Buying pots and pans can be tricky. Department store circulars scream out all kinds of special sets — 37 pieces for just $199.99!– and every brand has different product lines to choose from.
My recommendations are based on our experience with a whole lot of different brands, constructions, sizes, shapes– and most importantly with a whole lot of cooking. David and I are like crash test dummies for home cooking equipment: we make more dinners in a day than most people do in a couple of weeks. Over the years, many companies have sent us their pots and pans– here are the ones we choose to abuse use most often at home.
I often get emails from friends and readers asking me about buying sets of pots and pans that are deeply discounted. As nice as they look in the cabinet, all matchy and lovely, I don’t normally recommend buying pots and pans this way, unless the set has the exact pieces you really need. Very often, the set is close but not quite, and you end up paying for pieces you won’t use and not getting the one size you really need. Having said that, right now Anolon is running a special on their web site (30% off and free shipping with code CHEER2012) and offering a set with all the right parts. I’ll get to that shortly. First, here are the individual pieces I think you really need.
12-inch nonstick skillet
This is the workhorse of the kitchen, the pan you will use to make dinner on most nights. This is the size skillet you need in order to saute one to one and a half pounds of chicken, fish or meat (enough for a family of four). We use Anolon Nouvelle Copper because it conducts heat evenly (thanks in part to the invisible copper layer) and has an unbelievably tough “hard anodized” nonstick surface. (After a couple of years of abuse, the surface of our go-to 12-incher looks the same as when we bought it.) The company says you can even use metal utensils on it, but we don’t. It is oven safe up to 500F. It is currently $69.99 (usually $99) with the code CHEER2012: click here.
8-inch nonstick skillet
For omelets, crepes and single grilled cheese sandwiches, we use this 8-inch nonstick skillet. It is shaped just like the 12-inch. It is currently $27.99 (usually $39.99) with the code CHEER2012: click here.
It is worth noting that the company is also offering a special twin-pack of an 8-inch and 10-inch Nouvelle Copper skillet (normally $49.99 for both) for $34.99 with the code CHEER 21012. But a 10-inch will not replace a 12-inch: buy this set in addition to the 12-inch only because for $7 more you get an extra pan you will use once in a while.
You don’t need a nonstick surface to boil pasta and make soup– you need this handsome 8-quart stock pot pictured above, or the equally pretty 8.25 quart stock pot in the Nouvelle Copper line. Don’t scrimp on a stockpot: a cheap pot will burn the all the parts of your soup that fall to the bottom and leave the floating veggies crunchily uncooked. Buy a good stockpot once in your life and you will use it forever and ever. Here is a link to the pot pictured above, which is currently $98 (down from $140). The piece from the Nouvelle Copper line, currently $69.99 (normally $99.99), is here. There is nothing wrong with getting a nonstick stockpot, if that is what comes in a set, but I don’t see any reason to pay extra (nonstick is more expensive) when buying individual pieces.
3- or 4-quart sauce pot
This is the pot in which you will cook rice, hard boil eggs and make certain kinds of sauces. This is a must-have in the kitchen. Again, this needn’t be nonstick, but there is no harm if it is. This one is normally $85 and currently $59.50 with the CHEER2012 code.
I have loved my Le Creuset 3 1/2 quart braiser for 25 a lot of years. I use this size to make brisket, stew, and the like. (In our house, there is a pavlovian response to his pan: when I take it out, my daughter will say, “Oh! Are you making brisket?!”) It is very heavy, which is a plus or minus depending on your point of view. The enamel coated cast iron retains heat beautifully– ideal for slow-cooking. While it is easy to clean and keep clean, you should treat it gently and avoid harsh abrasives. I don’t use this piece as often as I use the ones discussed above, but when I need it, it is invaluable. You can use this shape in recipes calling for a Dutch oven. A Dutch oven is basically the same thing, although with higher sides, which matters if you are making something that has much more liquid. I have not yet ever needed this pot to be deeper– for those purposes I have an 8-quart stockpot. This very expensive pot comes in gorgeous colors, by the way. The classics are (Marseille) blue and (cherry) red. Amazon is currently listing this for $229.95.
Pots and Pans Set
As I mentioned above, I rarely find sets that include what I consider to be the essential pieces for the home cook. Often, there are sizes you don’t need, but the set is missing that one essential– like a 12-inch skillet or a stockpot. But this set of Anolon Nouvelle Copper cookware, which is currently $279.99 (and free shipping) with the code CHEER2012, includes the 3-quart saucepan, 8 quart stockpot, 8.5-inch and 12-inch skillets and a bonus 4-quart sauce pot. This is the one (rare!) set I would recommend, if it is within your budget.
I am happy to answer questions about other lines of cookware or other budget levels if I can. I am certainly not an expert on every kind of cookware out there, but I know my way around a few. You may write in on the comments below or, if you need to keep it on the down low until after the holidays, use my contact form.
In the coming weeks, I will be doing several more gift guides (including knives, tools, and fun food-related items). If you are looking for ideas in other categories, just let me know and I will do my best to include them.
Please note: I do not benefit directly if you purchase any of the above (although I think I might get pennies if you order through a link I provide to Amazon), but I do have long-standing relationships with some of the companies included in my gift guides. Those relationships always– every single time– developed because I am a fan of the product, not because the company approached me to represent them.