When it comes to buying cookware, there are quite a few things to consider. Do you get a set? Do you buy individually? What do you even need?
Your top priorities when buying pots and pans are cost, quality and material. After that, aesthetics, or the way things look, become an important, albeit subjective, factor.
In a perfect world, these three things will align in perfect harmony. Generally speaking, they actually do when you fork over a pretty penny. In the world of cookware, the old adage rings true; you often get what you pay for. Nevertheless, even those on a fairly conservative budget can still find great quality cookware at a reasonable price, which also happens to look good.
Keep in mind that in the same way that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t choose cookware based solely on looks.
Sure, I like shiny, new objects as much as the next guy (OK, maybe even more), but pots and pans are tools and they serve specific purposes. It’s far more important to have functional cookware than something that just looks pretty. Don’t get me wrong, having a matching 10-piece set of pots and pans is great but who cares if your salmon filet keeps sticking to the bottom of the sauté pan?
Cookware Sets vs. Individual Items
The question of cookware set vs. individual items is perhaps the most common one I get asked.
There is no single answer here. It really depends on the cook. To get a small discount (and to save time on decision making), many people choose to buy a 10 or 12-piece set of matching pots and pans. They rarely stop to think if it’s actually what they need!
Oftentimes, this appears to be a ‘cheaper’ and ‘easier’ way to go. This rings especially true for first-time, rookie buyers who don’t necessarily know what they need in the kitchen or how much to spend on it. Cookware companies are smart and many of them play to your shortcomings. They know you’ll most likely want to go the quick-and-easy route and end up coming back for more because you don’t have everything you need! Don’t fall into this trap unless you are absolutely certain it’s the right fit for you.
Before purchasing a cookware set, you should read my list of Essential Pots and Pans for Every Home Cook. You’ll see that some essential items are never included in sets.
If you still insist on purchasing a cookware set, here are a few things to consider:
What’s Included? You may think you’re getting a better deal, but are you? Cookware sets often include similar pots or pans in two different sizes. Ask yourself if you really need a 2qt and a 3qt saucepan. Chances are you don’t and can just get away with a single, 3qt one.
What’s Missing? If you love to make soup and stock, you’ll undoubtedly need a stockpot. Does the cookware set include one? What size is it? 6qt is the bare minimum size I recommend for stockpots. Also, keep in mind the list of everyday essentials! Last time I checked, no cookware set included a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven. Grill pans are also usually sold individually. Keep in mind that you will still need to factor in the cost of certain items regardless of how much you pay for a matching set of cookware.
Are you falling into the trap of ‘X-number’ of items included? Cookware sets are always counted by the number of pieces sold, this includes lids! That means that a 10-piece set probably only consists of 5 or 6 pots and pans and 4 or 5 lids. Again, think about what you need and what you’ll use.
What Material is the Set? Are you looking into a fully stainless steel set of cookware? If you plan on cooking perfectly scrambled eggs, you’ll still need a non-stick skillet (especially if you’re a beginner home cook). On the other hand, are you purchasing a fully non-stick set? If so, which pan do you expect to perfectly sear your steak in? Answer: you’ll want cast-iron!
The bottom line when it comes to buying cookware sets is to consider the usage of each item included. The set may or may not actually be cheaper than buying things piecemeal or one at a time if you factor in which items you actually end up using.
Top Considerations: cost, quality, material, aesthetics
Regardless of whether or not you purchase a set or individual pots and pans, you should still consider these three things:
I highly recommend defining a budget and staying within it. Otherwise, before you know it, you’re in over your head and have to explain why you just spent $200 on a pot you already own in a different material! What can I say? I got 99 problems and buying unnecessary cookware is one.
You should, of course, only buy what you can afford. However, you should always keep quality in mind. One of my favourite sayings is, “If you buy cheap, you buy twice.”
Being “pennywise, pound foolish” is not the name of the game here. Instead, make informed decisions and purchase the best quality as possible for your hard earned coin. Investing in a high-quality pot or pan may actually save you money in the long run if you take proper care of it.
This doesn’t mean you always have to buy the most expensive pots and pans on the market. The good news is there are tons of options these days.
You should also regularly check to see if things go on sale in stores and online.
There are even some new kids on the block that are cutting costs by selling directly to the customer online and foregoing retail, brick-and-mortar middlemen. I have yet to personally try them, but companies like Made In are something to consider.
Another way to save money is to check the racks at house ware stores like HomeSense, TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, etc. I have seen outrageous sales on Le Creuset Dutch ovens, Lodge Cast-Iron skillets and All-Clad Roasters, to name a few. We’re talking up to 60% off MSRP.
Quality is almost always proportionate to cost. However, you don’t have to break the bank to get decent, everyday cookware that will last a long time if you take proper care of it.
One of my favourite brands for non-stick skillets is Ballarini. The cookware is made in Italy and part of the Zwilling group of brands.
I am particularly fond of their Granitium non-stick coated pans. They are some of the most durable I have ever used and most are PFOA and heavy metal-free. I continuously recommend them to friends and family!
There are a few subtopics when it comes to the ‘material’ of your pots and pans.
A. What do you like to Cook?
The material of your cookware will factor into what you can and do cook in it. For example, uncoated cast-iron is not best suited for acidic foods like citrus or wine. You also cannot boil water in it or the pan will rust.
You should, therefore, consider what you like to cook most often. Do you find yourself grilling a lot of lean protein indoors (chicken, steak, etc)? If so, you’ll probably get more use out of your cast-iron cookware, which can withstand high heat.
If, on the other hand, you cook more soups and stews, stainless steel pots might be where you should invest more money.
Try to determine what you cook and what you want to cook. The last thing you want to do is splurge on a stainless steel set of pots and pans only to realize you really love to eat eggs every day of the week.
B. Cooking Surface:
Do you have an electric, gas or induction cooktop? Is it glass? Are you afraid of scratching it?
If you have an induction cooktop, you have no choice but to look for compatible pots and pans. Luckily, cast-iron is naturally compatible.
Some pots and pans come with handles made from different materials. If you want something that you can cook on the stove and in the oven, you will need to find one with oven-safe handles.
Lids are often overlooked when it comes to buying cookware. You always want to look for ones that are tight-fitting.
Also, consider the material of the lids. Are they glass or steel? Glass will allow you to see what’s going on in the pot during the cooking process.
As with the handles, you should consider if the lids are oven safe. A heavy-bottomed, shallow, stainless-steel stockpot performs similarly to an enameled Dutch oven. If you have a tight-fitting stainless-steel lid, you can most likely cook with it in your oven.
To put the aesthetics conundrum into perspective, let’s compare Lodge and Finex. Both companies manufacture exceptional cast-iron cookware. Whereas a 10” Lodge cast-iron skillet will set you back about $15 USD, a comparable Finex skillet runs for about $170 USD.
If you have the budget for a Finex and appreciate the beautiful, stainless-steel, coiled handle, I say go for it! Does it cook any better than the Lodge? Not necessarily. The choice, therefore, is up to you. For all I know, owning a Finex skillet has been your dream! Who am I to stand in the way of that?