Recommend me decent, AFFORDABLE pots and pans!

I moved into my own apartment last weekend – a rite of passage for anyone, especially when you’re used to the ups and downs of communal living. Needless to say, it has been an expensive week coming up with everything you need to have a functional home. I’ve been to Target almost daily, and put in regular appearances at Publix, Albertson’s, Big Lots, and Home Depot as well. I feel like the Narrator in Fight Club, obsessed with collecting clever furniture to complete his condo and his life, only I don’t have the decorating budget he did and I’m more concerned with day-to-day stuff.

Two things I am lacking, considering I always used my roommate’s stuff before, are a good, all-purpose pot and pan for cooking. I enjoy cooking and I’m decent at it, but I have bad luck with cheap cookware. I bought a set of three different-sized Chefmate pans from Target earlier this week, and on their maiden voyage last night, cooking up some bacon on the stovetop, the nice shiny silver bottom on the largest pan started burning and hissing and flaking on the burner, leaving a stinky, ashy mess all over the stove and ruining the bottom of the pan. The pan surface also melted the tip of my plastic spatula – and I had it on medium-high heat the whole time, not even high! I have no idea why this happened, but I returned them today. It’s a normal electric stove as far as I can tell.

Let me make this clear: I have two part-time jobs (day and night) and I am a part-time graduate student. I can’t afford the fanciest, nicest stuff there is. I can’t afford to buy pots and pans from Williams-Sonoma any more than I could afford to buy my groceries from Whole Foods. But I don’t mind paying a little bit extra for good stuff that will last. I just want a decent all-purpose pan I can use to make anything from stir-fries to omelettes to quesadillas to shrimp scampi, and a decent all-purpose pot that I’ll mostly use for making pasta, but can work for chili, meatballs, mashed potatoes, and anything else I can think of. In addition to Target, K-Mart, Big Lots, and a huge Asian supermarket, I have access to Bed Bath and Beyond (which I usually think of as yuppie-ish and expensive) and Linens ‘n’ Things, and even have 20% off coupons for both of those. If anyone can recommend brands and styles (or warn about others), that would be great.

Get yourself some cast iron. You can do anything with it (even defend your new apartment,) it’s high-quality, and with proper care, it will still be around and in excellent condition after you, your children, and your children’s children are dead and buried. One of my most prized possessions is my great-great-great grandmother’s cast iron pan. It has been seasoned and in heavy rotation since before the Civil War, and remains in perfect condition.

Oh, and it’s not especially expensive. In fact, compared to All-Clad or Calphalon or something, it’s dirt cheap, and of similar extreme high quality. Hell, at those prices, you could stock up on a bunch of really awesome cookware.

I, by the way, highly recommend Lodge products. Still cast the old fashioned way in South Pittsburg, Tennessee (I’ve toured the foundry.)

Pros: extreme durability, even heating, all purpose, super-easy cleanup, low price.

Cons: some upkeep necessary (seasoning,) weight

Get yourself a good sized skillet or deep skillet and a cover, take the time to season it right, and you can literally cook anything in it. Forever.

Remember, though: once seasoned, do NOT use soap on it.

I got a set of T-fal teflon pans, 8 pieces counting lids for $19 at Macy’s sale. They do this about once every quarter.
The same brand is available online from lots of places.

I’ll second the Lodge cast iron for most stuff, but you’ll also need a sauce pan and something to cook pasta in. I love my Revere-ware that I got at the furnish the first apartment stage. They’re going on 20 years of faithful service.

Have a look at the “Invitations” line at BBB - we’ve got a couple of that company’s stock pots and they’ve got good thick bottoms, which makes burning the contents with hot spots less likely.

Calphalon may be expensive, but keep an eye out for specials. Quite often, they’ll put out “introductory” pans for twenty or thirty bucks.

Don’t fall for the seventeen pots, pans and lids trap - if you’re just starting off, you can go quite far with just an 8-quart stock pot and a 10" skillet/sautee pan. Next thing to add would be something along the lines of a 2-quart saucepot. Those three are by far the most-often used in my kitchen. (So often, in fact, that I have two of each!)

Ogre is right as rain. Seasoned cast iron is even non-stick. Lodge is the best, but also the most expensive. A 4 or 5-piece cast-iron pan set at Togget;) can be had for less than the shoddiest Teflon pans.

One example is when I cybershopped for a cast iron wok. I got the cheapest one from Wokshop dotcom, and the same size from Lodge was $50 more, but probably 5 pounds heavier. Yes, I wish I had the Lodge, but I need that $50.

Thanks so far. One thing I know is that those cheap multi-piece “Kitchen In a Box!” sets at places like Target and Big Lots are pretty poor quality pots and pans. I’ve gotten those sets as gifts in apartments past, and usually ruined them with repeated use over time. I ought to check out Macy’s – I never go there (a bit rich for my blood), but my mom actually found me some decent kitchen stuff (knife set, huge grill pan, blender) a few years back during a great sale, and I even have a gift card for them!

I also have a cast-iron skillet that a friend gave me when he got divorced a few years back, that my parents just brought up to me. I’ve never seasoned it or used it, but I will definitely do that. How do you clean them once they are seasoned? I’m all about easy clean-up.

Ah, you have Macys? Watch them for those Calphalon deals as well. On average, Macy’s can be rather spendy, but when stuff goes on sale, you can get Williams-Sonoma quality at Target prices.

Have you tried the thrift store? I’ve got a few nice enamel pans from the local Goodwill. Look for something with a heavy bottom and a handle that is either riveted on or molded into the pan (screwed-on handles are OK but tend to come loose with age - I have to keep tightening one). I prefer metal handles for easy stovetop-to-oven transport (get a good oven mitt). My pots and pans are pretty motley looking, but as long as you don’t care about that you can get some great deals.

I also third the cast iron. Cleanup is easy: wipe out with a paper towel. I scrub mine with a little salt if there’s something nasty sticking to the surface, but that doesn’t happen often. Every once in a while, give it a coating of Pam or rub down with a paper towel with a little Crisco on it. If you MUST use water and elbow grease to clean it, put it back on the burner to ensure all the water has evaporated before oiling or re-seasoning. I’ve got a few nice Griswolds from the early 20th century that I expect will outlive me.

Good luck!

What kind of stove do you have? You can’t use cast iron on glass-top stoves, I have been told. You probably don’t have that kind, but just to be safe. Otherwise, cast iron is a great recommendation.

Dude, hit the garage sales in a nicer neighborhood next Saturday. Look in the paper for a couple good moving sales, and hit all the areas in between, watch for signs.

Or go to your local swap meet.

Or both.

Get a good cast iron frying pan, season it.

Get two stainless steel (with copper bottoms?) pots, one small, one larger.

Get a pyrex thing to nuke stuff in.

I got a set of Bialetti cookware at Target several months ago. I’ve been happy with it so far and it was pretty cheap.

Have you ever been to TJ Maxx? That’s where I got my pots and pans when I moved out. Most everything they had was a single pan…I picked up a little 2-quart thingy, a large flat thingy and a spaghetti-pot-type thingy, all with nice lids and strainers, for I think $80. I’ve not been the best cook but I’ve used them plenty and they all still look new.

On the other hand, the little teflon frying pan I got is already flaking. Ah well.

TJ Maxx is a good place to look because it’s “high end” stuff but at lower prices and they have a lot of single items to choose from.

Use a brush to clean out any random sticky bits (once the pan is good and seasoned, this will never be a problem again,) rinse with water, wipe with a paper towel. Done.

Once you do this, continue the seasoning process by drying the the pan for an hour or so in a warm oven (250 or so,) then lightly coat with oil. Wipe with paper towel, and store. If you do this every time you use it for a while, it won’t be long until you have the finest nonstick cooking surface known to man.

DrDeth hit it on the head: Garage sales. There are all sorts of lazy people out there who don’t want to do the work necessary to keep cast iron alive, and who are too weak to push the pans around the stovetop. You should be able to find a nice selection cheap. Then you are on your way to cookware your grandchildren can use.

Just a simple four-burner electric stove, no flat glass top or anything fancy like that.

You’re good then.

We have some Bialetti frying pans and we like them a lot.

FYI on the cast iron - don’t use it with acidic foods like tomatoes. It’s fantastic for other stuff, and only cast iron will do for cornbread, but watch the acids. It gives them an off taste.

Check out and other similar outlet/closeout-type sites. I found nice cookware for Kid Kalhoun, who is quite the impressive cook when he’s moved to the task. I don’t remember exactly what brand I got him, but I think it was something like 8-10 pieces for $125.00-ish. He’s happy with it.

Another place to get good, basic stuff is a restaurant supply store. And here is an article from the New York Times (registration might be required) on what to buy for a good kitchen for about $200.