Cookware 101

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  • October 10, 2014

Having been involved in the bridal registry space from a housewares standpoint for a long time now, I recognize how intimidating the walls of cookware in a store can be for someone unfamiliar with all the brands, sizes, styles and surfaces. When I talk with registrants about what cookware they are currently using, many times they tell me it is from college, their mom or a discount store. All absolutely fine answers. Until I ask them if they like to cook. When they say they love cooking, then I know we need to have a deeper discussion on their style of cooking and how many people they tend to cook for. Choosing the best cookware for your personal cooking style makes a world of difference and is a truly critical investment in your kitchen and the joy you will find in preparing meals. 

It doesn’t matter if you are a homeowner or registering for your wedding when it comes to evaluating what you need in your kitchen. Set aside an hour to take stock of all the cookware you have in your kitchen. Really take every piece out of your cabinet and look at its condition. Consider the kind of cooking you are doing now and whether the inventory you have helps you to achieve your cooking goals.

As someone who has been in the housewares industry for 14 years and worked for a highly respected line of cookware, I get asked quite frequently what cookware homeowners should have in their kitchen. We aren’t talking brands but pots and pans, sizes and surfaces.

So, with the holiday season rapidly approaching and our time in the kitchen increasing, I thought this would be a good time to share my thoughts on the cookware pieces that are good to have in your kitchen. By the way, if you are getting married and doing your bridal registry, this list is going to be very beneficial for you. I promise! 

To begin with, you need frying pans. These are also referred to as omelet pans and skillets. They have sides that flair out allowing the liquid to evaporate. These pans are perfect for everyday cooking whether you are stir-frying vegetables, searing meats, making eggs and doing sauce reductions among thousands of other purposes. In terms of pan sizes, it depends a bit on how many people you cook for on a regular basis. In general though, I recommend to my clients that they invest in a 10” frying pan at a minimum. 

When it comes to surfaces, I know most new home cooks like to use non-stick cookware for its easy clean up. Honestly though, nonstick should really only be used for preparing dishes that are either very low or no fat (eggs), delicate fish and pancakes. The best surface to use for most everyday cooking is stainless steel.(All-Clad Stainless 10-Inch Fry Pan)

 Inspiring Kitchen All Clad fry pan cookware

The best way I can explain the difference between using stainless cookware vs nonstick is in the outcome of the food you are cooking. Let’s say you are making hash browns. In a stainless pan, you will need to add a fat source like oil or butter to prevent the potatoes from sticking. What you will get when they are done is a potato dish that has a crunchy exterior. If you make the same hash browns in your nonstick pan, you will get a very nice caramel brown color but little to no crunch. The nonstick surface prevents that crunch factor. Both will taste delicious. Just different. (Swiss Diamond Nonstick Fry Pan – 10″)

 Inspiring Kitchen Swiss Diamond frying pan cookware

It’s also good to mention the use of cast iron frying pans as they have been a staple in many kitchens (especially in the South) and are passed down from generation to generation. Cooking in cast iron gives a similar look and feel to nonstick cookware. This happens either after years and years of using fats (oils) or natural fats (from the meat) and the natural seasoning that results or recently manufactured cast iron cookware which is coming pre-seasoned.(Lodge LCS3 Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Chef’s Skillet, 10-inch)

 Inspiring Kitchen Lodge cast iron fry pan cookware

So, back to pan sizes now that we understand a bit about the different surfaces. Along with the 10” stainless steel frying pan, I would also add a 10” nonstick pan for the recipes discussed above. Inspiring Kitchen scan pan fry pan cookware (Scanpan Classic 10-1/4-Inch Fry Pan)

Have you ever wondered why there is no lid on a fry pan? Remember those sides that flair out so the liquid evaporates? Well, that lid would be contrary to this goal. If your intent is to keep the juices or liquids in the pan, then a sauté pan with a lid is perfect for you. I love using this pan as there are just as many uses for it as the frying pan. The size I would suggest is a 3 quart sauté with a stainless interior. (All-Clad 4403 Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe 3-Quart Saute Pan with Lid / Cookware, Silver)

 Inspiring Kitchen 3 quart saute All Clad cookware

Now, let’s talk saucepans. Saucepans come in so many sizes: 1, 1.5, 2, 3 and 4 quart are the typical sizes you will see. There is no need for a nonstick saucepan as you are usually creating some sort of liquid like sauces, boiling water, and making small quantities of soup where sticking isn’t an issue.  That being said, if you are in need of a starting point for the pots for your kitchen, I would suggest a 2 and 4 quart sauce pan. It’s totally fine to choose the 3 quart if you feel the 4 is too big for your cooking style.(All-Clad 4202 Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Dishwasher Safe 2-Quart Sauce Pan with Lid / Cookware, Silver)(All-Clad Stainless 4-Quart Saucepan with Loop)

Inspiring Kitchen All Clad 2 quart sauce pan cookware Inspiring Kitchen All Clad 4 qt sauce with helper handle cookware

For every kitchen, you are going to want an 8 quart stock pot. This is your heavy duty soup, chili and pasta pot. If you invest in a quality pot, you are able to do so many more simmering dishes like meats that will cook slowly on low heat on your cooktop.     (All-Clad Stainless 8-Quart Stockpot)

 Inspiring Kitchen All Clad 8 qt stock pot cookware

Finally, I would encourage you to invest in a quality roasting pan. No more of those flimsy aluminum pans that can barely hold vegetables let alone a turkey! These pans can be used for everything from the Thanksgiving turkey to vegetables, Tuesday night’s chicken, potatoes, meats and fish. (All-Clad 501631 Stainless Steel Large Roti Combo with Rack and Turkey Lifters Cookware, Silver)

Inspiring Kitchen All Clad roasting pan cookware 

If you walk into any kitchen store, you are going to see an overwhelming variety of additional pieces to add to your cookware collection. Here are a few more suggestions for you that might help narrow down what will really make a difference in YOUR kitchen:

Grill pan – single or double burner:  (All-Clad 3013 Hard Anodized Aluminum Nonstick 13 by 20-Inch Double Burner Grande Grille Pan Specialty Cookware, Black) (Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 9-1/2-Inch Square Skinny Grill Pan, Cobalt)

Inspiring kitchen All clad double burner grill pan cookware

Inspiring Kitchen Le Creuset skinny grill pan cookware

Griddle:(All-Clad 3020 Hard Anodized Aluminum Nonstick 13 by 20-Inch Double Burner Grande Griddle Specialty Cookware, Black)

Inspiring Kitchen All Clad griddle double burner

Cast iron with enameled interior 5.5 Quart Dutch Oven: (Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French Oven, Red)

 Inspiring Kitchen Le Creuset cast iron dutch oven cookware

To summarize, I would suggest you have the following in your kitchen as a starting point:

            Fry pans – 10” stainless steel, 10” nonstick

            Saute pan – 3 quart stainless steel

            Sauce pans – 2 and 4 quart stainless

            Stock pot – 8 quart stainless

            Roasting pan – stainless interior

When it comes to brands of cookware, there are many to consider. My perspective on cookware is to look at it as an investment. Quality cookware will make your experience in the kitchen so much more enjoyable. Choosing cookware that is clad (meaning layers of metals sandwiched together with a core of aluminum) is a powerful resource in your kitchen as the cookware can go from stovetop to oven to table. That core of aluminum is your heating element helping to maintain a constant temperature in the pan from bottom to top. No high heat required giving you more control over the doneness of your dish (and less burning!). In addition, having a metal lid over glass is to your advantage. I know that it seems like such a good idea to have a glass lid to see in the pot. However, once you start heating the contents of the pot, the glass will steam up, making it difficult to see inside. Metal lids also help to maintain an even heat in the pot or pan where glass is not an efficient heat conductor.

 A few other tips to consider:

  • Look for the main handle to be stay cool.
  • A helper handle is found on larger pots and pans. Note that this handle will get hot. 
  • Lifetime warranties
  • Bar Keeper’s Friend is the best stainless steel cleaner around. Found at local home improvement stores, groceries and kitchen stores.

There are so many brands that I can offer to you here. Instead, I am going to just share my favorites. I would encourage you to do your research as cookware can be a major investment as I have said. All of these brands can be found online and at your local retailers. 

  • All-Clad Metalcrafters
  • Lodge Cast Iron
  • Le Creuset
  • Mauviel
  • Swiss Diamond
  • Scan Pan

The goal of this post is to give you suggestions of what cookware might be a good start for your own kitchens. If you are cooking for larger crowds, adding 12” fry pans and a 6 quart sauté pan are reasonable additions to your collection. If you have any questions, please send me a message. 

Thanks! Happy cooking!


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