If you’re replacing your posts and pans with more frequency than you think is reasonable, it’s probably because you’re not buying them with quality in mind. Stop that. In your kitchen, there is nothing more important than your cookware. It’s something you use every day, and you need to have the proper equipment that will last you for many years.
With thay in mind, I wrote this small guide to buying pots and pans with the hopes that the next time you are in the market for a new piece of cookware, you will choose one that will last longer than the one you just threw out.
I’m not looking in your pockets. I don’t want you to feel bad if I suggest or recommend something outside of your price range. However, I want you to consider, and this is mostly from my own experiences, that if you spend twice as much on a good pot, it will last you longer than buying two crappy ones.
There is no law that says you need to have a matching set of pots and pans. Likewise, there is no rule that limits you to one of each size. We have something like five different stock pots for meat. Why do I need five? Because at least once a week there are two of them on the stove at one time. And sometimes I have to cook a huge corned beef. And sometimes we only need chicken soup for three.
What your pots and pans are made from is the most important factor in determining what type of cookware to purchase.
Ceramic pots and pans are pretty, functional, and can go from stove top to oven to table. It is fragile though, so dropping it will be the end of it. It also isn’t dishwasher safe, and it doesn’t like extreme changes in temperature.
Stainless steel is the typical material that pots and pans are made fro. It’s tough, durable, and affordable.
Aluminum cookware is light, lightweight, inexpensive, and definitely not recommended. It scratches, and it’s reactive, which means that acids will pit the surface, releasing aluminum salts into your food. Bad. What is it good for then? Toasting spices, eggs when you’re camping, and that’s about it.
Anodized aluminum pots and pans have an extra layer of oxide bonded to the surface electrically which make it more durable and prevents the aluminum from reacting with the food. It’s also how they add color to metal. Usually it has a layer of sealant on top of that, which means you can’t put it in the dishwasher. The coating is susceptible to scratching, which would expose the underlying aluminum.
Cast iron falls in and out of favor almost like a fad, which is a shame, since it lasts forever and ever as long as it’s treated well. That means it needs to be seasoned. And it can’t be banged around, since it can actually crack. Why use it? Cast iron heats slowly, but evenly, so there’s less unintentional scorching. Professional chefs will absolutely swear you can only get a good sear on a steak with cast iron. I have a cast iron griddle for dairy that I’ve had forever, with a stovetop grill on the other side that I use for dairy fish and vegetables. I had wanted to get one for meat, but the store doesn’t sell them anymore. Usually they’re cheap, because the manufacturing process is quite simple, but of course shipping them to Israel makes the price skyrocket.
Copper is always going to be your best choice. Copper heats evenly, lasts forever, and is pretty to boot. But, it is expensive. Luckily, I have a friend who I go with to the Nabatean shuk down by Dimona during Pesach. His haggling skills are astounding, and he’s been able to get me copper pots and pans, which I then re-tin and kasher. Every once in a while I think about selling one, but my avarice gets the better of me.
A note about Teflon. I’m not a big fan at all. It scratches, flakes, and wears out, and if you’re burning things to the pan that frequently that you need to rely on a nonstick surface, you probably have to reexamine your cooking technique (use more oil…).
Bigger is not always better, especially in cooking. If you use pots and pans that are to big, you’re wasting energy, and when you overfill your pan, it becomes too heavy to lift, which could cause an accident in the kitchen. Likewise, if your pots and pans are too small, you can overfill them causing the pots to spill over, making a mess or even causing a fire. I can’t recommend specific sizes because it mostly relies on individual usage, but ask around and maybe swap that small skillet with a neighbor, if it helps both of you out.
Pots and pans are subjected to temperature extremes. As we all know, metals expand and contract when heated or cooled, respectively. The handles of your pots and pans are also subject to these changes, which means the material the handles are made of, but more importantly, the method by which the handles are attached to the cookware, is of the utmost importance. So much so, that I can in good conscience only recommend one type of handle for your pots and pans.
Welded and brazed handles are weak. They’re basically stuck on to the main body of the cookware with a dot of metal about the size of a pinhead, maybe two (brazed), or simply melted together. It’s little better than being glued on. At least with screwed on handles, if it separates from the cookware you can reattach it, but with welded handles, once they’ve been detached, there’s no way to reattach the handle. It should come as no surprise that this is the cheapest method to attach handles, so welded handles will be found on the cheapest cookware. Stay away.
Screw handles are terrible. They loosen almost instantly, making them downright dangerous to use. I have picked up frying pans that have literally tilted sideways because of a loose handle. And, if you manage to lose one entirely, they are shockingly expensive to replace. Many of my home pots no longer have handles attached to them, because the screws came loose. I used to keep a screwdriver in the kitchen just to tighten handles that came loose regularly.
In Israel, I have seen replacement handles sold that are screwed in, but they are incompatible with US brands that have stays welded to the cookware.
Rivets. Rivets rivets rivets. If you’re throwing out a pot because it’s missing handles, it’s because they weren’t fastened with rivets. These handles are fastened to pots and pans by punching a thick rivet through holes in both the handle and the cookware, then the rivet is flattened to hold the two pieces together. Solid. And if a rivet gets a little wiggly, it can be tightened with a hammer. Check YouTube.
When shopping for new pots and pans, buy ones that are durable, with riveted handles, that are adequately sized for the type and amount of cooking you do on a regular basis.