How to Outfit Your Kitchen Like the Pros
Outfitting Your Kitchen for Performance. We’ll tell you what to pick up and what to pass by in this handy list of kitchen essentials.
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Nonstick This is a slightly less resilient material than stainless steel: it can’t go under the broiler, is prone to scratches, and is not recommended for deep-frying. (Plus, if you really want it to last, you should probably wash it by hand.) Yet, even with the restrictions, some cooking situations demand nonstick: it’s a must for fragile fish filets and tender blini. We own a single 10” All-Clad nonstick fry pan (5) (a hand-me-down, though Amazon.com offers a similar version at a cool $124.95), while Harris Restaurant Supply carries a 10” Lincoln CeramiGuard nonstick fry pan (7) for $45.78.
Cast Iron Even more demanding than nonstick, this rust-prone material requires pre-use seasoning, and then afterwards, constant maintenance. No dishwasher, no detergents, no acidic foods, no drying in the dishrack. Yet cast-iron pans can be cheap (a 12” Lodge skillet (6) goes for $18.99 at Target, whereas similarly sized pans from All-Clad, Calphalon, and Sitram run into the hundreds), and they’re absolutely ideal for certain tasks. With an evenly radiating mass, an ability to sustain screaming-high heat, and a porous surface ideal for crusts to grab onto, cast iron is the best meat-searer we know. It’s also good for deep-frying and baking: nothing makes better fried chicken or cornbread. We own four cast-iron pans, all family heirlooms, because, if scrupulously maintained, this cookware is indestructible. After all, it’s the traditional material of cannon-makers.
Enameled Cast Iron By coating cast-iron pots with enamel, makers like Le Creuset and Staub have eliminated some of iron’s major drawbacks: there’s no need to season your pot, and it no longer reacts to acidic foods like tomatoes. Yet the enameling process also eliminates the cast iron’s porosity, along with its ability to create the perfect crust—plus, some remaining exposed iron means you’ll still need to wash and dry these heavy beasts by hand. Nevertheless, enameling creates the ideal low and slow cookware, since the iron’s weighty mass spells uniform temperature release, and its coating is non-reactive. This is the pan we reach for when we’re cooking for a crowd...but it’s not cheap: a Le Creuset 9-quart Dutch oven might set you back $250, and a Staub 8¾-quart (9), $280, at Amazon.com
Professional-Grade Aluminum The shelves of restaurant-supply houses are lined with aluminum pots and pans because it’s an evenly heating material that’s also cheap. You can chuck it in a dishwasher, it won’t rust and, if it’s sealed by anodization, it won’t react with food. The cons are that aluminum scratches, stains, warps, and builds up an intractable brown glaze of burnt-on grease. Its very ugliness makes it undesirable for most home cooks, though check out the cooking stations at most restaurants: dinged-up aluminum pans are usually what you’ll find. Since it’s one of the least expensive materials, and difficult to keep sparkling, we save aluminum for infrequent, high-volume tasks. We own a huge, 24-quart Winco stockpot ($33.50 at Harris Restaurant Supply) that also does duty as a corn-ear boiler and lobster steamer. In contrast, All-Clad’s tiny 8-quart stainless stockpot (8) runs a whopping $265.99 at Chef Central.
Sources: All-Clad, Calphalon, Le Creuset, Lodge, and Staub cookware is available in most department-store kitchenware aisles, as well as at specialty purveyors like Chef Central and Williams-Sonoma—yet we found that Amazon.com offers better prices on almost all the items we describe. To-the-trade brands like Winco and Lincoln Duraware are available at Port Chester’s Harris Restaurant Supply (25 Abendroth Ave, Port Chester 914-937-0404), while we bought our Sitram evasée at Manhattan icon (now in East Hanover, New Jersey) Bridge Kitchenware—though Amazon.com now sells it cheaper. Amazon.com also sells Lodge cast-iron cookware, though we found a good selection available for immediate pickup at Target (multiple locations throughout Westchester). Budget Ikea Favorit cookware is available at Ikea stores in Paramus and Elizabeth, New Jersey, and New Haven, Connecticut.