How to Choose Cookware Article -
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How to Choose Cookware

Go to any well-stocked kitchen store and it's easy to become overwhelmed by all your cookware choices. Which pots and pans are essential, and how can you tell?

Most pots and pans look similar, but there are certain qualities to check for as you are deciding which to buy. When you're in the store, don't be shy. Lift the pan, check the thickness of the sides and bottom, and rap the pan with your knuckle. You should hear a thud rather than a ping. Don't be afraid to act out the movements you'll make with the pan. You will use your pan almost daily, so it's important to make sure it has the right "feel."

Heavy-gauge materials with thick bottoms
Pots and pans should be heavy enough to conduct heat evenly and keep foods from scorching.

  • Copper is the most expensive option, but reacts with acidic food and requires special care.
  • Anodized aluminum--a great choice for a sauté pan--is responsive to heat and is treated to prevent chemical reactions with food.
  • Cast iron also conducts heat well, but it reacts with acidic sauces and can rust if not properly cleaned and seasoned. Cast iron pots coated with enamel avoids these dilemmas, but they are very heavy, which can be a drawback. You should avoid scrubbing these pans with abrasives. 
  • Non-stick pans are a popular choice, especially if you're cutting down on cooking with fat. Newer non-stick coatings are more scratch-resistant than before.

Bottom line: stainless steel with an inner layer of copper or aluminum is a good all-around choice because it is durable, non-reactive, conducts heat well and is easy to clean.

Well-constructed, heatproof handles
Many pots have handles made of a low conductive metal like stainless steel so they stay relatively cool.

  • With metal handles, some cooks prefer welds to rivets, which can collect food residue and are more difficult to clean. Whatever you choose, make sure the handle has been secured in several places so that it won't come loose.
  • Plastic and wood handles are heatproof but not ovenproof: you can't start a dish on the stovetop and finish it in the oven.

Bottom line: metal handles with removable plastic or rubber heat guards are the most versatile.

Secure lids
Lids should fit tightly and have heatproof knobs.

  • Glass lids are convenient because you can check cooking progress without lifting the lid. Use the manufacturer's guidelines for oven-safety.

Bottom line: lids that fit snugly will keep moisture in the pot.

Pre-packaged sets or hand-picked pieces?
Many manufacturers sell matching starter sets with 5, 8 or even 10 commonly used pieces for a budget price. However, you often get pieces you don't need, and the same material doesn't always work well for every cooking task.

  • You may be better off buying fewer individual pieces in different materials--for example, a large anodized aluminum sauté pan with high sides may work better for you than an omelet pan if you make more stir-fries than egg dishes.
  • If you like to make stews, casseroles and pot roasts, a cast iron Dutch oven that can go from stovetop to oven is an essential, but is rarely included in a starter set.
  • You will most likely need a few more items, such as a vegetable steamer in either stainless steel or bamboo, or a roasting pan with a rack.

Bottom line: you could end up spending less money by choosing good-quality individual pieces that match the kind of cooking you do.

Nov. 7, 2009 9:14 am
Go and look at All Clad stainless steel as they are the top of the line. I have one small skillet as that was all I could afford. Try and match the weight and nickel ratio in an off brand and save yourself a lot of money.
Nov. 20, 2009 9:48 pm
Use what you want, But I'll be using my trusty old Cast Iron cookware and it will be handed it down for generations to come long after that other garbage has been long gone. Cast Iron is making a comeback and more and more people are converting.
Dec. 1, 2009 9:09 pm
I like the cuisinart hard anodized cookware, it is multipurpose and a good quality cookware for a good price.
Jan. 18, 2010 4:35 pm
My wife and I are getting away from non-stick and adding more Lodge Cast Iron cookware. We have other highend pans but once seasoned nothing beats cast iron. Alos love the fact that Lodge is made in the USA!
Feb. 25, 2010 3:55 am
Cast Iron is the best cookware but it need seasoning.after every cooking I wash the inside with warm water dry it out good and add very little oil.
Jul. 28, 2010 9:03 am
I had a wonderful set of enameled cast iron. When I acquired it, I was warned by older cooks that if I had arthritis later, I would wish for lighter cookware. They were right. I have traded my beloved cast iron in for stainless steel, which I love equally. It is easier to care for, by far, cooks perfectly and is light enough for me to handle with my arthritis. Bottom line: cast iron is great when you are young and strong, but you may outlive its usefulness...
Jan. 18, 2011 9:01 pm
Cast Iron can't be beat. Once it is properly seasoned it cooks like a nonstick pan.Hand me downs are best as my first pan took 10 years to season properly. I recommend caramelizing a lot of onions in them as it helps season the pan.
Mar. 11, 2011 8:27 am
I have a stove top convection oven that I bought second-hand and did not have instructions. Does anyone know about cooking using this method? I really need some help!!
Sep. 18, 2011 5:07 pm
choosing the right cookware is important in making the preparation of food in the kitchen easier and more successful, great article
Mar. 12, 2012 5:04 pm
Does anyone have a descrition of a jelly roll pan? Many recipes call for one, but I don't know what one looks like.
Mar. 13, 2012 5:33 pm
A jelly roll pan is like a cookie sheet with lips about 1" high all the way around.
Mar. 19, 2014 9:10 pm
I would recommend custom buiding cookware by buying seperate pieces, as rarely do you find a set that has all the requirements you need
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