5 November, 2015
The Best Budget Cookware Part 2 – Pots & Pans
Pots and Pans
Beyond the knives, for years, I had a set of cheap aluminum non-stick pans and a couple of Lodge (ten inch, I believe) cast irons pans. How cheap was the set of aluminum non-stick? The bottoms would warp and not keep even contact with the burner. That’s how bad. I had even tried to bend them back to flat and only succeeded in making them worse. One day, I finally got so frustrated, I threw one of the cheap sauce pans across the kitchen and into the dining room. At the time, I had a roommate. She poked her head out of her room after hearing the racket and commented, “I wondered how long that was going to take.” The problem was, due to the bottoms not being flat, they never made even contact with a burner. It tended to make even boiling of water, a somewhat frustrating event. The next day, I started researching pots and pans. While I was at it, there was a set of Zwilling knives I’d been wanting for years (see part 1). I started with Consumer Reports and continued on searching. Where pots and pans were concerned, I narrowed it to stainless with a couple of non-stick fry pans. In typical fashion I opted for the highest end of one company’s product line. In retrospect, I probably went a bit overboard where the quantity is concerned.
First, let’s address the pans. A pan’s job is to cook things, preferably as evenly as possible. If it’s a nonstick, then it should also release the food easily. When you are out looking around at pans, you’ll notice that many are made of relatively thing material, be it stainless steel or aluminum (if it is a non stick pan, it’s probably aluminum). Thin materials, tend to form hot spots more readily and result in burning or scorching in some areas while other areas are undercooked. If you look at some stainless pans, you’ll see they have a thick piece of material, usually aluminum, brazed onto the base to help with cooking. It helps to spread the heat out, but is a rather crude solution and leaves the sides of pans extremely thin and prone to bending. If the pan bends, then the lids don’t seat correctly. In some high end pans (most notably Calphalon’s Tri-Py and AccuCore series), have an inner and outer core of stainless steel with aluminum or aluminum and copper sandwiched in between the stainless steel “skins”. In the case of aluminum, some of the higher end pans are thicker in the base for more even heating. Long story short, you get what you pay for, but it’s not necessary to buy the most expensive pans either.
It’s my view that having a non-stick or two on hand is handy but I prefer stainless as I don’t have to worry about a finish coming off. That said, there are some things I don’t want to cook in stainless (supposedly, you can cook eggs and even crepes in stainless without them sticking, but I haven’t yet gotten the hang of it). I’ve found that small fry pans aren’t all that useful unless you’re a single person cooking one egg or a small serving of sautéed mushrooms (who on earth would only cook a small servings?). A small sauce pan is great for a single person who wants to reheat soup or make a single serving of soup, but probably not handy for someone who has to feed more than one person or cans multiple jars of food. While there are many options on the market, some of which are exorbitantly expensive), I will only recommend those I have personal experience with and genuinely like. Here are my cookware recommendations:
If single, the Calphalon Tri Ply Stainless 1 quart Open Sauce Pan (no lid)
Otherwise, these 4 pans get the majority of my use. If you have a family (i.e. more than 2 people, you may want the 12″ omelett pans)
If you prefer to buy as a set (lets face it, you get more bang for your buck but would still need to buy the non-stick pan separately, if you want one):
Or, for Non-Stick