I think it’s time to splurge and get some good stainless steel cookware. My husband and I cook so much, and the set that we got as a wedding gift three years ago is Teflon (and kind of a pain in the ass). Can you recommend a decent brand and/or place to get some quality pots and pans?
I’m going to sound like a snot, but my honest answer is that I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with All-Clad, and when you buy these (admittedly expensive) pieces, you’re making an investment that will last you a lifetime.
Stainless steel is so wonderfully low-maintenance once you start cooking with it. These days, the only things I use my nonstick pan for are eggs and delicate seafood like scallops. You can sear your meat on the stovetop and put the pan right in the oven, which you can’t do with nonstick, and any stubborn bits can be scrubbed right off with Bar Keepers Friend.
And for the price-conscious, you don’t need to worry about the copper core, Master Chef, LTD, or any of the “special” versions. The plain old All-Clad stainless, which sandwiches a layer of aluminum between two layers of stainless steel, does an unparalleled job of heating evenly and works on those newfangled induction cooktops too. Oh, and they’re 100 percent dishwasher safe.
Don’t run out and buy the 10-piece sets—because you are making such a big outlay of cash, it’s better to buy a la carte with the pieces you’ll use most often rather than ending up with Russian nesting dolls of seldom-used pieces gathering dust in your cupboard. Time and again, I turn to the following:
- 4-quart sauté pan, which is a frying pan with straight sides instead of sloped; the higher sides hold in liquid more effectively, which make it helpful for braising or pan-frying. This is the real workhorse of my kitchen, the pan that never makes it into the dishwasher because I’m using it so often.
- 4-quart stockpot, called a “casserole” in All-Clad parlance. It’s the right size for making everyday quantities of pasta sauces and soups, boiling water for blanching veggies/making pasta, and your usual duties.
- 12-inch frying pan, the piece you’ll turn to for pan-searing, grilled cheese making, and reheating last night’s enchiladas.
- 1-quart saucepan, which is the bottom of my double boiler and is perfect for reducing small quantities of sauce or making a single-serving hot chocolate
- 8-inch skillet, for melting small amounts of butter or toasting nuts and spices on the stovetop
It’s also fun and useful to have two very small pans around:
For all of my Western PA followers, you’re the luckiest, because the best prices will always be found at the All-Clad factory sale in at the Washington Township fairgrounds, held the first weekends of each June and December. I send my stepmom out to buy a few new pieces each year, which is how I have so much.
For New Yorkers (or those who come to the city often), we have a most excellent resource at Broadway Panhandler, a store that holds regular sales as well as a few major blowouts every year. I’ve snagged some deeply-discounted Le Creuset here, so I suggest Facebooking them or signing up for the newsletter to keep apprised.
But for the rest of the world or those who aren’t willing to wait a few months to start rocking out with a new 4-quart sauté, it’s always good to shop around at various brick-and-mortar and online stores, because prices range from piece to piece. The Amazon links above offer a ballpark range for what you’ll find, but it’s always worth it to compare against national retailers like Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, and even Bed Bath & Beyond, which frequently run worthwhile sales. (I once found a 2-quart sauté pan at Williams-Sonoma for $45, so keep an eye on the bargain tables.)
No matter what you do, when you get your new cookware, don’t be afraid to use it. Feel the heft of the pan in your hand, turn up the heat, get a sizzle going on, and you’ll quickly see the difference between a thin-bottomed discount pan and a well-crafted one.
I want to hear about what you’re cooking with your new pans and how your dishes are coming out! Send updates and any new Ask Casey questions to caseyATwww.www.goodfoodstories.com.