What's a great cookware set for a 29 year old man who likes to cook?

Pots and pans



atlacm1 May 9, 2012
I would caution folks to be careful about buying Le Creuset or All Clad pieces from discounters and outlet stores. Usually, these are seconds or defective pieces and the lifetime warranty doesn't apply. If you see these in stores, check to see if the Le Creuset are marked with a "2" or "X" beneath the handle. This indicates that they are seconds or defects and cannot be returned to retailers for a replacement. I totally agree with everyone's comments about the All Clad and cast iron pieces. I love mine and have used them for years with no problems. For regular cast iron fry pans and grill/griddles, you can't beat Lodge Cast Iron, but for a Dutch Oven, I'd invest in Le Creuset 7qt. dutch oven. I use mine to make all kinds of soups and braised dishes. I also have a couple of stock pots (standard 6qt and a monster 12 qt that I use for making stock and brining whole turkeys). I'd also invest a good quality slow cooker (6qt minimum) and if you're feeling adventurous, a Fagor pressure cooker.
petitbleu May 7, 2012
I love what I have in my kitchen, so I'll speak to that specifically.

1.) All-Clad 1 qt saucepan
2.) All-Clad 2 qt saucepan (if I had to pick just one, I'd pick the 2 qt)
3.) All-Clad 5 qt sauté pan (by far my most-used pan)
4.) Lodge cast-iron combo cooker (like a Dutch oven with a frying pan for a lid)
5.) Bialetti enameled nonstick pan (amazingly nonstick and with no teflon)

My All-Clad is from an era before all the fancy shenanigans--copper lined this or that, try-ply versus 5-ply--and it's great. It provides nice, even cooking and will probably outlive me. Ditto the Lodge combo cooker. I make everything from sourdough bread to ratatouille in my combo cooker. The nonstick pan is great for eggs, pancakes or crêpes, or anything sticky (you can pretty much just rinse it off and that's that for cleaning).
More than anything, though, I think it's important to understand that while the quality of your pots and pans helps, a good cook can get great results with subpar equipment. It's all about knowing how to treat what you're cooking, knowing the vagaries of your stove, and knowing what result you want to get.
ChefOno May 5, 2012

Slow Cooked Pittsburgh brought up the point that All-Clad has multiple lines. When I refer to All-Clad stainless, I'm talking about either the tri-ply (stainless outside / aluminum core / stainless cooking surface) or the new 5-ply which has an extra aluminum and stainless layer (as does Mauviel stainless). If that isn't confusing enough, All-Clad makes both a polished and a brushed finish. And if *that's* not confusing enough, the tri-ply has just been redesigned to incorporate the new features of the 5-ply. I warned you this was a can of worms!

As far as I know, you can only purchase the polished 5-ply (which they refer to as "D5") at Williams Sonoma. It used to be you could walk in and see the different lines firsthand but, according to my local store, they're no longer carrying the tri-ply in the stores.

I like the heft of the 5-ply in smaller pans, it seems to make them more controllable on the cooktop and together with the new handle, they just feel better in my hand. Supposedly the extra layers make the larger pans less likely to warp if abused.

My take: I've been perfectly happy with the tri-ply, it's even better now, 5-ply and Mauviel are options, take your pick. (Just skip the versions that don't have a stainless exterior.)

Reiney May 5, 2012
Agree 1000% with ChefOno.

Will add that another key to ensuring food doesn't stick is to heat the pan to a high enough temp first. You know it's hot enough when a drop of water beads like mercury and dances in the pan. Then add the oil, heat a moment and you're good to go.

And for goodness' sake, use fat. :)
ChefOno May 5, 2012

My immediate response to that question was "there is no trick to it" but actually there is some advice I can pass along besides noting that some non-stick pans aren't very non-stick (obviously not an issue with All-Clad). Don't try to cook without oil and don't use cooking spray.

Some people try to cut down on their fat intake by cooking in dry non-stick pans. That's just silly. Foremost, fat is flavor, it's a good thing. Fat is essential for transferring heat from the pan to your food promoting even cooking and delicious browning. And fat doesn't make you fat, at least no more so than what you're cooking in it -- even if you did consume all the fat you put in the pan which of course you don't. And you need some anyway, non-stick should properly be labeled "stick-resistant" but you know marketing people.

Cooking spray = Bad. Most contain lecithin which polymerizes to a sticky goo, counter to the effect you're looking for. It builds up down in the microscopic pores of the non-stick coating. If that happens on a stainless surface, you get out the heavy-duty scrub pad and put some elbow grease into it. You can't do that with a non-stick pan so you can actually ruin the surface pretty quickly.

Karenmwaters May 5, 2012
So you are using a specific non stick pan by All Clad? As opposed to the regular sauté pan?
ChefOno May 5, 2012

My preference in a non-stick pan is what All-Clad calls a fry pan. The sloping sides provide better access for spatulas compared to a straight-sided sauté pan. It is important that a sauté pan *not* be non-stick for the purpose of creating fond.

Karenmwaters May 5, 2012
What's the key to getting fish and eggs to slip out of your All Clad?
passifloraedulis May 5, 2012
Agree with ChefOno about buying single items rather than sets.

Google Mark Bittman minimalist kitchen for a great NYTimes article in setting up your first kitchen on the cheap from restaurant supply stores.
passifloraedulis May 5, 2012
Here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/dining/09mini.html?pagewanted=all
ChefOno May 5, 2012

Some truth there, especially about the copper and the knives (except why he didn't mention Victorinox I don't know). Some really bad advice too. He should know better than to compare a steel to a sharpener. [Where's my 12" skillet? Bittman deserves a good Bong! on the head for that one.]

While you *can* cook on a $6 sheet pan, the first time you put it in a hot oven it'll warp. Then what?

healthierkitchen May 5, 2012
For nonstick I'd also look into what the nonstick surface is made of as most are made with chemicals that can leach into food. There are many new lines of relatively inexpensive "green" pans with ceramic linings that are non-chemical non-stick. Scanpan brand is also supposed to be a safe coating.
ChefOno May 5, 2012

All-Clad is PFOA-free (whatever that is). I really only care that the heat is dead-flat even, the fish doesn't stick and the eggs slide right out. Anything else is just gravy. Except, well, gravy goes in a different pan but…

ChefOno May 5, 2012

You've opened up a big can of worms but here's my take after 50-odd years in kitchens:

Brands: All-Clad and Mauviel

Materials: Clad stainless. At home I have three non-stick pans for eggs and fish. Everything else is stainless. No cast iron, no enamel. Clad stainless is responsive to heat changes (99% of the time that's a good thing), builds fond best, deglazes easiest, cleans easiest.

Sets: Best to consider first the pieces you want and then try to save money by purchasing a set. Sets often include pieces you'll never use. (Same goes for knife sets.)

Sizes and styles I wouldn't want to be without: 3-qt sauce pan with steamer and double boiler inserts. 4-qt. sauce pan with helper handle. 6" 2-qt. sauce pan. 6 qt. stock pot (doubles as a Dutch oven). 8" and 10" skillets. 11" sauté pan. Close behind: 1-qt sauce pan. 1-qt saucier. Braiser Pan. 8" (two of them) and 12" non-stick skillets. And don't forget a roasting pan, start chicken size and work up to turkey.

Note: Rolled edges are *good* things on sauce pans and *critical* on sauciers.

ChefOno May 5, 2012

And when I say a stock pot doubles as a Dutch oven, the piece really does both jobs without a tradeoff. Assuming of course you're cooking on modern equipment and not over coals.

Karenmwaters May 5, 2012
Are the non stick pans All Clad? I like the idea of the stockpot doubling as a Dutch oven.
ChefOno May 5, 2012

Yes. See my reply to Benny a half-dozen posts up from here.
Karenmwaters May 5, 2012
Thanks, ChefOno for your help about the copper bottomed pots. That will help keep the cost lower.

Voted the Best Reply!

boulangere May 5, 2012
Discounters such as Ross and TJ Maxx can be gold mines for finding high-quality at reasonable prices, and the great benefit is that you can buy one pan at a time.
boulangere May 5, 2012
Also, Costco carries a stainless steel set that is priced under $200. Don't know who makes it for them, but quality is high, and several people I know are very happy with it.
Benny May 5, 2012
ChefOno said it best: "Better to purchase one piece at a time if necessary rather than a cheap set. Buy the best, cry only once is my motto" Had I not recieved the wedding gift, I would have purchased them myself.

a non-stick pan is good to have, although I go cheap on these. I only use them for a couple things, such as eggs and crepes, and I always use low heat on them. They don't go through the same level of abuse that the rest of my troops do. I don't own a cast iron, although I should.
ChefOno May 5, 2012

I agree with everything you've said here except your contradiction about cheap non-stick. Although the coating doesn't last forever, All-Clad's guarantee does. They just replaced my non-stick after something like 30 years and all that time I had the advantage of their even heating that comes from better quality construction.

Let me know how that cast iron pan works out for you. I think you'll find knowing your equipment is the key rather than the mystic properties of old technology.
Aightball May 5, 2012
Calphalon Every Day. I got mine at Target and they were under $200. Best thing I ever bought, trust me. You can't destroy these (and I've tried, as has my mother). I soak them in hot soapy water sometimes for a couple of days and no problem. Only trouble I have is one of the frying pans likes to stick with potatoes. I've had them close to five years, though, so I expect that. No need to spend over $500 for a set of pans. Just get the Calphalon pans and you'll get a great bargin!
Karenmwaters May 5, 2012
I was wondering about All Clad for the frying and sauce pans/pots, but wasn't sure if i needed a non stick pan. Also not sure what's the best dutch oven brand. I love those enamel covered cast iron ones. I am also thinking of a cast iron skillet.
Benny May 5, 2012
Here's what I look for in general:

1) has a dense heavy bottom so the heat is even. Thin cooking pans produce "hot spots" and will cause your food to cook very unevenly, and burn.

2) in general I want it to be metal only. Although a good quality non stick pan is good to have for a couple things, a metal surface will be the only way to get that delicious "fond" needed for excellent pan sauces. In addition, no rubber or plastic on the handles for those times when you want to throw the pan in the oven to finish a dish.

3) The right kind of pans in the set. This will depend on what he likes to cook. MY perfect set includes a sauce pot, large and small saute pan (with sloped edges), a dutch oven and a stock pot. With these things, I can cook you pretty much anything.

My All Clad brand set is superb. Although they are a bit pricey. I'm talking $100-$200 per pan, or $500-$800 for a set. So, if you don't mind spending a few bucks, these are a great set, and I have no doubt they will last me a life time which is good, because I beat up several cheapo brands. I had planned on buying them slowly, one at a time over time, but instead, was then lucky enough to recieve a set for a wedding gift.
Karenmwaters May 5, 2012
Do you think the copper lined All Clad are necessary?
Benny May 5, 2012
That will greatly depend on your budget. I've never used copper, so I would say no. However, apparently they are awesome. Even better heat conductivity
ChefOno May 5, 2012

I know you addressed your question to Benny but I'd like to respond with a "No". There's a theoritical advantage to copper over aluminum but I've personally put them side by side with their tri-ply and could detect no difference other than weight. And that you have to keep the copper band polished if you want them looking their best.
Miafoodie May 9, 2012
Please excuse my ignorance, but what is "fond"? I never heard that term before.
ChefOno May 9, 2012

There are two culinary uses of the word. Here the term refers to the dark brown gook in the bottom of the pan after something has been cooked.

Karenmwaters May 5, 2012
Recommendations for brands of non stick, and stainless?
Cameron May 7, 2012
For non-stick, I strongly recommend All-Clad for the performance and their warranty policy. After a dozen years, I wore a patch in my 12 inch non-stick pan's coating & they replaced it with no hesitation.
Author Comment
Star with essential pieces not just a set. Example: cast iron frying pan, non-stick sautee pan, heavy stainless pots in three sizes, small, med., lrg, etc. and a dutch oven. Hope this helps!
ChefOno May 5, 2012

Are you looking for recommendations on brands, materials (stainless, cast iron) or which pieces (styles, sizes) to purchase?
Karenmwaters May 5, 2012
Ha, all of the above.
ChefOno May 5, 2012

And do you have a dollar limit? Make the right choices and whatever you buy now will last a lifetime. Better to purchase one piece at a time if necessary rather than a cheap set. Buy the best, cry only once is my motto.

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