Tuesday Tips: Buying Pots and Pans

No matter what kind of cook you are, pots and pans are a necessary investment. Even grilled cheese sandwiches are made on a skillet. But have you seen the prices of pots and pans lately? It's no small investment. So here are a few tips for picking the right cookware:

Tip #1: Keep a diary of what you make for meals each month and what kind of pots and pans you use. Stores are chock full of cookware that a lot of everyday cooks rarely use. Invest in the ones you use on a regular basis.

Tip #2: If you're still stumped about which pots and pans your kitchen absolutely needs, start with a 6-quart sauce pan, a 4-quart sauce pan, a 2-quart sauce pan and a 10-inch sauté pan, says Maria Kopsidas, founder and owner of Cookology, a cooking school and retail store in Sterling. Real Simple magazine, on the other hand, recommends a Dutch oven, a roasting pan, a pasta pot, a frying pan and a sauce pan.

Tip #3: Know what you're buying. Pots and pans are made from different metals, such as anodized aluminum, cast iron, copper and stainless steel. Each type cooks the food differently. Anodized aluminum is good for slow cooking, cast iron is good for searing meat, copper is known for evenly heating up food and stainless steel is good for high-temperature cooking, according to Real Simple.

Tip #4: Kopsidas says cookware should last about 10 years. But if the handle starts to shake and Teflon is coming off, it's time to toss them. Check if your cookware has a lifetime guarantee. If so, you might be able to get free replacements.

Tip #5: Look at reviews of pots and pans. Kopsidas recommends Cook's Illustrated's reviews. Only Cookware, Consumer Reports and Consumer Search also have reviews. And talk to cooking friends. Most have strong opinions on what works and what doesn't.

Tip #6: If you're ordering pots and pans online or through a catalog, make sure you get a deal on shipping. Cookware can be bulky and heavy, so any break on shipping would help.

Tip #7: Once you know what kind of pots and pans you want, shop around. Prices vary widely and most stores such as Macy's have sales on their cookware regularly. Kopsidas says some of the biggest sales on pots and pans are around the holidays.

Where do you buy pots and pans? Which brands do you like? What sizes and types of pots and pans do you recommend?

By Tania Anderson |  March 3, 2009; 12:00 AM ET Tuesday Tips
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Toss it "if the handle starts to shake"? Wow. Alternately, you could look around for a philips-head screw and tighten it back down for free, or maybe take it to a machine shop and get it riveted back together for cheap.

Didn't John Kelly just last week look at shoe repair shops? Same thing.

While we're at it, buy cast iron used on eBay. If you do a little homework, you'll find far nicer than the stuff available new for a fraction of the cost.

Posted by: random-adam | March 3, 2009 8:59 AM

Cooktop surface is another consideration for choosing pots and pans. Will you be cooking on a gas, electric coil, ceramic, or induction burner?

Posted by: darmes | March 3, 2009 9:23 AM

It’s important to know what you are cooking, who you are cooking for and, as already suggested, what your cooking surface is. It’s also important to know your clean-up habits. Are you a dishwasher type? If so, be sure the cookware you select is dishwasher safe (most Calphalon is not; All Clad stainless is).

As for specifics,

Invest in the following:
A good 10 or 12” skillet (NOT non-stick)
A good 3 or 4 quart saucepan or chef’s pan – either with a lid
A good dutch oven – cast iron or better, enameled cast iron.

Not so much –
A pasta pot. For the most part, all you are doing is boiling water.
A non-stick pan – get a good one but there is no need to overspend. Non-stick is high maintenance and unless you can keep your family from using metal utensils, this is not a piece to invest heavily.

Most of the sales are on sets. Be sure that the set you purchase contains the pieces you will actually use.

Posted by: mallemployee | March 3, 2009 9:41 AM

All Clad is best out there. And la Creuset for Dutch ovens. I have an All Clad saute pan that is 15 years old. I also purchased a Caphalon anodized set that after 10 yers is starting to flake etc.

Macy's does put individual pieces of All Clad on sale.

You need a 5qt dutch oven or larger depending on family size, 5qt saute pan, 2 and 4/5qt sauce pans, a small fry pan and large 12in fry pan both notnon stick, a 12in non stick fry pan and large 10 to12qt stock/pasta pot and a good cast iron grill pan.

You want pots and pans that are oven safe. No glass lids, handles should be riveted and metal and the sandwich of aluminum and stainless steel needs to go all the way up the sides.
Bar Keepers friend does great for cleaning pots and pans.

Posted by: sheepherder | March 3, 2009 9:58 AM

All Clad is great. My favorite is my 12-inch Cop-R-Chef skillet - I use it for *everything*. The copper exterior makes a noticeable difference to how nimble the pan is (I have both the aluminum exterior and copper & can attest to this), which is important for sauteeing. And the stainless interior does not react with lemon juice and acids, it's the best.

And they last and last... my original Master Chef skillet is coming on 30 years, and is like new. That's my kind of cookware.

Posted by: jt15 | March 3, 2009 10:47 AM

Stay away from sets! There is always something in there that you will never use...better off buying a few pieces to start and adding as the need develops. This speaks to open stock brands like All-Clad where you know that something will be available a couple of years from now.

The suggestion a 4-quart and 6-quart pots along with a 5-6 quart Dutch oven are good. Add a high quality non-stick saute pan (I like the Green pan I recently bought - look for sales) along with a 12-14" stainless saute pan. The other pan that I use a lot is double-handled 3-quart pan from Wegman's that I use all the time for poaching fish and it looks good for serving things like veggies. The Dutch oven is great for stews, chili and is the perfect pot for braising.

Posted by: skipper7 | March 3, 2009 12:18 PM

Tip 8: Heft any pots or pans of size and consider their weight when full. I find a lot of the current high quality cookware is too heavy for me. I like Farberware. And take good care of good pots and pans, they are a sizeable investment. I like Barkeeper's Friend, too. Works great on my old, still shiny, reliable Revere pots.

Posted by: ayejaye | March 3, 2009 12:36 PM

Good timing on this article. We went to a Saladmaster dinner last week, and were shocked at how much those pots & pans cost. (We were also put off by the aggressive sales pitch, and didn't buy anything.) Nice to know we can shop around for high quality without spending thousands of dollars!

Posted by: mskidd | March 3, 2009 12:47 PM

It's so hard to find good pots and pans sold individually! After 10 years, the workhorse 2qt saucepan from the set we got as a wedding present needs replacing - but I can't find anything like it outside of a 12 piece set.

Posted by: crunchyfrog | March 3, 2009 1:39 PM

The absolute best place to buy pots and pans is Marshall's Home Goods store. You can get all the name brands, including ones featured in catalogs like Williams-Sonoma. You might not always find just the one you're looking for, but sooner or later you will and at steeply discounted prices. Cuisinart, All-Clad, Emeril, Le Creuset, all of them and more!

Posted by: mguthrie | March 3, 2009 2:25 PM

I gave my husband pots and pans for Xmas (exciting, eh?) and did the research... went with Consumer Reports' best rated stainless steel - KitchenAid. Love them! Heavy, but not too heavy. Plenty of pot sizes, but not too many. Clean up great. Got a great price from Amazon...right around 100, on sale.

Posted by: mlc2 | March 3, 2009 2:51 PM

I'm a huge fan of All-Clad and Le Creuset. I think my favorite pot is my 3-quart All-Clad cassoulet. I must use it once or twice a week.
I got a 5.5 quart Le Creuset and a 7 quart Outset dutch oven for Christmas. I love them both!
My next purchases will be a 12 inch All-Clad skillet and/or a 12 inch enameled cast iron skillet--probably from Lodge.

Posted by: earlysun | March 3, 2009 10:56 PM

Crunchy Frog

Try Amazon, William Sonoma and cooking.com for individual pots and pans.

Posted by: sheepherder | March 4, 2009 7:43 AM

For crying out loud! If your handle is shaking, either screw it back on, or I have two miraculous words for you: JB Weld. That stuff holds to about 600 degrees.

As for teflon, don't get any. You might get one very small omelet pan with it; otherwise, do not like.

I cook a great, great deal. Everything is from scratch. The very best pans for most of that are allclad type. But I couldn't stand paying that price, and got the Sur-la-Table ones. They are quite awesome, and a basic set cost me about $150. My other go-to is a 6 quart aluminum pot with a very thick bottom that I bought at the grocery store when I started college - about 20 years ago. That cheapo pot is the very best popcorn pot I own.

NOW: as you rightly noted, one should be honest with oneself regarding how much and what one is going to cook. But in my experience, lousy materials dampen the experience so much, getting nice pots and pans might make a serious difference in your cooking habits.

If you are really going to cook, you need a large skillet and one or two small ones. All of these need lids (although overturning a salad plate on top of a small skillet works to steam things in them a little, or to hold heat). I agree you need at least 2, 4 and 6 quart pots, and you need a large stockpot/dutch oven. If you are going to fry, you need a skillet with straight sides rather than sloped sides. Cast iron is good for that, so you might have one of those.

I own several of each of these, because I find that I want different thicknesses and reactivities for different activities. I'm an odd duck, however: I cook candy, make all my stock from scratch, and regularly have all four burners going full blast with something also in the oven. Sometimes you have to take a pan home and try it out before you know that it scorches and at what temperature. So far, although they take some upkeep and seasoning, the faux allclads have never let me down.

PS, don't skimp on that stock pot. Trust me on this.

PSS - williams-sonoma outlet. Awesome.

Posted by: badmommy | March 5, 2009 12:28 PM

I also love All Clad. I think that most non-stick pots and pans are overrated. There are few things that you NEED to make in them that would justify the purchase of more than one or two.

In contrast to some other comments here, I am not a fan of Le Creuset. If you crack the finish, the pot is over with. Le Creuset is not easy to deal with regarding warranty. This is not comforting considering that they cost around $150 and up. A glance at Cooks Illustrated reviews will also show you that Le Creuset also does not consistently test highly. I have two dutch ovens that Cooks Illustrated rated their best buy one year and they are the best pots that I own. They are from Target and cost $25. They are cast iron and coated with the same kind of enamel as Le Creuset. This just proves that you should not always trust the name brand.

Posted by: StLouis | March 5, 2009 12:35 PM

Only 10 years?? Quite literally the only things I have that are that young are the cheap nonstick (silverstone) frying pan, and a cast iron dutch oven and griddle. I'd expect a decent quality pan to last 20-30 years if not a lifetime.

Must-haves (thinking back to what I use frequently): 2-3 handled saucepans with lids. One medium stockpot (large enough to hold one chicken carcass for soupmaking). One "dutch oven" (mine is cast iron, which means I can put it into the oven if need be). I do own one large soup pot that I use maybe once a month; if you're not a soupmaker you could do without. I'm a firm believer in stainless-steel insides, with an outside bottom of some sort of material that helps conduct heat - my Revereware pots are all copper-bottomed. I'm a believer in investing and getting solidly-made stuff.

Bakeware is another story. Most of what I use routinely is the inexpensive Pyrex. If you don't drop that, it lasts for many years, and if you do - well a replacement is only 10 bucks at the grocery store.

Posted by: mgoldenber001 | March 5, 2009 3:57 PM

I like Marshall's too!
A perforated pizza pan is something I love and often give as a wedding gift.

It makes frozen pizzas easy to handle and you get a crispy crust.

You can also do a mass toast of things and not have to pick them off the oven racks.

Styles in pans change. I think my mother had her electric skillet out at least 3-4 times a week when I was little. I don't have one and wouldn't ever get one.

Posted by: RedBird27 | March 5, 2009 4:44 PM

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