Posted on: February 16, 2013 Posted by: Cole Ruth Comments: 0

Last night my mother sent me an email. She’s just bought a new house with a gas stove. “I want your advice,” she wrote, “I want to get a new set of pots and pans.”

It took me about two seconds to advise her that she shouldn’t buy a set. It took a little longer to compile my dream set, but as a cook, it’s the kind of thing you’re always thinking about. The way some people design their dream homes. Here’s what I told her:

When you buy pots and pans sets, you get a lot of pots you really won’t use. Buying for what you’ll use and what pots are best for that purpose is a smarter way to go. If I had to build my pots and pans collection all over again, I would mix and match from the following:

Onions on the griddle.
Onions on the griddle.

1. A Logge cast iron griddle. It goes across two burners and has two sides, a grill-marked side and a flat side. Breakfast on the flat side? Awesome. You can put eggs on one end, potatoes on the other and toast in the middle. The heat you get from cast iron is incomparable: it’s just like having your own flat-top grill at a restaurant. The flat side also does double-duty as a comal: if you make moles, you can roast all your tomatoes and onions and garlic and chilis and nuts and whatever else you’re going to put in it. Flip it over and you can grill meat and fish and get those nice grill marks.I recently put a sandwich on that side and took one of my Calphalon pots and put it on top the sandwich to make an impromptu panini press.

2. I would have cast iron skillets of two sizes, one that was quite large and another that was medium. I use my large cast iron skillet to make everything from deep dish pizzas to Dutch Babies to large amounts of curry. Heck, I would probably get a tiny one, too, for roasting garlic in the way they do at restaurants – or for baking an egg in.

3. I would buy 2-3 Le Creuset pots. These pots are the most awesome workhorses I have ever used. I had them on my second boat, and it always filled me with a deep respect for whoever outfitted the galley. I wrote about them here. I love how they can go from stovetop to oven. It is really hard to burn them and super easy to clean them because of the porcelain lining. They are heavy but I think they are actually about as heavy as my Calphalon and they are actually easier to manage because they have two handles rather than one long one. This also means they fit into an oven better. I would get a dutch oven, the bread-shaped pot for making breads and terrines, and a small round 3- or 4-quart one. If you don’t plan on making a lot of pulled pork or roasts, then you could skip the dutch oven, but I really loved that pot. If you don’t want to pay for a Le Creuset, get cast iron. If matching is an issue, you can get the black ones to match the cast iron. (My mother gasped when she saw the price of a Le Creuset. I told her that her grandchildren would inherit those pots. I also told her that you can often find them on eBay or you can get seconds at outlet malls for a lot less.)

Dutch Baby for eight.
Dutch Baby for eight.

4. I would get a non-stick frying pan. Sometimes you just need non-stick. Say, when you don’t want to use oil when you’re flying quesadillas or warming up leftover pasta dishes. I would get one like this. Or one like this but bigger.

5. I would get a tiny all-clad or copper pot for sauces, and preferably one with a spout. The reason I recommend copper is because the surface reacts immediately to changes in heat. This is especially useful in preventing sauces from scorching or from getting so hot that they separate. The spout is awesome because you don’t risk making a mess when you pour the sauce out. No ladling or spooning necessary. Again, if you must match, a Calphalon one would be black. Only thing is, Calphalon does not cool all that quickly.

6. I would get this pot for pasta and steaming stuff. The great thing about cooking pasta in this is that you don’t have to mess with pouring boiling water into a sink. Also, if you plan on making pasta again the next day, you can save the water in the pot and reuse it… though you will need to skip off the starch that collects on the top. (The best time to eat at an Italian restaurant is later in the evening once the pasta water has had time to get nice and seasoned.) And how handy is it to have your steamer attachment fit the same pot? This pot can also be used without the attachments when you need to make stock and put a whole turkey in it. Again, if you must match, Calphalon makes one. Problem here is that it is already heavier by nature – filled to the brim with pasta and water, it will not be easy to move.

7. I would get a roasting pan with a rack in it for when you want to roast a chicken.

8. A crockpot for slow-cooking ribs and such.

Bread baked in a Le Creuset pot.
Bread baked in a Le Creuset pot.

9. A pressure cooker for quickly cooking beans and artichokes (I make a lot of artichokes) or tough cuts of meat.

10. A rice steamer because it just makes it right 100% of the time.

11. A good, large wok.

Finally, I told my mom, think about the pots you’ve had – which ones you like and dislike. My mom and I cook a lot. People like us know which pots we turn to over and over because they just work the way we want them to.

“If you must get a set,” I concluded, “you might want to go with something lightweight like All-Clad. They get great reviews.”

Have a favorite pot or pan I should know about? One you can’t live without? Please share! -Cole