By Howard Young
I cannot emphasize how important it is when choosing a quality cookware set. This not only determines how well you cook, but helps you prepare some of the best meals you can serve to your family. Of course, staying within your budget and purchasing the needed pieces and features that you have in mind is no simple task. In fact, you will be tempted by cookware manufacturers to buy one of their pre-packaged set of pots and pans that you may end up with useless pieces that simply take up space in your kitchen. If you go that route, make sure that you don't overbuy by getting the set with most pieces.
Chose Stainless First
You will be happiest with cookware sets that double duty; that is, can perform more than one task. My favorite set of pans that I've been very pleased over the years is Emeril Lagasse's stainless cookware. Even though it takes longer to heat up, the thick copper and aluminum base gives it a consistent surface temperature that eliminates the need to readjust the burner. I love making hamburgers by browning both sides of the patty and then finishing cooking in the oven (just like Alton Brown) without burning them to a crisp to get them well done. The metal handles make it all possible.
The problem with stainless is that the food sticks to the surface no matter what. This makes cleaning somewhat a chore and requires some elbow grease to get it clean. But it is well worth it since these pans will last a life time.
Unlike Nonstick Cookware
If you really must, buy the cheapest set possible because you are going the scratch them. And once they get scratched, food starts sticking. No matter how careful, all it takes is a metal utensil (my girls are really good at this) before the pan is ruined. Then it's time to toss out the pan and buy a new one.
Eventually your nice new nonstick cookware set has missing or replaced pieces that no longer belong to the set, so you're better off buying individual pots and pans if you go this way.
What about Aluminum?
Sticky. Need I say more? I'm not a big fan.
What about Cast Iron?
I don't think my grandma uses cast iron skillets anymore, but if you want to fry up some bacon or make some cornbread in the oven, I cannot think of anything better. The problem with cast iron is that the skillets are not very practical for everyday use. If you're germ conscious, you have to remember that once seasoned with oil, you don't use soap to clean the skillets anymore.
No Cookware is Perfect
Regardless of which way you go -- and you can guess that my preference is stainless -- you need to decide what best suites your needs for you and your family. Keep in consideration that things are cheap for a reason and will cost you more in the long run. Choose a set which you can afford and keep in mind that you will be using the cookware for a long time.