Buying the right cookware

By Mir
June 30, 2008

Lovely Jess writes:

My husband and I married two years ago and just pooled our vast collections of cookware into one set (giving away a lot of unnecessary cookware that was duplicated) that had pretty much everything we needed. We are now at the point where our “set” has become a bit worn out and is less useful that it previously was. We are looking for a new set that has the basics (skillets and pots of varying sizes–with lids, which is important to us), but we don’t know where to look for a good deal or what brands have a tendency to last the longest. We aren’t willing to spend hundreds and hundreds on a set just yet, but we also don’t want to buy something that will wear out in just a few short years.

Do you have any recommendations on what to buy—and where to look for a deal?

This is one of my favorite topics, because I love to cook and I (of course) love finding great deals on cooking essentials. Jess is speaking my language!

Cookware sets. I think most people want to buy a complete set—it’s easy, and it seems like the best “bang for the buck” a lot of times—but many people really don’t need a complete set. So pay careful attention to what any given set contains, because you may be better off buying items separately… unless the set in question has everything you want and maybe a piece or two you don’t, but is still cheaper than buying the wanted pieces individually.

Best all-around use. I think that the most utilitarian and durable cookware option for home use is hard-anodized aluminum. (Check out the various options at Amazon for the best deals.) There are varying qualities, of course, but in general you can’t go wrong with Calphalon, Anolon, Farberware commercial-grade or Circulon—all four of which go on big discount at Amazon on a regular basis.

What about Teflon? I still have (and use) my Circulon cookware which I’ve had for years, and it’s coated with a non-stick coating. Most of what I’ve read about the dangers of Teflon have to do with the pan getting really hot, so I make sure that when I use these pieces I never heat them empty and I never use them over high heat for anything other than boiling water. The truth is that when my pots need to be replaced, I will probably opt for ones without Teflon coating… but there are certain dishes for which you really need a non-stick pan, so I will likely never give up my big non-stick sauteuse.

Our grandmothers were smart. Know what is the most-used piece of cookware in my kitchen right now? My cast iron skillet. I caved to the pressure when we moved to Georgia—because everyone cooks with cast iron down here—and have since become fully indoctrinated. Cast iron is relatively cheap, versatile, heats evenly, and adds necessary iron to foods. I’m perpetually anemic so I’ll confess it’s that last one that drew me in… but the more you use your cast iron, the more seasoned (and therefore non-stick) it becomes, naturally. Just keep in mind that you do not want to cook acidic foods in your cast iron—that means the tomato sauces and citrus items need to go in a different pan.

Consider the non-stovetop options, too. I use my crockpot as often as I cook on the stove, and it has nearly replaced my need for a really big pot I can put on the stove. Similarly, we have a (much used) electric griddle we use for weekend pancakes and things like grilled cheese, which has greatly cut down on my need for frying pans. Don’t forget to consider those sorts of appliances when wondering what to get.

What about the environment? I found this excellent little summary if you’d like to do some more reading on the topic.

So WWMB? What Would Mir Buy? If I was shopping for cookware, right now, here’s a few of the items I’d likely pick up, both because they’re priced right and eligible for the current 4-for-3 promotion:

This 12-inch Calphalon everyday pan is akin to my sauteuse that I use all the time, and a bargain at under $30.

Here’s my aforementioned cast iron skillet, though I bought mine at the Lodge outlet.

Here’s a 2.5 quart shallow saucepan, and here’s a 3.5 quart straining pot (no, they don’t match).

Here’s a 6 quart stockpot available on the 4-for-3, but quite frankly I’d probably spring for something even larger (for me, maybe you don’t need something big), like this (shiny!) or this one (though that price doesn’t thrill me). Just, please, for the love of God, even if you think you’ll only use it for pasta and corn on the cob, do not buy a super-cheap stockpot—it will wobble and drive you insane. Trust me.

I also noticed a great price on this Analon 5-quart pot, and although that’s not part of the 4-for-3 offer, it does have various Analon bonus deals available if you’re buying $200+ worth.

Above all, be realistic. Sit down and assess what your cooking needs really are. If you’re only cooking for two people, most of the time, you likely don’t need an assortment of giant pots. If you’re cooking for a crowd, you don’t need that weensy 1-quart pot, cute though it may be. I can walk you through all of the pots and pans in my cupboard, but that doesn’t mean they’re the right choices for you.

Bon appetit!


  1. Amen to Mir’s cast iron statements!

    But… here’s a tip: older cast iron (ie grandma’s) was much better made AND much lighter than today’s. If you scout out a junk shop or thrift shop or “estate sale” type things, you can score a MUCH better piece of cast iron for dirt cheap.

    (There are collectors of old cast iron, so Ebay and antique stores are not really the way to go for a deal on this.)

  2. I don’t think too many people realize that Emerilware is made by All-Clad, another excellent brand of cookware. I bought this set:

    during a special event at Bed Bath & Beyond. I was able to use a 20% coupon (een though it excludes stuff that branded All-Clad) and I have been really happy with the choice. It has everything I need, nothing I don’t. I’ve supplemented my set with one non-stick pan for making eggs, and my stove has a cast iron griddle built in. I don’t think I’ll ever have to purchase another piece of cookware.

  3. I have the 12-inch Calphalon everyday pan and hate it. I don’t find it to be “stick-resistant” at all and I very rarely use it. I also find it difficult to clean. However, I love love love my Anolon set. I have the titanium set, 10-piece. Thanks to pretty Mir, I think I paid around $80 for the set.

  4. I have Calphalon and I love it. Unbeknownst to me when purchased, I have discovered that Calphalon has a lifetime guarantee. At 10 years of really hard service, my pieces were sent back, and Calphalon not only replaced them, but upgraded them to the new handles that do not get hot.

    I figure that the price was well worth the pans, especially since I won’t ever have to financially replace my pots and pans again.

  5. I’m partial to Cooks Essentials from QVC. VERY reasonably priced and if you don’t like it, you can return it within 30 days – no questions asked!

  6. I second the call for a high-quality crock-pot. It’s especially nice for keeping the house cool during the summer (instead of cooking in the oven).

  7. I can’t recommend Revere Ware enough. I’ve had the same pots and pans since 1980 and they are still in great shape. Of course, I don’t polish the copper bottoms.

  8. I second Andrea’s recommendation. I’ve had my Revere Ware since 1965! It’s in fine shape. I don’t polish either, except every couple of years. I’ve bought the odd extra piece at garage sales or Goodwill, and they are as sturdy and useful as ever.

  9. Something I didn’t know, but wish I had, about anodized cookware; never put it in the dishwasher. If you hate hand washing pots and pans, don’t get anodized. On the other hand, anodized cookware heats very evenly, is quite durable and looks great. Unless you put in the dishwasher. Then it looks like a pair of black jeans that you wiped with axle grease, then sprayed with bleach.

  10. Another comment about the cast iron. You can cook tomato sauce in it. It does react with the pan, but the recipe I always use (my mom’s) has to be done in the cast iron skillet or it doesn’t taste right. Even my DH, who thought I was crazy, agrees now that I’ve made it in a regular pan a few times. I also always wash my cast iron with regular dishsoap (and a steel wool if needed) when I use it. I then put it on a hot burner to dry it out to avoid rust. I know you are supposed to let it season but that is just too gross for me. I’ve never had any problems doing this and have the same pan that is probably 40 years old now.

  11. I’m in LOVE with my cast iron. But, acidic food, like tomato sauce actually absorbs the most iron- so why wouldn’t you use it for that?

    I also like my stainless steel kitchenaid set that I got for a steal off of Amazon.

  12. Beth S and Sharon: Yes, the acidic stuff necessitates cleaning with actual soap, which goes against the seasoning process. I prefer my pan seasoned so that food doesn’t stick! 🙂

  13. I got a huge number of Calphalon pieces when I got married 11+ years ago, and they still are going strong. I also love that you can put the pieces in the oven. The only cookware purchase I am coveting nowadays is a Le Creuset Dutch oven, but I am not sure if it’s worth the cost….

  14. Thanks, wonderful Mir, for the advice! I have a great crockpot already (that we use pretty regularly since we both work) fortunately. I agree that it’s a great idea to have one of those on hand.

    Thanks again for the rest of the advice, as it will definitely come in handy as we continue to look for a perfect grouping of cookware. I don’t have a Dutch oven (I know, I know…) but I’m hoping to add one of those as well during this cookware buying session.

    THANK YOU! You’ve given us a great start.

  15. I must have cross posts with Beth S.
    No wonder my cart iron seems to need re seasoning more frequently lately! I love this site. Come for the great deals, stay for the helpful knowledge. 🙂

  16. For Kyung-

    We have several Le Creuset pans, thanks to my husband’s stint as a kitchen manager in a snooty restaurant. They are awesome, but heavy as all get-out and cannot be washed in the dishwasher or used with metal utensils or hung from pot racks (unless you have a death wish).

    They’re ten and about thirty years old (found a few Flame orange pots in a flea market- Score!), and back when we got them we could find nothing else like them on the market. There are tons of enameled cast-iron knockoffs now, though. If I was starting again today, I’d buy a pot from one of the cheaper versions and see how that holds up before going the LC route. They’re about half the price! (Lodge has some on Amazon that are pretty highly rated.)

  17. I believe that if you have a glass-top range (like mine), cast iron pans are verboten, so keep in mind what kind of range you have too.

  18. I have a glass top and still use cast iron!

  19. We use cast iron on our glass-top, as well.

    Hubby and I started out with Calphalon Commericial hard-anodized cookware when we were first married, and it has not worn well (18 years later — ack!). We are gradually replacing with heavy-grade stainless steel, which cooks beautifully and cleans up much more easily. You can break the bank by buying All-Clad, or you can buy the somewhat discounted line that the Arthur Flour Baking Catalogue carries — it’s excellent quality at a fraction of the price.

  20. I recently treated myself to an All-Clad 12-inch stainless fry-pan and like to snuggle with it. It’s so shiny and hefty. So, anyway, I have a few Calphalon non-stick pans that we use a LOT, and the one I use the most (as in, every day and sometimes twice a day) is just now starting to show some wear after 5 years of hard use. I believe it’s the standard “Calphalon One” series. I *don’t* put them in the dishwasher, so if that’s a problem, as someone else said, beware; and I only use silicon/plastic or wooden utensils with them, not metal, and as far as I can tell that’s helped prolong their life. But they’ve been absolutely great. The one I use most is a basic two-handled frying pan — I think they call it an “everyday pan” and, well, sure enough…. If I only had one, that would be it.

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