Well good! Good good good. It’s been raining for several days and I am unable to go to work, because you can’t capture birds when it’s raining – truth. But I need to work. Because it’s my dissertation research. So I’m bouncing off the goddamn walls. What’s more, is that my aunt and uncle just had a party and then went out of town so I got ALL THE DELICIOUS LEFTOVERS. So I can’t even cook something for a blog post! My life is, like, 2unfair.
So here’s a followup to one of my first blog posts about necessary tools. This one is about pots and pans. Let’s get into it, if only to prevent me from watching another episode of Parks and Rec, for fuuuuucks sake.
1. What is the difference between a pot and a pan?
I have never asked myself this question before this moment. But I’ve done some reading, so let me share my newfound wisdom:
- Generally have tall sides and a relatively smaller bottom by comparison, ideal for holding liquids, such as soups and sauces.
- Have two small handles directly attached to the pot, one on each side, in order to carry heavy loads safely.
- Generally have short sides with a fairly large bottom, making the contents cook more quickly and evenly. These pans are ideal for frying and sauteeing.
- Have sides that can be sloped (fry pan) or straight (sautee pan).
- Have one long handle on one side.
- Pots fall under the overall term “pan”, although pans do NOT fall under the category of pots. So, pots can be pans, but pans can’t be pots. A pot is a specific kind of pan. It’s like how squares are a type of rectangle. Okay? BUT, in this post, “pot” refers to the description/bullet points for pots above, and “pan” refers to the bullet points for pans.
- “Saucepans” (small, deep-sided pans with a single long handle) are actually considered to be pots, but have the long, single handle of a pan.
- As a baker, I feel that “pan” can also refer to baking dishes, some of which I’ve included in this post where appropriate. Cake pan: pan. Pie plate/dish: not a pan. Loafpan: pan. etc.
Peter Pan? That’s a pan, y’all.
2. Let’s talk brands.
I have been very fortunate in the past couple years – due to the generosity of my family, both immediate and extended, I have had the opportunity to try out many different pots and pans while developing my interest in cooking. As such, in this post I’m going to discuss my favorite and most-used brands, as well as their pros and cons. By no means are any of these brands necessary in a given kitchen, and everyone is going to have their own opinion on what is best. As always, I’m just offering my shitty opinion based on the various shenanigans I’ve gotten into in recent years. The brands I’ll be discussing today:
- Revere Ware
- Le Creuset
Plus some product comparisons at the end.
3. Revere Ware
Damn, that is a vague and weird name for a really good product. Where can I start. Well, first of all, below is my super awesome collection of Revere Ware items that I got from a distant relative.
A great thing about these pots and bowls is that they’re not hideously expensive, and they last forever. My mom has a very similar set, and they look identical to mine. I played drums on these pots and pans as a child, which I’m sure my hardworking parents really loved listening to after a long day’s work. I’m adorable and/or amazing.
Pots and pans:
Revere Ware is still happily churning out brand new sets of these babies, even if you don’t have a benevolent relative to give you an old set. You can get a brand new set of two saucepans, a fry pan, and a larger soup pot for $75 bucks, and trust me, for something that will last literally the rest of your life, that’s a bangin’ deal. I don’t have any of their pans, but these pots and bowls serve me very well. They’re great for soup, rice, pasta, whatever you can throw at them, and they’re good in the oven up to 350 degrees. This is a low threshold, but still serviceable for some recipes. They make both plain stainless steel and a nonstick variety, but the classic is stainless with a copper bottom, below:
The copper evenly distributes heat, and is an excellent conductor (of heat, not trains, sadly). I highly suggest you get the classic copper bottoms.
Bowls, bowls, all types of bowls. They’re great, and there’s a size for everything. What else is there to say? Ebay currently has nesting bowl sets going for between $25 and $40.
In the front of the first photo you can see some flat-bottomed bowls with handles: These are called double-boilers: The bowls each fit into one of the saucepans (one for the small, one for the medium), and are really useful for melting chocolate, making icing, and many other great things. Harkening back to a previous post on almond torte, here is a double boiler in action: a small amount of water boiled between the saucepan and the bowl creates even heat to melt the chocolate while keeping it dry and unscorched. As an added bonus, at the bottom of the pile containing the boilers, there’s another double boiler-like insert with a bunch of small holes in it: a steamer! Just insert it in one of the pots over boiling water, cover, and steam vegetables or fish. Neat! All this stuff can be found on ebay, I just found a set of two boilers and a steamer going for $11.99 – just make sure the sizes are right for your pots.
4. Lodge Cast Iron
Almost everyone grows up with one of these pans around the house. Anyone who has ever used a properly seasoned (read: oiled) one will probably never shut up about it. And it’s all so true – I loved my 12 inch pan so much, I GOT A BABY ONE! Here is their family photo:
Gives me the warm and fuzzies just looking at them. Daww. Anyway. The most important thing about having an excellent experience with a cast iron pan is upkeep: washing, drying, and oiling the pans correctly. That’s what gives them their black color: layers of oil are basically baked on, making the pan nonstick. You CANNOT, I repeat, CANNOT use a ton of soap, hot water, and abrasive cleaners with these pans, or they will not be fantastic. I won’t bore you with the details, but if you’re interested, here is the info straight from the horse’s mouth. And if you have broken the covenant and scrubbed them, never fear: seasoning can be restored.
Anyway, the quick and dirty: These pans cost between $15 and $20 bucks each, brand new. They are nonstick when used correctly, and can withstand a small nuclear explosion. I haven’t yet cooked something in one of these and regretted it. They can go straight in the oven, as hot as your oven can get. My set doesn’t have lids, unfortunately, but they do make them.
If you give a rat’s fart, here’s how cast iron is made at Lodge:
5. Le Creuset
Now we’re getting into fancy territory. Spoiler alert: These pots are crazy expensive and I would not own them if my parents hadn’t given them to me as a very generous gift last year. Having said that, they are fantastic, my prized possessions, and I use them almost every time I cook on the stove. And they can go in the oven up to 450 degrees, so roasts, casseroles, etc are no problem.
What is Le Creuset? Well, it’s a brand of enameled cast iron and ceramic products. The pots I have are enameled cast iron, which are their most expensive items (their ceramic isn’t super cheap either, but for that I’d say you can go with another brand quite happily).
Are there cheaper versions of enameled cast iron pots? Yes. Martha Stewart makes one, I believe, as does Lodge. However, the craftsmanship isn’t as good, and there’s no lifetime warranty, unlike on the Le Creuset pots. Why are they so expensive? Well, they’re handmade. Each one. “Cast iron” means that they are iron cast from a mold made of sand, and a dude or dudette has to cast each one, remove it, look for imperfections, and sand it down before the enamel coating is applied. Each time the mold is removed, it is destroyed, and a new mold must be made. Why are Lodge pans so much cheaper if they’re cast iron too? Their process is more automated, and probably most importantly, Le Creuset has a five star warranty, while Lodge does not. Look at this shit:
But guys. GUYS. LISTEN. These pots are so hardcore nonstick, you wouldn’t believe it. Five-day old caked on caramel? Soak it in hot water for 15 minutes and it basically rinses right out. Burned-on rice? Same. Making jam? Same. Burned the roast? Same. EVERY TIME, NONSTICK. You can use soap and hot water, or even the dishwasher! They have lids! You can bake bread in them! YOU CAN PUT THE LIDS IN THE OVEN, TOO!
Whew. I’m out of breath. Anyway, if you’re lucky enough to find these on sale, or at a yard sale, or you’ve come into some money recently, or you found a genie, or you save a millionaire from certain death and s/he’s very grateful, I can’t recommend these enough. One note: the enamel can be scratched by metal, which means no metal spoons, spatulas, or steel wool. Unlike the seasoning on cast iron pans, if the enamel is damaged, it cannot be repaired.
6. Chefmate and similar brands
This is straying away from stovetop pots and pans, but I still feel these baking pans are important to mention. Chefmate is a crazy affordable brand, and they make great basic pans for baking. Cake, muffin, loaf, and sheet pans, all great purchases for less than $20 at Target or similar store. I should mention there are other good brands out there, but chefmate is the most recognizable. Can’t go wrong.
Again, not strictly stovetop items, but pyrex makes great glass pans/dishes and other products. Here I’ve included all the pyrex I own, although I covered the measuring cups and the small glass bowls in a previous post. The pan on the bottom is great, and the heat tempered glass is up to a lot of abuse (note, I have actually managed to shatter one of these in the oven by pouring cold water into a hot pan. It should have been fine, but apparently pyrex recently switched some things up in their ownership, leading so slightly less reliable products. A shame, but their stuff is still great and affordable. Just be a bit cautious). I roast veggies and potatoes in this thing all the time. Also great for things like mac and cheese, lasagna, etc.
8. Comparable uses across brands
As I mentioned, I’ve been extremely fortunate to come across these great pots and pans at little to no personal cost. However, I recognize that that’s sort of a fluke, and that on my current budget if I needed cookware, comparisons would be useful. So without further ado:
Revere Ware vs. Le Creuset:
For saucepans and larger pots, you can really go either way here, if all you’re going to be using the pots for are basics, such as pasta, soups, etc. The benefit that lies in Le Creuset is that it can be used to roast and bake things in the oven at high temperatures, and that it is delightfully nonstick. Revere Ware, on the other hand, is not nonstick and if you burn something in the pot, you’ll be scrubbing for a while – I’ve done it. However, if I didn’t have the Le Creuset, would I be up shit creek? No. Revere Ware is a great buy: long lasting at a good price.
Lodge vs. Calphalon (or other nonstick):
I bought a couple Calphalon pans after graduating from college. They were fairly expensive (2 pans for about $80, as memory serves), but they were and continue to be great nonstick pans. Here’s the thing: Lodge is cheaper, more durable, and I have yet to find something that I can’t cook in their cast iron pans. One downside is that I don’t have lids for my cast iron, but I could buy some. They can take scratching and banging up, with both wood and metal utensils, while the same maneuvers would damage the nonstick coating on my Calphalon pans. Even with careful use, I’ve still scratched the coating, and it will only get worse with time. My mom bought a set of Calphalon pots in the 90’s, and they’re all but trashed at this point, while our cast iron and Revere Ware lives on. So, Calphalon is great at the start, but doesn’t age well. So I say, cast iron all the way. That’s the reason I omitted chemical nonstick cookware from this post.
Lodge vs. Le Creuset:
I don’t have a photo comparing these brands, mostly because I only have a frying pan from Lodge and a saucepan and dutch oven from Le Creuset, so they’re not immediately comparable. However, both companies make regular cast iron and enameled cast iron products. I’ve never used enameled cast iron from Lodge, but America’s Test Kitchen recommends their products. I’ve also never used regular cast iron from Le Creuset, but I can’t imagine it would be much better or worse than Lodge, probably just more expensive. So, tl;dr For cast iron, go with Lodge. They have a wide variety of great products at a great price. For enameled cast iron, I’ve heard Lodge also makes great, affordable products, but they will not have quite the same variety, craftsmanship, and warranty as Le Creuset. Even so, I might recommend Lodge over Le Creuset for the more budget-inclined.
My cat is eating my fern again – duty calls. Until next time!