. Literally start a fire((must be wood for this to work) in a fire place or pit or stove and once it gets going just lay the iron right in the fire. The old seasoning and any nastiness from the previous owner will burn right off. It will turn red hot or more and even get a little translucent on a hot fire. After it is out of the fire (it will take hours to cool) smear with some kind of grease-left over bacon grease is great, Crisco is great, lard is great (legend is bear fat is the best but probably just a myth/legend thing) and I hear flax seed oil is great. Put it in a low oven (say 250 or so) or even better an outdoor grill that is set as low as it will go so it doesn't smoke out your house and just let it set for a hour or two in the heat until it stops smoking-its done for several years. I am really leery of buying anything with a coating at a thrift store like Teflon or such. Every aluminum pan I have found is worn out and low quality, put I have found some good cast aluminum baking/roasting stuff in good shape.
posted by bartonlong at 6:03 PM on March 25, 2012

I have pieced together a nice set of stainless pots and pans over the years from thrift stores. Those old 60's and 70's stainless steel pots are nice and thick and will last forever.
posted by davey_darling at 6:05 PM on March 25, 2012

If you're looking for stainless steel, aluminum or something like tri-ply, then a few long lasting brands to look for are All-Clad, Cuisinart, and Calphalon. If you want copper, Mauviel is very well regarded. Also, for cast iron or enameled cast iron, look for Le Creuset, Staub or Lodge.
posted by echo0720 at 6:28 PM on March 25, 2012

You'll have to be patient, because good quality cookware rarely gets discarded. Sometimes people sell nice stuff on Craigslist but it ain't all that cheap. Thrift stores and garage sales tend to be cheaper but the stuff is usually pretty poor (cast iron excepted).

Your best bet is probably to look for brands that were very good 30+ years ago but are second-rate now, namely Revere Ware. They used to stamp the bottom of their pots with the year of manufacture (for warranty purposes) so look for stuff dated from the 1970s or early 80s. Pots from that era will easily last another 30 years but people think all Revere Ware is crap so they replace them. (I just cooked something in my saucepan from 1979, which is holding up like a champ and will undoubtedly outlive me.)
posted by Quietgal at 6:29 PM on March 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Good cast iron is a thing of beauty but it takes a bit of getting used to. Other vintage kinds are Griswold and Wagner. Both are great. They are, unfortunately, considered "collectible" but they show up cheap in some places. Have fun!
posted by Prayless at 6:34 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

my MIL swears you can find great condition Le Creuset at garage sales - that's partly how she built her collection. I don't get to spend much time garage sale-ing, but when I do stop at one, I'm always on the hunt for more Le Creuset.

I like my revere ware too - my grandmother used it all the time, and while it's no longer en vogue I love it for boiling water for pasta and such. If the copper looks icky, try painting on a thin layer of ketchup, letting it sit for a few seconds, then washing it off (takes off the tarnish, just like grandma used to do).

We have some nice, heavy all-clad style frying pans that were part of the martha stewart line at k-mart, too -- those get used a lot and have held up well.
posted by hms71 at 6:37 PM on March 25, 2012

The only thing I can think of to check is to make sure the bottom isn't warped. It's a sign that the material is either too thin or the core is not working well with the outer metal.

Well, whether it's a sign of that or not, what it IS a sign of is that the entire bottom will not be making contact with the burner (if you cook with anything other than gas this matters). Even the heaviest cast iron will warp if it has cold water run into it while it is saute-temperature hot, and a warped pan which only has a fraction of it hitting the heating element won't cook food well.

To test for whether a pan is warped or not, set it on a flat surface and try to spin it. If it spins, then it's warped, bulging out at a certain spot and giving it a spot on which to spin.

It's harder to test for pans that are warped inward, but those are much more rare.
posted by hippybear at 6:54 PM on March 25, 2012

i've gotten all my vintage milkglass pyrex at thrift stores. it's better than the newer, clear stuff. i prefer pyrex brand, but fireking is also good. i'd stay away from unbranded milkglass.

be careful with vintage fiestaware, some colors from some years might have uranium or lead (even though some say it isn't a concern).

if you do want new pans but don't want to spend $100 or more per pan, i suggest the cuisinart chef's classic. i got that exact set 8 months ago and i love it. consumer search also liked it.

if you end up going used, well maintained all-clad is what i'd be on the look out for.
posted by nadawi at 7:32 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like the stainless pots and pans of Farberware and Revereware (in that order). Not too fancy, not too crappy, still uses Bakelite on knobs and handles AFAIK.
posted by rhizome at 8:05 PM on March 25, 2012

My girlfriend's dad buys eggs from a woman at a flea market who sells vintage Pyrex, so check flea markets in your area for something similar. Apparently it's great or something, I have no say for comparison.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:30 PM on March 25, 2012

Your best indicator of quality pots and pans is going to be weight. Heavy pans will hold heat better, and are more likely to be solidly constructed. Look for sandwiched bottoms on pots - they are a good thing.

As others have already mentioned, cookware's utility doesn't always demand the highest quality. Crappy aluminum pans are indeed what the overwhelming number of restaurants use. These are not pretty pans, by any stretch, and before long, you will probably make them look even crappier. They are, however, impossible to destroy and go from stove top to oven and back beautifully.

2nding the recommendation to look for Revereware. It's not amazing or anything, but it's pretty decent, and you will see it at the Goodwill on a lucky day. Cast iron is less common, but you should be able to find some if you're persistent. I would not expect to see Le Creuset selling for cheap anywhere, but since it all has that enamel non-stick surface, you're not really interested in that anyway.
posted by Gilbert at 10:00 PM on March 25, 2012

If it's unfinished cast iron, the manufacturer doesn't really matter. Given the technology to cast iron it's really, really hard to screw up casting a pot.

My favorite pot of all time is a no-name, probably Chinese cast iron thing I found in an outback op shop and paid $12 for; about three litres, nice flat bottom, tapered sides, cast iron lid to match, and a wooden handle with an eye bolt running the length of it to hold it on (I can easily unscrew the handle to turn it into an oven pot).

When I bought it, that pot was a rusted mess. After 15 minutes of scouring with a coarse stainless steel scrubber and hot water and olive oil it was ready to go. I used it to make curries and rice and dampers and stews on campfires for the rest of that year's travel, scrubbing it out with plain water and oiling it lightly after each use, and by the time I got home it was nicely seasoned.
posted by flabdablet at 1:01 AM on March 26, 2012

If you don't happen to have a fire handy to get all the guck off your mightly cast iron pan then one way to clean it is oil and salt with a scrubby of some sort. I got a cast iron pan (for the awesome price of FREEEEEEE) that was pretty rusty, and my roomate's cute ol' mamaw told me to scrub it that way and it works. I use that pan all the time, it's the best for heat retention and for surface.
posted by ottergrrl at 6:52 AM on March 26, 2012

If you find Le Creuset, make sure the interior is completely smooth, with no chips or hairline cracks.

The thrift shops I go to have the tinniest cookware, nothing anyone would ever want. I was looking for All-Clad and had to give up on thrift shops. I found some new at various Marshalls, marked down quite a bit.
posted by sevenstars at 6:52 AM on March 26, 2012

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