When furnishing a home kitchen, cookware can be one of the more costly investments a person will make. One way to save money on pots and pans is to buy a set, but first you’ll want to consider how many pieces you will actually use. If you already own some cookware, buying pieces individually may be a more affordable strategy.
Aluminum Cookware is a very popular option because it conducts heat well. However, aluminum by itself can react poorly with certain foods, so it’s either anodized with a protective coating or layered under another material, such as stainless steel. Many aluminum pots and pans also feature non-stick coatings.
Non-stick coatings can be scratched off over time, so it’s important to avoid using metal utensils when cooking with non-stick pots and pans.
Stainless Steel Cookware is a great choice due to its extreme durability. Unlike anodized aluminum pots and pans, steel cookware will not scratch. However, steel by itself doesn’t conduct heat evenly, so most stainless pots and pans feature a core or base made of either aluminum or copper.
Cast Iron Cookware has excellent heat conductivity and is extremely durable. Cast iron pots and pans can withstand very high heat, making them excellent for searing and browning foods. It’s important to be aware that traditional, uncoated cast iron can rust unless properly “seasoned,” and shouldn’t be washed with harsh soaps or cleaners unless they are re-seasoned after.Contemporary enameled cast iron pots, such as those made by Staub, do not require seasoning.
Copper Cookware is the choice of culinary pros and prized for its superior heat conductivity. On the other hand, because copper cookware is much more expensive, it’s not commonly chosen by home cooks. Stainless steel pots and pans with copper cores, called “clad cookware,” are an excellent alternative to full copper pots and pans.
Baking bread, casseroles, pies, cookies and deserts is one of the most rewarding types of home cooking. For a good starting point, consider getting a medium-sized ceramic casserole dish with a lid, two bread pans, a baking sheet, a muffin tray and a pie pan (also used for quiche). Another great item worth mentioning is a ceramic baking stone for making homemade pizza. Next time you’re in the market for bakeware, check out Emile Henry and Staub.
The one knife in your kitchen that will see the most action is your chef’s knife, also called a cook’s knife. A traditional western-style chef’s knife typically has an 8” blade and is used for slicing, mincing and chopping. A Japanese santoku is another versatile cook’s knife and usually has a 6-8” blade with a “sheepsfoot” tip. Most Japanese knives have a slightly thinner blade, but often use harder steel to maintain durability and edge retention.
Another important tool in your knife drawer is the paring knife. It typically has a blade between 2½” and 4,” which is used for peeling, deseeding and other delicate tasks. Having a pair of kitchen shears is also a good idea for cutting packaging and trimming flowers. Additional items that are often included in a knife block set are a serrated bread knife, boning knife, carving knife and fillet knife. Steak knives may also be included with some sets. Wusthof, Zwilling J.A. Henckels, and Boker are four excellent cutlery brands for home cooks.
Carbon steel knives offer excellent edge retention but must be carefully cleaned, dried and oiled to avoid corrosion. For this reason, carbon steel knives are uncommon in most modern kitchens.
Stainless steel knives are the most common type found in kitchens. Straight-edged (non-serrated) stainless steel knives must be regularly honed using a knife steel to maintain the cutting edge.
Laminated steel knives are made with harder steel, such as VG-10, sandwiched between layers of more corrosion-resistant steel, such as 410. These knives are designed to hold a superior edge longer than “single steel” blades.
Keeping your knives sharp is an important part of kitchen safety. In order to keep your steel cutlery in prime condition, you’ll need a honing steel (also called a knife steel) or a knife sharpener (which is actually another device used for honing).
The Difference Between Honing and Sharpening
To keep your straight-edged steel knives performing their best, it’s important to frequently hone them using a knife steel (serrated knives must be sharpened using a different tool). Honing is different from sharpening, although the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Even a straight-edged blade has very fine serrations that are invisible to the naked eye. With use, these micro serrations begin to fold in on themselves. A rod-shaped honing steel is used to straighten them, restoring the razor-sharp edge. Some kitchen “knife sharpeners” are actually two very small honing rods placed at corresponding angles within a handheld device. A properly honed knife should be able to slice through a piece of paper without ripping it.
When honing is no longer effective, the blade has likely “lost its edge” or become dull. At this point, the knife will need to be sharpened using either a whetstone or a diamond grinding wheel, which creates new micro serrations. If properly honed before or after each use, most good-quality steel knives will rarely need to be sharpened. Some higher-end knife manufacturers will sharpen their knives at no cost to the consumer. Wusthof and EZE-Lap are two excellent options for honing steels and knife sharpeners.
Ceramic knives can’t be honed or sharpened in the same manner as steel knives. You should send your ceramic knife to the manufacturer or to a trained cutlery professional for sharpening.
Thanks to modern innovations, there is a seemingly endless array of kitchen tools and gadgets available to make meal prep easier. One of the most fundamental kitchen implements is the cutting board. Wood and bamboo cutting boards are best for vegetables. Plastic or glass cutting boards that are dishwasher safe are ideal for meats.
Glass and marble cutting surfaces can dull blades much faster than wood or plastic.
Other worthwhile kitchen tools include measuring cups and spoons, spatulas, tongs, peelers, basters and thermometers. Another handy, versatile gadget is a mandolin slicer, which can be used to easily slice, grate and julienne fruits and vegetables. Consider Tovolo, Joseph Joseph, and RSVP for a great selection of kitchen tools and accessories.