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Aside from electric appliances, cookware is probably going to be your single greatest investment in your kitchen, over time. However, when starting you can go a long way with some sensible purchases and by keeping your focus on the essentials.
As we indicated in our first article on basic kitchen needs, start with a good skillet or fry pan, a couple of saucepans and a sautee pan. While this sounds really simple, anyone who remembers their first visit to the kitchen store to buy something as simple as a fry pan will know that the vast choices facing you can easily send you into a state of pots and pans paralysis. However, once again, if we just keep it simple you can get through it without too much pain.
The first question is what material should you be looking for. Here again price plays a big part in the decision. Copper is a great material and copper pots and pans are used by many of the great chefs, but the price reflects this. If you're ready to spend $100s of dollars on a single pot then go for copper. But in terms of a starter kitchen I firmly believe this is overkill.
At the low end are the aluminum pots and pans. Aluminum is a great conductor of heat and you'll find aluminum pans also being used in almost all commercial kitchens. Most often you'll find them with a non-stick coating. This coating limits their use to low heat dishes and because it is non-stick its impossible to make great sauces from scratch. Also, allthough the manufacturers will claim that their coating is non-scratch or scratch-resistant, over time these surfaces always get worn and you will eventually have to replace it. Having said this, I highly recommend at least one non-stick fry pan for your kitchen for cooking things like omelets and soufflés.
Stainless steel, in my mind, is the best value for money. You can get good quality pots and pans in the $50 to $100 range. The construction is usually stainless steel wrapped around copper or aluminum for good heat conductivity. Stainless steel pots and pans are durable, non-reactive and scratch resistant, making them excellent choices.
Cast iron pots and pans are well liked by many chefs. They distribute heat evenly and hold it well. They also tend to be inexpensive. The downside is that they usually have to seasoned before you use them and seasoned regularly after that, especially after several washes with soap and water.
Whatever material you decide on, look for solid construction and pay special attention to where the handle is connected to the pan or pot. This is where low priced items will lack quality and the result is loose handles and unstable cookware. Also look for non-heat conducting handles that will make your life easier. Look for heavy bottoms for better heat conductivity. Also ensure yourself that the bottoms are flat and sit well on the stovetop.
Finally, make sure it feels good in your hand. Does it feel solid? Is the handle comfortable to grip? Is it too heavy? Not heavy enough? These are all personal factors but they're very important. You'll be using them for a long time so they should feel right to you.
So, after all this, if you are still confused, here is what I suggest you do. As usual, I recommend you go to a local kitchen store with knowledgeable staff that can provide professional advice.
Start with a lower priced 10" aluminum fry pan with a non-stick surface. Make sure the non-stick surface is a good one because there is nothing worse than buying a non-stick fry pan only to discover that everything sticks.
Then buy hard-anodized aluminum medium and large saucepans with a non-stick surface.
Finally, purchase a good stainless steel sauté pan. If you have a bit of money to invest this is the one I would invest in.
One last note, if you haven't got a good kitchen store nearby there is lots of information available on the Internet to help you acquire your new pots and pans. Check out Chef's at www.thousandsof.com/chefs.htm. They have a huge selection of cookware in all price ranges and explanations of the construction and quality of each product. As well they provide a 100% guarantee so if you're not happy with your purchase you can return it for a full refund.
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The Maitre D is the author of the Culinary Blast and the inspiration behind Thousands and Thousands of Recipes and the Internet Maitre D. If you like food and cooking this is the place to be. Join Thousands and Thousands of Recipes and download your free Internet Maitre D, your guide to food and cooking on the Net. Sign up at www.article.thousandsof.com
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