You have me looking at sets now. A friend laughed and called it "fetish". :) Think how much better life would be with a kitchen full of Mauviel . . .
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There are two broad classes of daily cookware for the home cook, disk bottom and clad pans. In testing, differences can be small if the disk base is well made. But the disk base is much less expensive.
Great conversation here, can someone please explain what disk bottom and clad means?
I bought a 10" pan at sams last week but havent used it yet looks like aluminum, should I return it? Also was looking at a "Bakers and Chefs " pan at the store yesterday and was wondering if that brand was any good. i love matching sets too but prefer function first so am buying the pieces I think I use the most now.
Ross stores often have really good deals on pots and pans too sometimes, bought me a really nice wok there a couple weeks ago.
In more expensive cookware, they get technical and sandwich layers of different metals. The easiest way (what he called a disk base) to make one is to take a metal disk and using a hydraulic press and form, press or stamp the shape in one move. Discount stores are full of these. More elaborate methods are possible. How about a one piece inner (the part u cook on) with a steel disk on the bottom, outside next to the burner. Such a design would distribute heat more evenly to the inner liner, and you wouldn't be as apt to get "hot spots" in the pan when on the burner.
Some designs have 3 different base metals, all sandwiched. One gives you the exterior properties you need next to the the food, (reactivity, ease of cleaning, non-stick/polish) and the others give you the physical thermodynamic properties you're looking for such as heat distribution.
Compare the technologies at different manufacturers web sites and you'll see why some are so expensive and others are quite reasonable. As with anything, the best companies have established cred and their products sell for more. New companies trying to grab a piece of the market share will challenge on price. There are companies making pretty good double bottom and lined pans that are quite reasonably priced, and way below the expensive stuff we all go crazy over. An efficient factory in China w/ smart engineers can knock out better cookware faster than anything made by union shops in Europe or the US. They stick a celebrities photo on it and it sells better too.
This will be a matter of personal preference. Any pans that you consider should be picked up and held by you to make sure they are well balanced and comfortable in your hand. Pick up a sauce pan, for instance and pretend you are pouring a liquid from it into a bowl. Can you control it well or does it feel like the handle is too long/short for the size of pan or the handle too large/small of a diameter to fit your hand. If the item is a pot and has loop handles, are the handles easy to grip? One of my sisters has a very expensive roaster that I absolutely hate because the loop handles are too narrow to get all my fingers in and are set too close to the pan and I always end up burning myself on it because of its awkward design. I personally don't like pans with riveted handles because food tends to collect around the rivets making the pans hard to clean, and usually the pan ends up wearing around the rivets and eventually they leak. Same with glass lids. They're heavy and the glass has no advantage as far as watching things while they cook as they fog up with condensation. And if you drop and break it, you have no lid. Professional cookware is not necessarily good cookware. Restaurants worry more about durability than they do performance. Most kitchens buy cheap pans that can take abuse because good pans require care, and the dishwasher doesn't have time to care. For home I have a set of Lifetime stainless clad 5 ply pans that I have had for about 40 yrs. They look and work as well today as when I bought them. This however, is the type of pans that sell in the $1,000 plus range. They do have a life time guantee, and the manufacturer does stand behind it. Occasionally a handle will get brittle and break, so I send it in to the company and they send me a new one. There are some decent sets on the market in various department stores that will probably work well for you. I don't particularly recommend you buy commercial pans for home use for the reason I stated above about quality. Both of my sets of grandparents cooked some great food and thousands of meals using Revereware, probably still one of the best values in pans. You can start with a basic set and build on it as you choose, or you can scope rummage and estate sales for it. Good luck in your quest. I hope you find your "fit".
Update: My first purchase was a Lodge 12" cast iron fry pan. Although it was preseasoned, I rubbed a nice layer of vegetable oil all over the pan and placed it in the oven at 500 degrees for an hour and then let it sit in the oven until cool. My original plan was to do this one more time before cooking with it, but I couldn't wait....I cooked fried fish last night. It didn't stick!! So far, I can't see an advantage as far as taste is concerned or even the crust on the fish.....but being that it was my first time cooking on it, I'm not sure that I would have been able to tell a difference. Clean up was a breeze. I just rinsed it with warm water and wiped all the gunk out. It was left nice and shiny!!
My second purchase was a surprise! I visited Home Goods and they had Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick with the full aluminum (not sure if I'm explaining that right). They were literally the best prices I'd seen. I couldn't resist. I purchased 3 pieces: a 10" omlette pan, a covered fry/saute pan, and a dutch oven (which I'll use as a not so tall stock pot when needed). I boiled potatoes in the dutch oven yesterday....not as tall as I would like, but works just fine. I'll definitely use it to make soups, sauces, and chili. I also used the omlette pan to make scrambled eggs.....it was a dream. NOTHING STUCK!
Now I'm still on the lookout for a SS fry and/or saute pan and maybe a SS stock pot. Then my first nonmatching set will be complete =)
As far as I can tell, nobody has mentioned Swiss Diamond cooking pans. I have two, have had both for roughly 3 years, and have had no problem. They are non-stick and you can use any kind of utensil you want, even metal! They have a line that is compatible with induction stoves. The biggest drawback is that they are on the expensive side.
Also, if you have a T J Maxx nearby and are patient, sometimes good deals show up. The one near me had several Mauviel pieces, for example.
Second Update: I visited my new favorite store (Home Goods) and found a fabulous Cuisinart SS multiclad stockpot. I liked it so much that I plan to order the smaller stockpot with steamer insert, and a large fry or saute pan from Amazon. The transition from nonstick to SS and cast iron was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Thank you to everyone for all your help! I am enjoying my new cookware.