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Choosing the Right Cookware for You

August 27, 2013

How do I choose from all the pans at CHEFScatalog.com?Choices! The blue one or the red one? Soft or hard? Salty or sweet? Dark chocolate or milk chocolate … or white chocolate?

We do love our choices. But sometimes, the number of options we have to choose from can be mind-numbing and cause us to make the ultimate choice of not making a choice—or just closing our eyes and going eeny-meeny-miney-moe.

Eeny-meeny can work okay when you’re trying to choose what kind of ice cream to get at the grocery store—any of the choices are going to be good, right? But it doesn’t work so well when picking out the pans for your kitchen. After all, your relationship with your pans will be a long-term one. A bad choice now is one you may have to live with for several years.

While there is no particular cookware set that can be labeled as “the right one,” there is a set that is the “right one for you” and the needs of your household. You just need to determine what that is for you.

What to do?

How do you choose pans at CHEFScatalog.comTo help you decide, breakdown the BIG decision into a series of smaller ones—all supported by the findings of your own research. Collect the answers to these five questions and choosing your cookware will become easier:

  1. What is your budget?
  2. As a chef, what is your personality?
  3. How many pieces do you need?
  4. What type of stove do you have?
  5. And, performance-wise and aesthetically, what kind of pan do you prefer?

What is your budget?

Budgetary considerations are important. Here’s one way to think about it: Regardless of your price limit, invest in the best cookware you can afford. The pans you’ll use every day, year after year, are not the place to skimp in your kitchen.

Like any investment, having quality pans will pay off over time. Dime-store pans you have to replace every year or so are no bargain. But a high-quality set that could last 20 to 30 years—and be passed on to your kids when they head out on their own? That’s an entirely different mindset.

Personality matters

Zwilling JA Henckels Sol Thermalon Cookware Set at CHEFScatalog.comAre you primarily a gourmet who attends to every detail of cooking or do you throw together whatever is in the kitchen and call it good? Each of us is, or can be, at least a little of each. But which is your primary approach?

Or, think about it this way: Do you love to cook or do you have to cook? It’s a key difference—and one that will affect your choice in pans.

Love to cook? You’ll probably want cookware that looks as good as it performs (so you can display it, of course!) and won’t mind the extra time and effort to maintain your cookware—because for you it is a lifetime investment.

Have to cook? You likely focus on simplicity and convenience with less emphasis on appearance. Dishwasher safe sounds good.

Also consider how often you intend to cook at home each week. One or two times a week? Three or four? More? The more you plan to cook at home, the more pots and pans you will likely need. For the serious cook, a complete set that includes several sizes of pots with lids and at least three or four fry/saute pans or skillets is a good choice. For the occasional cook, two to three pots with lids and two sizes of fry/saute pans may be adequate.

How many pans do you need?

Speaking of how many pans—this may be a little harder to define (see an earlier post in this series), but consider how many people you cook for and mix in your personality—who you are as a chef. If it’s just you or you have a small family and you’re a “have to cook” person, you can get by with fewer pieces. But, if you have the same scenario but are a “love to cook” chef, you’ll likely want a few extra pieces. And if you have a big family and love to cook? Well, you are why the pot and pan manufacturers make “open stock” pieces—so you can have as many pans as you’d like to augment your set.

What kind of stove do you have?

Cuisinart MultiClad Pro 12-Piece Set at CHEFScatalog.comThis is an easier question to answer than you may think. If your stove top is gas, glass, or ceramic—anything goes! Just be sure, if you have a glass or ceramic cook top, that your cookware is flat-bottomed.

If you have an induction cook top, then you want cookware that is magnetic—so avoid regular aluminum, glass, Pyrex, or ceramic. Instead, look at cast iron, magnetic stainless steel, and some brands of hard anodized aluminum cookware. If in doubt, stick a magnet to the surface of the pan that will connect with your cook top. If the magnet sticks, your pan is okay.

Preference counts

The answers to the first five questions should point you toward at least one type of pan. If they point you equally to more than one option—and that’s certainly possible—then you exercise your preference based on performance and aesthetics.

Your turn: What kind of chef are you at CHEFScatalog.com?How do you know how a cookware will perform until you’ve already bought it? A lot depends upon the material the cookware is made of. Look for pieces that are made of aluminum, copper, or cast iron—or stainless steel bonded with copper or aluminum—for excellent conductivity. (See chart below.) Some pieces can react negatively with some types of food, particularly foods high in acidity.

Finally, don’t discount the appearance of your pans—particularly if displaying them is important to you. All other things being equal, a sharp looking set of pans can enhance your overall cooking experience.

These days, pots and pans are available in many different colors to match—or coordinate—with the color of your kitchen. Adding a new set of pots and pans can add to the overall look and feel of your kitchen. You have your choice of a variety of styles and colors to choose from, why not take advantage of that?

Material

Pros

Cons

What to look for

Brands

Aluminum

(Hard Anodized)

Excellent conductor of heat.

Very soft, dents easily (if not hard anodized). Can react with acidic foods.

Look for hard anodized aluminum (anodization strengthens aluminum to twice the hardness of stainless steel)

CHEFS, Cuisinart,

Le Creuset,  

Cast iron

Durable.

Requires seasoning to maintain. Heavy. Can react with food if not seasoned.

Can be bare or enamel coated. If buying enameled, the quality and thickness of the enamel is important.

CHEFS, Le Creuset, Lodge, Staub

Ceramic

Durable. Can be more colorful. Tends to be lighter. Easy to clean.

Can chip and crack.

Clay-based or enamel-based

Tramontina, Zwilling J.A. Henckels

Copper

(includes copper core cookware)

Excellent conductor of heat.

Reacts with acidic foods.

Look for copper cladding in stainless steel cookware for the heat conductivity of copper at a more affordable price

All-Clad, Chantal, KitchenAid, Mauviel

Stainless steel

Durable. Attractive appearance. Does not react with food. Easy to maintain.

Poor conductor of heat.

Look for stainless steel that is bonded with copper or aluminum to make it a good conductor of heat

All-Clad, CHEFS, Cuisinart, KitchenAid, Le Creuset, Mauviel, Zwilling J.A. Henckels

 

Coming up: Nonstick pans and induction cooking pans.

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