Anita Dukeman's list of must-have pots and pans

Anita Dukeman's list of must-have pots and pans

Lately, I've been thinking about my set of basic teflon pots and pans.

My set - which is red - was a gift from my sister my first Christmas out of college and has gotten me through a lot of cooking. I love it.

But after a discussion with Rob about why he always leaves dirty pots and pans on the stove instead of putting them in the sink and rinsing them, I realized that most of the pots in my set were warped. He - rightfully - learned from his mom that hot pans should stay on the stove until they cool enough not to warp. I hadn't even thought of that.

I've also noticed that my large skillet's teflon no longer seems to have nonstick properties. Plus, I'm more interested these days in cooking at high heat, and nonstick pans just aren't good for that.

So I asked one of my favorite cooks, guest blogger Anita Dukeman, about how I should go about setting myself up with sturdier set of pots and pans. The below guest post is her wisdom on the topic. She has a lot of advice to share.

(And also - I'll post her other stir-fry recipe soon. I rearranged the schedule to post this information for a friend interested in pot and pan information.)

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Regarding pots and pans, here is my advice: don't buy a set. Get a few important pieces. I love my all-purpose pan (or paella pan) by Fissler, a German company, but those are hard to find. I only have them as gifts from my sister who sold their line for a while. I think the All-Clad brand is just as good and made in the U.S.

Try to stay away from anything made in China (inferior materials used to make products) as you get what you pay for. Chef Bob Rowe from Classic Events catering told me he buys his cookware from TJ Maxx. They just have to be heavy-gauge stainless.

Here's what I tell my students (Anita is a volunteer teacher at a culinary arts class at Arthur High School):

  • Get an inexpensive nonstick omelet pan to fry eggs in, because it's hard to fry them in anything else and not make them stick. When the nonstick starts sticking, I pitch it and replace it.
     
  • I also have an inexpensive larger nonstick 12-inch with a lid that I use for potstickers, once again because they'll stick to anything else. 
     
  • Get a paella pan (also known as an all-purpose pan) with a lid. The lid makes it more multi-purpose. Stainless, of course. I think mine is a 13-inch. They are terrific because they are double-handled so easy to move around and fits in the oven easily so you can use it both on top of the stove and to roast in. You can also stir fry in it. I love mine. I use it all the time.
     
  • I also have a Le Cruset 5-quart stock pot that I use for soups and stews. It is cast iron with an enamel finish inside. It is the only Le Cruset I own, a real treat to myself about 10 years ago. I didn't want anything bigger because they are super heavy (and expensive) and I didn't have the needs. I sound crazy but the first time I used it to make my usual chili recipe, my son said, "What did you do differently? This tastes better than usual."  It must have been that pot. I think Lodge may make a decent one, as well. Check the reviews. Lodge is a U.S. company.
     
  • I also have a couple of stainless pots - one little 1-quart for my oatmeal and such that I use all the time and another 2-quart that I rarely use.  I bought them both at TJ Maxx in Champaign. They are the German WMF brand and a real treasure find a few years ago.
     
  • My large stock pot is an old hand-me down from a friend.  I thinks it's an old Revereware. I also have one that I use as a "backup" that's Tupperware. It's really big and don't use it much.
     
  • If you do get a wok, make it stainless so it can handle the high heat of stir fry.

So I only use about five pots and pans and of course my Fissler wok (nice that the lid from the paella pan fits the wok). That was a generous gift from my sis, as well. (She used to own a high-end kitchen store.) Anyway, that's pretty much all I need and use.

Here is a link to a very high-end WMF pan.  It's beautiful and too pricey for me, but look at the bottom of the pan. See how it has that ridge between the base and the rest of the pan? That's what you need to look in a good quality stainless pan - that heavy-gauged bottom is what distributes heat evenly.

What's important is that it not be made in China. I notice now online for some of the previously German-manufactured brand it says "manufactured in China to German standards." I don't believe it. I don't want lead or something leaching into my food.

Check at TJ Maxx and Tuesday Morning, as they often have nice pieces at reasonable prices. I never look at the brand - just make sure it's heavy gauge stainless and made in the U.S. or some European country.

 Photo from this Flickr page.

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kspowell@gmail.com wrote on December 07, 2011 at 11:12 am

I am surprised that cast iron cookware didn't establish more of a presence in her recommendations.  I noted the Le Creuset stock pot...  I have a non-stick Calphalon set that's allowed me to get by for a while, but recently my mother-in-law gave us (my husband likes to cook too) a 12" cast iron skillet that we've been using a lot lately.  We also have an enamel and cast iron stock pot.  Thanks for the hint to check TJ Maxx!

Anita Dukeman wrote on December 07, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I really tried to like cast iron cookeware but never could get it to season correctly.  Everything always was sticking to it so I gave it up and now stick with stainless.  Love my Le Creuset cast iron, though.

Meg Dickinson wrote on December 07, 2011 at 3:12 pm
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I recently got two well-loved cast iron skillets from my grandma. I'm really struggling with how to give them a good washing/scrubdown before reseasoning them and using them. Do you or any other readers have tips for this?

Anita Dukeman wrote on December 08, 2011 at 8:12 am

Meg--That's exactly why I don't have any cast-iron in my collection.  If some of your readers can help you out I'd be willing to give the cookware another try.  I know they are considered wonderful to use IF you know how to care for them.  Sure hope someone with first-hand knowledge responds with some useful suggestions.