Pot & Pan Primer

I’m often asked about pots and pans at my Connecticut cooking classes.  What brands do I recommend?  Which types are most useful?  Do I prefer stainless steel, non-stick, enameled cast iron, or something else?  I definitely have a lot of opinions on cookware, but they are not what you think. 

Despite the fact that I cook for a living, I do not own the super-luxurious All-Clad set from Williams-Sonoma.  In fact, I don’t own a set of anything from anywhere.  Back when I was getting married and was able to register for kitchen wares, I could not find a set that had all the pots and pans I wanted;  the various sizes and types I wanted made from various materials.  I wanted stainless steel for most of the pieces, but I wanted non-stick skillets for eggs.  I wanted the big expensive enamelled cast iron stew pot, but didn’t think I needed a pasta pot that was overly pricey.  I also wanted a few specialty items like a grill pan and a paella pan.  It doesn’t take long to discover that this “set” does not exist. 

Of course I didn’t get all the pans for which I registered, and then had to pick and choose which ones I really needed when it was time for me to dig into my own wallet for these items.  Over the past dozen years, I’ve collected various pieces from various places.  Some I could do without, and some others would be better in triplicate.  I’ve tried many different brands, and I’m happy to say that my absolute hands-down favorite pan is also one of my least expensive ones.  Here are my favorites that I couldn’t do without:

3 skillets (8 inch, 10 inch, 12 inch), non-stick–I often make an egg for myself, and the little pan is perfect for a single serving.  The 10 inch is great for an omelette or making grilled cheese, and the 12 inch is my go-to fritatta pan or pan when I’m serving breakfast to a crowd.  If I had to give up one it would be the 10 inch, which I find I use the least of the three, but am still glad I have it.  Instead of traditional non-stick teflon enamelled pans, I’ve chosen Green Pans, which are made from a non-flaking non-stick material that can go in the dishwasher (and I found online at HSN.com, but are now also available at Target).

2 saucepans (2 quart and 3 quart), stainless steel–good for reheating, sauces, and smaller jobs.  Look for pans with a heavy bottom with an aluminum core.

2 chef’s pans (4 quarts), stainless steel–these wide, sloped sided pans with short handles are my hands-down favorites.  I use them for everything from risotto, to stews, to stir-fries.  The perfect “everyday” pan.  I just purchased a fabulous new chef’s pan from Tramontina (see note below), which I highly recommend, although I wish it was about one inch deeper.  If you have trouble finding this shape/size (which Tramontina calls a ‘casserole pan’), a 5 quart stainless steel Dutch oven will work just as well.

1 pasta pot (12 quarts), stainless steel–nothing fancy…just a regular, heavy bottomed pasta pot.  I am not a fan of the pasta insert, although other people seem to love them. 

1 stew pot/Dutch oven (5-6 quarts), enamelled cast iron–this very heavy pot is great for longer-cooking recipes like stews, soups, chilis, or for braising.  I also love this because it works on the stove top and in the oven, and looks nice on the table to boot.  I have a Le Creuset, which is certainly pricey, but will last a lifetime.

By the way, one of my favorite shows, the PBS series “America’s Test Kitchen“, recently reviewed pots and pans.  Although that expensive All-Clad set from Williams-Sonoma was their most highly rated set (at around $800 a pop), the set that ran a very close second is amazingly from Wal-Mart.  The Tramontina 8-Piece 18/10 Stainless Steel TriPly-Clad Cookware Set is under $150 and wowed the testers at the Test Kitchen (they also have a small selection of open-stock pans).  So, if you’re in the market for pots and pans, it’s worth checking out.  I love mine!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

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