Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Buying Cookware, Part One

My first job when I moved to Ann Arbor was selling cookware and other products at a popular kitchen store here in town. It was a great opportunity to learn a lot about all sorts of kitchen gadgets. But selling cookware was often my favorite part of that job. I liked talking to people about how they cooked, and helping them figure out what cookware would be right for them. Many of them were older women or couples, people who had been gifted with a cookware set for their wedding and 20 years later, had decided it was time for a change. Most often people bought entire sets of cookware, and we were happy to sell them to them. (No, I wasn't working on commission, but sets made the decision making easy.)

Since that time, I've learned yet more about cookware, and gotten a lot more experience cooking. And I've decided that most of the time, sets aren't the way to go. Now, if your primary motive for a new cookware purchase is to have something pretty to hang in the show kitchen you never actually cook in, then a set of All-Clad LTD is probably exactly what you're looking for. Maybe even the copper clad, if you have live in help.

But for the rest of us, buying a set means you often end up with pieces you might not otherwise buy. Or at least, might not buy in that format. The previously mentioned All-Clad is excellent cookware. But it's very expensive. An All-Clad tri-ply 8 qt stock pot costs over $250. But very few of the applications you'd use an 8 qt stock pot for actually require all that fancy tri-ply construction. You're boiling pasta water, or making soup or (gasp) stock. For most people, a much cheaper stock pot will do the job just fine, and you can get some excellent buys on this sort of thing from your local restaurant supply store. When it comes to stock pots, even All-Clad agrees - they've introduced a lower priced line of large stockpots that have a reinforced disk at the bottom instead of being fully clad.

So what should you buy, then? I can't claim to be a complete expert on cookware, but I do know what I like and what I use. And I've recently become a cast iron convert. Now, cast iron isn't for every application. It's slow to heat up, and slow to cool down. It holds a lot of heat, so it doesn't respond quickly to adjustments you make at the stove. But nothing is better at putting a really good sear on a steak, for example, and I find it suitable for a wide range of cooking applications. It goes seamlessly from the stovetop to the oven, and back again. Properly seasoned it is as non-stick as some teflon coated pans, and it's much easier to ensure that it is properly seasoned now that Lodge is selling pre-seasoned pans. You'll need to treat it right as you use it, but at least they get you off to a good start! Oh, and did I mention that it's cheap? And nearly indestructible? I think every kitchen needs at least one good cast iron pan. I prefer the 12 inch skillet, as I think it's the most versatile size.

Part Two: Anodized Aluminum
Part Three: Stainless Steel


mary ellyn said...

Do you use cast iron on an electric stove? I have not been able to use mine on electric. Is there a secret?

Tammy said...

Fortunately, I have a gas range. This is the first I've heard anyone say they couldn't use it on an electric range. A quick Google search picked up this great page all about cast iron pans. They do mention that caution may be needed with electric stoves, but nothing indicating that they wouldn't work.

"Be careful when cooking with your cast-iron pots on an electric range, because the burners create hot spots that can warp cast iron or even cause it to crack. Be sure to preheat the iron very slowly when using an electric range and keep the settings to medium or even medium-low."

What kind of problem are you having?