tooling around: scoutie girl has gone to pot

My last couple of posts (here and here) have been serious, so today we are stepping away from topics of emotional heft to focus on a group of physical objects with measurable weight. We’re talking heavy duty tools.

My new stainless steel pots!

Not my cookware or my kitchen, but a nice dramatic photo nonetheless. Click image for real details.

Actually, I believe the proper term is “cookware.”

I realize Never a Plain Jane Designs doesn’t have any relation to cooking, but some of your businesses do. And really, aren’t we all sort of in the business of home keeping? I know it sometimes feels like a job to me…

My cooking credentials
I prepare at least five meals a week for my family of three plus whatever school mates my daughter drags home. I didn’t have much of a cooking education growing up because my mom preferred to do it herself. As a result, my last ten years in the kitchen have included some learning, a bit of trial, and a lot of error.

Bacon preparation, for one, has always eluded me. My ability to fill the house with smoke every single Saturday had become something of a family joke.  That is, until Mother’s Day when my husband and daughter tried to make breakfast. Smoke filled the house and it had nothing to do with me. Turns out, our eleven-year-old anodized pans had been in use about four years too many. The bottoms were no longer flat which caused hot spots, and the finish on every pot and pan had long lost its uniformity. My history with food prep has been so sordid, though, we never thought some of my shortcomings might actually be due to my tools.

The Research Began
I have one place and one place only for researching food-related anything: theKitchn. I searched “cookware,” read about five of the posts, and was ready to burn up my credit card on a full set of All-Clad saucepans and skillets. Luckily, my other half is a more cautious and conscientious shopper. He did his search on Google and read reviews from several websites regarding

  • Copper Cookware
  • Stainless Steel Cookware
  • Caring for Cookware
  • Bonded Bottom vs. Tri-ply
  • Buying a Set vs. Buying Piecemeal
  • Brand Name Comparisons

All-Clad made the list of brands to check out. Also, Le Crueset and Calphalon. At this stage we were looking for two things: heft and comfort.

Weight and Hold Tests
Most of our (his) research indicated heavier=better, but we also had to make sure nothing was too heavy for me to handle it easily.  A heavy pot filled with boiling water and food can be quite the work out, especially when my 5’2” self has to heave that sucker up high enough to drain it in the kitchen sink. We also didn’t want anything interfering with my mad pancake-flipping skills.

You can look at pots online all day, but photos don’t tell you what they’ll feel like in your hand. Despite their high price and excellent reputation, the All-Clad cookware had the most uncomfortable handles! The u-shape design meant narrow steel edges were pressed into my hand no matter what grasp I used. One Williams Sonoma manager confessed this was the most common reason cited by customers who passed on All-Clad.

On the other end of the weight and comfort scale is another caution: a pan that is especially light is typically less durable and/or well made. And never, ever opt to buy cookware just because it has the most comfortable handle in the history of pot grips.

Non-stick, anodized, tri-ply, bonded, cast-iron, steel, aluminum, copper, ACK! What does it all mean! To be honest, you guys, I still have only a faint idea. Here’s what I got:

  • We needed new cookware.
  • Our decrepit cookware was “non-stick.”
  • Copper conducts heat very well, but requires a lot of maintenance.
  • References to “tri-ply with a copper or aluminum core” seemed to be every which way we turned.
  • We could not afford top of the line.

In the end, tri-ply was what we bought so that’s what you get to learn about. Also called three ply, tri-ply cookware has three layers of metal.

Some pots and pans are constructed predominately of stainless steel with a bonded base.  This means a layer of copper or aluminum and a second layer of steel are bonded to the bottom of the pan. If you look at it from the side it sort of resembles the sole of a platform shoe in that the bottom is very thick. The three layers make for even heat distribution and this cookware romanced me with its sexy-looking band of copper. Pans in this style are definitely available in our price range. They are also said to have a long life, but buyers are warned the bond will eventually break down causing the bottom layers to separate.

Other pans are made entirely of an aluminum or copper core sandwiched between two layers of steel. The center metal allows for even heat distribution while the outer layers increase durability and reduce maintenance. It also means the pot handles stay cool during stove top use.

Cut-away of Tri-ply construction. Click image for details.

And the winner was…

Sort of. We bought a set of Emerilware Pro-Clad cookware, manufactured by All-Clad, from Bed Bath and Beyond. The price was right, the three ply construction was right, the handles were right, and we had a coupon. Also, this stuff is oven safe up to 550 degrees. Awesome!

The learning curve continues
We’ve had our new set for almost a month and it is a little like learning to cook all over again.

Tell you what, I’ll tell you all about cooking and caring for my new pans next week, if you’ll share your cooking adventures in the comments below. Deal?

4 thoughts on “tooling around: scoutie girl has gone to pot

  1. I loved reading this! Thank you so much for sharing it. I have been trying to figure out what to do for pots and pans. Ours are very old and beat up, not worth shipping when we move. So this was a great read for me. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Great article, Janice!
    cookware is pushing 25 years old. Bought it at a Philadelphia area Bamberger’s. There’s a blast from the past; Bamberger’s is now Macy’s. Anyway, I am getting ready to replace mine, and your info was very enlightening.
    I’ll share this one suggestion from one of my all-time favorites, Ina Garten. The Barefoot Contessa tells us to buy a low-end affordable non-stick skillet and replace it as soon as the finish starts to wear. She mentions eggs and fish as good times to pull out the non-stick.
    Thanks for a good read!
    Here’s to new POTS!

  3. I got my stainless steel set as a gift 15 years back and it’s still in good condition. Added a few pots to the set here and there throughout the years. Love cooking with my stainless steel.
    Nice article! Thanks for sharing.

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