Pans and principles

One article in the most recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated talks about cookware sets. I’ve long since decided against the major purchase of an entire packaged set of one brand of cookware, mostly for the reasons listed in the article (wrong sizes of frequently used pots, odd pots added in to set that are not frequently used).

The article featured a list of CI’s “Ideal Cookware,” and it was interesting to me to see how my own personal collection measured up. I own at least an equivalent version of most of the items listed: the cast-iron skillet and Dutch oven, small and large saucepans, a large stockpot, and a non-stick skillet.

But the first, and presumably most valuable, item in the list is one that I don’t (yet) own: a traditional stainless-steel skillet. I use my non-stick skillet all the time, so I suppose I would be using a stainless skillet for most of those tasks and reserving the non-stick for things like eggs. Since I have to replace the non-stick every year or so, I do like the idea of a skillet that I wouldn’t have to replace as often, as well as the fact that the non-stick is likely to last much longer if it weren’t used so heavily.

Not surprisingly, the skillet that CI recommends in their Ideal list is the ALL-CLAD 12″, which Amazon offers for $130. Yeah, you can see why I haven’t gotten one, especially since the replaceable pan tends to go for a pretty small fraction of that cost. I got my 11.5″ Cuisinart nonstick skillet about two years ago, although it doesn’t look like this one is available any longer (The closest I can find, the 12″ Cuisinart, seems to have a “helper handle” added now, which I don’t really see as a plus but possibly could be convinced otherwise). Incidentally, for that particular piece, CI now recommends the WEAREVER 10″ pan, which is still a good size and certainly affordable at $16, even when you add the $8+ shipping.

While pondering the unlikelihood of obtaining the pricey stainless skillet, I noticed that the review of the sets actually included the recommendation of a super-cheap series of cookware. While I certainly don’t need the entire 8-piece set (which, by the way, costs almost exactly as much as the single ALL-CLAD skillet mentioned above), I perceived that it compared quite favorably to the ALL-CLAD set, being similar in design and performance… and it included a stainless skillet. A bit of Googling, and it was clear that the single item could be obtained for less than $40.

What’s the rub? In order to get my hands on this thing, I’d have to give money to Walmart.

I’ve only gone into Walmarts under extreme circumstances. Once was on a road trip to obtain diapers (I’m an advocate of cloth, but even us dirty hippies have our limits). Another time was during another road trip, in Springfield, MO, on the day that the final Harry Potter book was released (apparently there are no independent booksellers in Springfield, or at least none I could get any locals to admit to being aware of. We finally passed our third gargantuan Walmart of the day, after searching for hours, and I caved). Yet another time was a third road trip, when Linc and I were stranded in tiny Evanston, WY, for three days with I-80 closed in both directions and the temperature hovering around 0 Fahrenheit… not only was I reduced to wandering the Walmart in an attempt to entertain the bored toddler and avoid the livid truck drivers, but I actually allowed him to play in the local McDonald’s indoor playground (I think this means I’m banned from the Rainbow Family Gathering for at least a decade).

How badly do I need this pan? Would the ten bucks of shipping be worth not having to actually step foot inside the place? I admit that I’m leaning towards that option… but it still leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth.




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3 responses to “Pans and principles

  1. My ethics are a bit sketchy. I don’t shop Wal-Mart, but I do shop Sam’s Club. Makes no sense.
    I have purchased most of my favorite cookware at Target. Many of my everyday pans are copper bottom Revere ware, wedding gifts from 27 years ago!

  2. If we could only keep one pot we’d keep our dutch oven, but the second one is, hands down, our calphalon saucier. This pan rocks, and i think it is really more useful than our large all-clad stainless steel frying pan.

    Sometimes we need to use the big pan because it has more surface area on the bottom, but, for an awful lot of things we pull out that saucier – cooks well, clean up well… its sort of like a non-stick pan, except that it is not a non-stick coating but rather a resiliant material. You can also put it in the oven (which you shouldn’t do with a non-stick).

    In short, i’m not sure i’m sold on that pan you want being the number one necessity. And i certainly wouldn’t go to a wallmart to get it.

    FWIW, i am almost certain that we bought an all-clad pan for Heidi at one point from a specialty kitchen store, as a single item. Maybe you’d have better luck browsing specialty stores for sales.

  3. Hey, I didn’t know you had a food blog. Will be adding you!!

    I have been in a WalMart exactly twice, and only under duress.

    The thing about All Clad? They really do have a lifetime warranty. The one time I had a pan with a problem, they replaced it, no questions asked. When Tim broke the batter overflow thingie for the waffle maker? I sent them an email and asked if I could buy a replacement. They sent me one, free, for nothing. Didn’t even have to pay shipping.

    That said, I *did* buy my All Clad one piece at a time because, oh hell yeah, pricey (although I was always looking for sales!). But I do love it so.

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