Choosing between cast iron, aluminum and non-stick cooking pans
What Cooking Pans Are Best?
Buying Pots and Pans
Second-Hand Secret: Cast Iron Pans
Repairing Non-Stick Cookware and Alternative Choices
The Best Cooking Pans?
I like cast iron cooking pans, but there are foods like eggs and potatoes that get stuck to the bottom and ruined. Teflon wears out, but they cook well. I just bought a set of aluminum pans at Costco, and I am about to return them. They are hard to clean and they get stained with any heat. They take longer than Teflon to heat up. What is your favorite?
Stay Away from Cheap Cooking Pans
For cooking almost everything, I love my stainless steel Revere® Ware with copper bottoms. I have had a set of saucepans, double boiler, frying pans and Dutch oven for over thirty years. When I polish them with copper cleaner, they look almost new!
For making crepes and omelets and scrambling eggs, I prefer a good sauté pan with a Teflon finish. Just put it on the stove and simmer a cup of water, a half-cup of vinegar and a tablespoon or so of baking soda in it for about 15 minutes, or until it looks like new. Rinse, dry and re-season with vegetable oil, such as canola oil. It will last for years. Always use wooden or nylon utensils in Teflon pans.
Don't buy cheap cooking pans, especially aluminum. They just won't last. Buy moderately priced pans on sale and then take good care of them. They will reward you with many years of service.
Barbara in CT
My son is a chef, and I asked him what his suggestions were. Like you, I went through numerous types and brands of pans and got very frustrated. It seemed like every year or so I had to replace my pots and pans. My son informed me that All-Clad® was a good brand. Now mind you, All-Clad® is very expensive, but a lot of times you can find a set on sale and you can purchase some of the smaller frying pans separately. You just have to look. I have had my set of All-Clad® for eight years and love it. I cook on a gas stove, so the gas does make the bottom discolor. I use a little bit of Bar Keepers Friend and the pans clean up just like new. I feel like I put a lot of money into my set, but it has saved me money over the long haul.
Make Sure Cast Iron Is Properly Seasoned
If the reader's eggs and potatoes are sticking in her cast iron skillet, it sounds as if the pan was not properly seasoned, or needs to be re-seasoned (assuming she isn't using too high a heat, which can cause sticking as well). Well-seasoned cast iron is surprisingly non-stick.
Thoroughly wash the pan, scrubbing off any cooked-on gunk, and dry completely. Rub the inside and outside of the pan with vegetable shortening (you can use oil, but I find it leaves a sticky residue that shortening doesn't). Let it bake upside down in a hot oven for a while with a cookie sheet on the rack below it so any excess will drip onto it. Then turn it off and let cool right in the oven.
After it's seasoned, keep the nice finish by avoiding harsh scrubbing or long soaks in dishwater. If you cook something greasy like bacon, just wipe it out with a paper towel rather than washing it, as the oils are good for it. And the best thing is, if you ever find that you do have to scrub it well or the pan otherwise loses its finish, just start over again and re-season it!
If you do want a regular non-stick skillet, avoid the flimsy, cheap ones and get a good quality one with some heft to it. If you avoid scratching it with metal spatulas, whisks, etc., it should last a long time. For things like chicken breasts or pork chops that you want a nicely browned exterior on, I love my hard-anodized aluminum pan. It will stick a bit, and little browned bits will remain in the pan, but that makes for a quick pan sauce by de-glazing the pan with some wine, stock or other liquid and stirring. The brown bits will easily release and clean the pan, and make for a tasty sauce to pour over the meat.
Try Stainless Steel with Aluminum Core Bottom
Stainless steel with an aluminum core bottom is probably your best and least expensive choice. The aluminum causes the pan to heat up fast and evenly. The stainless steel is, well, stainless. Copper clad bottoms are also great and heat up quickly, but are much more expensive if you want a thick enough copper cladding to actually last any amount of time.
Cook Lower and Slower
I use only stainless steel and cast iron. With proper seasoning and care, I can scramble and fry eggs in cast iron without any sticking. It takes time and patience to properly season a pan and you must never use soap to clean. I use boiling water and scrub with a copper scrubbie. A swipe of oil before it dries and it is ready to go the next time. Cook with lower/slower temperatures to help prevent sticking.
Why Did I Wait So Long?
I bought a set of heavy-weight anodized aluminum pans over two years ago at JCPenney in spite of the warnings that they had to be hand-washed. They are a breeze to wash up. Nothing sticks inside or out and I absolutely love the clean-up issue. The anodized aluminum pans from Costco have plated handles whereas the ones from JCPenney are solid and stay cooler. I returned the set I got at Costco.
The big question, however, is how do they cook and I'm happy to say they are wonderful. I have made soups, peanut brittle, omelets, fajitas and fried chicken, and everything comes out great. They are truly wonderful pots and pans. I could kick myself for waiting so long.
I have kept my cast iron skillets for oven use (cornbread, fritatas, etc.) but now I can cook acidic foods (such as those with tomatoes or wine) without getting the strange taste from cast iron. I also have my Le Creuset® Dutch Ovens because they're so attractive, but they sure don't clean up like the aluminum ones do, and you can't put them in the dishwasher.
Nancy in Santee
Love Stainless Steel Cooking Pans
Stainless steel is the best. I found a vintage set of stainless steel Saladmaster® cookware at Goodwill that would sell for hundreds on eBay. I paid six dollars per pan and am keeping them even though I already have a nice set. They're heavy, extremely beautiful and everything cooks well in them. Someday I'll pass both sets on to my kids and grandkids.
Cookware That's a Solid Investment
My vote for best cookware is stainless steel high-quality pans with a copper core. I have Emerilware stainless cookware, and although it's going on six years old, it looks and cooks just like new.
If you're concerned about staining or burning things, you're likely using a heat setting that is too high for a stainless pan. Unlike other cookware, you can cook efficiently on a lower (medium-high) setting and get the same results as on high in another (cheaper) pan.
If you do actually burn something, never fear. I've never made a mess that Bar Keeper's Friend doesn't clean up. BKF is an inexpensive, very effective gentle scouring powder with oxalic acid, and with BKF and a sponge, I can clean up any mess on the inside or outside of my stainless cookware. It's highly recommended at the high-end cooking stores and is available at large discount stores nationwide.
I love stainless cookware for its durability (I've never had a single Teflon pan last six years, much less cook/look like new after all those years), and I enjoy the lack of worry about Teflon flaking off and getting in our food. It's a solid investment (a set of 10 pieces with a coupon ran me $160) and has paid off in use, durability, and looks. I expect to get even more years out of the set at the rate it's going now, which makes it a frugalista's dream.
Take the Next Step:
- To read more on the best cooking pans and cookware or to add your own ideas, please visit The Dollar Stretcher Community.
Share your thoughts about this article with the editor
More Tips & Tools to Help You
Live Better...For Less
- 4 secrets to being a frugal foodie
- 7 restaurant tricks you shouldn't fall for
- The 12 best bargains for shoppers in April
- 9 secrets to making groceries last longer
- Sizzling tips for searing meats
- Recipes for homemade seasoning mixes
- Awesomely cheap good chili
- How to know what you're getting when purchasing ground beef