With so many brands and products on the market, choosing what sort of cookware to buy can be a daunting experience. If you're just starting to furnish a kitchen, consider looking into buying a set. You can get a good variety, make sure you only buy what you need, and then supplement with individual pieces, which experts say is a good way to stock up.
"There is absolutely a cost benefit to buying a cookware set instead of individual pieces," said Diana Gringle, buyer for cookware and cutlery at Sur La Table. "It's important to make sure the configuration you choose has the essential pieces you need. You can always add on piece-by-piece down the road."
What are some essential pieces to look for? You'll want a mix of pots and pans, skillets, a stock pot and, of course, lids, which are considered separate pieces when buying a set. (So, for example, if a set has 10 pieces, three of those might be lids.) Essential pieces include:
- 10-inch nonstick or cast iron frying pan
- 3-inch sauté pan
- 8-quart stock pot or Dutch oven
- 4-6 quart essential pan (All-Clad and Williams-Sonoma are good)
- Cast iron oven (Staub and Lodge make good pieces.)
- Nonstick skillets (Scanpan items, which are bonded with ceramic titanium, are fantastic.)
Buying Cookware Is Personal
Amanda Haas, the director of culinary for Williams-Sonoma, said buying cookware is a very personal choice as each person has different needs. "The cookware chosen needs to be a great fit for the person using it," she said. Haas suggests a few things to consider before buying cookware:
- How does it feel in your hand? Is the handle comfortable? How is the weight?
- What are you trying to cook in each pot or pan? That can help determine the type of material like nonstick, stainless steel, aluminum or more.
- Who is the manufacturer? More expensive pieces, as outlined below, will last longer, often a lifetime.
Invest in Better Cookware
When you're thinking of outfitting your kitchen — whether you need a few pieces or an entire set — consider it an investment and think about spending a little bit more. "Great cookware is definitely a worthwhile investment," Gringle said. "Cooking with high-quality products makes it so much more enjoyable. Plus, most of our cookware is guaranteed for a lifetime of use — high-quality cookware pays for itself over time because it doesn't need to be replaced."
Yes, some brands like All-Clad and Calphalon lean toward the pricier side of cookware, but they last, as does cast iron cookware from vendors like Staub, Le Creuset and Lodge, which is actually more affordable but still high-quality. If you need a few pieces that you don't plan to keep forever, you can go to Bed Bath & Beyond, Target or Walmart and buy some inexpensive items from Farberware or Wearever — you can even take advantage of the half-dozen 20% off coupons from BB&B you may have lying around. The pots and pans will get the job done, but you may find yourself needing to replace them sooner than you'd like, which may not always be a bad thing, according to Williams-Sonoma's Haas.
"I invested in the pans I want to last a lifetime, like a Le Creuset Dutch oven, All-Clad sauté pans and stockpots and a Williams-Sonoma nonstick fry pan," Haas said. "I spent less on pieces that I don't use as much that I'm happy to replace every few years."
Tips for Cooking and Cleaning
Finally, once your collection is in place, Haas offers some tips for cooking and cleaning to make the most of your cookware for a long time to come:
- An All-Clad Essential Pan can serve many uses, like sautéing vegetables, and making stir-fry, risotto and one-pot meals.
- A cast iron pan is great for making everything from scrambled eggs, pancakes, chicken and fish, searing steaks or crisping rice or quinoa.
- Use an 8-quart stock pot for making soups, braising, cooking dumplings or boiling water for pasta.
- Nonstick pans are good for flipping pancakes, making eggs and cooking delicate proteins like fish.
- Stainless steel and cast iron are good for browning meat.
- Aluminum pans conduct heat well.
- Use wood spatulas on nonstick surfaces unless you know they are metal-utensil safe.
- Allow pans to cool before washing.
- Don't use nonstick cooking sprays on nonstick pans; it can create a residue that is hard to remove.