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How to Buy Cookware

March 13th, 2012 Cooking

Have you ever been working through a recipe only to find out that you need a particular type of pot or pan that you don't own? While substitutions can usually be made, it's always nice to have the real thing. If it's time to invest in a full cookware set, you're going to want to do some research before committing to something you'll be using for the next several years. As it turns out, cookware comes in a wide variety of materials and styles, according to the Reluctant Gourmet.

1. Material. The material your pots are made from should be your primary concern when shopping for a new set. Why? It determines how well the product will conduct heat, which is what you're mainly interested in with cookware. Better conduction means more even cooking. Of course, the better a material is at conducting heat, the more expensive it's going to be - in this case, copper is the best and priciest option for pots and pans.

Note that some manufacturers work with multiple metals in a single pot. Stainless steel is frequently paired with aluminum, because the former is non-reactive but not a great conductor, while the latter conducts well but is reactive (reactivity is how readily a metal will interact with an acid or oil). These tend to be less expensive, but don't work quite as well as copper.

The issue arises at the bottom of the pan, where the aluminum coating will be. The bottom of your food may cook at an uneven rate, which isn't a problem for some recipes, but if you're trying to braise, you'll definitely notice the difference. You'll also have to contend with "hot spots" in pans, which are areas that tend to conduct more heat than others. Of course, these are all things you can grow accustomed to and learn to work around, but there may be some growing pains when you first bring home your new set.

Ultimately, cookware is definitely an example of getting what you pay for. Prices are fairly uniform, and the more expensive a set is, the higher quality it's likely to be.

2. Other considerations. Once you've figured out what price range you'd like to work in, it's time to get out there and handle some cookware! As tempting as it might be to simply order the first set you see, it's definitely worth your while to do a bit of research. According to Consumer Reports, be sure to read how much each piece weighs. If a pot seems like it would be heavy when empty, imagine how much trouble you'll have when it's full of hot food! Also note that some cookware isn't meant to be put in a dishwasher - if this is a concern, be sure to find out about the set you're looking at.

Ask yourself how much cooking you really do - if you only see yourself using the most basic supplies, it's a better deal to only pick up a few pieces than to end up with several that you never use. However, if you're planning on preparing a wide variety of dishes somewhat frequently, it might be best to pick up the whole set. You may be able to find a great deal by searching online.