Kitchen Conundrum: Cookware

It’s official: The Swedish chef has better cooking equipment than I do. Although from the looks of things, he doesn’t seem to know how to use them very well.

I’ve always been more of a sweets person, and have earned a reputation as the baker in my family long ago. My little proto-hipster sister, who was a Food Network aficionado long before it went mainstream, was always the cook. Naturally, when I moved away from home, I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of cooking skills, and now, I’d like to think I can hold my own in the kitchen.

You wouldn’t know it, though, judging by my random collection of pots and pans, which comprises the following:

1) An old Cuisinart nonstick skillet I bought at TJ Maxx, which has long since lost its nonsticking power

2) A fairly decent, no-brand sauce pan, also from TJ Maxx

3) A scrappy little tin pasta pot from a college dorm set I bought in grad school (I call it Old Faithful)

4) A crappy pot I found in the hallway of my former apartment building

5) two random lids, only one of which fits on the pasta pot

6) two Lodge cast-iron skillets

7) a formerly glorious crepe pan, also from TJ Maxx, now losing its nonstickyness

8) a dusty ebelskiver pan, a gift from my proto-hipster sister. Got that even before making Danish ebelskiver was cool.

9) and a little chef’s knife from Macy’s that makes a clicking sound whenever I cut things. I think the blade is coming loose.

The only relatively nice piece of cookware I have is a fancy Joyce Chen nonstick wok, which I’ve been trying to keep in good shape since my loving hubby gave it to me for Christmas some years ago

Armed with my motley cookware crew, I managed to turn out countless dinners and even whole Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts, and I am actually proud of that. I figured, Hey, villagers in remote areas of the world don’t use All Clad cookware and they are still able to make amazing food, so why can’t I?

Still, I decided to try upgrading my equipment, mainly because I was getting tired of having to scrape off stuck-on food at the bottom (my foray into chili pretty much ruined the pot I found in the hallway–charred black bits that stubbornly clung for days, despite marathon soaking and scraping sessions). Which led me to the big question that every home cook has: What to buy, what to buy?

Usually, for a shopaholic like myself, that’s one of those questions that only invites trouble for my already anemic wallet. So I looked to the pros for guidance on what kind of pots and pans are essential to any kitchen.

I knew that things like paella pans, egg poaching pans, vertical chicken roasters and frittata pans are nice to have, but fairly frivolous. I figure I’d need a good stock pot, a sauté pan, sauce pan and a skillet or two, but in what metal? Stainless steel? Copper? Hard-anodized? Teflon? Which ones should I splurge on, and which ones could I skimp on? Also, what size? Decisions, decisions. After all, I have a postage stamp-size kitchen, so I can’t amass a city-size collection of cookware, like this:

San Francisco skyline sculpture by Zhan Wang using pots and pans, via

Michael Ruhlman recommends starting out with small and large sauté pans, small and large sauce pans and a large pot to boil things in. I assume he means a stock pot.

Mark Bittman of the New York Times confirms my theory that even crappy pots and pans can yield beautiful results,  and recommends going to a restaurant supply store to get cheap equipment, including three saucepans, a nonstick pan, a heavy duty steel pan and one lid. But he also thinks that rice cookers and woks are non-essentials, which is pretty much blasphemy in any Asian kitchen.  Hm.

The list of experts offering up their opinions goes on and on, so I thought I’d look to my friends, the ones who really know how to cook. Naturally, I thought of my friend Kate, who used to be a line cook at such fine restaurants as Terra in Napa Valley and A16 in San Francisco. (She is also the co-author of the acclaimed A16 Food + Wine cookbook, incidentally; I once made the Monday Meatballs from that book and they were excellent.) She also has a great blog, Modern Meal Maker, and in one of her posts, she recommends a 4-quart pot, a smaller pot, a Dutch oven and a 10-inch sauté pan.

Well, I’ll definitely have to make some decisions now and do a little more research and maybe some saving. In the meantime, I’ll keep on cooking, using my humble little pots and pans, doing the best I can to make the best food possible for the people I love. In the end, I think, that’s what really matters, right?


Filed under Food, kitchen conundrums

3 responses to “Kitchen Conundrum: Cookware

  1. Coleen Johnston

    That is what matters–take it from one who’s always used mismatched items. I, too, burned up a stock pot on chili once, providing a good excuse to buy a new one. Buying cookware one piece at a time allows you to see if you like the way the piece performs. If not, you’re not stuck with a whole set of something. If so, you can always buy another. I’m still searching for the perfect non-stick (but non-health-threatening) fry pan. Let me know if you find one.

  2. Pingback: Chow bella — A Modern Meal Maker

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