cookware

Cookware: Skillets, Pots & Frying Pans for the Home Chef

Aside from knives, a home chef’s most relied upon tool is cookware. Too often, cookware companies push subpar boxed cookware sets that don’t meet most people’s needs and are of inferior quality. For most men, buying cookware separately will result in the best performance for the money.  In this guide, we’re going to discuss how to purchase cookware that will last a lifetime and what pots and pans you really need.

A chef using his cookware in the kitchen

A chef using his cookware in the kitchen

Kitchen Equipment for the Home Cook

Even professional chefs use only a few pans regularly. If you’ve ever purchased a set of five or ten pots and pans, you probably know firsthand that you only end up using a couple of them. Chances are you have a favorite and stick to that.

Cookware sets — regardless of what brand they’re from — tend to be of the lowest quality produced by the manufacturer. Even if you spent hundreds of dollars on them, chances are you will achieve great results at the beginning, but over time the quality, usefulness, and durability of them will fade.

Inexpensive cookware sets rarely work well

Inexpensive cookware sets rarely work well

Pros and Cons of Sets

There are a few benefits and drawbacks to buying a boxed set of cookware.

Pros

  • It is very economical if you don’t already own cookware or want to upgrade all of your pans at once.
  • It is easier to justify and to replace if you’re not a serious home chef or don’t enjoy cooking.
  • They make great gifts for newlyweds and as house warming presents.

Cons

  • They tend to be of poorer quality because they use thinner bottoms that don’t heat evenly or don’t hold the heat well.
  • They can contain a couple of oddly shaped or hybrid pots and pans that aren’t useful.
  • Unless you need each and every pot and pan, it can be just as inexpensive to buy a few better-quality pots and pans.
  • Some contain nonstick coatings, which reduce the value of the purchase since they will need frequent replacement.
  • They typically don’t last as long as higher quality cookware because the lighter weight leads to easier denting and warping.
Pan with T Fal non stick coating

T-Fal pans are ideal for those who want a high-performing coating at a price that won’t make your pocketbook cringe when you replace it

Pros and Cons of Buying Individual Cookware

Buying pots and pans by themselves can comes with its own set of pros and cons.

Pros

  • Although individual quality pans can be more expensive, they will last longer and distribute heat more effectively.
  • You will get less cookware for your money, but the quality will be superior if you make the right choices.
  • A very high-quality skillet can last a lifetime or more.
  • Often, quality doesn’t mean having to spend ridiculous amounts of money.

Cons

  • Chances are you will spend more money to build a collection if having multiple pots and pans is important to you.
  • The care required to maintain quality cookware can be greater and more challenging than sets because they aren’t as disposable.
  • Some pots and pans will need to be seasoned before being used.
Aluminum cookware

Aluminum cookware

Types of Cookware

There are so many types of cookware available. It seems that companies are coming out with new pots and pans for every type of protein and style of cooking or cuisine. In the end, you really just need a few basic items which we’ll discuss.

Materials

There are many different materials used to produce cookware. Each of them has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Copper

Copper has long been the favorite of chefs, and it is the traditional material used in France. Copper pots are the best conductors of heat, but they are also more expensive and more challenging to clean. These make impressive kitchen display pieces for those who appreciate a beautifully made pan in a standout material.

Aluminum

Aluminum offers fairly good distribution of heat but is known to turn food gray, so it often comes coated with a nonstick finish or is made with anodized aluminum which has to be hand washed and dried. The darker color of the pan also obscures the fond (the flavorful brown bits created at the bottom of pan during cooking), which makes it harder to determine how well food is browning compared with lighter materials.

Stainless Steel

Easy to clean, durable and it looks good. The main downside is that it’s not a good conductor of heat, so it’s often used in combination with copper.

Carbon Steel

Take a close look at the pile of skillets in a restaurant kitchen the next time you get a ringside seat. Chances are, they are made of carbon steel. Carbon steel is popular in Europe and in restaurant kitchens, but it hasn’t really caught on in North American home kitchens. It needs to be seasoned and maintained much like a cast iron skillet, but once seasoned the surface is remarkably non-stick even without a chemical non-stick coating. They are also relatively inexpensive.

Non-Stick or Teflon Pans

These are ideal for the home chef who wants food to release beautifully from the pan and clean up quickly. However, there is a wide range of quality in non-stick pans and some inherent dangers too. Most non-stick coatings such as Teflon are recognized as carcinogens, so while they are very effective materials, you need to toss the pan as soon as you notice any flaking of the surface coating. As a result,non-stick pans in high price ranges are rarely worth the investment. T-Fal branded coatings are a good option for an inexpensive non-stick pan that will work well over time.

Stainless steel cookware

Stainless steel cookware

 Cast Iron

If you’re not a cast iron user, it may seem old school, but cast iron is an amazing conductor of heat. The downside is that it requires hand washing without soap, shouldn’t be used with acidic ingredients, and rusts easily. It also needs to be properly seasoned before use. However, the big benefit is it will outlast your lifetime and if taken care of, can make an excellent heirloom. It’s also fairly easy to repair if it does rust or experience some wear. Finally, they aren’t all that expensive, so you can easily buy a cast iron pan, and once seasoned, you won’t need to keep buying and rebuying Teflon pans.

Craftsmanship of Quality Cookware

Many people complain about high-quality cookware being too heavy. The reason it is heavy is because heavier cookware tends to distribute heat more quickly and evenly. Thin and lightweight cookware is a good indicator that the quality is lacking or isn’t intended to last long and may result in bending or warping over time. However, carbon steel pans are often thin, yet are still favored by many professional chefs.

Ply or Clad Cookware

The terms “ply”or “clad” are often used interchangeably, and they refer to the number of layers of metal on the bottom of the pan. As we mentioned before, stainless steel isn’t a very good conductor of heat, so while it makes for a durable pan, most manufacturers will add a layer of metal to the bottom of the pan to increase heat conduction. For instance, 3-ply pans are often constructed of stainless steel bonded with anodized aluminum or copper as the middle layer. All-Clad pans for instance, are 3-, 5- or even 7-ply with stainless steel and aluminum.

What to Buy and How to Create Your Own Set

If you’re the typical home cook who enjoys cooking for your family and the occasional dinner party, you can easily get away with just the following cookware to start with and then build your collection over time as your needs change. Here are our top tips for buying cookware:

  • First, decide if a set or individual pans are right for you. If you already have a few good pans, then individually is probably the best way to buy. If a set is a better fit, read the individual reviews for each pan in the set to see if they all perform well independently.
  • Avoid larger sets (10+ pieces) because that seems to be the threshold at which cookware companies start adding pieces that you don’t really need, such as a second stockpot, double boiler or a third saucepan in an awkward size.
  • Determine your budget and goals. If you have a low budget, consider spending your budget on one great quality pan for now. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to consider buying secondhand. Good pans should last a lifetime, so pretty much anything can be cleaned up and restored to perfect working condition as long as it’s not dented, warped, or Teflon coated.
Cast iron skillets need to be cared for and can rust easily

Cast iron skillets need to be cared for and can rust easily

Two Skillets or Quality Pans

A 9 or 10-inch skillet and a larger, deep-sided 12-inch skillet will give you the ability to cook just about any meal quickly and without issue or needing other pans. Consider using one that’s a non-stick and a second that is cast iron. Although you may use one more often, you’ll find they both have benefits and drawbacks. A perfect example is that many chefs favor a cast iron skillet, however it is problematic with acidic foods so it is necessary to have an alternative on hand. Finally, a stainless grill pan is a good option for meat lovers.

Recommended Products

CookwarePrice
Lodge L12SK3 Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Skillet, 13.25-inch$
Lagostina Q5510474 Accademia Bistecchiera Stainless Steel Grill Pan Cookware, 11-Inch$
T-fal E93808 Professional Nonstick Oven Safe Thermo-Spot Heat Indicator Fry Pan / Saute Pan Dishwasher Safe Cookware, 12-Inch, Black$
All-Clad 4202 Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Sauce Pan with Lid , 2-Quart, Silver$
Tramontina 6.5 Qt Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven$
Mauviel M'Heritage Copper M250C 6501.17 1.9-Quart Saucepan with Lid, Cast Iron Handle$$
Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 7-1/4-Quart Round French (Dutch) Oven, Cerise (Cherry Red)$$
Mauviel M'Heritage Copper 150s 6132.25 11.7-Quart Stock Pot with Tin Interior and cast Stainless Steel Handle$$
M'heritage 10 Piece Cookware Set$$$
All-Clad BD005707-R D5 Brushed 18/10 Stainless Steel 5-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe Cookware Set, 7-Piece, Silver$$$

Lodge Cast Iron Skillets

We recommend and use Lodge MFG cast iron skillets which are made in America and revered by the top professional chefs. They conduct and retain heat beautifully. They are also the only cast iron skillet to come properly pre-seasoned. Click here for an 8″ Lodge cast iron skillet to get an 8-inch skillet or click here for a larger 13″ Lodge Cast Iron model.

Lagostina Accademia Bistecchiera Stainless Steel Grill Pan

We also really liked the Lagostina Accademia Bistecchiera Stainless Steel Grill Pan, which Lagostina sent us awhile back. Its grates allow fat content to sit below the meat, and it’s the best stainless steel pan we’ve ever used. The only issue is that it can be tough to clean and can cause food to stick if not properly lubricated with high heat oil. Click to get the Lagostina Grill Pan here.

T-Fal 12″ Professional Non-Stick Fry Pan

Since cast iron and a grill pan aren’t for everyone, this T-Fal pan will be your kitchen workhorse. It’s easy to clean, dishwasher safe and a brilliant performer. Once it starts to chip, the $28 price tag makes it affordable to replace. Click here to get a 12-inch T-Fal Non-Stick Pan.

Two Saucepans

Having two different sized saucepans in four and six-quart variations will give you the ability to easily heat soup, steam vegetables or cook stews and prepare sauces. One of the most versatile pans in your arsenal, you’ll find these get used all the time.

Recommended Products

Mauviel M’Heritage Copper Saucepans

This is a pan worth investing in! A good cast iron skillet won’t cost much money, but a high-quality copper saucepan is more expensive yet worth every penny. We tested a number of saucepans but none compared to the copper ones from Mauviel. It’s worth every dime you’ll spend, and they will last a lifetime if well cared for. Click here to get this display-worthy Mauviel M’Heritage Copper Saucepan here. If this pan is a bit out of your price range, consider an All-Clad saucepan instead — it will last you just as long!

Large Dutch Oven

Having a large Dutch oven for stews and pot roasts is essential for the home cook. It’s also useful for baking bread. Dutch ovens are constructed from enameled cast iron, so they conduct heat beautifully while being much easier to clean up. Enamel will stain over time, but this is another cookware purchase you can keep and enjoy for a lifetime.

Recommended Products

Le Crueset Dutch Oven

Le Crueset Dutch Oven

Le Creuset Dutch Oven

This 7 qt Le Creuset Dutch Oven is big enough to handle most dinners and yet distributes the heat evenly, which results in a perfect dish. Slightly higher priced, it will still save you money since it lasts a lifetime if well cared for. If $350+ dollars is out of your price range, then consider this Dutch Oven from Tramontina — stellar reviews at around $60 make this a great buy!

Stock Pot

Having a stock pot is worthy of your consideration if you want to be able to cook soup or pasta. Although it can be beneficial to own a smaller pot, a stock pot doesn’t have to be filled all the way.

Recommended Products

Mauviel M’Heritage Copper Stock Pot with Tin Interior

Copper is great for heat distribution, but having a copper stock pot can impart a terrible aftertaste when cooking in water. This one from Mauviel has a tin interior to prevent that taste. It still heats just as well as a full copper pot, but without the drawback of tasting it. Click here to get it.

Recommended Sets & Creating Your Own Set

In general, we don’t recommend buying sets because the savings tend to be limited, the quality is poor and they often come with awkward pots and pans you wouldn’t otherwise need. However, for the home cook who doesn’t want the hassle of having to create their own set, there are a couple of pre-packaged cookware sets we do recommend that don’t have any of the aforementioned pitfalls.

Mauviel M’heritage 10 Piece Cookware Set

An heirloom quality set, this French-made cookware set includes two skillets, three sauce pans, one saute pan and 4 lids, as well as copper brill cleaner. It is arguably one of the best boxed sets you can buy and one of only two we recommend, for several reasons: the quality of Mauviel pans, the usefulness of each pot, and the durable yet beautiful construction. Click here to pick up the Mauviel M’Heritage 10 Piece Cookware Set.

All-Clad 7 Piece Cookware Set

All-Clad 7 Piece Cookware Set

All-Clad D5 Stainless Steel 5-Ply 7 Piece Cookware Set

This set covers all the basic categories of cookware. It contains one stock pot, one saucepan, one saute pan and one skillet plus three lids. While you may want to supplement this set with a non-stick or cast iron skillet, it is otherwise a complete cookware set made up of only the most useful pieces. Click here to get the All-Clad D5 7 Piece Cookware Set or check out smaller and larger sets.

Conclusion

With cookware, you get what you pay for. Stay tuned for upcoming articles on other kitchen items worth investing in. What cookware do you use at home?

Summary
Article Name
Cookware: Skillets, Pots & Frying Pans for the Home Chef
Description
A detailed look at the pots, pans and cookware every home chef should have and recommended products.
Author
Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette
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5 replies
  1. Mark L says:

    Great Article! I like the recommendations on copper and I myself am an avid iron user. I would also recommend a company that makes an innovative cookware that provides excellent heat distribution and rabid heating. They are called Turbopot. I have used their products in a professional kitchen and in my home and they are outstanding. They heat rapidly, require less heat overall and are of high quality. They are a life-saver for those times when you forget the water for pasta and even for home brewing.

    Reply
  2. Koa Stephens says:

    I very much enjoy cooking. I’m was happy to see this subject being addressed as a subject for gentlemen.
    I would like to comment that the inclusion of aluminium cookware has me puzzled. From all my research and conversations with more experienced chefs than myself, aluminium cookware is considered a faux pas. In the places that still allow sales of it, there are serious concerns about it leeching into food and contributing to Alzheimer’s among other health concerns.
    It would be unwise, in my opinion to buy aluminium cookware when you can spend the same amount of money on quality used items by day Le Creuset. The latter will outlive anyone reading this and their guarantee is quite impressive.
    My philosophy is always to buy something quality once and take care of it. It will be much cheaper than buying something disposable twice or more.

    Reply
  3. Twotone says:

    Good article, for the most part. Stay away from all aluminum and Teflon — just don’t go there.

    All Clad is the best bang for the buck and made in the US. Mauviel copper is better, but the high cost does not justify the small difference in performance. Tin lined copper is a pain in the butt as few places know how to properly re-tin copper. Stainless steel lined copper is easier.

    Get the All Clad D5 and be done with it. Tests have shown that All Clad’s copper core adds little benefit at a much higher price.

    Cuisinart tri ply is a decent lower cost option. Their French classic line (made in France) is excellent and their Chinese made tri ply is OK for the price.

    I have and used all of the above.

    Reply
  4. tootone says:

    As mentioned in the article, a good cast iron skillet is a kitchen essential. My two are over 50 years old. Old ones are better than new ones as the cooking surface is glass smooth. New ones (Lodge included) use rougher sand casting which does not season to a good non-stick surface. Look for old skillets at yard sales or antique stores. Stay away from Chinese cast iron. New Lodge skillets can be smoothed with some work.

    Reply

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