I was fortunate. I grew up in a house with a mom and grandmom that were always in the kitchen and they let me join them anytime I wanted. I learned a lot and by the time I was ready to step out on my own, I already knew a lot about what I needed.
I’ll share some of that with you and help you understand the questions you’ll need to think about when you’re ready to equip your kitchen. But first, you need to know what type of cooktop you’ll be using.
How To Choose A Pan
If you have a gas or electric cooktop, you can use any type of pot or pan without worry. If your cooktop uses an induction system that changes. Not all pots and pans are induction compatible. So before anything else, be sure you know what you will be working with.
Once you know that, you will want to consider each of the following as you evaluate the many options you are going to find.
There are many types of materials used to create cookware, including aluminum and various types of steel, and increasingly, various types of stone. Many are of these materials are also coated with various non-stick surfaces.
Each material and each coating will have pluses and minuses but the most important difference will be which will or will not work on an induction cooktop. For induction to work, the pan must be made with magnetic materials.
Frying Pan Thickness
Before I talk about how to determine how thick a pot or pan is, let’s look at why this is important.
Thicker pans are more durable. They will stand up better to accidents like drops without denting and bending. They are also better at holding heat so they can deliver more even cooking.
Thinner pans will heat faster and cook more efficiently. They’re also easier to handle since they will be lighter. Personally, I like the lighter weight as I find it easier to toss and flip the foods I have in the pan.
Now for the question of thickness. Thickness is most commonly referred to as the gauge of the material. The higher the number, the thinner the material. So, a 22-gauge pan will be half as thick as an 11-gauge pan.
Most of my pots and pans are in the 20-gauge range.
Riveted vs. Rivetless Frying Pans
The way the handle is joined to a pot, and especially a frying pan, says a lot about how durable that pan will be. It can be the difference between a real workhorse and something far less robust. It’s also easy to identify
Handles will either be riveted to the pan and spot welded, meaning that a machine creates some number of welded points that make the connection.
Spot welding is arguably the least robust approach to making this connection but you probably won’t notice the difference. The biggest advantage is the fact that the interior of the pan will be perfectly smooth and can be easier to work with as a result.
Rivets are considered the most sturdy way to connect a handle to a pan since the connection is permanent. The handle simply will not loosen, no matter how aggressive you are when tossing and flipping your dish. They do protrude a bit though and for some, that can be a bit annoying.
My pans are riveted and I don’t have the least bit of trouble working with them.
This is a surprisingly important feature when selecting a pan. It will determine how useful the pan is and comfortable it will be to use. Generally, there are three types; molded plastic, silicone, or stainless steel.
The first is the molded plastic handle. It is a hallmark of most cookware and care must be taken to prevent it from overheating and melting. Pans with plastic handles are definitely not oven-safe.
Next are the silicone handles. These are cool to the touch, tend to be comfortable in the hand, and commonly hold up well to heat. They may even be over safe but take care to read the manufacturer’s guide in this regard.
Then there are stainless steel handles and these come in 2 variations; hollow and solid. Hollow handles are cool to the touch while solid handles will conduct significant heat. So, with a hollow stainless steel handle, you work without an over mitt or towel while solid handles will require some protection.
Of all of the handle options, stainless steel will be oven safe so your pans are likely going to work on both the cooktop and in the oven for baking.
Non-Stick vs. Natural Finish Frying Pans
There are good arguments for both types of pans but in most homes, non-stick pans have become the most common type of cookware. They make cooking so much easier when you don’t have to worry as much about food sticking and burning, but there are some drawbacks as well.
On the plus side, and besides being non-stick, they allow you to cook without having to add butter or oil to the pan. Your finished dishes will be healthier as a result. Also, cooking without butter or oil allows the natural flavors of your food to shine through.
The other side of the equation is mostly about caring for these non-stick pans. Non-stick coatings will tend to scratch, especially if you use metal utensils and abrasives to clean them. As those scratches build up their non-stick qualities are diminished. They’re also not ideal for cooking at a very high temperature. So, they may not be your best choice if you’re trying to sear meat.
Most professional chefs lean toward natural-finish pans like stainless steel and cast iron. They are unfazed by the additional work required to maintain these pans and they are not particularly focused on reducing the amount of oil or other fats that will go into their dishes.
They are also more focused during the actual cooking process so the risk of sticking and burning food is practically non-existent. In these kitchens, the real value of a natural finish is that pans will last for ages under the most extreme conditions so the chef can come to see the pan as an extension of their hand rather than a separate tool.
How a pan will be maintained will depend on the type of pan and any coating that pan may have.
When using non-stick pans you should follow some basic rules. First, never use metal utensils. They will scratch most non-stick surfaces over time. You should never use abrasives to clean these pans. That means no steel wool top start and to the greatest extent possible, don’t even use the scrubbing side of your kitchen sponge.
You can and will often need to be more aggressive when cleaning pans with natural surfaces, and you will have to take particular care to ensure they are well dried after each use.
Pans that are not non-stick, especially cast iron pans, need to be seasoned regularly, and doing this right is critical to the life of these pans. If they are well cared for, they can last for generations. When they aren’t they rust and can become completely unusable.
Non-stick pans can also be seasoned as a way to extend the life of the non-stick coating, but doing so isn’t nearly as critical. It’s something that can be done before the first use of a new pan and maybe once a month after that just to be on the safe side.
Store all of your pans with care, but particularly with non-stick pans, store them so they aren’t bumping and scraping against each other and they will last longer.
If well cared for, no pan is more durable than one made from cast iron or carbon steel but they do need a good deal of additional care. It requires a real commitment to keep these pans at peak performance.
Coated pans, even the very best of them, will eventually lose some of their edge in terms of non-stick performance. Still, with just a bit of care, these too can last for many years.
In the end, durability will be impacted the most by the quality of the cookware. Follow some basic care guidelines and both natural and non-stick pans will serve you well for many years to come.
How many pots and pans do you need? It’s a question just about everyone asks and one that has no single answer. It’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. It will depend on what cooking you do and how much of it you’ll be doing.
For me, I find that I will often use 2 stock pots, one to prepare a sauce or soup while the other is simmering with a sauce or slow-cooking a pot roast.
I also have 3 frying pans in various sizes. Again, that allows me to have multiple things cooking at the same time or to take out a smaller or larger pan to fit the dish I’m preparing.
I also have a couple of round and a couple for rectangular baking pans and a cookie sheet. I love baking and use these often for cakes, cookies, casseroles, and more.
For me, this is almost always all that I need at a given time. You may want to consider doing the same.
Some Final Tips
Choose the non-stick bakeware to go along with your non-stick frying pans. Most people don’t think about it, but it makes my life so much easier when I don’t have to worry about buttering my cake pans or cutting parchment paper to line them. I also have a lot less work to do cleaning up after making my favorite veal parmigiana.
Also, be sure to get a good set of silicone utensils to work with. They will work just as well as any metal set and they will do no damage in the process of cooking.
Do go ahead and season your non-stick pots and pans. While it may seem a bit counter-intuitive, I consider it an ounce of prevention, and it’s really simple to do.
Even if you don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen and only need one or two pots or pans, choose for quality. You will save yourself all sorts of frustration, and if you go with non-stick cookware.
Given the incredible number of options you will find, you might be tempted to pick the first one that catches your eye. Try to avoid that temptation and use what you’ve learned here to make a choice that fits your specific needs.
Don’t choose more than you need or they will do little more than collect dust in your cabinets but don’t underestimate your needs either. Think about the dishes you love to cook most often and choose the pots and pans you’ll need.
Don’t forget to get the right utensils and use them faithfully. Even I find myself reaching for a regular metal spoon on occasion when all of my cookware is non-stick. It isn’t a good idea for me or you.
Show your pans some tendering loving care on the stove, in the oven, and the sink and they will love you back.
PS: My favorite pots and pans all come from Gotham Steel, for all of the reasons I listed above. It’s just my opinion but I’m certain most cooks will love them just as much as I do.