Good Question: What Kind of Cookware Should I Buy?

Here's a variation on a reader question that we get a lot: what basic pieces of cookware do I need to set up a new kitchen? This one is from Mandy:
I'm a young woman in her early twenties getting ready to move out of my parents' house and into my own. While I've got a lot of hand-me-downs coming my way, one thing I have to buy myself is a set of cookware — pots, pans, skillets, baking sheets &mdash the whole nine yards. I've read some scary health news about cooking on nonstick surfaces, but I know from experience that it's the most user-friendly.

So my question is, what do you recommend for affordable (but quality) cookware, and what are the pros and cons of various surfaces?

Mandy, setting up a new kitchen is fun, but it can also be overwhelming. Our advice has always been to start small. Cookware is one thing that really shouldn't be skimped on: cheap pots and pans are simply not worth it. That doesn't necessarily mean you need to spend a lot of money, though; you can find great deals on good cookware at stores like TJ Maxx, and even at garage sales! I bought my first real set of cookware for $20 at a garage sale, and those heavy, quality Calphalon pots and pans are still with me.

We are actually going to talk a lot more about kitchen basics and getting a good set of pots and pans that work for you this month. We will be kicking off the Spring Kitchen Cure in the middle of April, and look for all sorts of good kitchen basics then!

But to answer your question a little, for now, we would recommend one good frying pan or skillet, a saucepan, and at least a 4-quart pot with lid. A heavy enameled Dutch oven will do just as well here. (You can buy these for about $40, and I use mine at least twice a week.) That should be enough to get started: add pieces as you need them or as you have the funds. I waited a long time to make sure I really needed my latest piece: a huge 6-quart All-Clad sauté pan. But now that I have it, it's totally worth it.

Here are some past posts where we discuss the best pieces for a new kitchen:

Good Question: Tools for a New Kitchen
Five Essential Baking Tools: Pans
Good Question: Investing in New Cookware

With baking equipment, again, stick to just a couple basics. I personally like the rolled steel pans you find at restaurant supply stores. I love huge baking sheets; it's great to use your oven to its maximum capacity, to cut down on batches, and a couple of these big baking sheets cover almost all my baking needs. Add in one 13x9 casserole dish, and you're set. Again, add more pieces as you really need them.

As to the question of nonstick, it can be nice to have one nonstick pan, if you really want one, but frankly, I don't think it's worth it. They have a short life, and you actually have to be more careful in cleaning them. A good stainless steel frying pan, properly used, will be more versatile than a nonstick pan.

Readers - what thoughts do you have for Mandy?

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