What kind of cookware should I buy?
January 28, 2006 6:13 PM   Subscribe

What cookware should I buy? I've always had cheap non-stick cookware. I'm looking to buy my cookware for life, and I think I'll lose the teflon. Help me choose.

I'm looking at calphalon anodized, but some sites seem to indicate this is aluminum and I'd rather not get alzheimers. Is it aluminum? Am I right to worry? If I'm wrong to worry, what exactly is the difference between the "One" and "Commercial" Anodized?

I'll lose the teflon for health reasons, but if we can keep it relatively idiot proof and easy to wash that would be great (cake, eat it too, etc.)

I love gas stoves and will have a gas stove as long as it is my choice. But cookware should be good on gas or electric. Further, I'd love something I can use on high heat. I know lots of people say about pans "they're so great, you don't even have to use high heat" but when I hear that I"m thinking "Uhh...that's good, but wouldn't it be faster if you *did* you use high heat?".

Tell me, mefites, what kind of cookware can I get that's healthy, hassle-free, and long-lasting?

p.s. Yes, I searched. I found a post asking for non-stick cookware
posted by duck to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Essential cookware that meets most of your criteria is cast iron. Taking your time to season and then care for with minimal effort, will last you a lifetime and more.
For high heat cooking, such as searing, I put one of mine on a burner, without it's trivet, for a half an hour or more. The rest of the time it lives in the oven, where it continues to season in the heat. Highly recommended.
posted by Heatwole at 6:28 PM on January 28, 2006

Cast iron

Also high heat is not the best way to cook unless you're doing stir-fry. In general, you want even, medium/medium-high heat. Restaurants use high heat because they need to get food out fast before you start staring at your watch (same reason most restaurant food is already half-cooked, par-boiled prior to your order)
posted by junesix at 6:32 PM on January 28, 2006

I think you would be most happy with a set of clad cookware, that is, alternating layers of stainless steel, aluminum and sometimes copper. The stainless is the interior of the vessel and the AL is inside the other layers of metal and doesn't touch food. Spreads heat wonderfully, takes high heat very well. Search amazon for clad cookware or multiclad, to see choices. Prices vary. (I use Cuisinart @ home; All-Clad @ work.)

As for the anodized AL part, there's soft and hard anodized AL, you'll find both types used in cookware - I don't much care for them because of reactivity to certain food acids. I generally avoid AL pans for this reason alone. (The jury is still out on transmission of AL into the food.)

With Teflon, recent studies have shown that the pans aren't emitting any chemicals UNLESS they have been exposed to long, high heat, in excess of 550 deg F. Keep one for making eggs. (And other low-heat items.) Don't use abrasives on it. Pitch it if the Teflon cracks or flakes.
posted by rhymesinister at 6:35 PM on January 28, 2006

Response by poster: Just to be clear, when I say high heat, I don't mean just for searing, but for everything (pancakes, convenience foods, pasta, stir fries, etc. etc.). I'm fully aware that this is one of my harder to get requirements, but I thought I'd be clear on what I was asking, even if the truth is that only the other requirements are realistic.

If you're not supposed to cook on high heat, why does the knob go so high. Are they just taunting me?

Can I use the cast iron to non-sear cook on high heat?
posted by duck at 6:36 PM on January 28, 2006

Response by poster: Restaurants use high heat because they need to get food out fast before you start staring at your watch

What makes you think I'm not doing that at home? If anything, I do it more at home, since at the restaurant at least I'm sitting down and being leisurely while I wait, not cooking like I am at home.

Ok, I'll go away for a bit before I get accused of micro-moderating the thread. .
posted by duck at 6:38 PM on January 28, 2006

Calphlon is quite simply the best and lose the fear about aluminum and alzheimers. The aluminum in the tangles/plaques of alzheimer patients is most likely a product of the disease not a cause ( or so I believe as do most scientists and the Alzheimer's Society). Happy cooking and eating. As one scientist pointed out. If there was an association between eating aluminum and alzheimers every one using Tums would be brain dead.
posted by rmhsinc at 6:41 PM on January 28, 2006

Can I use the cast iron to non-sear cook on high heat?

Absolutely, once it's seasoned you go do anything. I agree that you should have some non-stick pans of quality, in addition to some copper clad. The arsenal is all dependant upon what you cook, and what you plan to cook.
posted by Heatwole at 6:51 PM on January 28, 2006

I'm paraphrasing from Robert Wolke's "What Einstein Told His Cook": An ideal pan should be able to distribute heat uniformly over its surface, transfer the heat quickly to the food, and respond quickly to changes in heat settings. That translates to thickness and heat conductivity. Heavy-gauge metals won't cool off when room-temperature ingredients are added. Thin pans will allow spots of heat directly to the food without transferring the heat sideways to the entire pan surface. Long story short: the best pan would have a bottom made out of solid silver.

That's obviously too costly, so the next choice is copper. Copper is toxic, however, so it must be coated with something. The best pans made are copper lined with stainless steel or nickel. Unfortunately, you won't be able to afford food once you buy a set of pans like that.

The next step down is aluminum lined with a nonreactive coating such as 18/10 stainless steel (the 18/10 means 18% chromium and 10% nickel). Calphalon makes anodized aluminum pans. The anodization makes it somewhat stick-resistant (not actually non-stick), but the surface can be susceptible to alkalines such as dishwashing detergent.

At the bottom is pure stainless steel. It's shiny, but that's about it.

Cast-iron cookware is a poor heat-conductor (about 18% as good as silver), but it will hold onto heat pretty well. That makes it good for cases where a high uniform temperature must be held for a long time (think fried chicken).

The FDA, the Alzheimer's Association, and Health Canada all agree that there is no evidence at this time that aluminum ingestion is linked to Alzheimer's. Studies have show contradictory evidence. In any case, anodization or lining an aluminum pan with a non-reactive coating prevents the aluminum from interacting with acidic foods.
posted by forrest at 6:53 PM on January 28, 2006

What kind of non-sear high heat cooking are you considering? I know that Cook's Illustrated recommends cast iron pans instead of woks for stir frying, but if you use cast iron on high heat, that food is gonna sear unless you keep it moving or if it's in a lot of liquid, and I'd still recoemmend that you use cast iron on medium heat and keep stirring with a wooden sppon in the latter case.

I'd recommend avoiding buying someone's set and getting your stuff a la carte.

- A decent cast iron pan for steaks, stir fries, pasta sauces (sauté the veg, brown the meat, then turn the heat DOWN and use a lid or splatter screen once you add the tomatoes) and other stew-y things.

- Dutch oven of cast iron or enamel on steel. You need something with decent mass and heat conduction to makje a good stew or casserol in the oven.

- One decent non-stick frying pan. Either buy a really good one and hope it lasts, or buy cheap ones and be ruthless about replacing them, but they are an awesome way to cook eggs if your high heat habits make cast iron and eggs a risky combination.

- One good large saucier pan with a lid. Stainless steel or Calphalon is fine.

- Three pots: small, medium and large, with lids, same materials as the sauciers.

- One decent veggie steamer that will fit into your medium pot.

- One stainless steel bowl with a rounded bottom that will fit into your medium pot without touching the inch or so of water when you need to use a double boiler.
posted by rosemere at 7:05 PM on January 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I second the suggestions for cast iron and All-Clad.

Cast iron is wonderful. It's really not that hard to take care of, but there are things you really can't do with it. Making rice or steaming a pudding in cast iron will take the cure off, and you can't make acidic sauces (like tomato sauce) because the iron will discolor the liquid.
However, they are great for holding heat and making things like seared steaks, frying chicken, etc.

For things that are inappropriate for cast Fe, I highly reccomend All-clad. Yes, their pans cost an arm and a leg, but I can see my grandchildren being thrilled to inherit them. Get a saucier if you can, it will change your life (or at least you'll eat more butter).

You can also get cast iron covered in enamel (Le Cruset comes to mind) which means it holds the heat, but is much easier to care for.
posted by Lycaste at 7:43 PM on January 28, 2006

The best cookware available these days is made by All-Clad. You can find it at any Williams-Sonoma store, or online at various places. There are often pots and pans from several of their lines available on eBay. I suggest going with either the LTD or MC2 line, unless you can afford the Cop-R-Chef line.

They aren't cheap, but they will last for the rest of your life if you treat them well (and they'll replace your pot or pan if it does wear out, assuming you haven't mistreated it), and they cook better than any other cookware I've seen.

Many professional chefs use All-Clad, both at work and (I've heard) in their homes.
posted by cerebus19 at 7:48 PM on January 28, 2006

Definitely, Calphalon Commercial Hard Anodized. But you need to understand some metallurgy and some cooking methods, to get full use of any cookware you buy.

Calphalon One is made, as far as I understand, by a process that "infuses" a non-stick polymer into the anodized surface, with the goal of producing cookware with a blend of the properties of both. Like all beasts with two heads, it's not, IMHO, a completely successful hybrid. I bought a test piece awhile back, and while it wasn't bad pan overall, it wasn't markedly better in any regard to Commercial Hard Anodized, and overall, I still prefer Commercial Hard Anodized. That said, I've been a satisfied Commercial Hard Anodized (CHA) user for years. However, the consumer demand for non-stick surface "convenience" is so overwhelming in the marketplace, that I think Calphalon sees this, and it's other non-stick lines, as a marketing necessity.

But I still have, and regularly use, a complement of cast iron skillets, some plain high silica aluminum cookware, some tinware and bakeware, and some speciality stainless steel and glassware. Different cooking methods and dishes call for different tools, and where appropriate, I use them. Overall, the CHA pieces are what I use for maybe 80% of all cooking I do.

CHA is not non-stick, but it cleans up very easily if used correctly. You do need to keep it really clean, though, to make the common deglazing type cooking methods it is used with work predictably. For this, you need to regularly use the Dormond Cleanser (although others swear by Barkeeper's Friend, I personally find the Dormond Cleanser a superior alternative). I go through a tub of cleanser about every 9 months, and although it is not something you need to use each time you clean the cookware, you should aim to have the surfaces "velvety black" whenever you finish washing and drying the cookware. You can not put CHA in the dishwasher, as the chlorine and rinse agents present in most dishwasher detergent formulation wreak havoc with the anodization of CHA, especially over repeated cycles.

CHA is probably the most versatile cookware you can own. It works fine on the stove top, in the oven, and under the broiler. It stands up well to metal cooking implements, and it is relatively unaffected by acids, bases, and salts, at least to the levels tolerable in most foods. Small nicks and dents in the anodized finish will generally not affect the performance of the cookware, and with continued use of the Dormond Cleanser, will appear to be "healed" in time. CHA is made of a common high silica cast aluminum alloy (some pieces being also spun in manufacture, to form lip shapes and finish edges), over which, a relatively thick layer of aluminum oxide alloy is formed in an anodization process. Yet the anodized layer is still relatively thin (on the order of .050 inch, IIRC), and so the overall properties of the surface are largely those of the underlying metal. In other words, the dent and crack resistance, tensile strength, etc. are those of high silica aluminum, which is, for cooking purposes, generally excellent, but lower in all categories than stainless steel. The heat transfer properties are excellent, far superior to cast iron or stainless steel, and second only to copper, and even then, by only a small amount. The black anodized coating in combination with the underlying alloy make CHA a very good black body radiator, yet not one that retains significant latent heat. These properties contribute to very fine control of heat, including changes of heat during cooking, as well as to fairly rapid pre-heat and cool down. Overall, CHA is a better set of tradeoffs as general cookware, over a wider range of temperatures and cooking methods, than anything else I've ever tried.

Yet CHA is not perfect. You can (and I have) overheat it, by boiling it dry and leaving it on a high heat burner for a while, and this will ruin the anodized surface. You can dent it by dropping it on a ceramic tile floor. You can discolor it by cooking something highly acidic in it for hours. But these are all situations of great abuse, and I don't know of any cookware that won't be damaged in such situations. And of course, none of these situations lead regularly to great culinary experiences...:-)

As to your comments regarding high heat, I guess I'd say that the trick to cooking well consistently is to learn to manage your heat well, to promote and foster the chemical and physical reactions you want to achieve in the finished dish. There is a reason why various cooking methods exist, and learning them is a big part of learning to cook well. Fast isn't everything when it comes to food, and to use an old analogy, getting nine ladies pregnant for one month will not produce the same outcome as getting one lady pregnant for nine months.
posted by paulsc at 8:03 PM on January 28, 2006 [4 favorites]

There's a lot of cookware reviews on Consumer Search which you may or may not find useful.
posted by hgws at 8:15 PM on January 28, 2006

I have some all-clad and love it to pieces. Pricey, but you should only need to buy it once.

I have heard good reviews of the "store-brand" clad cookware available from Costco but have never used it.

Personally, I look for versatility. I want pots and pans that can do anything and that I can neglect. I am emphatically not any sort of gourmet anything.

With a few exceptions:

I would not buy a pan that can't take maximum heat.
I would not buy a pan that can't go under the broiler or take 500F in the oven.
I would not buy a pan that I can't cook acidic food in.
I would not buy a pan that I can't put in the dishwasher.
I would not buy a pan that I can't use any metal tool I feel like in.

The exceptions are at least one nonstick pan, which you should think of as disposable and just buy cheap-but-decent stuff every couple-few years, and the odd bit of cast-iron, which is great for burgers 'n' steaks.

No, high heat is not for everything, and does not necessarily make stuff cook faster. Sometimes it just gets you a burned exterior and uncooked interior -- if you try cooking pancakes on very high heat, this is likely what you'll get.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:18 PM on January 28, 2006

Alton Brown had a book about kitchen gear -- highly recommended -- http://tinyurl.com/7bjsq
posted by frogan at 9:00 PM on January 28, 2006

You want an All-Clad, Stainless Steel 12 or 10" skillet and an All-Clad Stainless Steel 3 or 4 quart saucepan. Also get a Le Creuset enamel covered cast iron dutch oven of more than 5 quarts and a plain, non-coated cast-iron pan. Then get a good roasting pans from a restaurant supply store (or an 18/10 stainless steel one). I like Pyrex for everything else.

Other than the non-coated cast-iron pan, nothing you can't put in the dishwasher or cook acidic foods in. All can be put right in the oven and worked over with metal utensils. All very good on space and heat-conduction. And, unless you're doing lots of innovative stuff, it's all you'll ever need. (Though I do like a steamer insert for the saucepan.)
posted by ontic at 9:27 PM on January 28, 2006

high heat is not the best way to cook unless you're doing stir-fry.

Maybe, but stir-frying is critical to many cuisines. And if you have gas (can you be a foodie without gas?) you may want high for an initial sear to be followed by a slow cook.

Personally, I have a cast iron frying pan, an enamel-coated cast iron dutch oven, an aluminium core/stainless coat heavy frying pan, and a bunch of saucepans. I regard good saucepans as far less critical to success than good frying pans.

Truthfully, if you can cook in the first place, you can work with bad cookware. One day I will buy lovely lovely pans for my million dollar kitchen, but right now I get very good results with mundane equipment.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:22 PM on January 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

if you're around western PA, they have occasional half-off-or-so factory sales from All-Clad (2X/year). I think my Cop-R-Chef fry pan was ~$60 and I really do love it (also have various sauce and saute pans from All-Clad and recommend them). At $15 for a set, you can't NOT get a Lodge skillet, though, in addition.

I'd also recommend a wok, if not only because you can pick them up cheaply at your neighborhood chinese grocery.
posted by kcm at 10:33 PM on January 28, 2006

When I moved in with my gf several years ago I was stoked that she has a set of All Clad. We do a lot of cooking and I cooked professionally for about a decade. I was surprised at how badly designed the All Clad handles are. They are too slender and tapered. The smooth, round edges don't give you enough to hold onto and control the pan. When I have to move a full, heavy hot pan, there's a naturally tendency to choke up on the handle, but the pan wants to spin if one's not careful. It can be downright hazardous at times. This is mainly a problem on the bigger pans, not the pots.

I am also disappointed that the handles on the lids get too hot to touch without a pad, which is an inconvenience that gets old over the years. You would think they could insulate them enough to make them touchable, at least.

I think cookware technology has surpassed All Clad.

Whatever you get, I recommend you get good, broad handles and insulated lid handles so they don't raise a blister just to stir the stew.
posted by wsg at 11:01 PM on January 28, 2006

Le Creuset is wonderful and beautiful. It's very expensive but frequently stocked at Marshall's TJ Maxx, and Home Goods for discount. You can put it in the oven or on the stovetop.

We also have a couple of the lighter le creuset pots for pasta and such (has a light interior instead of the cast iron). I love the fact that my grandchildren will still be using it.
posted by miss tea at 6:02 AM on January 29, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone...I forgot one thing. I like to cook without oil/butter etc. Can I assume this is over if I'm losing the non-stick or will any of the recommended cookwares work well without oil.

As for the high heat, I generally throw some water in if something looks like it's going to burn. I cook pancakes on high heat, 15 seconds or so on side 1 and a little less on side 2 and they're done and perfect. No oil or butter (or water). I suppose I'm done with that and will have to wait minutes for my pancakes from now on. But really...why have the knob go up so high if you're not allowed to put it there?

PaulSC...can you explain a little more about what you disliked about the calphalon one (I assume this was the regular calphalon one, not the calphalon one non-stick). The CHA is several hundred dollars cheaper, but I'd still like to be sure.

A cast-iron skillet sounds like a good idea and I will probably get one of those, though not just cast iron. I get the sense they're a pain to wash. Remember, I'm used to non-stick where you just wave a sponge in the pan's general direction, run it under some water and it's clean.

(Yes, I'm a spoiled brat, and essentially I want cookware that will cook for me, in an instant, and then wash itself and put itself away, ideally.)
posted by duck at 7:59 AM on January 29, 2006

Another vote for All-Clad's products. A lot of times they are available in sets -- which is cheaper than purchasing individually. Additionally, you can sometimes find them at a significant discount at places like Costco, Sam's, BJs, or the Navy Exchange. Here are two sets to peruse: 9 piece and 6 piece.
posted by Hankins at 8:05 AM on January 29, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, and one more question...no acidic foods for hours? So there's no put in which a person can simmer pasta sauce? That's the one thing I actually do cook slowly and leave on the stove for hours. Who wants to eat unsimmered pasta sauce?
posted by duck at 8:08 AM on January 29, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, and I should mention that I would also surely have a big copper paella. I can't find a picture of anything similar online, but picture a big *heavy* solid copper deep vaguelly-wok shaped pot.
posted by duck at 8:14 AM on January 29, 2006

Response by poster: Ah, here we go. My problem was searching in english and the pans that came up all seemed to be non-copper on the inside and relatively light. What I'm talking about is more like this -- see the third and fourth pictures.
posted by duck at 8:16 AM on January 29, 2006

Can I assume this is over if I'm losing the non-stick

Yes, basically. It's not like you need scads of oil. But sometimes you do need it when you're not on teflon.

why have the knob go up so high if you're not allowed to put it there?

Because you want it sometimes, but not others. High heat is great for heating water to boil. Same as the 500F position for the oven -- you sometimes want that, but usually not. Some dishes want high heat, others want medium, others want low. Why is that hard to understand? You obviously understand the principle or you'd be throwing pasta sauce into glowing-red pans.

I get the sense [cast iron is] a pain to wash.

Mostly, you just don't. Rinse it out and/or scrub it out with salt until there's no bits left. But seasoned cast iron should basically never ever see soap. Lodge sells pre-seasoned cast iron now; it's so cheap that it's practically free.

Oh, and one more question...no acidic foods for hours?

That's fine with stainless. Or with enameled stuff like LeCrueset.

Given your habits, it almost sounds like you'd be better off just sticking with cheap nonstick.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:49 AM on January 29, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks.

Given your habits, it almost sounds like you'd be better off just sticking with cheap nonstick.

Yep..but I know my habits have to change. I'm just trying to figure out which changes each kind of cookware would require. Even non-stick shouldn't be used on high heat, I just don't mind ignoring it now because the pans are cheap.
posted by duck at 9:06 AM on January 29, 2006

I have a set of Revere that my Mom gave me at least 25 years ago. Not tefloned, copper-bottomed, nice to use, and affordable. I think they have different weights; get the heaviest you can afford. I prefer not to take the risk with aluminium, esp. since there are good alternatives. I have 1 good teflon pan, cause it's so easy.

I also have a set of cast iron skillets that are smooth as silk from years of scrubbing with a metal scrubbie. Nearly nonstick, and great for pancakes with just a thin wipe of oil. I ignore all the hoohah and use soap on cast iron. If it looks like it wants to rust, I fry something with oil in it. The only concession I make is that I don't leave it in the sink with water in it.
posted by theora55 at 10:21 AM on January 29, 2006

All-Clad is sex. This is the (sad) story of my life.
posted by youarenothere at 10:22 AM on January 29, 2006

wsg is right that All-Clad handles are a little less than comfortable and the lid handles heat up. I still like them.

When you're cooking without butter or oil, do you still cook with broth or stock in place of the butter or oil? If that's so, I think you don't need to go non-stick. I wish I could recommend the All-Clad non-stick, but I've never used one.
posted by ontic at 10:54 AM on January 29, 2006

Try looking at the cookware tag.
posted by Caviar at 11:00 AM on January 29, 2006

"PaulSC...can you explain a little more about what you disliked about the calphalon one (I assume this was the regular calphalon one, not the calphalon one non-stick). The CHA is several hundred dollars cheaper, but I'd still like to be sure."

I don't think I said I didn't like the C One, I just said I didn't prefer it to CHA. Particularly not enough to replace my CHA..:-) The C One is sorta non-stick, but not entirely. It's sort of anodized, but not entirely. Good for cooking fluffy scrambled eggs slowly and gently, and, unlike any non-stick, can be heated enough to do a nice "browned butter" crusty omelet (although the shape of my sample piece isn't a great omelet pan). Likes butter and oil better than any Teflon I've ever tried, but doesn't work quite as well as CHA for deglazing methods, and still needs to be washed (by my lights) if you do use butter or oil in doing something above medium heat, like thoroughly caramelizing onions. Droplets of water generally skitter around on the heated C One surface less energetically than with oiled CHA, making getting an accurate sense of temperature a little more tricky for me. If I used it enough, I suppose I'd adapt, but lacking any overwhelming advantage, for the present, I'm sticking (get it?) with CHA.

On other questions:

"But really...why have the knob go up so high if you're not allowed to put it there?"

Couple of reasons. First, when you use a big pot, like a lobster pot, or a multi-stage vertical steamer, you need more heat delivery capacity to be able to add several pounds of food, without losing your steam. Basically, it enables you to kill lobsters semi-humanely...:-)

Second, for some cooking methods, you want to take cold food up to cooking temperature very quickly, without using something like cast iron cookware, which has a high latent heat retention, so you can then be able to remove the mass of food, reduce the heat quickly, and smoothly continue with deglazing and saucing in the same pan at lower temperature. You turn up the burner to get the sizzle on steak au poivre, and turn it back down quickly for making the perfect creamed sauce. This works very well with CHA, not so well with stainless or cast iron, which respectively, stick very easily, or have too high a latent heat to be readily responsive. Essentially, having a stove with high heat burners and some highly conductive cookware to use with it is like driving a Ferrari on a skidpad -- very fun and interesting for those practiced and adept, but terrifying and disastrous for the slow, neglectful or inexperienced.

"Oh, and one more question...no acidic foods for hours?"

Specific to tomato sauces (and at the risk of setting off some kind of tomato-sauce-as-religion thread hijack), I, too, used to cook them for hours. Then I got some advice from some Italian cooks I respected, and I stopped doing that, for the following reasons.

1) You can't make good tomato sauce from tasteless, watery tomatoes by reducing a mess of flavorless watery gunk. All you get is tasteless, thicker gunk. The secret to good tomato sauce is good tomatoes, and a willingness to let them drain through a strainer after being coarsely pureed. Cook the pulp, let 60 - 75% of the liquid go down the drain right off the bat -- it's mostly water anyway.

There will be more tomatoes next year.

2) What makes tomatoes flavorful is their aroma, and a balance of acid and sweetness. At their peak, good tomatoes are tender things, that want to be eaten and appreciated for the tender lumps of perfection that they are. None of that lovely texture, taste or aroma stands up well to long exposure to even low heat.

3) Good tomatoes deserve the best extra virgin olive oil you can get, and good olive oil doesn't like heat, either.

Next time you can get some first rate ripe romas, treat yourself with this recipe. 30 minutes cooking time, max.

The only process I can think of where cooking something highly acidic for a long time might be necessary and desirable is if you are planning to can it. Many home canning recipes call for high acid as a safety measure for home canning, but even in these cases, unless you are making enough stew for an army, I wouldn't think you'd need to keep a batch going for hours. If you're doing that a lot, you probably want to have some specialized canning gear to support the activity anyway, and as part of that, I suppose, some big stainless steel indestructo kettle. Canning is not my forte, though, so I pass on giving any specific advice.
posted by paulsc at 2:55 PM on January 29, 2006 [3 favorites]

I have to put in a vote for paulsc's advice. Cooking on a good gas stove with thick copper or calphalon is a very different experience from even a high quality layered stainless steel. But copper (so gorgeous) is very expensive, and very high maintenance. The calphalon is a very good compromise.
posted by cytherea at 3:46 PM on January 29, 2006

I have your answer.

I'm a cookware-snob, but a lazy one. When we got married I wanted high-quality, lifetime warranty, non stick, easy cleanup, you name it. After tons of research on Cooks Illustrated, Consumer Reports, etc., I went with Scanpan.
They're all non-stick (no oil or butter needed), but instead of teflon which can flake off, it's a ceramic layer that is baked right into the pan, so it can't come off. You can use metal utensils with it (although I usually use high-quality nylon or silicone), and best of all, you wash it out in the sink immediately after cooking-- no waiting for it to cool down and then scrubbing. There's also a lifetime warrantee on it. And it costs about half of All Clad or Calphalon One (both contenders in my decision).

Williams Sonoma talked me out of Calphalon One (it's not really non-stick) and All Clad required too much cleaning. I refuse to scrub.

Chef's Catalog has stores near Chicago and their catalog is just as great. Call and talk to someone.
posted by orangemiles at 11:18 AM on January 30, 2006

My friends consider me a pretty good cook. I like cooking. I have no troubles using all four burners and my oven at the same time while cooking a dinner. All-Clad (not their nonstick, I use non stick to make eggs, that's about it) has wonderful cooking surfaces. The handles suck. The lids aren't that heavy, and the handles on them get hot enough to hurt. And to top it all off, they are freakishly expensive. (I'll decline to complain here about my dislike of our society saying you MUST own more and more expensive stuff).

My suggestion, go to your local restaurant supply store and ask them about they have. My most used pans are all from Vollrath and non cost more than $60.

My view is that good cooking is about skill and not expensive equipment. Once you learn to live with not top of the line stuff you will have a better appreciation of why you actually might want (or in my case) don't want high end cookware.
posted by fief at 1:50 PM on January 30, 2006

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