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College Dorm Skillet + Other Cookware

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Hi There,

This coming fall semester I will be a sophmore and have decided to try out cooking instead of using my college's dining plan. I have access to a shared kitchen with a standard stovetop and oven.

I am looking for advice on the perfect everday skillet. I cook eggs in the morning, but also like to have some sauteed vegetables and chicken, fish, etc... I tend to eat very healthy. For these items I am in need of a skillet that can cook it all while being low maintenace. I have been leaning towards the new green pans since they can be used in the oven as well as the stove. Even better is that I don't have to worry about overheating the pan somehow and posing myself to the risks of teflon. Particularly the Cuisinart GreenGourmet Skillet is appealing to me, though I do question the depth of the slopping sides which makes the actual bottom surface relatively small. I also was looking into Scanpan and Swiss Diamond. Sometimes though I start to lean to just getting a cheap Teflon skillet. Basically I need your educated advice on what is best for me.

Also I am very welcome to generally advice for healthy college cooking. Just to help out here is a short list I have created of the cookware that I currently own and what I need/want. I also have included a list of what I will consider to be my staple items of cooking.

Cutting board
Sharpening Steel
Chef's Knife

Measuring Cups
Measuring Spoons
Salad Spinner
Everyday Skillet
Cast Iron Skillet
Enameled Dutch Oven

Pairing Knife
Electric Kitchen Scale

Staple Foods:
Lettuce, Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, Onions
Apples and Pears
Quinoa, Rice, Beans, Lentils
Chicken, Ground Turkey Breast, Fish, Lean Steak, Tunafish
Cottage Cheese, Goat Cheese, Feta Cheese
Eggs, Egg Beaters
Olive Oil

Thanks Much,
post #2 of 13
Will you be storing this pan in your room or in the shared kitchen? If in your room, I'd suggest that you seriously consider carbon steel. It's extremely inexpensive, indestructible assuming you do the basic (rather minimal) maintenance, and the only difficulty is that it will behave better the more you use it --- and since you apparently plan to cook almost everything, three meals a day, in this skillet, carbon could well be your best friend. BUT although maintenance is minimal, you must not trust the dummies in your dorm to do it properly: if you leave your carbon skillet in the shared kitchen, it's bound to end up rusty.

Second question: what's your price range? If you're not going with carbon or really cheap teflon, we need some idea of how much you're willing to spend.

Final notes:

1. Your list of staples does not include any high-smoke-point fat. You should not try to do every kind of skillet cooking there is, three meals a day, with olive oil, as it will tend to scorch (and will also cost you a packet at that rate). I recommend canola oil, which has a very high smoke point and is quite healthy.

2. Do you know what the system is on using the fridge, pantry space, and so on? You will have to develop a method for yourself to avoid theft, "borrowing" (theft but "no really, man, I was just desperate, I'll pay you back, okay?"), gross repetitive buying (how many things of salt does one shared kitchen need?), and so on.
post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 
Hi ChrisLehrer,

I can store the equipment in either my dorm or the shared kitchen. I figured I would store everything in my dorm at least to start out until I got to know everyone. In this way at least in the beginning I won't have to worry about improper treatment of the equipment I own.

I don't know much about carbon steel. Could you provide me some more detailed information? I would figure though that it being pure steel wouldn't heat up very well, but I'm not that expertise in the matter. I also do worry about the maintenance. I know you said it is minimal, but I'm really looking for something that requires nigh ZERO maintenance, as in a rinse under the sink with a quick wipe of a towel.

My price range is probably from 0-100 dollars. Obviously I would like to spend the least amount possible for the best value. I recently purchased the Forschner 10" Chef's Knife so that should give you an idea of the type of the product I am looking for (the best valued buy).

That's a good point with the canola oil. It is now added to my list.

As for food storage I do have a minifridge that is around 2-3 cubic feet along with a very small freezer compartment inside. I have also considered investing in a small minifreezer, but I'm not sure yet. The kitchen itself does have a standard refrigerator and freezer but like you mentioned I worry about the "sharing" that might go on between various other dormmates. These smaller details can be figured out once I move in though so I'm not going to worry about them quite yet.

Thanks for the awesome reply,
post #4 of 13
I think any college sophomore-to-be who decided on a 10" Forschner as an excellent value is somebody who will benefit from this kind of pan. You've bought a rock-solid standard knife, no fooling around and no bells or whistles. This is the skillet equivalent.

The short version of the story is that carbon steel is the fastest, cheapest, most responsive (apart from pure copper), and most nonstick pan. It has been the rock-solid standard in professional kitchens for a very long time, for good reason. As to price, you can get a top-notch 10" skillet for about $30 or so, and if you treat it right, you'll have it for a very, very long time. It has three flaws, all having to do with maintenance, and they're only flaws because it's so unfamiliar.

There is a process of initial seasoning, but let's discuss that if you actually buy such a pan. You do that at home, probably, in your parents' oven, and you probably won't ever need to do it again.

1. To clean it, you wipe it out or if need be run it under hot water -- or if absolutely necessary use a little soap -- using only a soft brush or sponge, never ever ever an abrasive, scouring pad, or the like. Then you put it back over full heat to dry thoroughly, add a teeny dab of clean oil, and rub it around the whole inside with a piece of newspaper or a few paper towels. Then put it somewhere to cool off and store it dry. In short, the "flaw" is that you don't ever scour it, scrub it, or the like. If you want your kitchen to be shiny, squeaky clean like Mrs. Cleaver's or Betty Crocker's, you don't want an ugly black pan like this.

2. You must do this little routine every time you put the pan away, or you will get rust. If you scour it, you will take off the black patina from the inside, which slowly builds up the more you cook with the pan. If you get rust, you must scour it, which gets rid of the patina. If you have the patina, the pan is much more nonstick than any teflon product. If you don't, it'll stick as much as stainless steel. So the "flaw" is that you can't get totally lazy and leave the pan covered with crud or in a sink full of water.

3. That patina loves to be used and abused. It does not like to sit around unnoticed. If you use a carbon pan once a month, you will hate it. If you use that pan every day, three meals a day, you will wonder why anyone uses anything else. Based on what you describe, and my extensive knowledge of college life, I'm betting that you'll use the pan an average of 1.5 times per day, and you'll adore it.

The one thing you can't cook in carbon steel is acid. You are most likely to encounter this limitation in the form of tomatoes, since you're unlikely to be cooking with wine as a sophomore in a shared dorm. Cook your tomato sauce and such in the cast iron, not the carbon steel. The acid will eat into the patina, which is no good.

DO NOT let that cute girl down the hall use your magic pan. She will try to do the right thing, being a nice girl and all, and she will scrub scrub scrub to get that nasty black stuff off.

After this scare routine, let me point out the following. If you cook an omelet or scrambled eggs, among the most irritating things in most pans, you've got a specific set of requirements. You'd really like to be able to use a metal fork in the pan. You'd really like the stuff not to stick to the pan. You'd really like the pan to heat up and cool off fast.

Stainless: sticks, and doesn't heat all that well
Teflon: no metal utensils please, and usually heats badly
Fancy nonstick: no metal utensils please, and costs a packet
Carbon steel: doesn't stick, use any utensil you want, heats and cools very fast

I think it really depends on your style. What are you willing to obsess about and what aren't you? It's going to take about two weeks of using the pan all the time to get that maintenance thing to the point of being automatic, because all your life you've been trained to wash wash wash. Can you do that? If not, DON'T get carbon steel: you'll hate it. If yes, you're going to love this.
post #5 of 13
Cast iron is no better for wine and tomatoes than carbon steel. Great stuff otherwise.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #6 of 13
And, McFreid, don't let Chris's tuturial intimidate you. You have a cast iron skillet on your want list, and you'll have to go through the same curing and maintainance schedule with it as with the carbon steel.

I side with Chris on this, though. Carbon really is your best bet for an all-around pan. But there is a downside: Worse, even, than the cute coed down the hall is when you're Mamma comes to visit. Do not, repeat not, let her even see that pan, let alone clean it.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #7 of 13
:lol: You got that right, KY! That's what I meant about Mrs. Cleaver, but you put it a LOT better. When that pan is really going well, after a few weeks, it's going to be UGLY. It's like great Cajun food: looks like ****, tastes like heaven. And I wasn't trying to intimidate or scare you, Michael, I just want you to be in a position to think it out clearly. You bought a 10" Forschner at this stage of the game, you've got a good head on your shoulders. (Incidentally, you may want to start thinking about how you're going to sharpen it, but it's not something to worry about.)

As to cast iron, two things.

1. I was sort of assuming that Michael meant enameled, given the "zero maintenance" thing. If that's not the case, then yes, curing and maintenance are the same as with carbon, so you'll very quickly fall into good habits. If you're using non-enameled, definitely get a carbon skillet: they're like flip sides of the same coin.

2. Phil mentions tomatoes and wine in cast iron. Wine, yes -- I remember my chemistry: Fe + WiNe = IcK. He's not allowed to use wine, though. But I don't find that it's true with tomatoes. You get a slight metallic taste, not at all like what you get from a can or anything, and it's oddly pleasant and tangy in a tomato sauce. My wife prefers it; I don't mind. It's not great for your patina, but serious nonstick patina in a cast iron skillet has never seemed to me all that big a deal, because you don't cook stuff in one that it really matters. Steaks and chicken and stuff, you just wait for the Maillard reactions to let it go. Eggs, which stick like ****, you put in the other skillet, not the iron. But maybe that's just me?
post #8 of 13
Michael -

I sincerely hope your "community kitchen" goes better than those I witnessed with our three kids in college.

- no one washes anything
- no one cleans up anywhere
- anything present is used - owned, borrowed, with/without explicit or implied permission
- every thing disappears - somebody heats up Spagehtti-O's in your fry pan, takes it back to their room, it goes under the bed for a few days until the stench shows up, then it gets thrown away because (a) they didn't buy it and (b) they don't want to clean it

same with foodstuffs. you'd be surprised how good the whole can of Kraft Parmesan Cheese, neat, tastes to a drunk. . . .

so I would recommend focusing on inexpensive stuff - and possible a rolling cart you can keep out of the kitchen.
post #9 of 13
That's actually one of the reasons I like the carbon skillet idea. It's sort of natural to finish it up and take it back to your room, instead of leaving it for some idiot to destroy.
post #10 of 13
I know you've been getting a lot of advice leading you in different directions.

Looking at your food preferences, here's my recommendation.
  • Buy a basic aluminum teflon coated pan. Baby and guard it. No metal to ever approach it. Save it for eggs and fish and other delicates ONLY. No high heat cooking ever. You should be able to pick up a decent 10" for 10-15 dollars. It will still wear out in a few years, but good ones can be had cheaply and it just isn't worth the hassle or expense of the high-end boutique non-sticks. It MUST have an oven safe handle for frittata and some other oven uses. This means metal handles.

    Don't ever loan it out, it WILL come back scratched.
  • Pick up a cheap lid at a thrift store for the skillet, a few bucks.
  • Buy a 2 quart stainless steel sauce pan with a lid. This will handle your grains, vegetables, single serving soups and so forth, tomato sauces, wine. This will handle small servings of short pastas. Martha Stewart has a well made inexpensive line that used to be sold through Kmart. Walmart carries Tramontina that is also inexpensive and good quality. This should last a long time with simple care. And cost around $25.
  • Buy a flat bottomed carbon steel wok with a lid. These are inexpensive and widely available. Make sure it's carbon and not non-stick. Again, Walmart often has a decent one for about $15 without a lid. Lots of places skip the lids and you'll likely have to order one online, again about $15.00. You'll get the seasoning and performance of the carbon steel; the flat spot for saute and sear for a single person or two but with the high wall for stir-fry. The steam and liquid should disipate fast enough for the amounts you'll cook. Also for boiling big pasta, steaming and so on.

    Your patina will suffer with the steaming and boiling, but is easily recovered.

Cast iron skillets are a joy and I love mine. I use them in place of teflon quite often. I think you can afford to wait on this item. But do get one at some point.

The enamel dutch ovens are wonderful, but probably not what you'll use as a single college student. They're too big for what you'll be cooking. You can do mini casseroles in your teflon skillet, or soupier things in the sauce pan.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #11 of 13
Thread Starter 
So much advice here I am completely overwhelmed! Thanks to all who have given their thoughts.

The carbon steel option now does seem very enticing. I'm still wavering between non-stick and that though. I haven't had any responses on those who have had experience with the green pans, the swiss diamonds, and the scanpans. I am curious to know how they fair for what I want as the description sounds to be exactly what I need but I don't know if real-life performance lives up to its guarantee. On the other hand carbon steel's description is semi what I need with a few limitations, but it seems its performance most certainly does live up to its guarantee. At least I have a good amount of time to decide :D.

Oh one quick question regarding carbon steel: can it go in the oven?

As for the reasoning why I want a enameled dutch oven is because I have this small 2 quart round one I use at home that I absolutely love. I use it for everything. In the morning I make steel-cut oatmeal with it and it heats so evenly that it never sticks to the corners like a normal soup pot. I also love to quickly make small batches of sauces and the like in it.

Please keep the replies coming! I'm soaking up all of this information with delight.

Thanks Much,

P.S. About the knife sharpening - I did purchase a sharpening steel from Wusthof for around 40 dollars to accompany the knife. I know that this "hones" the blade instead of sharpening, but I figure I can leave the actual sharpening to a professional when needed at least for now (there is a local butcher that I know that does it for customers).
post #12 of 13
That'll do it. A pity the steel was so expensive, though. You'll probably want your knife sharpened once a year, possibly twice because you're really not using anything else.

Incidentally, for a paring knife, look around a bit. You can often find them in three-packs for about $10 or so. That's perfect. Take one with you to school, steel it if it gets really really dull but otherwise mostly ignore it, and at the end of the year throw it away and start over next year. There's no reason to spend significant money on a paring knife, given what you're going to be doing with it -- i.e. not much.
post #13 of 13
I made quite a number of friends in my college kitchens becasue I could sharpen a knife. It's not hard, and with something like the forschner, you can put a a hair popping edge on in a couple minutes using a $5 combination stone. You're going to get sick of cooking for just yourself very quickly. Friends who own knives that need sharpening cook. Friends who cook mean meals you don't have to cook yourself. That's a good thing.

I'd suggest skipping the carbon steel pan. They're a royal pain to take care of. Get a non stick pan with oven safe handles. Take care off it. Don't let others use it. Spend the time you save not having to take care of a worthless piece of steel studying. (Or partying. Your parents would rather you studied.) they work fine on high output commercial stoves. They suck on the crappy electric things every dorm kitchen I've ever seen has had. You will burn everything you try and cook, because the burner heat output will not be even. I speak from experience. Heavy aluminium is the way to go.

You also need a half-sheet pan. I'd also suggest a 9X9 cake pan.

don't forget things to store food (both leftovers, and ingredients) in. Hit up a restaraunt supply store (maybe one near school, so you don't have to lug things).
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