When each of us 9 kids left home, Mom gave us a sprig of her heirloom mint and a cast iron skillet. Between that skillet, a stainless “waterless” saucepan and my Club aluminum pots, I had all the cookware I needed. But that was then. Today there’s a dizzying array of cookware.
Bob Hess, culinary educator and cookware expert, was a guest on my cable show. Bob and I cooked our way through myriad pots and pans, and explained the difference between each.
I wanted to give you a primer of sorts on cookware. Having good cookware is just as important as having a good recipe.
That’s the first thing to do. You may just need to replace a pan or two and not have to invest in a whole set.
A smooth top range needs flat-bottomed pans for proper cooking. As Bob Hess pointed out, “Some (maybe all) manufacturers of glass top stoves recommend not using cast iron. I have used cast iron on glass tops. Just don’t want to drop them or move back and forth.”
For induction cooktops, magnetic stainless steel is good. Not sure if the pan works on induction? Bring along a magnet – if it sticks to the bottom you’re good to go. (Another point Bob made. is this: “I think induction is great, but 2 things: it is pricey and you can toss your valued aluminum and copper pans unless they have a magnetic base.”
Gas cooktops are a cook’s friend. Make sure your pans fit in a sturdy manner on the burners. If they tilt, don’t use them.
Bob and I agree you need these essentials: a small saucepan, about 1 to 2 quart, a larger 3-4 quart one, a sloped sided 10-12” omelet/skillet, a straight sided sauté along with an 8 quart stockpot and a 7.25 or 8 quart Dutch oven (enameled cast iron is what Bob and I have and they are great). Classic stockpots are tall; Dutch ovens are shorter and wider.
In sets, a lid and sometimes utensils will count as a piece.
Kinds of cookware
Here are my favorites. Pick out something that is pleasing to your eye, as well as a good performer.
Cast iron will never wear out but is heavy and requires maintenance and seasoning. I love my heirloom cast iron pans and so does Bob. He said he has one that’s circa 1921-29 and uses it more than any other pan.
Enameled cast iron has the benefits but doesn’t need seasoning.
Stainless steel is non-reactive to acid foods and needs some aluminum or copper somewhere in the pan for heat transfer.
Hard anodized aluminum is non-reactive just like stainless.
Carbon steel: They can become “non stick”, however, take care like cast iron, maybe even a bit more care.
Nonstick pans allow you to use no fat or very little fat. They can brown, but in my opinion don’t brown, for the most part, as well as cast iron, stainless or aluminum. These are easy to clean up. I like a 10-12” nonstick pan. Most require plastic utensils.
Many non sticks today are ceramic. This does away with the issue of PFOAs and PTFEs. Also, more resistant to wear and flaking.
Copper pans are the gold standard/most expensive but since copper can react with foods, it will be lined usually with a stainless steel cooking surface.
I love my cast iron but it’s heavy. Pick up a pan you like. See how it feels. If it’s almost too heavy empty, think of it full of food.
Is the handle easy to grasp? Some handles are “stay cool” on the stovetop. Handles are welded, screwed, or riveted onto cookware. Riveted handles are the strongest.
Some pans and lids are oven safe to certain degrees, and some can be put under the broiler. Read the manual!
As far as being dishwasher safe, even if a pan is, if you use a citrus-based detergent, it might etch it.
Perfect French omelet
I like a 10” nonstick pan for this.
3 large eggs, room temperature if possible
1 tablespoon water
Couple generous tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
Use a fork to gently whisk eggs with water and seasoning.
Coat a pan with butter and heat over medium-high. Once it’s hot, pour in eggs and use a spatula to gently move cooked egg in from edge of pan to center, creating little ruffles. Tilt and rotate pan so any uncooked egg fills in empty spaces. When surface looks moist, but doesn’t jiggle, add filling. Fold omelet in half and let brown a bit. Turn out onto plate.
One thought on “Best Cookware and Cooktops – A Primer”
I’m blind and I love to cook. I can use a regular electric stove with no problem. Can’t do the ceramic tops because I don’t know where one burner ends and another begins. But, I would recommend NuWave’s Pro Chef precision induction cooktop to absolutely anybody. I don’t like using gas stoves because you’re dealing with an open flame around your burners. But, much like a gas stove, adjusting the temperature on a NuWave renders the same result. You get immediate results unlike the coils on an electric unit that take a while to warm or cool to the temperature you want. Plus, there’s an added safety net with the Nuwave because you can’t drop something on it and risk catching something on fire when it hits the surface. I freaked a friend out one day when I was cooking something and I put my hand on the uncovered part of the unit which doesn’t get hot. I finally convinced her I didn’t burn myself. And, I don’t think all induction cooktops are created equal. NuWave is the best there is in my opinione. Period. Am I a snob? Maybe. lol It’s NuWave or nothin’ for this gal.