Monday, January 10, 2011

Cookware: Pots and Pans

Cuisinart 77-10 Chef's Classic Stainless-Steel 10-Piece Cookware SetPots and pans are one of the most important pieces of equipment in any kitchen.  Without the proper cookware, it’s sometimes difficult to get the results you’re looking for.  Good cookware is not cheap, so it’s important to choose something that is both high in quality and durable.  There are so many types and brands of cookware, it can be quite overwhelming to know what to look for.  Here are some of the basic facts and characteristics about various types of cookware:

Aluminum: Aluminum is a great heat conductor, which is why aluminum foil can be handled with bare hands shortly after coming out of the oven.  It isn’t a very strong metal, so it is often blended with other types of metals to make more durable cookware.

Copper: Copper is great for cookware because it provides even heating – you don’t end up with hot or cold spots.  These days, you don’t often find pots and pans made of just copper, because copper reacts with acidic foods and is heavy.  Some pans come with a layer of copper laid between two layers of another type of metal – that allows for even distribution of heat without the weight of an all-copper pan or the reactive tendencies of copper.

Cast Iron: Sumiko wrote about cast iron here, but I will say that it is the best type of pan for searing meats.  Most other types of pans don’t get hot enough to get a good sear.  And they truly are really easy to clean if seasoned well.

Stainless Steel: Stainless steel has become popular to use in cookware because of itss durability and the fact that it doesn’t react with foods.  It is, however, a poor conductor of heat, which isn’t a good thing when it comes to cooking.

Nonstick: Nonstick cookware seems to be the most popular type of cookware right now.  There are some advantages to nonstick cookware: little or no fat is needed to prevent food from sticking and it is easy to clean.  However, there are also disadvantages to using nonstick cookware.  Since food doesn’t stick, you can’t really deglaze a pan and get those wonderful bits of flavor!  The coating on nonstick pans isn’t all that durable and your nonstick pots and pans will probably need to be replaced at some point (or multiple times).  In order to prolong the life of your nonstick cookware, it is important to refrain from using metal utensils on them.  Additionally, if a nonstick pan is overheated, it breaks down the nonstick coating.  While we don't recommend nonstick cookware for all your pots and pans, we do recommend you have at least one nonstick skillet for things such as omelets and pancakes.  Basic 10-inch nonstick skillets/frying pans are pretty inexpensive, so it's not a big deal when they need to be replaced.

What we have

Kimiko: I have Kirkland Signature’s Stainless Steel Cookware Set (Costco’s brand). While the materials the cookware is made of are the same, my set varies slightly in the size and types of some of the pans.  I absolutely love my cookware and would recommend it to anyone!  They are durable, due to being made of stainless steel, but at the same time are great conductors of heat as a result of the copper base.  I can use any types of utensils on them; and, since they are all metal (lid and handles), they can also go in the oven (however, the lids and handles often need to be handled with hot pads).  Additionally, I like that it comes with a steamer for the 2-quart pan (the current set has a steamer for a 3-quart pan).  This steamer is much easier to clean than a universal steamer basket!

There is one thing I don't like about this set - the skillets.  I tried using them to deep fry a couple times and the oil ended up burning around the edges of the skillets and is very difficult to remove.  The only thing I use the skillets for now is to heat up tortillas.  On a positive note, I was able to deep fry in the saute without a big mess, but now that I have a cast iron skillet, I use that for deep frying.

I have had my set for 4 1/2 years now and they still look great (except for the brown rings around the skillets, of course!)!  I have a feeling these will last a lifetime!

Sumiko:  I have a few different types of cookware.  My main set is Farberware nonstick cookware.  For the reasons my sister discussed above regarding nonstick pans, I would NOT recommend it.  I received this set when I got married seven-and-a-half years ago.  I am extremely careful with my pots and pans--no metal utensils, no abrasive scrubbers or cleaners, and I hand wash it.  Yet it didn't take long for the nonstick surface to start developing scratches and nicks.  It really needs to be replaced, but I am holding out until I can afford a quality set that will last the rest of my life.  I do like the nonstick skillet for heating tortillas, making omelets, and scrambling eggs.

Scratches in the 5-quart stock pot.

Scratches in the small sauce pan.

I also have my iron skillet which Kimiko mentioned above.  I love it!  Every kitchen should have at least one good iron skillet.  You can read all about it here.

When Robbie's grandma died about six years ago, I ended up with her Revere Ware 3-quart pot with steamer.  I use this pot more than the pots in my Farberware set.  It is aluminum with a copper bottom and is very sturdy. The handle and lid have plastic on them so you can touch them without hot pads.  Of course this also means it can't go in the oven.  But overall, I really like this piece and wish I had more like it.

For large batches of spaghetti sauce, soup, or chili, I have an aluminum 8-quart Invitations stock pot from Bed Bath & Beyond.  It has a pasta strainer and steamer basket.  I would definitely recommend this pot.

Much of the information used in this post was gathered from Wikipedia.


Crystal said...

I have the kirkland stainless steel - but mine does not have a copper ring around the bottom. I am pretty frustrated with the sautee's - everything sticks to them - well, it must be something that I am doing. I watch cooking shows quite often - and they never seem to have the issues I do with stuff sticking to the bottom of the pans. Does the type of heat matter? I cook on a glass top stove. Love your blog ladies!

Kimiko said...

Crystal, I have a gas stove and don't have any problems with food sticking to the bottom of the pans. I would recommend making sure you're using enough oil or butter to prevent things from sticking, stirring frequently, and making sure the heat isn't too high. I'm not too familiar with glass top stoves, so I'm not sure if your problems are related to that or not. However, I did a little research and did find that if your pans are warped at all, you may have some problems. This blog discusses it a little: Sorry I'm not much help, but I hope you can find a solution!

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