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Nov 27

Kitchen Essentials – Cookware

When it’s time to set up a kitchen for the first time, most of us (myself included) go for a cheap and cheerful cookware set.  It seemed to have enough stuff to get going, and as long as you could make breakfast, or heat some soup, or boil some pasta, it all seemed just hunky dory. Now you have the chance to upgrade some of your pots and pans from dormitory hand-me-downs, but don’t know where to begin.

So what do you look for when you’re looking at cookware?  How much do you need to spend?  And most important – what do you really NEED to get started? Sometimes those nifty cookware sets are just overkill. You don’t need a bunch of saucepans, a dozen frying pans, kettles, cookers and little specialty pots that only do one thing.  Start small, and build your collection of QUALITY equipment.

First of all, focus on quality.  To get the most out of each piece of cookware, you want heavy bottoms and sides – best is to be a similar thickness all the way around. A thick bottom with thin sides will lose heat more quickly, and distribute the heat unevenly, particularly if you use them in the oven.  The next thing to consider is whether or not you like to hand wash your pots and pans – that will help you decide what material you want your pans to be made out of.  It’s easy to assume that something is dishwasher safe, but you’d be amazed at what isn’t – like anodized aluminum.  It’s got a coating over the aluminum, right?  Right – and dishwasher detergent eats through it. Teflon?  Usually not recommended. Cast iron – no way.  Even some manufacturers of enameled cast iron don’t recommend it.  When I started upgrading our cookware, we found that the only All Clad that IS dishwasher safe is the stainless steel line – it’s the priciest, but as far as my husband is concerned, hand washing is NOT an option.  Decision made. Cuisinart also makes a line of excellent stainless steel cookware, and will take a much smaller bite out of your budget than All Clad.

It’s worth mentioning that if you’ve ever shopped in a restaurant supply store, you have probably noticed that pans are pretty lightweight, especially compared to consumer “gourmet” cookware.  There are a couple of reasons for this: First, in a commercial kitchen, you want pans to heat fast, and cool quickly once you’re done, and it takes time to heat all the metal in a heavy pan (and commercial stoves are both hotter and cooler than most consumer stoves).  A professional doesn’t leave the stove when he/she’s cooking, and can make constant adjustments to the flame under the pan to keep the heat where it should be. Most importantly, a professional has lots of experience in front of a stove, and knows how to manage the temperature in a pan.

For a home cook, I recommend heavy pans because the temperature is more stable – particularly handy on an electric stove which is constantly turning on and off.  I also think that cooking is the most fun when it’s a social occasion – not just parties, but relaxing and chatting with your family or roommates or dog…. It can be relaxing and a great way to decompress after work – and it should NEVER be stressful.  That’s what restaurant kitchens are for!

Next, I’ll go over what I think a basic kitchen needs – and it’s probably not as much as you think.

Cook up a response!