Pots and Pans Primer

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Posted by Staci Lehman on Nov. 20, 2018, midnight

It's one of those things that most people take for granted, but something that makes a big difference in your kitchen. Old, worn-out pans can make cooking more of a pain than a pleasure, but shopping for new ones can be an equally painful chore. 

Those who know cookware say it doesn't have to be traumatizing if you know what to look for. And the first step is recognizing when it's time to replace your current pots and pans.

"I would say most people have a lot of nonstick cookware," said Eric Frickle, owner of The Kitchen Engine in Spokane’s The Flour Mill. "If you see any of that coating come off or notice it in your food, that's a good indicator (that it’s time to replace a pan) – you don't want to eat that stuff."

Pots and pans cooking on stovetop

Frickle says using too high of heat is the biggest culprit in ruining nonstick pans. He also says that pans (other than nonstick) need to be replaced if they are warped and won't sit flat on the stove, or if handles are loose.

Once you've decided to update your cookware, the decision on what kind to buy should be based mostly on what type of stove you have.

"The popularity of induction cooktops is on the rise," said Frickle. "An induction cooktop actually uses magnets to heat the pan itself. There are a bunch of cheap options for pans for these cooktops, but the better quality your pan, the better your cooking ... your brand-new induction stove is only as good as your pans."

It’s fairly easy to find cookware designed to use on induction cooktops, but even if a set isn’t labeled for induction, it may still work. Just remember to bring a magnet with you when shopping. If it sticks, the pan will work on your induction cooktop.

If you are cooking with gas, you need to look for something completely different: a thicker pan.

For gas stoves, Fickle advised, "Stay away from thinner. A normal pan is going to want to conduct heat and if it is too thin it will warp.”

Look for something that is clad, meaning it has the same thickness throughout the pan.

Whether using gas, induction or a good "old-fashioned" electric stove, Frickle says the best overall cookware option is cast iron. He concedes that other kinds of pans can be useful for certain kitchen tasks, though.

"You can have a complete set of cast iron pans," he said. "But you might also want to have one nonstick pan for cooking eggs. If you're looking for good stuff, though, skip nonstick. I would honestly go for cast iron."

If cost is an issue, or maybe you are buying a gift of cookware for a newly-married couple or a child moving into their first apartment, Frickle says there are inexpensive cast iron options available. 

And while some people worry about the seasoning required for cast iron pans, Fricke says it's not rocket science, assuring that you will “get the hang of it over time.”

"The cool thing about cast iron is that if you do screw up and ruin your seasoning, you can easily re-do it with bacon grease or something," he said.

Many of us have limited space in our kitchens so knowing what is essential is a good idea before heading out to shop for cookware. Bon Appetit magazine, the authority on cooking and all things kitchen-related, says the following are the minimum requirements: one cast-iron skillet, a nonstick skillet, a stainless steel skillet, a large stockpot and rimmed baking sheets.

If you have storage space beyond that, Bon Appetit recommends a Dutch oven, a sauce pot, glass baking pans, a glass pie pan, muffin tin, round cake pan and a loaf pan.

Unnecessary items include a double boiler (you can get the same effect by setting a heat-proof bowl over a sauce pot) and any kind of aluminum pots and pans because they don't conduct heat efficiently and dent easily.

In the long run, Frickle says you’ll come out ahead by spending more on cookware up front. In his 12 years of selling household goods he has come to realize that cookware and cutlery are the two things worth paying more for.

"Stay away from the hype stuff, like the ‘As Seen on TV’ stuff," he said. "Don't trust your TV at 2 a.m. There's no one to return that stuff to when it breaks."

And when you invest in good quality pots and pans, Frickle says you're not just buying a name like when you buy clothing.

"If you buy good quality stuff, you should never have to buy again, short of something crazy happening,” he said. “Plus most good brands have a lifetime warranty. And you're keeping stuff out of a landfill."