Hard Anodized, stoneware, etc?
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What's your current slate? Do you have cast iron covered?
I have a Lodge cast iron skillet (though it already rusted after the first use and I have to fix that)...besides that I'm basically starting from scratch but I really like to cook and would like to get the best cookware I can while staying within a reasonable/beginner's budget.
I would check out your local thrift stores for the basics, and then fill in with pieces for the dishes you love to cook. For example, if you love to braise splurge on an enameled iron dutch oven. Do you saute a lot, then get an aluminum or copper cored stainless steel saute pan.
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First, don't buy sets of anything. There are always pieces you will very seldom use. I will disagree on the thrift store advice---buy really good stuff piece by piece. Sur La Table always runs sales on last year's colors on Le Creuset enamel ware. If you don't care about mismatched colors then you can find some good deals. I'm also a serious user of glazed earthenware. You have to season the pieces properly but they are inexpensive. They can crack but I have pieces that have lasted more than twenty years with no damage.
Or check the Le creuset outlet stores, they're having a 40% off sale in Sept. on their already discounted prices.. (and these are NOT 2nd choice either!) Picked up a 3 3/4 quart saucepan for 100 bucks!
Just a quick comment on outlet stores. They are not the great deal that you might think they are. The prices are pretty much the same as through other brick and mortar or on-line locations. For the consumer it's great to have so many brands clustered together. For the retailers it's even better; cheaper leases and the magnetic pull of having all these other brand stores near you. But you really won't be saving any money, you just have more choices.
Chops is a trusted home cook.
Careful with 2nd choice Le Crueset. They often have major flaws like the lid not fitting tightly or uneven base. Williams-Sonoma outlet stores (if you have one near you) can find you a great piece with a matching price.
A visit to your local restaurant supply will give you access to basic equipment at affordable prices. Understand, though, the selection will be based on price, not performance or durability necessarily.
You should consider that top quality cookware will last a lifetime (or more) so another tack would be to build your personal collection slowly over time, picking up bargains as they go on sale. As an example, through deals with manufacturers, stores like Williams Sonoma will often put All Clad items on sale for half price.
Every cook has their own idea of which cookware is indispensible and what qualities they feel are worth spending money on. My preference is for tri- or five-ply stainless. There's no copper or cast iron in my kitchens but others swear by those materials. I can't imagine going for more than a day without a steamer, my mother never owned one until I gave her one of mine (which she now uses regularly). Let your own style dictate your path.
If you're trying to decide between construction materials, a better question would be to ask about the advantages and disadvantages of what you're considering for a particular purpose.
I love my All-Clad cookware.
I do too, especially the newer d5 pieces, however a good percentage of what I own is Mauviel stainless. I was thinking about your comment last night while I was making dinner. For no other reason than I own a lot of All-Clad, someone gave me a set of their mixing bowls which have literally changed the way I whisk. The handles, a simple thing, but simply genius.
I always go back to All-Clad for cooking performance, ease of use (not heavy, helper loop handle) appearance and no-fuss cleaning) My set is almost is almost 10+ yrs old and have added lots of speciality pieces. Very happy with everyone of them. My trusted Le Crueset dutch oven is awesome as well. If you buy a set (if you're thinking of starting a collection that way) from Williams-Sonoma, they will let you swap out pieces.
I have nothing but good things to say about Williams-Sonoma's customer service but allowing you to swap pieces from a set is over-the-top outstanding. Great tip.
Another place to find good options is TJ Max or HomeGoods (same chain), if there's a store near you. If you find something you want, consider the materials it's made of, the heft (is it heavy enough to distribute heat evenly, comfortable to hold and lift?), aesthetics (do you like the look? after all, you'll live with it), cleaning issues, etc. Go slowly, so you can see where the holes in your equipment are. For example, I recently realized I needed a frying pan that could go from stovetop to oven or broiler, since the ones I was using had wooden handles and couldn't take direct heat (and fortunately I found one put away at home).
Brette from food52 has a "first kitchen" series -- you can search the articles here -- http://www.food52.com/blog....
For your cast iron pan with rust, search Hotline (top right) for discussions of that topic.
I recently saw an All-CLad Chicken Rottissire baking type pan for $100 at TJ Maxx. Ebay can sometimes be a bargain as well.
All-Clad is the industry standard, but it's pricey. I've found that triple-ply (aluminum in between layers of stainless) cookware by Calphalon is great and slightly less expensive.
Le Creuset is always wonderful, but Lodge will do very well. You do need an enameled cast iron dutch oven. I have a Le Creuset, but I also have a $50 version from Cost Plus World Market, and they both have been doing great! I've had the cheaper one for about a year and a half, and haven't had any problems. The Mario Batali line at Crate & Barrel is also good, and a bit more affordable than it's French cousin.
Also, I like to have one non-stick pan. Blasphemy, I know. But there are (albeit rare) times when you need one, and stainless or cast iron just won't do. Maybe I just haven't mastered it, but I just can't get delicate fish to work on anything but non-stick. I hide it when the foodie friends are coming over ;-)
Sorry but I have to disagree, one does not need cast iron for anything. Cast iron's heat retention is superior to stainless and that would be an advantage if you were cooking on a wood-fired appliance. Stainless gives you superior response times and thus far better control over heat. I've never seen a cast Dutch oven in a restaurant, and very few skillets. I certainly don't use one at home. File that one under personal choice.
I would suggest adding a mandolin and a few good hand tools (zesters, smaller knives, etc) for the more intricate stuff. Although these items may seem a little odd at the moment, they can come in very handy and allow you to be more creative when creating both easy & hard recipes!
I think the big thing is to ask - what am I going to be cooking? How often? What are my aspirations for the future?
The types of things you want to cook will dictate what items you should consider buying.
If you are cooking for a family of 6 you are going to be looking at different sizes and styles than if you are cooking for 2.
AllClad and Calphalon are good choices for home cooks. If you are not used to cooking on stainless steel pans - get a skillet and try it out first. Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to building a good core collection. I actually borrowed pans from family and friends before investing. It helped me see what I actually would use - instead of gazing misty-eyed over the displays in the cookware stores.
Cast Iron? Great if you want to fry chicken or sear off meat a really high temps - despite what Chefono says. I have my grandmother's skillets and I am glad I do! Fried potatoes are killer in a nice heavy cast iron skillet - and my hash is outta site. But then again, I am not cooking "restaurant" food. I make "home cooking". And as for commercial kitchen use - check out Stroud's in Kansas City, KS. They do their chicken in cast iron skillets.
Non-stick? Never be ashamed of using non-stick. It's a modern miracle. It means you can fry with less oil - especially eggs and other delicate items. Is it a prima donna? Heck yeah! But I have a nice 8" commerical grade non-stick I use for eggs and omelets. And it hangs proudly on my pan rack next to my all-clad and cast iron. My foodie friends be damned ;)
I would recommend avoiding thrift stores (unless you are hunting for antique cast iron and even then buyer beware). People abuse their pans quite a bit before they donate them. I once saw a set of Calphalon anodized pans that were actually warped. *shudder*
Restaurant supplies places would be a good start - and keep an eye out for sales on quality items. Just because you buy something of a lesser grade now does not mean you cannot trade up later as your budget allows.
I'm going to argue that you keep it really simple. Your cast iron skillet will be a friend in the kitchen for the rest of your life. The key is to clean it immediately after using it. I always rinse mine out with water, then wipe/dry it with a paper towel. Then, I pour a little vegetable oil into it and rub it all over. In addition to a cast iron skillet, I have something called a combo cooker--it's a cast iron piece that's basically a Dutch oven with a frying pan for a lid. I cook all kinds of things in it--stews and soups, sourdough bread, simple sautéed dishes...Maybe it's just because I'm a southerner, but I can't imagine not having a cast iron skillet--it's almost heresy to make cornbread or fried chicken in anything else.
We also have a 12" All-Clad sauté pan, which we use almost every day--if we had to pick one cookware item, this would be it http://www.thejoykitchen...
Then, we have an itty bitty All-Clad skillet--great for toasting spices and melting butter, but not particularly necessary.
There's a one-quart saucepan and a two-quart saucepan. We use the two-quart often. Finally, we have a saucier.
We also have a set of fine mesh strainers that we use frequently, a microplane zester and a microplane box grater, and our loyal tongs (I urge you to find a good pair of tongs--it will serve you well). Of course, we also have the usual kitchen flotsam and jetsam, but the items mentioned above are our mainstays. I mentioned All-Clad a couple times, but not out of brand loyalty necessarily--we inherited the cookware from my fiancé's father. I will say that we love what All-Clad items we do have.
Then, there are the superfluous but nice kitchen items--we have a suribachi (a Japanese mortar and pestle), a pressure cooker (we use it frequently for making stock and cooking beans), and a digital scale. But feel your way into any purchases you make. There's a lot of stuff out there, and very little of it is truly useful or worth the money.
After cooking for many (many, many, many) years, I am happy to pass on a few tips:
+ Buy the simplest, most functional tool. Not the fancy electric one.
+ Buy good quality. Steel, copper, cast iron, glass etc... Not cheap plastic. Good tools last for years
+Silicon spatulas are a blessing!
+Invest in quality saucepans and you'll never have to replace them. Quality need not be expensive. Consider things like material of handles and knobs. Can they go in an oven.
+Saucepans and frypans. Don't buy stainless steel frypans. Everything sticks to them! Don't by 7 piece sets - they are a waste of money. Three good saucepans, a large stock pot, a steamer insert, and a heavy cast iron or modern non-stick heavy metal frypan are all you need. If I had to buy one, I'd choose a chefs pan. A deep frypan with rounded edges, so there is no 'corners' at the base for things to stick into.
+ Woks. A handy pot that can be used for stir fries, shallow or deep frying, smoking (tea), steaming etc... Cheap ones work just as well, you just have to care for them.
+Knives. I have about 20 + in my knife block and only use 3 of them everyday: A good cooks knife, a paring knife and a bread knife. The rest therefore are really unnecessary, unless you intend to fillet fish, bone sides of lamb, or cut chickens in half with a cleaver!
+Mortar and pestle. Not essential - a stick blender with a little processor bowl attachment is an incredibly versatile tool, but I love mortar and pestles, and have a little collection of them. A big heavy stone one, a mini stone one that formerly served (someone else's dubious purpose!), a marble and timber one for authentic pesto and a glass apothecary one (Just because it looks good).
+Copper. If you want to splurge on anything, buy copper. Molds, pots, dishes, utensils. Its just beautiful to look at even if you don't use it often because its not as easy as stainless steel to clean! I have a copper double boiler with a ceramic insert that my kids all want. It may be the one item that will cause an a family breakup after I'm gone (in a long, long time!)
Don't go out and buy everything you (think) you need. Make do a bit, and invest in good pieces when you realise that you REALLY need it, and as your cooking skills improve.
+And remember - LESS IS MORE... (you have to find the space to put this stuff!)
I will second, triple, quadruple the All-Clad praise. My husband bought a set at a great deal when we was cooking in a kitchen in SF and we have since added to it piece by piece. It will last forever, is easy to clean and easy on the eyes. I would not trade it for anything. Otherwise, I would say our necessities are good knives, a kitchenaid and a cuisenart, a good chinoise, a good foodmill and mandolin (and quality makes a huge difference with all of those), a meat grinder and a large steaming pot. In my swanky cooking dreams I see a Vitamix...and otherwise I prize my random collection of Japanese bento accessories because that is what we have fun with and I imagine you'd have your own quirky interests too. I might also add my mom's collection of cake decorating tools, but only because who wants to buy all that when you need to make an impressive cake once a year?
Stay away from non-stick learn to caramelize items al-clad is a decent company. Three other items would be a wok, crepe pan, and a copper pot for risotto and read this book
"Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People" the greatest advice I can give any aspiring chef or advanced home cook is expand out of your comfort zone. Investigate your local Asain and Indian markets and test the waters in all areas. Cooking is alot like a relationship you jump in with both feet or don't jump at all...Good luck!! if you need anything let me know I have several good books from my eaching days... The Escoffier Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery: For Connoisseurs, Chefs, Epicures Complete With 2973 Recipes/and The Science of Cooking / Edition 1
These will help you learn from the old to apply to your new recipes
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