Pot-ential gift
November 4, 2018 7:06 AM   Subscribe

For Christmas my mother-in-law is generously getting us a matching pot and pan set. We currently use a mishmash of terrible pots we hate where the lids don’t match, and we aren’t up to date on pot and pan technology so we don’t know what to tell her to get us. We like cooking, we like pots. We have a gas stove. What’s a great pot and pan set? We are In the USA.
posted by andreapandrea to Shopping (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
You won’t go wrong with All-Clad as a brand. I like the straight up aluminum ones, but maybe you like non-stick better.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:08 AM on November 4, 2018

Non-stick coating is hard to avoid, but it will straight up kill any pet birds you may have. Just the fumes from heating one on the stove are deadly to birds. First article listed for [non stick coating birds].

Good quality metal uncoated pans will last a longer and you are less likely to find, in 5 years, that a study has been published that finally shows that whatever's in there _is_ actually linked to toxicity in humans.
posted by amtho at 7:23 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a very serious cook but never invested in good pans. Finally, for our wedding, we got a gift certificate that allowed us to purchase this great Calphalon set: the Classic. It's much lower maintenance than All-Clad pieces - we have a few, and they are really solid, but require a lot of scrubbing. THey are nonstick and have held up pretty well over 4 years because we take care to only use wooden or silicone utensils with them. The company is also helpful - we had a problem with one of the lids coming out of round, and they just replaced it no problem.

As I said, I do some heavy-duty cooking and this set has been perfectly sufficient, so I would think most people don't need a bigger set. This set, plus an All Clad saucier and 8" small saute pan, a cast iron skillet and a Lodge 6 qt enamelled Dutch oven, pretty much takes care of my batterie de cuisine and I haven't found a real need for more. Ocasionally I have sort of wanted a deep straight-sided saute pan but that's more thinking they are cool than having a need I can't otherwise meet.
posted by Miko at 7:35 AM on November 4, 2018

The Wirecutter has a nice write-up explaining their choices. (They pick the All-Clad as their upgrade pick. It's $700, while their standard pick, the Tramontina 12-Piece Tri-Ply Clad Cookware Set, is $300 and comes with one more pot and lid than the All-Clad does.)

I'd be curious to know if anyone makes a set that has a mix of non-stick and non-non-stick (stick? normal?) pots and pans. I mostly want the ones without the non-stick coating, but I would want one tiny and one large non-stick skillet. I think the thing to do would probably to get a set and then supplement it with the same manufacturer's version of the two non-stick pans I would want. Actually, if money weren't an issue, I might forgo the set and pick out my own matching pieces so I could get exactly what I wanted.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:36 AM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ask for a copper bottom set! Superb with a gas stove. Mine are still going strong ten years later. Also ditto on avoiding non stick, if you cook properly you don’t need it and can avoid little flakes of that toxic stuff in your food and gassing your animals (I am a pet bird owner though so ymmv!).
posted by cakebatter at 7:37 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also cast iron works exactly like non stick when seasoned well, you can fry eggs and make baked good in them in the oven so a cast iron frying pan is a good add on.
posted by cakebatter at 7:38 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

If I were starting over I’d get this “complete” Misen set because sauciers are awesome.

Try to cook such that you can avoid nonstick coatings wherever possible because unlike clad, they’re disposable commodities. Get cheap nonstick pans for omelets and super delicate fish and never use metal utensils in them.
posted by supercres at 7:40 AM on November 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

And to be clear: the best *set* you can get is stainless clad (no one needs nonstick saucepans), but you should definitely supplement with skillets in nonstick and cast iron and/or carbon steel. Fortunately those are a lot cheaper
posted by supercres at 7:43 AM on November 4, 2018

While I believe that sets aren’t the best, and mixed pots and pans for what you actually cook is, I would trust Wirecutter in this one.

In general, stainless tri-ply are the best. Find a set that gets you 80% of the way to there and then fill in with odds and ends. No one company does everything well.

Like, we cook a ton and have a couple all-clad pans and pots, a huge no name stainless stock pot from a restaurant supply store and a couple pieces of Teflon pans (Teflon pans should be considered almost disposable? The no stick costing only reallly lasts for a few years even if you baby it, both Wirecutter, ATK, and I think serious eats all suggest buying the cheapest t-fal stuff you can find). Calaphon nonstick is nice, but wears out only marginally slower than the cheapies.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:51 AM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

What you need depends on what you like to cook, but also how you handle dish washing. Determine if you are okay with handwashing, or if it absolutely must go in the dishwasher for instance.

A good base set, even if you cook a lot (we do) is one small saucepan, one largish saucepan, one small saute pan, and one largish saute pan. If you make a lot of soups and stews add a largish stock pot.

If I could have my heart's desire I would get a set of enameled pots like Le Creuset, or perhaps another brand based on what her budget will allow. I've got a Le Creuset pot that's older than me, and cast iron handed down at least from my great-grandmother, so that material definitely holds up, but we don't use it much due to it needing to be handwashed. If you don't mind that, don't be intimidated by the need to season it, that part is easy. But enamel bypasses the need to season and we've put our enamel pot in the dishwasher.
posted by vignettist at 8:05 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Calphalon or All Clad. Whichever you like the look and feel of best. I’m team All-Clad. Don’t get the nonstick set. If you have a dishwasher, make sure the set is dishwasher safe.

One of the big changes you will need to make is learning to lower your cooking heat. These pans are (probably) much more efficient than your current set and will require less fire to get & keep them hot.

A 10piece set should be fine for most folks. I would suggest supplementing said set with:

A cast iron fry pan IF you are the type of folks who want to season/maintain it well. If you don’t recognize those people, then go to a restaurant supply store and purchase an inexpensive nonstick pan that you will feel OK replacing in 5 years when it’s all scratched up. The nonstick shouldn’t go under the broiler or into a hot oven (400+) and don’t stack other pans inside it.

You will also want to purchase some Barkeepers Friend and a 3M yellow sponge with the green scrubbie back.

As soon as you are done cooking, while the pans are still hot/warm, you can put them in the sink to soak while you eat. This makes clean up a lot easier. Scrub as normal. If there are any spots that need extra attention, sprinkle on some Barkeepers, use the green side of the scrubbie and it should come clean. If there are any stubborn spots, I make a paste with about a teaspoon of Barkeepers + a few drops of water and scrub with that. Regardless of the amount you use, you will need to rinse your pans well. Barkeepers is a very fine powder and tends to stick around a bit more than you might expect.
posted by jenquat at 8:52 AM on November 4, 2018

If they want to spend premium money, the All-Clad or Calphalon. If not, the Tramontina. We got the latter when we got married 15 years ago and most of the pieces are in constant use still. We do also have an oval Le Creuset and cast iron pan and various nonstick, but those generally have specific purposes and don't really replace any of the cladware.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:09 AM on November 4, 2018

I've got this Tramontina Tri-ply stainless set, from Walmart. They do sell sets on Amazon, but I only found this particular set at Walmart.

For non-stick, I have this Admiral Craft 10" fry (10FP/4) pan, perfect for eggs, crepes, etc. Comes with a removable red silicone handle. Got it at a restaurant supply store, and it's held up well over several years (and I don't stack any pans on top of it, ever).

The Tramontina set is very nice, you can get some rainbow discoloration inside after use, which is normal in stainless steel, and it comes out with a little Barkeepers Friend (recommended by the mfr). I've also found that while I can use a green nylon scrubber on the inside, if I use it on the outside, it will mar the shiny finish somewhat -- was trying to get dried egg white off. They clean up very well, and haven't had a problem with things sticking.

You have to make sure you use lower temps and let the pan heat up, so as not to burn foods (same with any tri-ply stainless). I found this out after trying to fry burger patties on med-high, it was just that hot that it burned the outside of the patties. Otherwise, the set is great, and heavy, but not as heavy as cast iron or my Vollrath disk-bottom stainless pans (which I still prefer for searing and sauteeing over the Tramontina fry pans that came with my set).
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:16 AM on November 4, 2018

I have owned a Calphalon stainless set with glass lids for about 15 years. I really like the glass lids because it’s so easy to check that you have the right amount of bubbling when simmering.

The pots and lids are still good as new. The non-stick omelette pan that the set came with has been replaced a couple of times over the years.
posted by monotreme at 9:25 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

we aren’t up to date on pot and pan technology

Maybe a professional will correct me on this, but pot and pan technology has been pretty quiet for the last few decades.

Non-stick happened, but the lifespan is still limited enough that it's probably outside the scope of your question. It'd be a little like asking your MIL to buy you a 35 lb carboy of cooking oil.

The clad manufacturers have started adding more layers (All-Clad is up to 7-ply now, bless their hearts) but the improvement in performance doesn't quite justify to the improvement in price.

You've got clad copper now, so if you can stomach the price of copper in the first place, you can now save yourself the trouble of scouring off the tarnish every month and getting the inside re-tinned every few years. Except for the strip of copper that every manufacturer leaves exposes so that you (and all your guests) know that you've paid for copper. That'll still tarnish.

Hard-anodized aluminum is interesting. Maybe if you're into pots, you'll enjoy reading more about it. I've never used it. It doesn't seem to have caught on the way cladding has become standard, but whether that's justified I can't say. If I had someone offering to buy me a pot I'd love to try a piece of hard-anodized aluminum.

People have started making cast iron with the old-school finishing, to produce that smooth surface you see on vintage pieces. Unfortunately, the target audience is pretty up-market: a new, finished cast iron pan can easily run 300+ USD, which destroys one of the usual selling points of cast iron.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, the "technology" in this area is still your choice of (possibly enameled) cast iron, carbon steel, clad aluminum, and (possibly clad) copper.

What’s a great pot and pan set?

It's hard to answer this (and hard to make good pot and pan sets, too) because people have such different cooking habits. There is, for example, no pot and pan set in the world that has both of my two most commonly used pots, a carbon-steel wok and a stainless-clad aluminium saucier.

Would your mother-in-law be willing to buy you a few separate pieces for roughly the same total price that she would have paid for your set? If so, think about what you use and assemble a set of the things you actually use.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:07 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

So, we've got Cuisinart's Multiclad Pro set - without the anodized outer finish. They were a wedding present.

Quality is great - and there are other pieces in the line you can get if you want really large (e.g., there's a 5qt saute pan and a 6qt low stockpot), it's dishwasher-safe, and we've been thrilled with it for the last 2+ years.

Previous to this set, we had the Multiclad Pro with the anodized exterior. It's a cute idea, but it's harder to clean and our dishwasher ate the anodization. Also, anodized exteriors mean the pots and pans weren't induction compatible, which doesn't sound like it would be an issue for you (and normally, wasn't for us... until we had the kitchen redone in 2016 and were cooking on an induction burner for a few weeks).
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 10:35 AM on November 4, 2018

I also came to speak up in favor of buying pots with induction cooking. We've been going more to induction for several reasons. One is that, if your community has community choice energy to source renewable or carbon-free energy for your area like we have here in the Bay Area, if you cook with induction, the energy you expend to cook is renewable or carbon free. Another reason is responsiveness. You can control the heat very well. Lastly, there is relatively little heat wasted in induction cooking.

Here is a nice write-up about the kinds of pots that work with both induction (and more traditional methods).

We've goon with stainless steel as described and cast iron (all described in the linked article).
posted by rw at 10:54 AM on November 4, 2018

Oh, hey, I'm totally wrong about the cost of the new finished cast iron: Stargazer will sell you a 10" skillet for $88 now. Although there's an interview with the founder where he says when he first started talking to iron foundries about casting him new thin-walled, smooth-surfaced cast iron pans, he had people quoting him $100 per piece just for the casting. So my $300+ figure wasn't completely made up, just a few years out of date. I wonder what else has changed since I last looked.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 11:25 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

See if you can possibly handle your options first! The All Clad pans are lovely, but they are heavy! They also have a handle shape that, for me (and combined with their weight), makes them VERY uncomfortable to hold.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:47 PM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I’m going to partially paste a previous answer here that’s pretty exhaustive and also reiterate that All-Clad is overpriced and not the best out there. Sadly, Consumer Reports continuously pushes them as did Cook’s Illustrated (the latter because of what I find to be shady adverorial style practices.) To sum up my comment below, I would recommend Cuisinart sets for the value and ask for a supplemental Swiss Diamond non-stick fry pan and, if the offer is very generous, a classic Le Creuset or Staub French Oven, 7-quart is my favorite size.

My previous comment, trimmed just for cookware:
I feel like I talk about my experience working in a (high-end and independent) kitchen store when I was fresh out of college a lot here, but it taught me so much about what to look for in pots & pans, knives, and bakeware/wine glasses.

All-Clad is like 50% hype and I like to take every opportunity I can to point that out because I rarely came across a customer for whom they were a good choice unless they were buying it as a show-off thing or needed a super specific pan since All-Clad makes everything under the sun. They're just very expensive without much cause. They're not shitty, but there are much better pans out there. One example: I don't think many people would know that rivets that attach the handle to the pan body are actually not as strong as spot welded handles, and BONUS, crud won't build up if there are no rivets. All-Clad makes a point of bragging about their rivets. (Good alternative: I love Cuisinart, Chef's Classic is a good line. They're mostly made in China, but they do have some French made clad pans, French Classic line, that are an amazing value.)

Related to All-Clad, but just in general one of the most helpful things I learned: different style pans are good for different things. Clad cookware, where the conductive but reactive material (usually aluminum, can be copper too, silver rarely) is sandwiched by non-reactive material (usually stainless steel) and goes all the way up the sides, vs. a pan with a thick base with conductive material. This guide is really great at explaining when you'd want one or the other. I always recommend Demeyere brand because they're one of the few companies who make both styles specifically to what the purpose of the pan is and they have a lot of neat technology that, IMO, justifies their high price.

Linking to this long comment I made about non-stick pans because non-stick is definitely one thing most people don't know much about, if my retail experience tells me anything, and if you're looking to buy one anytime soon I really, really hope you'll buy my recommended brand.

Le Creuset: worth it, pronounce it "l'ugh crewsay", and also check out Staub which are made in France and very similar with a few differences: they glaze with white first, then put down color, so they turn out really vibrant, they only use stainless steel knobs so you don't have to worry about melting it like some of the Le Creuset's, and they use a black matte enamel inside which I like because it doesn't show stains. Oh, and no matter how much men will 'splain it to you differently, that black enamel on Staub and Le Creuset enameled cast iron frying pans is NOT raw cast iron and does not need to be treated as such, nor is it non-stick. And even cast iron isn't as fussy as people want you to believe: you can use soap on it, for pete's sake, once it's seasoned that shit is fused to the pan and isn't going to come off unless you use steel wool or whatnot. Use some damn dish soap and dry it and you'll be fine.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 1:30 PM on November 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

Plenty of info on All-Clad, to which I can't add much. If you're interested, homeandcooksales.com has a seconds sale starting in a few days. I got a few pieces from them a few years ago at a significant discount; one had no apparent defects, and one had a barely visible dent in the cooking surface which hasn't affected me at all.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 4:39 PM on November 4, 2018

I asked a similar question in the past, albeit with a Euro slant. As much as I would love to have copper, it’s ultimately not a good fit right now since I need the majority of my stuff to go in the dishwasher (two small kids, yo.) I got a three pot Mauviel M’Cook stainless steel set on an Amazon Prime deal, and I am hooked. I also got one of their M’Stone non-stick pans on a private sales site (similar to Gilt) and it is excellent. A Le Creuset Dutch oven, a Le Creuset grill pan, and a restaurant supply high walled sauté pan round out my current most used lineup; the latter is good quality with a disk bottom, but it gets noticeable hotspots.
posted by romakimmy at 5:16 PM on November 4, 2018

When you get your lovely new pots read the user manual. My set came with a user manual containing tips on how to improve longevity (number 1: never, ever use a scourer to clean them).
posted by cholly at 6:36 PM on November 4, 2018

I have a set of Tefal Ingenio pans, which have handles that clip on and off so that you can stack them, put them in the oven etc, and they're fantastic. They come in non-stick but also in stainless steel - an advantage of course is that you can get a set of stainless steel pans but say, one non-stick frying pan/skillet. Honestly they are so much easier to store and so much more versatile than ordinary pans; I have never looked back.
posted by Acheman at 1:35 AM on November 5, 2018

Here's a vote against Tramontina and for Cuisinart Multi Clad Pro. I can't find it at the moment, but I read a review a couple years back that said the Multi Clad Pro was nearly as good as All Clad but at a substatially lower cost, and way better quality than Tramontina.

I have a set of stainless steel Multi Clad Pro pots and pans, and they're fantastic. I'm very happy with them.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:51 PM on November 5, 2018

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