questionscan you help me find my first cookware?

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ahhh, yes, i wish i would've asked this question myself when i first lived on my own and well, off-post.

the thing i learned the hard-way is you don't want to go too cheap with your pots/pans (if you are planning on getting a set) and to go non-stick. if you end up going too cheap they will rust and become disgusting, and you will find yourself wondering if today is "the day" you are going to get lockjaw. also if you are low on space look at pot-racks, i have a nice & sturdy one from ikea that i got for $25..

check out these links for some decent priced stuff:

http://www.meijer.com/s/t-fal-signature-total-nonstick-12-piece-cookware-set/_/R-148831?cmpid=cacj&CAWELAID=483141807&PID=1609763&CAWELAID=415254522&cmpid=commjunct

http://www.everykitchenisland.com/Farberware-14177-FBR1776.html

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Read this for basic suggestions: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/09/dining/09mini.html Although I would definitely spring for a REALLY GREAT knife or two.
Some decent pans here: http://www.amazon.com/Cuisinart-Classic-Stainless-Steel-10-Piece-Cookware/dp/B00008CM68%3FSubscriptionId%3DAKIAJPPBHYEOBSEF3CAA%26tag%3Dpresentsell-20%26linkCode%3Dxm2%26camp%3D2025%26creative%3D165953%26creativeASIN%3DB00008CM68

Buy a good pair of non stick pans. Don't ever put them in the dishwasher or let the food remnants stay too long in the pan.

You can pick up/borrow Alton Brown's Kitchen Gear book. http://www.amazon.com/Alton-Browns-Gear-Your-Kitchen/dp/1584792965

ANY version of Better Homes and Gardens classic red checked cookbook ring bound book is great for teaching the basics of cooking: http://www.amazon.com/Better-Homes-Gardens-Cook-Book/dp/069621881X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274569357&sr=1-1 The Joy of Cooking is also a great book of basics.

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Cont... When my eldest set up her apartment for the first time, we opened our drawers & cabinets and started with lists of the little thing she needed but didn't think about: wine bottle openers, "church keys", wooden spoons, manual can opener (in case of power failure), colander, box grater, wood or plastic cutting boards (good knives hate glass), oven mitts, trivets, cookie sheet or two, measuring cups--a set for solid measuring and a small for liquids, measuring spoons, blender, coffee maker, magnets for your fridge, mixing bowls, a rubber bowl scraper, a couple of assorted-size tongs, a vegetable peeler...

Oven ware! A great place to watch for sales is shopworldkitchen.com. These folks will have corningware, pyrex, etc. or sale for next to NOTHING and their shipping if fair, fast and excellent. Look at some of my old deals I've posted to see their old deals or what @debbiedunlap has posted. She's found some great stuff for the house!

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I'll second the compliment of Alton Brown's cookbooks, and reiterate the need for at least a few really good non-stick pans. I checked out a few of the links just posted - they represent some good stuff at really good prices, so keep them in mind.

Another brand to keep your eye out for if any local places have any good sales is T-Fal - their lines are pretty high-quality too, but for much cheaper than many others. Here is one fairly cheap set on amazon (if you don't mind not having a large sauce pan yet - you can always add to the collection)
http://www.amazon.com/T-Fal-Initiatives-10-Piece-Nonstick-Inside/dp/B000063YA3/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=kitchen&qid=1274571248&sr=1-2

Oh, and like @lavikinga said, don't let your pans sit around with food in them, and NEVER put them in the dishwasher, for heaven's sake!

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what they said. Also buy quality pieces at TJMAXX or Marshalls, when you have spare cash to trade out pieces in a set. BUT check to make sure they weren't made in China, as China has a little problem with lead.

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@hobbit: Yeah, the Chinese made stuff can have issues.

Lately, I've come to rely on Amazon to check the reviews for products I'm thinking about buying. I came very close to dropping some big money on what looked like a steal on Calphalon pans. Turns out, every single piece that had been manufactured in China had quality issues. Almost all the Amazon reviewers had problems. Thank goodness I read before I bought.

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@thilderbrand20, @lavikinga, @arosiriak, & @hobbit:
Thank you very much for all the links and advice. I know there is a lot to go through (though I don't know how much I'll need magnets on my refrigerator haha)so I appreciate the time you guys put into this.

I'm not completely new to cooking (especially washing dishes!) and I religiously watch Good Eats with Alton Brown. I just don't know anything about good cookware or cheap cookware. Unfortunately it seems I will be dropping more money than I expected into my new favorite hobby. The tip about Chinese products is very helpful. You guys are a great help and I couldn't imagine a better place to bring my question.

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Chinese products goes for all items not just cookware but also for ceramic/stoneware items. I am extremely careful about what I eat off of for the most part. Although I do eat off of a lot of vintage China, I don't see why my China set should be hidden away for special days.

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You can never go wrong with a set of cast iron fry pans. Once you season them, they will last forever and they work in the oven as well as on the stovetop. Not to mention, they are virtually indestructible.

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I've been living on my own for about 2 months now. For pots and pans, this is what I got: http://www.walmart.com/ip/Farberware-Inside-Outside-12-Piece-Cookware-Set-Black/9107374 - I've had no problems with them so far. I would only caution (like all other non-stick cookware) about using metal tools with them - it will take off the non-stick coating. The set comes with some tools, they suck. The spoons are OK, but only because I think it's hard to mess up a spoon. The wisk and the flipper are both poor.

As far as knives, I got Victorinox Fibrox knives from Amazon. You can pick and choose what you need. I got a set with a 10" chef knife, an 8" slicer and a 4" paring/utility knife, as well as a separate bread knife and a steel. I did a lot of research on the knives, these ones seem to be the most loved (on the internets) as far as budget friendly knives go.

From a local Homegoods store, I picked up a pair of kitchen scissors on sale, a spatula (I got a heat resistant one)

(cont'd)

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I grabbed a wisk and flipper from some random stores, OXO is a good brand. So is Faberware. Well, good + budget friendly.

Measuring cups/spoons/etc I didn't really care to spend too much on "high quality" stuff, I think it all measures just as well.

I can echo @hobbit regarding Marshall's or TJMaxx - take a look, and keep going back. It's surprising what you'll find there sometimes, and at the prices they show.

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Also, get an ice cream scoop. You're gonna be pisssssssed when you buy ice cream one night and you don't have a scoop and you're stuck digging it out little by little with a soup spoon :(

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Personally, I would recommend stainless steel. It lasts forever (even if you eventually upgrade, you can just give it to your kids) and is usually the same price as non stick, and well, isn't coated in a candy cancer coating.
Personally, I would recommend even cheapo stainless steel. Its usually the same price as non stick, and well, isn't coated in a candy cancer coating.

http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/product.asp?order_num=-1&SKU=16921718&RN=397

If you insist on getting non stick, make sure that your spatula is nylon or better has a silicon coating and you buy a scrub brush and sponges without a rough side (though many rough sides are ok)

Ceramic bowls are great for mixing, you can pick them up cheap at target and they clean easy and take a serious beating.

You'll find yourself needing lots of little things, spatulas, serving spoons, etc that's hard to keep track of. I went with the cheapo nylon sets and slowly replaced them with something better as needed.

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Also, check out yard sales and swap meets. Sometimes you can find great deals on things like cutting boards, pots & pans, tableware, utensils, linens and old appliances that still work. Much cheaper than retail and it gives you a chance to save some money for the things you really want and can only buy retail. If you look, there is some quality stuff lurking amid the chaff.

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A question... how much do you enjoy cooking?

Non-stick is fine if you don't plan to cook much or if you're lazy on product care.

In contrast, if you hope to cook more and don't mind a little extra elbow grease, go with quality stainless steel and cast iron. Both can be cared for simply, but can be ruined due to carelessness. Both have generally superior cooking properties to non-stick. Cast iron is my favorite: great at diffusing and retaining heat. It is the only way, imho, to make a great steak. Properly seasoned cast-iron doesn't stick.

So if you're more serious about cooking start with nicer cookware, even if you buy piece-by-piece.

Knives are similar, but more problematic, in a way. On the one hand, a knife set is the easiest route; but it means you're paying for more knives than you'll use. Buying knives one-by-one can be better. If you contemplate this, consider a Gyutou (see Korin.com for examples) -- but keep in mind these knives also require care...

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Proposed custom starter set:

6 qt. stainless steel stock-pot (e.g., All-clad)
- Soups, stews, chilis, cooking pasta, ...
- Double as fry-pan (for things not suitable for cast iron) or sauté pan
- Optional: go 8 qt. if cooking a lot of long-pasta or using whole chickens in soup

3 qt. stainless steel sauce pan (e.g., All-clad)
- Cans of soup, polenta, rice, grits, ramen (!!)
- Sauces

1 12" cast-iron skillet (e.g., Lodge)
- Fry: Stir fry, bacons, eggs, pot-stickers
- Bake?:crêpes, pancakes, (the best) cornbread
- Sear: (the best) steak, tuna
- AVOID: acidic things, e.g., no tomato sauce, use your SS
- Options: 10" if you only cook for one, +grill press to make paninis, grilled cheese

That's the core. I rarely use more than that. Quality stuff, which is cheaper than (some) sets you may be considering. Have to work, will post more later...

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@dcalotta: Those Victorinox are great knives and not a budget buster, especially if you get them from Amazon. Amazon frequently has buy one/get one specials that just can't be beat.
I have a set of Shun which I love, but I my Victorinox 10" Chef's knife tends to be my go-to knife. It's nicely balanced and holds an edge very well. This is going to sound stupid, but I don't have to pay as much attention when I'm using it. I guess the scary sharpness of the Shuns make me nervous.

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I'd suggest steering clear of non-stick. Not only is it unnatural, but it doesn't hold up. I got tired of replacing my non-stick pans every couple of years, so I've recently purchased a stainless steel set of pans from Sears, the Kenmore brand. I've been using them for almost 6 months and I love them. There is a learning curve with stainless, you have to use more fat in your cooking than you would with non-stick, and you can't be in a hurry with things like meat. This is what I have: http://www.sears.com/shc/s/p_10153_12605_00869200000P?mv=rr

Cast iron is also a great option for pans, but very heavy!

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I tend to be anti sets. I like figuring out what I need and then buying the right pot for that purpose. I have pots from the set I purchased when I first got married that I never use. Other tips I will add into the fray...

1. Don't go spend too much to start. Spend enough to get you going and then keep track of your pain points.

2. If you are using gas and like chinese food at all, get a real wok. They are so much fun.

3. Religiously watch the Friday Amazon sale. They have amazing deals on good brands.

4. Someone above said something about owning a good knife or two. I would reiterate that because it is just so important. Have at least a one really good 8 or 10 inch chef's knife and keep it well sharpened.

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I have a set of Calphalon and love them. Once the frying pans are seasoned, nothing seems to stick. I have seem some pretty awesome deals on Amazon, probably their Friday deals. :) Another place I like to check for kitchen gizmos is Overstock.com. They occasionally have some good deals and $2.95 for shipping.

As far as knives go, make sure to buy a set of steak knives. Good knives do not like to sit around with food on them, so be sure to at the very minimum rinse them off after using, and don't put them in the dishwasher.

I would also suggest, if at all possible, going to a B&M store to make sure you like the feel of a knife before purchasing.

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@lavikinga: My grandma once told me that sharp knife is safer than a dull knife. After a few mishaps, I whole heartedly agree.

I usually add the following when I repeat her tidbit of wisdom:

Don't put knives in the sink - OR the drying rack.
If you drop a knife, don't try to catch it - just step back and let it fall.

They don't call me "Grace" for nothing!! ;)'

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Wow, a lot more comments than I was expecting :). Also, there is now a non-stick vs. stainless debate, oh boy!

Alright, so far this is my plan of action.
1)Buy a small (mostly pans) mid-grade non-stick cookware set
2)Buy stainless steel saucepans
3)Buy (2?) cast iron skillets (I'll decide on size when I see them)
4)Go to a store and pick out the knives most comfortable in my hands and then look for deals or just buy them there (I'd prefer safety over price)
5)Begin collecting other normal kitchen things as I need them (mixing bowls, steak knives, wood cutting board, etc etc.)

Thanks again to everyone whose taken the time to bring a lot of topics to face that had never crossed my mind.

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1 cast iron skillet is enough to start with. If you go with two cast iron pieces, the second should be a grill pan or a reversible grill/griddle. This will give you beautiful grill marks on your steaks. You can also grill inside for burgers, shish-kebabs, etc.

Despite my earlier push for the gyutou, I'll revise my recommendation and second the Victorinox, a great mid-range brand. I'll reiterate to buy separately. You'll be looking for
- 1 chef knife (size depends on comfort, 8" or 10") which will be your workhorse
- a paring knife

That should handle the bulk of your work! Good knives generally aren't serrated - just learn to hone your knife. Knives to consider down the line: if you bake a lot of bread, a serrated bread knife (one use for serrated), if you cut bones a Chinese cleaver is cheap and good.

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Speaking of cutting boards, have a variety of them. Big, small, in between and made of different materiels. It keeps your raw meat safely away from fresh vegetables and saves time in the end.

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@lavikinga: Ha, they're plenty sharp.

My glued and bandaged thumb can attest :(

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@faughtey: speaking of cutting boards. What do people think of those nylon/silicone rollable ones? I keep seeing those and I wonder just how durable they are.

I love my plastic one that my step mom got from IKEA, but I want a few more. I also have an old old wood one that I use for bread cutting.

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I just remember reading an article comparing glass, plastic, and wood cutting boards and wood ended up being the cleanest and best.
Glass ruins knives

Plastic end up with grooves that are just uncleanable and will store flavors and bacteria

Wood will house any bacteria it may pick up on the bottom of the board since the bacteria will choose a cool damp area (close to the counter top) leaving the top clean. Although it will hold some flavors as well.

Also, I can't believe this became popular. Cool! :D
I'm very excited to move in now!

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One item I would add into your must have list is glass nesting bowls like these. http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/glass-mixing-bowl-10-piece-set/?pkey=x|4|1||4|glass%20bowl||0&cm_src=SCH (I won't create a deal for them since they aren't really a deal. But I literally don't think I use anything in my kitchen more. When you do a more complicated recipe and want to do mis en place or even if you want to store things of different sizes they are so handy. Definitely a must have for me.

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@erikadyscern: Here's a 8 pc set from Target: http://www.target.com/Libbey-8-pc-Glass-Nesting-Bowls/dp/B000HDMJ2C

Largest is only 3.9 qts. Didn't check out the shipping charge. They may carry them in the store.

@ravelazquez: Funny you mentioned not trying to catch a falling knife. I suddenly realized last week that rule was one I had never taught my three kids. Made sure I called the eldest and mentioned it to my at-home younger ones. "Mom, are you ok...because, DUH!!! We KNOW this already. Jeez!"

@nothingman: (This applies if you have your own washing machine) When you throw a casual party, you can use your washing machine to keep drinks cold. Fill with cans, bottles and ice. Once the party's over, you simply turn the thing to "DRAIN" and away goes all the melted ice! Triple check for leftover containers though.

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@hobbit: I've never tried those, they seemed like a gimmick when they first came out. I use wood or plastic cutting boards, depending on what seems right at the time.

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@erikadyscern: I agree 100% about the set of glass mixing bowls. They are very versatile, and I used mine all the time.

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@hobbit, @nothingman is correct -- wood tends to make the best cutting board. What you'd want to look for in particular is end grain cutting boards rather than with the grain going across the surface. That will protect your knife blade the best. On the other hand, avoid bamboo -- which is actually a harder wood (or grass) than is good for your knife.

I think the general idea with cutting boards is you want to have at least three cutting boards: fruits & veggies, meats & fish, poultry. Chicken is going to be your most bacteria-laden meat.

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@faughtey: one thing I would suggest -- as opposed to glass mixing bowls -- is a metal mixing bowl. I have one which I can put on top of my stock pot and use as a double-boiler (it didn't come as a set, it just somehow works perfectly). Home-made hot chocolate is the best!

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@chaosamoeba: I am not worried about protecting my knife blade, for a couple of reasons. I don't like meat bacteria. Which is why I use plastic you can wash it in hot hot water. Which you can not do with wood as easily. I eat a lot of chicken, and well I have a thing about food poisoning. My dad, who is a Chef does NOT reccomend wood at all for meat use only for cutting vegetables. I am not a neophyte in the kitchen.

@faugthy thanks for the info I wondered about those.

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@chaosamoeba: A set of nesting stainless steel bowls are a good addition. They come in all kinds of sizes. My Mom uses an enormous one to roast a turkey in. Sounds odd, doesn't it? She puts a layer of quartered onions and celery stalks, puts the bird in breast down and roasts for s few hours. She then flips it (it's an art form) breast side up and lets the skin brown. It's not a gorgeous looking thing when it's done, but dang! it's tasty!

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@hobbit: sorry, i didn't mean to come off so brashly... i just get excited about kitchenware!

i think the evidence regarding bacteria/wood v. plastic is somewhat mixed; but i also believe that the right option depends on both an individual's preferences and personal habits. if you sanitize a plastic cutting board well and replace it when it gets too scratched up, i definitely can see that being safer. wood, i think, is more forgiving, if you're not the type to sanitize well and replace regularly.

... on the topic of breeding grounds for bacteria (j/k) ...

@nothingman: another great kitchen item (for me) to consider is a slow cooker. when i first started out, i always over-estimated the amount of time i had to cook. most slow cooker recipes require you to just throw ingredients in. soups, stews, chilis, feijoada, corned beef, roasts... sometimes it's nice to come home with dinner ready rather than making it after a long day -- especially in the winter.

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Sets are bad. You'll use all of two of the pieces regularly. Trust me. Here's what you need:

-12" nonstick skillet. The main workhorse; everything from scrambled eggs to stir-fry. Replace it when the nonstick coating starts to flake off in a few years. I like Wearever because it works OK and doesn't cost a lot.
-12" stainless steel skillet. The one splurge you want. All-Clad has one now for $90 with a lid; normally their pans are at least $150 without the lid. Take decent care of the All-Clad and you will use it for the rest of your life.
- 5- or 6-quart Dutch oven. You can do more with a Dutch oven than you can with a stockpot. I'm partial to enameled cast iron. You can get a decent one from IKEA for $50. I've seen them at Target and Wal-Mart too. If you want to impress foodie friends, find a Le Creuset outlet store.
- 2-quart nonstick saucepan. Good for heating small things.

In general, get a solid pan made of 1 piece of metal. Disk bottoms burn things at the sides.

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I was recently in your boat - I had 1 or 2 pots that were terrible and needed a whole set for the first time. I didn't have a lot of money to buy them, and I wanted them to last a long time. I bought these:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001RCTF7Y/

I did buy the 15 piece set. I also paid less than the price that's listed there because there was a sale. I liked this set because of the 10" covered frypan. I use that for sauteeing things or making popcorn.

The reason I bought the Farberware "classic" set is because I know they hold up. My mother had an original Classic set when I was a little kid and she STILL has half the pots from it over 20 years later. The 3-quart pot is my favorite size because it's just right for Mac & Cheese (I know, I know... but it is). They clean up very well. The ones that are not nonstick can go in the dishwasher. The lids are glass and fit snugly but not too tight. They cook evenly, are weighted nicely, and you will have them for years.

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Hi: I can recommend two things. First, a good store to find deals in is Tuesday Morning. Hopefully you have 1 in your area. It's a definite treasure hunt in there, as you never know what you'll find. But a great place for Caphalon,Cuisinart and T-Fal pieces.
Secondly, along with your knife collection, get a good knife block to store them in,along with a knife steel. The block will protect the knives and the steel keeps them sharp. Good knives should not be stored loose in a drawer (you won't cut your fingers either).
Enjoy your new place!