I thought I’d share what pots and pans we use in our house to cook all our food. This will be a short series of posts, starting with today’s on five points to remember when shopping for pots and pans. The key to having a good set of useful pans, is knowing what you’re going to use them for. We’ve curated our collection to reflect our needs, which vary a lot so we have a wide range of cookware. Your priorities will likely be different from ours, but hopefully this will help you as you sort through and add to your own set.
I hate numbered lists (they’re so overdone in the blogosphere and most of them are “DUH”) but here we have it, because there’s no easier way to do this. Five basic tips when shopping for pots and pans:
- Buy quality: Good pans are designed to last a very long time (see exception in #4). With pots and pans, the most important thing is to have an even heat distribution on the bottom of your pans. This means, you need a thicker pan. The most popular are what’s called “tri-ply” with an aluminum core and stainless steel coatings on the inside and outside of the pans. Flimsy and thin one-ply aluminum or stainless steel pans (like those from big box or grocery stores) will just scorch your food beyond recognition.
- But don’t pay for it: A great place to look for high-end cooking pans is at discount department stores, or by waiting for large department store sales. At discount stores, just make sure to avoid pans with dents and scratches (especially for enameled and non-stick pans, as scratches can cause poisons to leach out and into your food – you don’t want that).
- Oven-proof is good: be sure you have at least one pot and one frying pan that can go straight from the stove-top to the oven. All our frying pans have metal handles, and a dutch oven is designed precisely to do this (we bought a cheaper Martha Stewart brand dutch oven and replaced the plastic nob with a metal one from Le Creuset so we can use it in the oven above 450F)
- Non-stick is sometimes good: Most of our cookware does not have non-stick coatings because we like to do a lot of scraping and banging on our pans, and non-stick just doesn’t stick up to that (har-har). We do have a few pans with Teflon coatings that we have been trying out, and I recommend one non-stick frying pan for cooking eggs. Otherwise, there is no need for non-stick. We almost always buy our non-stick pans from discount department stores because we can get quality pans for cheaper there (usually in the $20 range), so we can replace them when they start scratching. We don’t like eating poison.
- Maintain your pans: Not so much of a shopping tip as a preventing-from-shopping-again tip: Let your pans cool down (avoid putting a hot pan in a cold sink with cold/lukewarm water!), then wash them as soon as possible after using. Also, be sure to scrub the outside as well as the inside because oils build up on the outsides as you cook, and burn the next time they go on the stove, leaving brown and black film/marks on the outside. They’re cleanable, but it’s just easier to clean them before they burn on. I admit I do both of these things wrong, and our pans have not yet warped, and we are not too picky about how the outside of our pans look. But honestly, I feel guilty every time because I know I should maintain our pans better. And one of these days, David’s saucepan is going to warp or crack under heat stress and then I’ll feel terrible that it was my fault.
Up next: A comprehensive list of our pots and pans and what I like about them, as well as some things that I don’t find so useful. In the meantime, what are your tips for purchasing pots? Where do you go for the best deals?