How to Choose Quality Cookware

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Many folks don’t give much thought to their cookware. To them, a pot is a pot and a pan is a pan. The more seriously you take cooking, however, the more importantly good quality cookware becomes. High-quality cookware heats more efficiently, cooks more evenly, and lasts far longer than lower-quality equipment. The better your cookware, the easier cooking becomes, and the better your food tastes. That’s why it’s worth investing in quality pots and pans from the outset, rather than wasting money on cheap ones that won’t perform well or last. Even if you can’t afford a whole set at once, it’s better to buy one good quality piece at a time, rounding out your cookware collection throughout the years.

Once upon a time when I was outfitting my first kitchen, I naively chose a set of cookware that initially looked (and seemed) great but turned out to have several strikes against it, rendering it a big mistake. The pieces were nice and thick, but that alone didn’t make them good performers. At the time, I thought a non-stick coating was preferable but over time it became worn on every pan, no matter how carefully I used and cleaned them. Attractively enameled in an almond hue, they matched my kitchen perfectly - until the enamel chipped off, exposing the metal underneath. Another “selling feature” was the attractive oak handles. What was I thinking? Wood expands and contracts, which is exactly what these handles did. The screwed-on wooden handle on the lid of my dutch oven cracked and simply fell off one day! The lesson here - appearance isn’t a reliable determining factor as to quality.

On the other hand, I have a Staub 4 qt. Cast Iron Round French Cocotte and that turned out to be one of the best purchases of my cooking life. Don’t get me wrong. That thing retails for the cost of both pairs of your arms and legs. Still, the lid somehow fits snugger than other brands, and that seals the steam and juices of whatever you are cooking in there. I used to boil soup for hours to get the flavor out of the meat and into the soup. Now, it takes one to two hours and I get an even more flavorful bowl of hot steamy goodness. In fact, I get compliments for my soup all the time and little do they know that it’s the easiest thing to make because all you do is throw all the ingredients in there, put the lid on, and turn the stove to medium heat!

What Constitutes High-Quality Cookware?

Look for these features when choosing cookware:

  • Made of material that conducts heat smoothly and efficiently:
  • Copper cookware is considered the best for heat conduction - it’s pricey, however, and requires special care to clean and maintain an attractive appearance.
  • Aluminum is a great heat conductor but should be “anodized” which is a process that increases its strength and durability.
  • Stainless steel is the most common material for cookware, popular because it is durable, convenient, and affordable. It’s not, however, particularly good at conducting heat.
  • No matter what material the cookware is made of, the base should be thick and flat to ensure efficiency and even heat distribution.
  • There should be riveted (not screwed-on) handles that are oven safe.
  • The lids need to be good-fitting. The snug the fit, the better your food will taste.

The cookware should be heavy enough for stability but not so heavy that it’s impractical to use.

A Word About Non-Stick

Non-stick coating isn’t necessary, or preferable, on every piece of cookware. If you do choose non-stick, then take note that you need to be more careful when you cook with high heat because it can damage the non-stick coating. It’s recommended you don’t use heat higher than absolutely necessary when cooking in non-stick cookware. Care is also needed when you wash them. You need to use the soft side of the sponge, as rough services will damage the coating to the point that the non-stick surface will start coming off and into your food.

Individual Needs Should Override General Advice

While you could conceivably find a whole set that will meet your needs for a long time to come, most of the time, you’ll find yourself gravitating toward particular pans, wishing you had more of one kind and rarely if ever use others. For that reason, it’s best to buy your pans “open-stock” (individually) so you can get the types and sizes that fit your specific needs.

It’s also crucial that you don’t blindly follow what others say is good or just buy based on online reviews. And it’s important to trust your instincts. If you don’t think you’ll like it, don’t spend way too much time trying to convince yourself that it’s you that needs to be changed and not the cookware. After all, you are the one cooking and if you don’t like the look, size, weight, or something else about your equipment, you just won’t use it.

I bought a wok once because it was a very high-end brand and it was on a major sale. I took it home, and immediately thought I should return it. I didn’t end up going back to the store, but instead, I tried for months to like it. I just couldn’t. It’s not that the food didn’t taste any good when I used that wok. In fact, the food came out extra hot and tasted great. The issue was that the wok was extremely heavy. It was so heavy that I had a problem lifting it even if I used two hands when there was a bunch of ingredients inside. I haven’t dropped any food yet while moving the wok, but I’ve worried about that. There were times when I was about to take it out to use, only to change my mind after I open the drawer and see the heavy clunk of metal. I tried and tried to like it, but I ended up not using it at all. It’s sitting in a dark corner of my kitchen drawer now, which meant my initial investment was a total loss. Oh well...

There’s no simple answer to buying the ideal pots and pans. The most important element to consider when choosing cookware is YOU. How often do you cook, the type of cooking you do, the type of stove you use, how much care you’re willing to take with your pans, and ultimately, your budget.

Once you have all that figured out, then brush up on what constitutes quality cookware so you won’t be wasting money on inferior cookware or pans you don’t need.

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