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Putting Together Only One Set of Cookware


Pentagarn
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Hi thanks for the replies. I'm not really thinking of investing in ALL my cookware at this point, but I like to know what opinions are out there. I started out all my cooking with nonstick and stainless steel sauce pans and pots, and they did a pretty good job. But I guess I'm interested in specialty items that can perform even better.

Oh, I see. I thought you were like me and when starting something new look for ways to spend lots of money. :biggrin: I understand your question better. I think alwang's lineup is just about right.

Edited by MattJohnson (log)
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I actually got this from the FAQ from the Staub site

"What are the benefits of black matte enamel versus the shiny enamel?

Our black matte enamel is highly indestructible and provides better cooking results; over time your Staub pot will slowly season itself as oils used when cooking will penetrate the pores of the black matte enamel. The black matte enamel will also brown, braise and reduce better! "

Can anyone attest to if this is actually true?

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Hmm, that's interesting. I certainly haven't noticed any seasoning effect on my Staub cookware. It seems roughly about as non-stick as the day I bought it, which is to say, better than Le Creuset, but less than a seasoned cast-iron skillet.

---

al wang

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Interesting question.

We have a pretty good assortment of random cookware the stuff that seems to get the most use is:

small cast iron frying pan (just right for a 2 egg omlette).

Medium cast iron pan

large cast iron pan

cast iron dutch oven

cheap carbon steel wok

pasta pot w/ insert (strain, steam whatever)

Large calphalon stockpot.

2 1/2 sheet baking pans from smart & final

a pizza screen

small enamel saucepans (these are on the replace list)

What gets little to no use:

non stick frying pans

the rest if the calphalon (I really don't like it much).

Jon

--formerly known as 6ppc--

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I've noticed the factors for cookware performance includes heat retention/capacity, evenness in heating, conducitivity of metal, size, weight and thickness, and shape.

With some research as well as some looks around this forum, I have the impression that copperware is probably the most superior cookware of all for having superior conductivity, high heat capacity, and very good even heating. All these features basically superpower your home stove. But the problem is that it's extremely expensive, hard to maintain, and very reactive (I read it's even toxic).

It seems like a huge number of people's primary cookware is made from cast iron. The main reason tends to be because it is so insanely durable, that it has very high heat retention, and that it develops natural non-stick surfaces overtime. Then they fill in the gaps caused by the low conductivity, heavy weight, and metal reactivity with enamel, stainless, aluminum, or nonstick. Alot of serious cooks tend to only use nonstick for jobs with eggs or crepes.

The general list of the most used cookware in people's kitches tends to include stockpots, skillets or saute/sauce pans, medium sized pots (like dutch ovens or sauce pots), the larger pots like spaghetti pots and smaller stock pots, woks, and baking mediums like casserole mediums or baking trays and sheets.

I find that alot of families that don't do cooking alot tend to cover their cookware with generally "all purpose" material like non-stick or stainless steel. Some buy non-stick for everything and then buy stainless steel for that "stickiness" that allows for browning and pan sauces.

Up until recently, my cookware consisted almost entirely of non-stick. It got me through decently but not really good enough. I'm not sure what I should eventually allow my primary cookware to consist of. I am thinking of making cast iron my primary cookware and filling in the gaps with other cookware like alot of cooks out there do, but I sometimes think that cast iron is only good for southern cooking, campouts, and browning meats. I might conclude that the only people who find that there is "no other cookware but cast iron" tend do cook alot of southern food or go back packing alot. I suspect copperware might be overrated too and might be more suitable for professional cooks because of its cost. I'm not sure if I would eventually save up money at all for all copper cookware (I'd probably just buy one copper pot or pan just to show off).

Now I go crazy over woks because of its supposed versatility from the shape. Besides stir-fries (which everybody associates woks with) the dome shape allows for minimal use of liquid and efficient use of heat because it allows the liquid to pool to the bottom, and the large cooking surface area and opening allows more liquid to evaporate and more food to touch the heating surface. It also concentrates the heat at the center for more control of temperature when the heat source doesn't have much heat control to begin with. Its width and its depth accommodates for varieties of other cooking methods So apparently this leaves woks to cook sauces, stews, soups, deep fries, stir fries, steamed food, braises, etc. Of course this is just concluded from internet research.

I have an obsession with being a minimalist, but that's now fading into being just practical. I wouldn't want to buy something so expensive when I barely do any real cooking myself. But I wouldn't want something that would hinder my enjoyment of cooking or the process and results of my cooking, and I definitely wouldn't want some special feature involved if it isn't even necessary, regardless of cost. I don't think I would really need aluminum or copper bottom stock pot for "even heating" if I'm going to be simmering for hours and hours. I don't think I would use stainless steel for pan frying if I knew it was going to end up burning everything. I think it's all about balancing the abilities of the cookware with the abilities of the cook.

Edited by takadi (log)
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Hmm, that's interesting.  I certainly haven't noticed any seasoning effect on my Staub cookware.  It seems roughly about as non-stick as the day I bought it, which is to say, better than Le Creuset, but less than a seasoned cast-iron skillet.

I have le creuset (light, smooth finish) and Descoware (dark, semiporous, staub-like finish) dutch ovens. I prefer the light one. Sticking is a non-issue. If I'm not browning things, then nothing sticks. If I'm browning things, then I want the juices to stick and brown. The light finish just makes it easier to tell the difference between browned and burnt. But it's not a big deal for this kind of pot ... I happily grab whichever one is the right size.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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As far as the original question, I believe pretty strongly in buying one piece of cookware at a time, based on what you like to cook. Do some research to make sure your using the best technique possible, and then figure out which material and shape piece best supports that technique.

Some generalizations ...

stainless steel is the most versatile cooking surface for most techniques. With care it can last forever, it's reasonably nonreactive, and the light color makes it much easier to see what you're doing. With good cooking technique, the only thing that will stick to it is the pan juices that you want to stick (with the exception of some foods, like eggs or delicate fish, which need some kind of nonstick surface).

Enameled cast iron is fantastic for soups and braises. One advantage is its complete nonreactivity, so you can actually go from the stove to the fridge and back again. Nice wiith the big batches you're likely to make.

Seasoned iron or steel is great for browning or blackening or fast sautés, especially things that might stick and that you're not planning to deglaze.

Teflon-type nonstick surfaces are ideal for eggs, crepes, fish with the skin ... other things that stick like crazy. They should be seen as special purpose tools for this. They're crappy general purpose pans ... they brown poorly, and are fragile, no matter what the manufacturer tells you. Buy cheap ones, and only the ones you actually need.

for sauces and sautéing, responsiveness is important. A shiny, stainless surface helps a lot too. Clad aluminum/stainless is great. Copper with a stainless lining is bliss. Except for a 10" pan, where copper is too heavy and imbalanced to toss ... go for aluminum.

One of the most useful pans is 5 to 6 quart rondeaux (or casserole, in america). it can be used for large amounts of sauce or rice, small amounts of pasta, braises, sautés, fricasés, steaming or boiling vegetables, making small quantites of soup, etc. etc.. i have an anodized aluminum one; clad aluminum/stainless would be great. copper/stainless would be really great.

stockpots etc need to affordable and light enough to pick up. Stainless with an aluminum disk bottom is great. Anodized aluminum is great, too, but likely not worth the price. My bigggest one is a plain aluminum commercial pot (6 or 7mm thick) that was cheap and works brilliantly. No good for acidic ingredients, but you probably won't make 20 quarts of tomato sauce.

Notes from the underbelly

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I don't have a ton of new information to add to what others have already said but, I started out buying most of my cookware in college and I thought I'd just share what I found out from experience. In general, I think you get what you pay for in cookware, and one high quality item usually ends up being a better buy in the long run than 2 mediocre ones.

The pieces of cookware where I have no regrets/could not live without are:

10" Lodge frying pan

12" All Clad frying pan

3 1/2 quart Le Creuset dutch oven

4 quart All Clad sauce pan w/ steamer and double boiler inserts

Big, cheap stockpot

Universal lid I use for the frying pans and stockpot

Most other folks would add a saute pan to this list, but frankly both frying pans are deep enough that I use them for most of the things normally done with a saute pan.

The things I bought and now don't use are the 8" or 2 quart sale items that cookware lines put out in an attempt to get you to try their products. Each time I move I find that the kitchen I end up in is larger and there are more people to cook for at one time, I've never ended up regretting buying the next size up cookware (12" vs 10" frying pan, 4 quart vs. 2 quart saucepan, 10" vs 6" chef's knife) even though it usually feels less wieldy in the store.

Edited by Dr. Teeth (log)
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I've finally compiled a list of what I might include for my complete set of cookware:

woks

10" nonstick pan (preferably circulon)

10" and 8" skillet (cast iron)

A sauteuse/saucier/evasee type pan (all clad copper or aluminum)

Large and small stock pot (all metal stainless aluminum bottom)

dutch oven (cast iron preferably enamel)

I like the saucier type pans because it can double up both as a saute and sauce pan. I also think that having a rounded bottom might be better than an angled bottom because the rounded bottoms have more versatility for uses with utensils (then again angled ones might have other advantages over the rounded edges but I haven't come up with one yet). I'm not sure if the stainless steel in the copper or aluminum pieces will defeat the purpose of having aluminum or copper in the first place. I don't think enamel cast iron is absolutely necessary, but in the future when I have enough money, I'm definitely going for the good ol' Le Creuset. Circulon advertises dishwasher safe, nonstick, anodized cookware. It sounds really good, but I still need to research more on that. For steaming food, I would use my woks as a steaming unit, but I'd much rather buy a separate device for steaming.

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Remember, when you steam in a wok, you may remove all that wonderful seasoning you should have worked hard to get. Why not get a steamer basket to use in one of your pots instead.

And you might want a small 1-quart saucepan for small sauces or small quantities of other items or hard-cooked eggs

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  • 11 months later...

Hope everyone is having a great weekend. So, I am looking to get a high-quality set of pots/pans/cookware for my beautiful and incredible bride. She loves cooking, trying new things/recipes, etc. and has bought a few individual pieces in the last few years.

I've asked her what she likes, dislikes, etc. and get nothing, LOL. I've asked her what's high-quality, the best, etc. and also nothing. She just doesn't really know and that's fine. So I wanted to ask here. Like I said, I'd like to buy something high quality, that will last, etc. and if it looks good too -- great.

What do you think? Thank you very much in advance.

Eric

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What individual pieces do you have so far, Eric? Also, in general, what kind of foods do you cook at home and how many are you cooking for? Chances are that what you have might be duplicated by what's in a set, and that a set may not fulfill what you need as well as carefully-selected separate pieces.

For example, I don't own a stock pot because I am able to make the quantity of stock that I need in my largest dutch oven. And many people know don't necessarily need their pieces to be of the same quality as other cookware pieces. I've never tried hard to own an All Clad stockpot because to me it isn't worth the money. But I did buy an All-clad saute pan because in that case, the qualities of the (relatively) expensive pan was worth it to me.

In case you haven't seen it, slkinsey wrote an excellent piece on stovetop cookware in case you go for the separate pieces route. Understanding Stovetop Cookware, click here

Would love to know a little more info to be of better help- especially to such a considerate spouse!

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What individual pieces do you have so far, Eric? Also, in general, what kind of foods do you cook at home and how many are you cooking for? Chances are that what you have might be duplicated by what's in a set, and that a set may not fulfill what you need as well as carefully-selected separate pieces.

For example, I don't own a stock pot because I am able to make the quantity of stock that I need in my largest dutch oven. And many people know don't necessarily need their pieces to be of the same quality as other cookware pieces. I've never tried hard to own an All Clad stockpot because to me it isn't worth the money. But I did buy an All-clad saute pan because in that case, the qualities of the (relatively) expensive pan was worth it to me.

In case you haven't seen it, slkinsey wrote an excellent piece on stovetop cookware in case you go for the separate pieces route. http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=25717

Would love to know a little more info to be of better help- especially to such a considerate spouse!

Thank you. As far as individual pieces now, basically we have just an inventory of things purchased over time -- grill pans, skillets, large fry, medium, small, etc. Pots, I don't get involved with, LOL. There's just two of us now but we often cook for leftovers, dinner parties, etc. I am having trouble trying to find a set, so I thought going the individual route would be even harder, LOL.

I just figured that a high-quality, top notch set would not only get used over time, but would also be very appreciative. If it's missing something, no problem, I can get a piece to supplement. If it has something that doesn't get used, again, no problem.

Thank you again.

Eric

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A set almost always turns out to be a bad idea in the long run.

First of all, it's often the case that one or more of the pieces is on that you never end up using. For example, a lot of sets come with a 9-inch sauté pan. I have owned this pan, and find it almost entirely useless. I won't say that I never use it... but hardly ever. In general, I find that frypans and sauté pans are usually too small in sets.

Second, since a set consists of pans all using the same design philosophy (disk bottom, fully clad, whatever) it's inevitably the case that some of the pans are massive overkill for their intended use and some of the pans have a non-optimal design. For example, you'll end up with a 4 quart saucepan you use for boiling water and steaming vegetables that has a thick disk bottom, and you'll end up with a (usually too small) frypan with a disk bottom -- the former being overkill and the latter being non-optimal design.

Third, it's my experience that most home cooks do 75% of their cooking on only two pieces of cookware that require any real quality. Boiling water and things like that work just as well in a $10 saucepan from the hardware store as they do in a $150 saucepan from Williams Sonoma. And, there's really no point in getting someone a fancy sauté pan if they don't sauté. On the other hand, someone who cooks a lot of pasta may really benefit from having a nice large stockpot with a removable pasta insert. This is something you won't find in any set.

Finally, depending on what kind of cooking the person does, there are some things you can get that will actually cost less than any pan in the set. For example, if someone likes to do a lot of high heat/short time cooking such as stir-frying, searing meat and fish, sautéing, etc. -- an extra-heavy gauge carbon steel saute pan may be just the thing. And it'll only cost around 25 or 30 bucks for a 12" pan.

--

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A set almost always turns out to be a bad idea in the long run.

First of all, it's often the case that one or more of the pieces is on that you never end up using.  For example, a lot of sets come with a 9-inch sauté pan.  I have owned this pan, and find it almost entirely useless.  I won't say that I never use it... but hardly ever.  In general, I find that frypans and sauté pans are usually too small in sets.

Second, since a set consists of pans all using the same design philosophy (disk bottom, fully clad, whatever) it's inevitably the case that some of the pans are massive overkill for their intended use and some of the pans have a non-optimal design.  For example, you'll end up with a 4 quart saucepan you use for boiling water and steaming vegetables that has a thick disk bottom, and you'll end up with a (usually too small) frypan with a disk bottom -- the former being overkill and the latter being non-optimal design.

Third, it's my experience that most home cooks do 75% of their cooking on only two pieces of cookware that require any real quality.  Boiling water and things like that work just as well in a $10 saucepan from the hardware store as they do in a $150 saucepan from Williams Sonoma.  And, there's really no point in getting someone a fancy sauté pan if they don't sauté.  On the other hand, someone who cooks a lot of pasta may really benefit from having a nice large stockpot with a removable pasta insert.  This is something you won't find in any set.

Finally, depending on what kind of cooking the person does, there are some things you can get that will actually cost less than any pan in the set.  For example, if someone likes to do a lot of high heat/short time cooking such as stir-frying, searing meat and fish, sautéing, etc. -- an extra-heavy gauge carbon steel saute pan may be just the thing.  And it'll only cost around 25 or 30 bucks for a 12" pan.

Great advice -- thanks. OK -- so let's change direction . . . what's the best brand, style, material, etc. to buy in the most often used size/range?

Thanks again.

Eric

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I would definitely say not All-Clad Stainless. It's okay if you want fully clad cookware that you can throw in the dishwasher, but it's egregiously overpriced, some of All-Clad's other lines (e.g., MC2) have better thermal properties, and more or less equivalent cookware can be had at a much lower price point.

As for Eric's question... I'm not sure I understand it. There is no one brand or design that's good or "best" for everything. It depends on your price point, what kind of cooking you want to do, whether dishwasher-safe is important to you, and many other variables. Even if you have decided, say, "I want a twelve quart stockpot with a heavy stainless body and an thick aluminum base that can be fitted with a pasta insert" there are many options: You can go with something super-expensive such as Demeyere, you can go with a professional-grade pot by someone like Paderno, you can even get something from Target that will fill those specifications. All of them will be a good choice. Which one you buy will depend on how much money you're willing to spend and how much value you put on other considerations (e.g., Demeyere will have an encapsulated "all the way to the sides" base, Paderno will have an extra-thick aluminum base that does not go all the way to the sides, the Target pot will be similar to the Paderno pot with a thinner body/base and a correspondingly even lower price point).

Better, more important/relevant questions to ask would be:

1. What kind of cooking does your wife like to do? If, for example, she likes to do a lot of stir-frying, then a really nice wok (or a wok burner) would seem to be in order. If she likes to make omelets, then a nice nonstick dedicated omelet pan would be good.

2. How much money are you willing to spend? Secondarily, is it more important to you to have a few really good pieces (hopefully the pieces she uses the most) or a whole lot of new stuff?

3. How much maintenance fussiness is acceptable to you? Fully clad stainless cookware does have a great advantage in that it has okay thermal properties, is nonreactive and can be chucked into the dishwasher. If you don't mind cleaning your pots by hand, this opens up the possibilities to things such as stainless-lined heavy copper -- and if you don't mind cleaning by hand and you don't mind having a mildly reactive pan, this opens up the possibilities to things such as heavy gauge carbon steel.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

--

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Great advice -- thanks. OK -- so let's change direction . . . what's the best brand, style, material, etc. to buy in the most often used size/range?

Thanks again.

Eric

That's the problem. There is no one best. For *my* purposes, I tend to stick with raw cast iron and disk bottom stainless. I wouldn't mind some cast aluminum pieces, and I have some use for enameled cast iron. Copper would be utterly wasted since I'm stuck with an electric stove. Someone like slkinsey would have a different lineup than me, and I know he uses different pieces *g*.

If your wife has a mixed up, oddball looking collection of pots and pans, chances are the idea of "matching" mystifies her as much as it does me. Your best bet is to ask her if there's a particular pan that's wearing out, or something that she's always wanted and couldn't afford. She's got a much better notion of what she likes and wants than we do :).

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