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 is a very popular material for creating cookware because it conducts heat well. However, aluminum by itself can react poorly with certain foods, so most aluminum cookware is 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, which are ideal for cooking tricky foods like fried eggs and omelets. Just be aware that aluminum cookware tends to be thinner than steel and cast iron cookware and shouldn’t be exposed to very high heat, or it may warp.
- Tip: 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
Stainless steel is a great material for cookware due to its extreme durability. Unlike anodized aluminum pots and pans, steel cookware will not scratch. This means you can use metal utensils and abrasive scrubbing pads without worry. However, stainless steel by itself doesn’t conduct heat as evenly, so most stainless pots and pans feature a core or base made of either aluminum or copper. Another downside is that certain foods stick to stainless steel pots and pans very easily (eggs in particular). To prevent moist foods from sticking, heat up your pan and apply a light, even coating of cooking oil or butter. Getting your pan hot (but not too hot) is key to cooking foods without sticking. Finding the right temperature may take a little trial and error. For more info on cooking with stainless steel, check out this article by Two Kitchen Junkies.
Cast Iron Cookware
Cookware made of cast iron has very good heat conductivity and is extremely durable. Cast iron pots and pans can withstand very high heat without warping, 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 soaps, cleaners or abrasives (e.g. green scrubbing pads or steel wool), as this can remove the seasoning.
To clean seasoned cast iron, simply wipe with hot water and a rag. Rinse and dry thoroughly. To remove stuck-on foods, make a paste of coarse kosher salt and a small amount of water or oil. When combined with a dish rag or paper towel, this paste should provide enough abrasion to scrub away baked-on foods without removing the seasoning. Wash cast iron right away and don’t leave it soaking in water for extended periods. Always dry your cookware thoroughly before storing. If you need to wash your seasoned cast iron with soap and/or abrasives, it won’t damage the iron, but you’ll likely need to re-season it to prevent corrosion.
Don’t want to worry about seasoning? Enameled cast iron pots and pans, such as those made by Staub and Le Creuset, don’t require seasoning or special cleaning. Just hand wash with hot, soapy water and you’re good to go. The only real drawback to cast iron cookware is the weight, as cast iron is quite a bit heavier than aluminum and steel. Enameled cast iron cookware also tends to be more expensive than steel and aluminum.
Of all the materials used to make kitchen cookware, copper is easily the most desirable. Prized for its superior heat conductivity, copper cookware is the choice of culinary pros and professional chefs all over the world. Copper pots and pans conduct heat very evenly, which makes copper perfect for cooking foods that require just the right amount of heat, such as chocolate. The biggest downside to copper cookware is the expense; it’s quite a bit pricier than aluminum, steel and cast iron. However, stainless steel pots and pans with copper cores, often 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.k.a. cookie sheet), a muffin tray and a pie pan (also used for quiche). Another item worth considering is a ceramic baking stone for making homemade pizzas and calzones.
Bakeware can be made of several different materials, including stainless steel, aluminum, heat-resistant Borosilicate glass (such as Pyrex), ceramic or silicone. Some of these materials are easier to clean than others, and some are more durable than others. For example, aluminum baking pans and sheets with a non-stick coating are easier to clean than some more traditional bakeware. However, always avoid using metal utensils with non-stick bakeware. This can scratch the finish, eventually causing the coating to flake or peal. (If you notice that your non-stick bakeware is flaking, you should replace it right away). Silicone spatulas and utensils are ideal for cooking with non-stick baking pans.
As for baking dishes and casserole dishes, ceramic is a durable choice that tends to be a little easier to clean than glass. Of course, ceramic bakeware tends to be noticeably heavier than glass, so larger ceramic casserole dishes can be pretty hefty when filled. Although it can be a little more challenging to get clean, borosilicate glass bakeware, including Pyrex bakeware, is still a good choice and very durable.
Most kitchen knives have a fixed blade and come in a range of shapes and sizes for specific applications like mincing, chopping, carving and paring. To keep the blades in good condition, kitchen knives should be stored in a knife block or attached to a magnetic holder. A kitchen knife set is a great starting point for many home cooks, although some people prefer to buy knives individually. Non-serrated kitchen knives should be regularly honed to maintain a razor-sharp cutting edge. Check out the sharpening section on our Knife Guide for more info on sharpening and honing.
Also called a cook’s knife, the chef knife is ideal for slicing, mincing and chopping. The Western (or European) chef knife and the Japanese Santoku knife are two popular variations. Each has a slightly different blade shape, which becomes more apparent when chopping and mincing. Because a Western chef knife typically has a more upswept curve toward the front edge, a “rocker-style” chopping action can be used. Beause it has a slightly flatter edge, the Santoku is better designed for a downward chopping motion. Choosing between the two is simply a matter of personal preference. Many Santoku knives manufactured in Japan also have a thinner blade and are frequently made with laminated steel (more on that later).
This knife has a long blade designed for butchering and cutting raw meats. Butcher knives typically have a thick blade for slicing through tough cartilage and tendons.
Specifically designed for filleting fish, this knife has a thin, narrow blade, usually with an upswept curve or trailing point. The thin, flexible blade is ideal for cutting along the spine of a fish in order to remove the bones.
Similar to a fillet knife but with a larger, thicker blade, a boning knife is designed for removing bones from meat and poultry.
Designed for chopping through tough meat, cartilage and bones with a downward strike, cleavers have a broad, hatchet-like blade.
A knife with a long, straight blade and little or no curve, designed for carving meat and poultry. Carving knives typically have a straight or granton edge.
A typical bread knife has a long, thin blade with a serrated edge. The serrations make it easier to slice through soft breads using light pressure, without crushing them.
Designed for precise cuts, coring, de-seeding, preparing garnishes and other intricate tasks, paring knives have the smallest and shortest blade of any kitchen knife.
- Carbon steel is an alloy of iron and carbon that is easy to sharpen and holds a very keen edge. However, carbon steel has very low corrosion resistance, so it must be kept dry and clean to avoid oxidation and discoloring. Because it rusts so easily, carbon steel is typically laminated with stainless steel or coated with another corrosion-resistant material.
- Stainless steel contains iron, carbon and a percentage of chromium (the industry standard is around 13%), which makes it much more resistant to corrosion and discoloration. Proprietary stainless steel alloys may also contain other materials like vanadium, molybdenum and manganese. There are many different proprietary grades of stainless steel.
- Laminated steel is created when layers of different steels are bonded together to form a single composite material. This creates blades that can hold a sharper edge without a loss of durability. One popular type of laminated steel is made by placing a layer of carbon steel between two layers of rust-resistant stainless steel. The steel is then heated and bonded together during the forging process.
Visit our Knife Guide for more information on knife materials and how to sharpen your cutlery.
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.
- Tip: Glass and marble cutting surfaces tend to dull blades faster than wood and plastic, so keep this in mind when choosing a cutting board. Of course, if you’re already comfortable honing and sharpening your cutlery on a regular basis, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Other essential kitchen tools include measuring cups, measuring spoons, spatulas, tongs, whisks, peelers, basters and thermometers. One handy, versatile gadget is a mandolin slicer, which can be used to easily slice, grate and julienne fruits and vegetables. If you plan to use a lot of whole dried spices and herbs, a mortar and pestle can be very helpful for grinding (and is usually more affordable than an electric spice grinder). Want to make quick work of homemade sauces and salad dressings? Consider picking up a food processor also.
These days, there is a seemingly endless supply of kitchen gadgets available to “make cooking easier.” Some are better than others, so be sure to do some research when choosing new gadgets and tools. Otherwise your kitchen drawers could soon be overflowing with accessories. Then again, if you really enjoy cooking, it never hurts to experiment with new tools. It’s all part of the fun!
For information on flatware (silverware), dinnerware and drinkware, be sure to visit our Dining Guide.