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 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.