5 Things to Consider When Buying Pots and Pans

“The trick is simplicity,” Chef Antonio Carluccio once said about creating great food. “Minimum fuss, maximum flavor.”

And the key to creating Carluccio-approved simply good food at home is having kitchen essentials on hand. From beautiful copper saucepans to sturdy cast iron skillets, what kind of cookware do you need to stock your kitchen with?

Read on to have all your questions about buying pots and pans answered in this handy cookware buying guide.

What and How Often Do You Cook?

Do you cook at home every day or just a few times a week?

How often you cook will dictate the type of cookware you need. If you don’t cook regularly, you can get away with purchasing lower-cost cookware. Since it won’t get a lot of use, there’ll be less wear and tear on the material.

For passionate cooks, it pays to look for cookware that will last. Increase your budget and invest in lifetime products crafted by brands known for quality. Manufacturers make this kind of cookware from durable materials and it usually comes with a warranty.

There are pots and pans designed with certain ingredients and methods in mind. If you cook a lot of one type or style of food, it would be smart to invest in cookware designed for that cuisine or foodstuff.

Here’s a breakdown of some common cookware styles and their uses:

  • Saucepans, almost always fitted with a lid, are a versatile, flat-bottomed kitchen item.
  • Frypans or skillets are used for shallow frying food to make it crispy.
  • Stockpots are perfect for large liquid volumes like stocks, soups, curries, and stews.
  • Saute pans are designed for quick cooking.
  • Woks are a tough, all-purpose cooking tool for Asian cuisine.

Specialty cookware like Dutch and French ovens, pressure cookers, roasting pans, crepe pans, and egg poachers (the list goes on…) are not considered kitchen essentials. Buy them only if you love to cook.

Cookware Materials Demystified

With so many different cooking utensils on the market, it can be difficult to know how to choose cookware.

Things to look out for when selecting the right material for your needs include reactivity, durability, heat conduction, and the level of maintenance required.

Let’s take a look at some of the cookware kitchen essentials available today.

Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel is an alloy of many metals that together create a rust-resistant material. Most big-box stores will carry stainless steel pots and pans because it is inexpensive, non-reactive, and durable.

Stainless steel doesn’t conduct heat very well. To ensure your food cooks evenly, choose stainless steel cookware that contains copper or aluminum.

Aluminum Cookware

Aluminum is not only lightweight, but it’s also a good conductor of heat. It’s rarely used as a kitchen
manufacturing material on its own. It dents and scratches easily and reacts with acidic foods like tomatoes. In cookware, you’ll find aluminum sandwiched between other metals like stainless steel (called clad cookware) or finished with a non-stick coating.

Cast Iron Cookware

One of the oldest cookware materials, cast iron pots and pans can last generations. They are often passed down through families, from mother to daughter. Cast iron is highly durable and affordable. It retains heat well, though it does need regular maintenance through seasoning. For a maintenance-free option, choose enamel-coated cast iron.

Cast iron cooking utensils have become popular in recent years because it imparts small quantities of iron into long-simmered food. Iron is an essential mineral for good human health.

Copper Cookware

Copper is the material favored by chefs the world over. It has excellent heat conduction, which gives chefs the greatest control over their cooking. Despite this appealing property, copper cookware can be impractical for home cooks. It’s expensive and needs regular polishing, so is rarely seen outside of professional kitchens.

If you want the benefits of copper without the high price tag and need for maintenance, look for stainless steel pots with a copper core.

Ceramic Cookware

Ceramic cookware is popular with amateur chefs and home cooks, and with good reason. There are some expected and some surprising benefits of ceramic cookware.

Whether you choose to buy pure or coated ceramic cookware, you’ll be guaranteed a non-stick cooking surface. Ceramic conducts heat well, so a ceramic pot or pan will cook your food evenly. And because it’s crafted from natural materials (a simple mixture of clay, minerals, and sand), ceramic cookware is eco-friendly.

Just be sure not to use some types of ceramic cookware over high heat for prolonged periods: they may leach toxins.

Type of Stove or Cooktop You’re Using

Just as the style and materials of pots and pans vary, there is also now a plethora of cooking heat sources.
Smooth-surfaced cooktops like induction and glass-topped electric coils are popular because they heat quickly and are easy to wipe clean. But they can also get scratched. It’s best to use stainless steel on these surfaces. Especially when it’s sandwiched-clad with copper or aluminum.

You’ll get the best out of your gas cooktop if you use high-conduction cookware materials like copper, cast iron, or ceramic. Cooking on a traditional wood-burning or pellet stove? It’s the perfect time to bring out your cast iron skillet!

Consider Your Budget When Buying Pots and Pans

Should you invest in a multi-piece set of cookware or get items individually? It depends on the size of the kitchen, the type of food you cook, and your budget.

Sure, it might be cheaper to buy a twenty-piece cookware set than it would be to individually buy the same items. But if you only ever use two of the saucepans and one of the pots, buying cookware sets would be a waste of money.

If you’re new to cooking or on a limited budget, a few carefully selected pieces will serve you well for a long time. Buy second-hand to save even more money.

If you’re a confident cook and have the budget, then by all means, buy that set!

Coordination With Existing Kitchen Design

In a professional kitchen, the look of the cookware matters less than quality and function. In a home kitchen, the aesthetics of your pots and pans are also important.

If you have a lot of storage space in your kitchen, the sky’s the limit in terms of the types of pots and pans you can fit in. But for apartment dwellers or those who cook infrequently, essential items include a fry pan or skillet, a saucepan, and a stockpot.

Cookware comes in a wide array of colors. Match the style and hue of your cookware with your interior design for a cohesive look.

Is your kitchen design rustic? Hang copper stock pots and cast iron skillets from a pot rack above the central island. Sleek stainless steel griddles or brightly colored ceramic pans will complement a modern kitchen.

Take the Time to Research

Choosing the right kitchen essentials for your cooking style, budget, and kitchen design can be tricky.
Our number one piece of advice? Don’t rush your purchases! Take your time to do some research on the best brands, visit stores to hold the pots and pans you’re considering, and try buying cookware second hand or online to save some money.

For more guidance on buying pots and pans and other home cooking advice, visit our Tips section.

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