If you're registering for cookware, go for the good stuff. We're talking All-Clad, Calphalon, T-Fal -- the big boys. And if you're buying for yourself, remember that quality products last longer and save money in the long run. Whether you're a kitchen novice or a budding chef, great cookware will make cooking each meal a pleasure.
What should you demand of your pots and pans? They should conduct heat well, cook food evenly, and resist cracking and chipping. Look for stay-cool handles, non-slip grips on both pot handles and lids, tight-fitting lids, and non-stick surfaces (to make cleaning easier). Make sure pieces are dishwasher-safe, too. Here's a glossary of lingo you'll need to pick the perfect pots and pans:
Aluminum: A popular cookware material because it heats quickly and evenly. With a non-stick surface or stainless-steel lining, it's easy to clean.
Anodized Aluminum: This is a highly conductive aluminum that has been electrochemically treated so the surface is hard, scratch-resistant, and will not react with food acids. It's often available with a non-stick finish.
Copper: This is the oldest cookware metal. It heats and cools quickly for energy efficiency, it looks good, and it's a favorite of many professional chefs. The best copper cookware is lined with stainless steel; it's pretty pricey (and more laborious to clean), so you may choose just a few items to display in your kitchen.
Starting with six to ten pieces is sufficient, but registering for a full set is worth it.
Stainless Steel: A durable metal that won't tarnish or corrode, usually bonded to an aluminum or copper disc at the base of the pot or pan (for better heat distribution).
Cast Iron: This metal cookware absorbs heat quickly, distributes it evenly, and retains it for maximum fuel efficiency. It's great for frying, browning, and baking -- but it's pretty darn heavy.
Enamel Cookware: A colorful, often decorated, exterior protects a cast-iron interior from nicks and rust. It's good-looking enough to do double duty at the oven and the table.
Non-stick: A cookware surface that's extremely easy to clean and requires little or no cooking oil -- great for health-conscious cooks!
You can buy cookware and bakeware separately ("open stock") or as a set. Many 7- to 20-piece starter sets are available, which is a good idea if your cupboards are bare. Starting with six to ten pieces is sufficient, but registering for a full set -- plus any additional pieces you like -- is worth it (sets are favorite gift choices of parents and grandparents). Here are our suggestions for a complete kitchen:
- 4- or 5-inch skillet
- 10- or 12-inch skillet
- 2- or 3-quart saucepan with lid
- Stock pot with pasta insert
- Dutch oven (4- to 6-quarts)
- Roasting pan
- Steamer insert
- Casserole dish
- Baking sheets, cake pans, and muffin tins (2 each)
- Nesting bowls
For more exotic fare:
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