Choosing the Right Cookware for Your Needs

by Laura on October 7, 2009

in Tools

Years ago when Greg and I were strolling through Williams-Sonoma adding product to our wedding registry, the wall of copper cookware caught Greg’s attention and he looked at me all starry eyed and said, “Can we put a set of copper cookware on our registry?”

I looked at him with surprise, and said that we certainly didn’t need a complete set of copper cookware. That comment quickly knocked the stars out of his eyes. He turned to me questioning, “Why not?”

Well, I knew the way we cooked, the way we handled our pans, and what our future in the kitchen might be. Ultimately, I knew that for the cost of a complete line of quality copper cookware, I wasn’t ready for it. It didn’t fit our cooking lifestyle. Today, I might pause to consider differently, but back then, it was certainly the right choice. (BTW, we decided on the All Clad Master Chef, which has performed very well over these past 7 ½ years.

If you’re willing to make the plunge financially, and are well versed in the kitchen, then copper just may be the choice for you. But, what if you’re an occasional home cook and aren’t at ease in the kitchen, or, are you an avid cook who likes to experiment with new dishes, then how do you choose the cookware that best suits your needs?

“When deciding which cookware to buy, you have to think long-term,” says Richard Beattie, Director of Sales – Culinary Products for Viking Range Corporation. “It is important to keep in mind that you are making an investment in the future. If you invest in good cookware now, you can have it for 30, even 50, years.”

For that reason alone, Beattie suggest that you look at how much cooking you are doing now, and what your cooking habits may be in the future. You may not cook frequently now, but think down the road and you may just see yourself spending more time in the kitchen.

With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when making the decision to purchase cookware:

Choose the Right Material

Cookware is made of many different types of materials, including anodized aluminum, copper, stainless steel, cast iron, enamel on steel. Each offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and require a bit of education before deciding which material. A fabulous guide to follow, and one I have referred to countless times through the years, can be found at the Fantes Kitchen Wares Shop site.

Further, your choice in cookware should also be determined by the cooking surface you use. “Right now you may rent an apartment with electric stove, but down the road you may use gas, halogen or induction cooking,” notes Beattie. Whatever your choice, the material should be a good heat conductor, transferring heat quickly and evenly throughout the pan.

It is also important to consider design. “You’ll want an energy-efficient shape, secure handles, and an ergonomic design,” says Beattie. “it should also be easy to store.”

When shopping for cookware, pick it up. The cookware should be well-balanced, not too heavy, and easy to move around. It should also be well constructed, not prone to warping, bending chipping or peeling, come with heat resistant handles, and is easy to clean.

Set or open stock? That depends on what you already have in your cupboard. According to Beattie, “It boils down to where you are in your collection. If you are starting out or are seeking to upgrade to better cookware, then buying a collection makes sense. The core choices available in a set allow you to build your collection by adding to it with open stock items.”

Cookware sets vary in their configuration, so I asked Beattie what would be the essentials to get started. “You’ll need a sauce pan, and the most popular sizes are 1 ½ and 3-quart sizes, perfect for oatmeal, rice, and cous cous.” Another essential is a fry pan, which you will also need in at least two sizes.”

Next, he advises to have a sauté pan, “whereas the frying pan has sloped sides, the sauté has straight sides, perfect for braising or making a casserole.”

Because sets come in so many configurations, first compile a list of exactly what you need. If the set includes a piece you will rarely use, consider whether the other items in the set make it worthwhile to purchase. Keep in mind that the set is the base of your cookware collection. You will add to a set to create a collection that is truly unique to the way you cook. Beyond these basics, an essential piece of cookware to add to your set is determined by your own cooking style. A wok, for instance, is a specialty piece of cookware that can get a lot of action in the kitchen.

Other pieces, like the ½-quart pot is ideal for making small quantities of sauce, toasting sesame seeds or melting butter.

One of Beattie’s other favorites is the grill pan (and I have to agree). “This has become one of my favorite pieces to use to do a variety of things form grilling fish to making a panini,” he says.

Also keep in mind that a nonstick coating is not necessary to have on every piece of cookware. Nonstick is essential for cooking certain items, frying eggs for example, but if you’re deglazing a sauce, it is best not to use a nonstick pan.

Beattie repeated some of the best advice I have heard through the years: “When buying cookware, you don’t have to stay with one kind of material or with one manufacturer. Start with a collection and build your cookware assortment beyond the set based on how and what you cook.”

Here at the our house, our cookware set is stainless steel clad, but it is complemented by a few different sizes of copper saucepans, a frequently used Le Creuset grill pan, aLodge seasoned cast iron skillet, and various other pieces of cookware I’ve picked up through the years. It is a well-worn collection of pieces that meet the requirements of the way we cook today, and most likely in the future.  We may add to it down the road, but for the time being, we have definitely found the right cookware for our needs.

Keep an eye out in the coming months as we add more information on specific pans and their function.

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