What do I need to consider when Looking for Pots and Pans?

So you want to buy new pots and pans or add to an existing set?  What do you do?  What is the difference between
Calphalon and All-Clad or other brands? They were each noted for specific qualities – Calphalon for the anodized aluminum and All-Clad for their Stainless Steel (scroll down for more explanations). Now-a-days I think their patients have expired as each has expanded their lines of cookware to include items like their counterpart(s).

It’s worth it to spend the money on quality cookware. Why? Because it will last you a lifetime and you will have consistent
cooking experiences and results. Lesser brands may seem like a good idea, but they break down, have hot spots (i.e.: one part of the pan is hotter than another resulting in burning food, or over cooking food), don’t necessarily have the stove top to oven flexibility (this is key for browning, braising, roasting, and finishing).

Not many can afford to purchase the top brands (such as Calphalon and All-Clad, these are the brands most recognizable and used in our favorite cooking shows such as
Top Chef, Iron Chef, etc..), as they can cost anywhere from $500 upwards of $2000.

What is one to do just starting out? Well – for a 4 person family or less, what pieces are really needed? Larger families may need multiple items of each type of pan or even larger sizes that may be available.

  • Large stockpot 12 – 16 quart (pasta, large batches of sauce, soups)
  • Medium sauce pan 5 – 6 quart (heating up sauce, soups, making sauces, simple syrup, caramel..)
  • 12 inch saute/omelet pan (Pan searing meat, browning, roasting, reducing sauce, Sauteing, omelets, Eggs any style, pancakes..)
  • 8 inch saute/omelette pan (Same as 12 in but for smaller quantities)
  • Roasting Pan 6 – 8 quart (browning meat, braising, roasting..)
  • Cast Iron Grill/Griddle Pan Combo (indoor grilling, pancakes, Broiling food, skewers, Grilled veggies..)

(Here is a link for more shapes and uses: http://www.only-cookware.com/)

The good news is Cast Iron pans not only last through your grandchild’s life time, they are in expensive. If treated right, can be some-what non-stick.  Actually, all the top Brands I listed above if treated correctly in their own way can be non-stick and clean easily. One of the tricks to keep food from sticking during cooking is having enough fat in the pan, and not turning the food items until they release easily.

More good news: The Food Network celebrities have teamed up with these major brands and created cookware that is more affordable. If you are on a tight budget, there is nothing wrong with looking at Emeril,
Rachel Ray, Mario Batali, etc.. These items may not last as long as the more expensive counter-parts, but will give you a better cooking experience over other cheaper brands.

If you have a large budget, then by all means go for the full replacement and the large sets, adding in the specialty pieces – Wok, Crepe Pan, different sized sauce pans, paella pans, Clay Ovens, etc..
Otherwise, like all upgrades, you can add/replace one quality pan at a time until you have what you need. Be sure to read the care instructions and take good care of those pots and pans and they will return the favor.

I can not say enough how great
Cast Iron cookware is.  It has its primary purposes, such as searing/cooking meats, squaw corn, corn bread, etc..  Leave the sauteing of delicate foods to anodized or stainless steel pans.

To answer the question posted at the beginning: Calphalon or All-Clad? It comes down to preference and price. They perform equally well. Some people are brand fanatics and swear All-Clad is better. Some prefer Calphalon. The difference in the outcome of your food is minimal if any, as long as you follow the manufacturers care and cooking instructions.

To help you understand the differences between all of your choices, below is a list of the different types of materials used.

Stainless Steel
The primary benefits of a primary Stainless Steel pot or pan is it is inexpensive, light weight, some-what non-stick and tends to be non-reactive to most foods.. ie: will not give off a “metalic” flavor in your tomato sauce.

If the bottom of the pan is just made of stainless steel, or too thin, you can have un-even cooking, burn spots, warping and over-all unreliable cooking.

This may surprise you as the top brands sell stainless steel cookware. They do, but what they sell is not 100% stainless. The stainless steel is the coating over some of the other materials, such as copper or aluminum (typically found on the bottoms of less expensive pans, and through-out for the more expensive items). The stainless steel coating is preferred due to it’s inherent non-stick properties and looks.

I have a very old stainless Steel sauce pot with a thinnish copper bottom that I somehow ended up with after college. It has thin sides and I find it good for boiling water and making pasta or heating liquids. That’s about all I use it for. The sides get very hot, and if liquid splashes up, it sizzles and burns quickly. I only keep it because due to its in-between size, it is perfect for pasta for cooking a 1/2 of a box of pasta and two or three boxes of mac & cheese. And I can throw it in the dish-washer and who cares what happens to it!
I DO NOT RECOMMEND using a dishwasher, no matter what the manufacture says for your high quality pots and pans. Always wash your investment by hand.

I also have an All-Clad stainless steel pan saute pan. All-Clad pans are NOT a stainless steel with a copper or aluminum bottom. They are much more complex and heavier than typical stainless steel. So don’t let other brands fool you thinking because you are buying a stainless steel pan, it will be as good as All-Clad. For sure, not all Stainless Steel pans are created equal.

All-Clad is a three-ply bonded design that incorporates an aluminum center core “clad” with a stainless steel. This combination creates a highly responsive heat conduction and distribution as well as a near non-stick surface. And its pretty.

Like stainless steel, aluminum is also light weight and inexpensive, however it is a good conductor of heat. Unlike aluminum it’s heat conducting properties prevent hot spots and burn spots.

Aluminum pans are typically coated internally with a non-stick surface. Aluminum pans that are not coated can react easily to acidic foods resulting in tarnishing, discoloration, or other damaged. This could also lead to a “metal” taste in food. Thin pans are also prone to denting.

I have worked with pots and pans similar to these when I worked in a professional kitchen. If you ever go back into the kitchen, you will rarely find shiny pots and pans.. clean yes, but dis-colored, dented, etc. They conduct the heat just fine, but not so pretty.

Anodized Aluminum
Anodized aluminum is an electro-chemical process that alters the surface of the pan and seals the surface to make it scratch-resistant, food stick resistant, non-reactive and easy to clean.

This anodized pan is very durable and inherits the even heat conducting properties of aluminum making this pan a great heavy-duty, durable and consistent cookware.

This is the material the original and traditional Calphalon non-stick cookware is made. 65% of my pots and pans are these, they are nice and heavy, although not as heavy as cast iron. I received a set as a wedding present in 1995. I still have then entire set and many add-on pieces and they look and cook like they are only a year old, and I have put them through the test many times. They far out lasted my marriage. ; )

Infused Anodized Aluminum
Infused anodized aluminum, goes through a similar process of anodized aluminum, but has a non-stick polymer below the surface and into the pores of the metal. This allows for a better non-stick surface and more control over cooking.

Calphalon is the more note-able maker of these pans sold under “Calphalon-One”. I have a couple of these pans, because I wanted to check them out. They can be less expensive than the traditional Calphalon and not as heavy. Also, the handles on the pans stay cooler.

However, I prefer the original Calphalon pans to the Calphalon-One. They just perform better in my opinion. But given cost considerations, Calphalon-One pans are a good pan for the price.

Cast Iron
Until a couple of years ago, I used to scoff at cast iron cookware. Why would I need it? I have a great set. And it reminded me of this one pan my parents used to drag with us camping every summer and when I was little, I had to carry it. Boy was it heavy. That was more years ago than I can remember (or actually want to say), but my parents still have that same pan.

A huge benefit, is a cast iron pan properly seasoned, stored and cared for can out last just about any of the contemporary and it can be purchased for much less than just about any other pan. I now have several cast iron pans.

Cast iron is a very dense material making it not only one of the best conductors of and distribution of heat, but also one of the best for retaining heat. And that they can take a beating and still keep on ticking.

It can be used on the stove top, in the oven, directly on a hot grill or directly on hot coals (try that with your beautiful stainless still pan).

These are ideal for obtaining a great sear, a crusty corn bread baked right in the pan, crispy hash browns, bacon or pancakes, etc..

The reason it may not be ideal for sauteing foods or cooking delicate foods is because it is heavy and the process of flipping of foods such as crepes, omelets would be difficult. In addition, the incredible heat retention would make certain method not as effective such as: Moving the back-and-forth during the sauteing process, distributing the food and briefly removing from the heat; or the need to turn off or remove the pan from the heat when adding cream to a sauce to prevent curdling.

Cleaning and care is easy, but important. If you invest, be sure to follow the directions supplied with your pan.

Enameled Cast Iron
I have already said how much I LOVE cast iron cookware. Then comes along enameled cast iron. LOVE IT. This the answer to the drawbacks to a cast iron pan.

Basically, an enameled coating is added on top of the cast iron (typically inside and out). In addition to the benefits of cast iron, this coating provides a non-stick, non-rusting, and non-reactive surface to the pan. I find it great for braising, making stews, curry, etc. I can sear the meat in the pan on the stove top, saute and brown the vegetables, add the liquid, deglaze, then toss the whole thing in the oven until done.

Cleaning is a breeze.

So what is the down side? Its expensive and if not properly stored or cared for, can be prone to chipping.

Le Creuset is the better known brand. I have one Le Creuset (dutch oven) and one designed by Emeril (paella).

Carbon Steel
Has the benefits and downsides of a few of the other materials. It needs to be seasoned (like cast iron), can be light weight (unlike cast iron), good even conduction of heat (unlike “plain” stainless steel)

It’s best known usage is with the large round bottom woks. You probably won’t find this as an option in the typical stores that sell the other main-stream brands.

Copper has a great thermal conductivity and the most even heating. These pots are typically made with a tin or stainless steel lining to prevent reactions to food, especially acidic foods. The tin lining pans will occasionally need to be re-tinned. This created a recent move to the stainless steel lining.

I do not have any copper pans, however my parents have a very nice set. They are expensive, and heavy similar to the original Calphalon and All-Clad pans, but not quite as heavy as cast iron.

I do like cooking with them. I would be hard pressed to find a noticeable difference in the end product between the higher end pans I have vs these. Don’t get me wrong, if you can afford them, go for it, they are great pans and beautiful when proper care is taken.

In addition to cost, the down side is the copper exposed to the elements (outer-shell) can tarnish. Regular polishing or specialized cleaners may be required to restore their original luster.

Non-Stick Coatings
More will come on this, as this gets a little more complex. My best recommendation is DO NOT BUY CHEAP NON-STICK. It won’t last long, it will break down, get into your food and eventually you have to to throw it out and buy another one. So why not invest in a good non-stick pan?

The major brands offer non-stick that will last longer and is better. However, any non-stick coating does break down.

I like non-stick for eggs and pancakes (and anything with oozing cheese). I still use a little fat/oil to assist in the release. I have not really found a true non-stick where everything just slides out on its own.

I don’t believe anyone needs a complete set of non-stick pots or pans. An 8 inch and 10 or 12 inch non-stick skillet are sufficient. You can get both of these pans as a set for about $50 from Calphalon.

I would only recommend getting a non-stick sauce pan if you do a lot of cooking with syrups, caramel, candy, etc.. Sauce pans typically hold liquid, so non-stick doesn’t really provide much of a benefit in my opinion.

Hope this helps and happy shopping!


About culinaryease

I am a single mother who loves cooking and providing tips, techniques, to get everyone out of the takeout lane and into the kitchen.

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