Cookware Buying Guide
I frequently get asked questions about cookware. Most people are confused when it comes to purchasing pots and pans because there are so many varieties. Here are a few things to consider when buying a set for your home kitchen.
Never buy a pan or set of pans with spot-welds, because they can’t tolerate the same amount of weight that riveted handles provide. Welded handles are unreliable, and unsafe. Imagine carrying 20 pounds of boiling water to the sink and having a handle fall off- the results would be catastrophic. My recommendation- if you have any of this cookware in your house, toss it in the trash immediately.
How much do you have to spend? Do you want to buy en entire set, or are you going to build a collection piece by piece? I always recommend buying one piece at a time. Have you ever heard the saying, buy the best; cry once? That’s an adage that makes perfect sense to me. If you buy one piece of quality cookware per month, depending on your budget, you can have a quality set in as little as a year.
Aluminum pans are inexpensive for a reason. They’re easy to produce en mass, and the materials are cheap. Some studies indicate that using aluminum cookware can cause Alzheimer’s, and can contribute to other illnesses. Although this data is inconclusive, why take the chance? Another reason I don’t like cooking with aluminum is because it’s considered a reactive cooking surface. Reactive cooking surfaces like aluminum, and cast iron react with acidic foods, and may leach unpleasant metallic flavors into your food, and compromise the integrity of delicate sauces.
There are different schools of thought on Teflon pans. Many people think they’re unsafe to cook with, but that’s untrue. Carcinogens can be released when cooking with Teflon pans, but that only occurs when the pan is heated above 500 degrees. Even if a small chip of Teflon is swallowed, it will likely be passed through your digestive system with everything else.
Every kitchen should have a good quality Teflon pan- they’re essential for making omelets, crepes, and other fragile preparations.
Avoid using sharp objects in Teflon pans- this will damage the surface.
Never clean your Teflon pans with soap, and any type of abrasive brush. Use a moist rag to remove any oil or debris, dry, and store. If you’re stacking other sauté pans on top of Teflon, place a towel in between cookware to prevent scratching.
If taken care of properly, cast-iron pots and pans can last forever. Everyone has that one special pan that’s been handed down from generation to generation, and it’s usually cast iron- that’s because they’re virtually indestructible, and easy to take care of. These types of pans should be wiped out with a damp rag, oiled, and stored in a dry storage area. Some people dislike cast iron pans because they’re heavy, difficult to clean, and take a long time to heat up. If you want the benefits of a cast iron pan, but hate the cleanup, purchase one coated with porcelain enamel. These pots are commonly called Dutch ovens. The most popular brand name is la Creuset.
Copper pans are efficient conductors of heat, but are also considered reactive pans, and may discolor, and affect the taste of certain foods, just like aluminum. The advantages to having copper pans is that they look beautiful in a kitchen. Many high-end cookware manufactures are using layers of copper between stainless steel to maximize heating efficiency.
Stainless steel is the best option for a few reasons. First, it’s a reactive cooking surface. This means that the flavors from the food you are cooking will remain pure, and prepared sauces will maintain their natural colors. Stainless steel is also durable, scratch reisitent, and if cared for properly, will not warp.
The good news is that there’s a lot of good choices out there is you’re in the market for a complete set of pots and pans. Big box stores like Sam’s and Costco provide large sets of stainless steel cookware with lids and are very reasonably priced. If you have one of these stores close to your home, take time to handle the products- the pots and pans should feel evenly weighted in your hands, and comfortable. All of the handles should be riveted (remember NO spot welds)! Heavy gauge materials are best- thin bottoms on sauté pans tend to wear out quickly, and distribute heat unevenly.
My favorite pots and pans are made from All Clad. Their structure, materials, and design are close to perfect. Most chefs I know have several pieces of All Clad in their homes because it is easy to care for, a perfect conductor of heat, and virtually indestructible. Though costly, All Clad is well worth the price. As mentioned before, it is recommended to buy one or two pieces of All Clad per month. Fortunately, All Clad holds a special sale ever year in Washington County, PA. Significant savings can be had at this sale, so it’s worth the trip. For information on this sale, click HERE.
Other sets to consider