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OK, I love pans. I have more than a few because over time I have collected ones that work best for certain recipes. I get questions from visitors about what are the best pans to purchase. The answer depends on the amount of room in your kitchen, your budget and how much of a geek you might be.
Heavy gauge aluminum pans are a fine value and are good conductors of heat. Because of this they will be fairly responsive to changes in heat. Many brands come coated with non-stick and handled carefully will last for years. These are a great choice for beginning cooks. Those that are not coated will take on a lovely cure and a natural non-stick over time.
Stainless pans are higher up the price range and somewhat more conductive. There’s a wide range now of pans that have everything from basic stainless steel to sandwiches of stainless or aluminum or copper. For beginners it’s best to find a moderately priced heavy gauge pan. Lightweight pans will only lead to disappointment. The thinness of the steel makes them much harder to control at higher heat.
At the top end is copper clad. Copper conducts heat fantastically and evenly. This is the luxury pan (kind of like owning a Mercedes).
No matter what you choose take some time and watch for sales. Almost every pan goes on sale -- stores love to use them as loss leaders to get you through their doors. The links in this article are meant to be a guide. They might lead you to pans on sale or not. If not, search around for a different brand or wait a bit and the price will come down.
Starting with the basics if you are going to purchase only a few pans, having a basic 8 inch and 12 inch sauté pan is the way to go. If you’re on a budget, a good heavy gauge anodized aluminum pan like Calphalon or Circulon is perfect. They both make budget versions that are very high quality. They sell both non-stick and regular pans.
Next on the basics list is a 2 1/2 quart (or so) high sided stainless sauce pan. This is large enough for you to sauté in small batches but the right size for making sauces. Along these same lines having a larger 4 1/2 quart (or so) pan is a great choice for making smaller batches of soups and stocks. Having a smaller 1 quart sauce pan is lovely and is luxurious to have. These are on sale for about $30.00 all the time so wait for it to be the right price.
Having an 8 quart (or larger) stock pot is important and the combo kits that have a stock pot, steamer and pasta basket are economical and a perfect choice.
You can get by on these basics to start with and then expand from there (remember never, ever pay full price for a pan). A 12 inch stainless sauté pan is important because it can go in the oven at high temperatures. This pan is great on the range top for sautéing and such.
Likewise, a grill pan is a luxury and choosing a regular aluminum one or a stainless helps round out your range in the kitchen.
With these 6 - 8 pans you can cook almost recipe you come across with ease and confidence. Having the right tools makes the job so much more fun.
October 6, 2008