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#1 sierraleone

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Posted 16 October 2017 - 10:00 PM

I have not had to buy my own cookware before. Now my roommate is moving out in 3-4 months, and taking her cookware with her.

I plan on splurging some serious dollars here, but before I make such an investment, I thought I'd see if anyone here has some experience or advise to share. I thought I had it figured out, and then a relative told me that they did not have such luck with that material, 30 years ago, so I am wondering if I should factor that in or not.

Does it matter if I plan to go with a high-quality brand, with good warranties?

As I understand it, the standard cookware material options are:

- Stainless Steel
(pro: non-reactive, heavy, durable, dishwasher safe)
(con: poor heat-transfer/distribution)

- Copper
(pro: excellent thermal conductivity, cooks food evenly)
(con: reactive with alkaline or acidic foods, requires regular polishing/maintenance, cooper can get in the food)

- Copper with stainless steel/tin lining
(best of both worlds above)

- Aluminum
(pro: excellent thermal conductivity, lightweight, affordable)
(con: reactive with alkaline or acidic foods,
It is also soft and tends to warp in high heat, scratch easily, but this can be mitigated if you get:
Anodized Aluminum)

- Cast Iron
(pro: durable, inexpensive, naturally non-stick if seasoned properly, distributes heat evenly and retains heat well. Great for long, low, simmering and browning. Imparts some iron to food, which may be beneficial.)
(con: heavy, takes long time to heat up.
It is also reactive to acidic food, and it is a bit more effort to clean and maintain, but these can be mitigated if you get:
Enameled Cast Iron)


I knew I didn't want Aluminum or Copper from the above description. I am most familiar with Stainless Steel (I've assumed), though I think the quality has definitely been lacking in some of those I've had experience with. That could probably be mitigated by spending more for quality, as I plan to do. But I wanted to look at something different, so was definitely leaning towards the cast iron, then learned about some of its drawbacks and learned about the enamelled cast iron. I thought it should be easy-ish to clean from the description, but I've been told otherwise. Could have been quality, or user error, dunno.


Anyone got anything to share? I really hope to not regret this purchase in a couple years ;)
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#2 Orpheus

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 02:15 AM

T-fal is a fairly good, but inexpensive brand of nonstick. The pan itself is aluminum, so you can't use it on an inductive burner (not that that likely matters to you).

You do have to take modest care of it:
1) no metal utensils, just plastic, silicone, wood, etc. (the nonstick coating isn't as hard as metal)
2) Don't overheat it past 500F -- which okay because most fats catch fire before that!
-- Just don't leave it empty on an active burner. Don't do the kind of high-heat searing that stainless and cast iron are great for
3) Don't put it in a dishwasher. You don't need to. you can usually wipe it clean. If not, fill it water and let it soak.

Lodge cast iron is reasonably cheap -- especially if you can get free shipping via Amazon Prime or by adding items until you're over $35 US (I don't know the cutoff for Amazon Canada). You can probably get away with a single cast iron pan -- griddle, skillet or Dutch oven, depending on what you cook. I have their 5qt enameled cast iron dutch oven. After 5-8 years the enamel started to flake, so I took a picture and they sent me a new one -- no hassle. Their lifetime guarantee really means something (They told me not to bother shipping the old one back, so I kept it as an emergency spare, but the replacement one still going strong over a decade later, now that they have included an insert warning that metal utensils can scratch the glaze. I saw the 5qt dutch oven on sale for $30 every few months for years, but it's probably twice that now, even on sale, unless they discontinue a color. It has been worth it: almost 20 years of family-size stews, curries, rice, etc.

For stainless steel, don't go to a store. Go to a restaurant supply house. Those cost MUCH less than name brands in stores and stand up to an industrial level beating.

I don't have an opinion on copper or copper inserts. For most dishes, one cooks on a stove, hotspots are a non-issue. Don't crank the burner high (liquids won't rise much above 100C regardless), and don't leave stuff frying unattended, and you shouldn't have a problem. Or, asked the other way: have you ever had a problem with hotspots. I know you cooked for your family for years

Edited by Orpheus, 17 October 2017 - 02:22 AM.


#3 gsmonks

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 05:03 AM

Always buy universal items and spare no expense. A big, heavy, quality cast-iron frying pan, a Japanese donabe (not a cheap knock-off but a quality clay 5-cups of cooked rice double-lid original), an iron pot with a thick bottom and a set of bamboo steamers to go on top, a stainless steel wok, etc. Fast, quality meals, prepared the right way with the right tools.

I can't overstate the value of a good donabe. Rice, soups, stews, one of the most universal cooking tools in the arsenal. Even a cheap one is better than drawers full of junk cooking appliances.
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#4 Niko

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 08:21 AM

View PostOrpheus, on 17 October 2017 - 02:15 AM, said:

T-fal is a fairly good, but inexpensive brand of nonstick.

I'm not an expert in cooking by a loooooooong shot, but I've been reevaluating my relationship with non-stick lately.  Most of my adult life, I've practically ONLY used non-stick, and always felt like I must be doing something wrong because every recipe that called for deglazing the pan... there was never anything to deglaze.   I've also come across a lot of recipes that seem like my sort of thing (i.e. "easy to make") that call for the dish to be started on the stovetop and then put into the oven, which I don't think you're supposed to do with non-stick.

So, with that in mind, I picked up an All-Clad Stainless Steel pan with high sides a while back for dishes that call for that sort of thing, and it's been a worthwhile addition to my kitchen. :)   The one I have has an aluminum layer between the stainless steel layers, for the conductivity, instead of copper, but it works well for me.
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#5 Orpheus

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 12:33 PM

I agree that I am nervous about putting nonstick in the oven without a cover. The direct infrared from the heating element (which has a higher temperature than the rest of the oven) can be bad for some materials. Silicone, for example, is an nonstick excellent baking surface at oven temps up to 550F (287C), but can't take direct IR very well,  so you should always put some sort of opaque tray under it. I wouldn't broil on silicone, because broiling requires that direct infrared, so a top cover would defeat the purpose.

That said, T-fal used to have a line of pans called "Ingenio", which had removable handles, specifically to allow it to be used for baking and convenient storage in the fridge. The outside of the pan (and most pans) can take the full range of baking temperatures. Why they discontinued Ingenio, I'll never understand -- but I bought a set over a decade ago (and a second when they went on clearance upon discontinuation) and they're holding up great, though I now ONLY use them in the oven, because I can use any non-special T-fal for the stove, and I want the Ingenio sets to last.

Deglazing is useful/possible in stainless steel because some of the dried juices stick to the pan and brown. With nonstick, they stick to the food itself, and there is less browning. There's definitely a place in my kitchen for a stainless steel skillet or frying pan (Skillets have curved or sloping sides. Frying pans have steeper sides, usually flat not curved. Saute pans tend to be shallow with vertical sides. I saute in a skillet)

Lodge isn't cheap cast iron. IMHO, it's the highest quality made, or close to it. I'd put my Lodge cast iron or enameled iron pots up against any La Creuset costing 3-5x as much (I don't have extended experience with other brands, but was given a fancy La Creuset 5qt as a gift) ESPECIALLY sonce La Creuset has been slowly drifting to China-made for a decade. Lodge is 100% US-made, and is very consistent.

The best cast iron is "grandma's skillet", handed down and seasoned by regular use over decades. Alas that seasoning doesn't last if stored for a year or two, so even though some brands of antique cast iron do have a smoother texture (they were made with an additional grinding step) and better internal properties, I don't recommend picking them up. I've experimented with seasoning cast iron, and it doesn't always go as smoothly as I'd like -- and it doesn't last without regular use. Sometimes I've had to remove the old seasoning (there are several methods) and re-season from scratch. I was able to chalk it up to "experiments" (which I do a lot), but if you just want to cook a meal, getting the seasoning right is a pain,  and can take months. Buy a pre-seasoned lodge -- then fry in it several times a week for the first two months

I recommend only having 1-2 pieces of cast iron, in the forms that you will use every week.  My cast iron skillet and frypan served me well, until a family health situation led to me cooking differently for a while. After sitting in the cabinet too long, I basically had to retire them (awaiting a full reseasoning ... someday) However, my small griddle, which I use weekly (often daily) for breakfast is a real champ, as are my enameled pots.

All-clad is a good brand -- no complaints there! But restaurant gear is so much cheaper ($20 vs up to $200) that I suggest starting withthat. You can upgrade later. I've never had to! Though there *is* a lot of variation between those commercial (non)brands, this would be my one exception to gsmonk's advice to "buy quality"

Oh -- and if you know how to use a wok (and are likely to cook stir fry or fried rice weekly), even a cheap wok can be a lifetime investment, but subject to the same caveat about disuse. Get a carbon steel 16" with "beaten sides" (lightly textured by hammer strokes). To me, and my style of oriental cooking, size matters, because you can set up zones of heat. Your choice may also be affected by the type of stove you have. Some stoves won't fit a big wok. Some people find flat bottomed woks for electric stoves unusable -- or the base rings needed for other stoves-- really ruin the performance. They've worked fine for me.

I've never used a donabe. Now I'm curious.

#6 gsmonks

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 02:17 PM

Buy yourself a donabe, and get yourself a good book on how to use it. Start off by properly cooking yourself some rice (with a dash of saki when you initially soak your rice- a step N. Americans tend to ignore), and you'll never go back.

The donabe is the ultimate companion to a good wok (mine is surgical steel). Many of the things you stir-fry are the same ingredients that go into oriental soups 'n' stews, and searing certain vegetables in a wok helps preserve their al dente crunch when placed in soups, while imbuing them with extra characteristics such as flavours.

The "correct" way to clean a cast iron frying pan is with salt (generally rock salt).
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#7 sierraleone

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Posted 17 October 2017 - 07:54 PM

View PostOrpheus, on 17 October 2017 - 02:15 AM, said:

Lodge cast iron is reasonably cheap -- especially if you can get free shipping via Amazon Prime or by adding items until you're over $35 US (I don't know the cutoff for Amazon Canada).

Thanks for the recommendation on that. I was looking at items with life-time warranties, and a few brands were twice the price of Lodge, and Lodge has a life-time warranty too. Shipping it here would probably be too much of a bother (duty taxes), but it appears a number of stores and chains carry them. Now just finding one with the pieces I want.

Quote

For stainless steel, don't go to a store. Go to a restaurant supply house. Those cost MUCH less than name brands in stores and stand up to an industrial level beating.

Good to know.

View Postgsmonks, on 17 October 2017 - 05:03 AM, said:

Always buy universal items and spare no expense. A big, heavy, quality cast-iron frying pan, a Japanese donabe (not a cheap knock-off but a quality clay 5-cups of cooked rice double-lid original), an iron pot with a thick bottom and a set of bamboo steamers to go on top, a stainless steel wok, etc. Fast, quality meals, prepared the right way with the right tools.

I can't overstate the value of a good donabe. Rice, soups, stews, one of the most universal cooking tools in the arsenal. Even a cheap one is better than drawers full of junk cooking appliances.

I am intrigued. Never even heard of a donabe. From my scant google-searching it appears it is typically used over an flame, but looks like it can be used on a coil electric stove if I understand correctly. It looks like it would be a suitable replacement for her rice-cooker, though I was thinking of not getting a new rice-cooker, I find conventional ones bulky & awkward.

I didn't even think of bamboo steamers (despite that my roommate has a set), I was thinking of getting a conventional metal steamer.

I was definitely planning on getting a wok, I like stir-fry and we use that at least every other week.

View PostNiko, on 17 October 2017 - 08:21 AM, said:

I'm not an expert in cooking by a loooooooong shot, but I've been reevaluating my relationship with non-stick lately.  
...
So, with that in mind, I picked up an All-Clad Stainless Steel pan with high sides a while back for dishes that call for that sort of thing, and it's been a worthwhile addition to my kitchen. :)   The one I have has an aluminum layer between the stainless steel layers, for the conductivity, instead of copper, but it works well for me.

Yeah, I want to stay away from some non-stick. It will require a little more care and mindfulness during cooking and cleaning I understand.

View PostOrpheus, on 17 October 2017 - 12:33 PM, said:

Oh -- and if you know how to use a wok (and are likely to cook stir fry or fried rice weekly), even a cheap wok can be a lifetime investment, but subject to the same caveat about disuse. Get a carbon steel 16" with "beaten sides" (lightly textured by hammer strokes). To me, and my style of oriental cooking, size matters, because you can set up zones of heat. Your choice may also be affected by the type of stove you have. Some stoves won't fit a big wok. Some people find flat bottomed woks for electric stoves unusable -- or the base rings needed for other stoves-- really ruin the performance. They've worked fine for me.

I *think* 16" is a little on the large size. My roommate's wok is 13.25". Stove is about 30" wide & 23.25" deep. Counter on both sides though, so if the wok was the only dish I was using it would probably be do-able at 16".
Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
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Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#8 gsmonks

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 02:13 AM

A small wok tends to defeat the purpose.

A donabe isn't just a rice cooker. It's a universal cooking thingy. I use a trivet under mine on an electric (*shudder*) stove.

Good quality metal is non-stick.

My #1 piece of advice to fledgling cookers is to learn how to cook an egg. While that may sound like a no-brainer, believe it or not, most people think they know how to cook an egg, but are dead wrong about the process. It's important to get the basics right, and egg-cookery is one of the basics.

See how nice this guy's Teflon is? It's because he only uses it on medium heat.


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#9 sierraleone

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Posted 18 October 2017 - 03:38 PM

View Postgsmonks, on 17 October 2017 - 05:03 AM, said:

Always buy universal items and spare no expense. A big, heavy, quality cast-iron frying pan, a Japanese donabe (not a cheap knock-off but a quality clay 5-cups of cooked rice double-lid original),...

I can't overstate the value of a good donabe. Rice, soups, stews, one of the most universal cooking tools in the arsenal. Even a cheap one is better than drawers full of junk cooking appliances.

So you mean something like this? Found another on Amazon, but couldn't tell it's size. I can't find Canadian sellers so far, but that is not surprising.
Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#10 Elara

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Posted 30 October 2017 - 01:58 AM

I will never buy another non-stick pan again. The last one I tried was T-Fal, decent brand, but no matter how careful I was, it didn't do any better than any other non-stick I've ever owned. Actually, I had one that I liked, it was a slow cooker and lasted for 20 years. Other than that one, non-stick always scratches (no metal ever used on them), or begins to peel.

For myself, I have all stainless steel. At one time Revere Ware was a good brand, and I think still is. I inherited some Revere Ware pots and pans from my paternal grandparents, and they are really good, but the new ones that I bought aren't nearly the same quality. This may be because I bought a set that was cheaper than their other sets, so the more expensive sets are probably better.
Frying eggs in the frying pan can be difficult, but if done right, they don't stick.

I wouldn't buy aluminum, mostly for the reasons listed in the other posts. As for copper, I have little experience, so can't be of any help there.

I would recommend getting at least one cast iron pan. I have three. :)
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#11 gsmonks

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Posted 31 October 2017 - 12:00 AM

Your standard donabe is the 5-cup size (of cooked rice, with room for stuff on top).

Non-stick is garbage. In one of my other incarnations, I've testing and written reviews of many types of non-stick cookware, and not one passed the smell test (literally). I've tested all of the television brands, and many more.

All non-stick cookware is short-term, meaning the non-stick surface works for about as long as it takes to make a commercial, then breaks down until it's useless, or dangerous, or both.

All soon produce an unpleasant burnt-plastic smell, and none should be used when this happens.

High-end metal cookware is non-stick, whether it be cast iron, copper, stainless steel, heavy composite, heavy aluminum, crockery, you name it.
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#12 gsmonks

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Posted 31 October 2017 - 12:06 AM

I should perhaps add that making cookware non-stick is part of knowing how to use it. It's a knack that comes from (much) practice, similar to laying a smooth, regular bead when welding, or learning to properly cook eggs. In fact, the saying, "If you're going to learn to make an omelette, you've got to break a few eggs first" refers to the fact that you're not going to get it right the first time, or even the first few or several times.

Impatience is the bane of cooking.
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#13 gsmonks

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Posted 31 October 2017 - 12:10 AM

Your donabe should have a double lid, and should be quality fired clay, not a cheap knock-off:

http://www.cooktells...donabe-clay-pot
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#14 sierraleone

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Posted 03 November 2017 - 04:32 PM

^ I really like the plain colouring of that one. Too bad it is a cooking blog and not a vendor :)
Rules for surviving an Autocracy:

Rule#1: Believe the Autocrat.
Rule#2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule#3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule#4: Be outraged.
Rule#5: Don't make compromises.
Rule#6: Remember the future.
- Masha Gessen
Source: http://www2.nybooks....r-survival.html

#15 gsmonks

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Posted 04 November 2017 - 11:17 AM

They're not hard to find, except on a site like eBay, where you're filtering through a lot of noise on your search for quality.

I've made various types of mushroom soups in a donabe. The more I fiddled around with recipes, the bigger the pieces got, until I found myself using chunks and whole mushrooms instead of little bits and pieces.

Chowders are another yum-fest. Most of us are only familiar with the two basic clam varieties. But when you've worked on fishing vessels, and worked with Scan-di-hoovians, you're exposed to various types of fish chowders, from other types of shellfish (oysters, mussels, scallops, chiton, abalone, etc.) to oddities like eel.
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