Monday, March 11, 2013

Pots and Pans Review

After Handyman burned my last two pots, I decided to get a new set of pots and pans (my old set was a wedding gift).  I did an awful lot of cooking with my old set, but I knew they weren't very good and I was determined to get a much better set this time around if I could.

Purchasing something so important can seem overwhelming task with the number of choices on the market, so I decided to go with reviews I trust by America's Test Kitchen.  (You have to be a member to see their reviews).

(Side Note: I love America's Test Kitchen.  They have shows on PBS, and they are delightfully geeky with how they go into the molecular structure of a recipe and why it works or doesn't.  Their reviews of kitchen gadgets are also top-notch.  While you can see some of their recipes for free online, a membership gives you access to everything and is worth it in my opinion).
I was shocked at what I read.  All-Clad ranked highest in their line-up, which wasn't surprising, but the second highest rated cooking set was Tramontina by - wait for it - Wal-Mart?!! 

(I thought it slightly funny that Rachael Ray's cookware was listed as "not recommended to buy".)
This set was rated as ATC's "Best Buy", because it performed as well as All-Clad, with the exception of being slightly smaller, and a much better price range (my set was $139 as compared to All-Clad's $800).

Okay, enough about their reviews, here are mine:
I like the size of the two skillets.  The largest one would be what I would call a midway between large and medium (cooking two pounds of ground beef just about fills it), and the smaller one is perfect for frying two or three eggs.  I already have an extra-large skillet, and I've found that it's too big for my stove burners anyway so I don't use it much.
The sides of the pans angle really well. It's not so sloped that I can't flip stuff without spilling it over the rim, but not so vertical that I can't easily access the contents with a spatula.

I love the handles.  There's a hole in the end so that the pots can be hung, although I don't currently have plans to store them that way, but it's nice to have the option!  They also fit in my palm well, and I really like the angle to pan ratio.  A handle that curves too far up doesn't have enough leverage and is harder on the wrist to lift.  These handles are nearly horizontal, which is important as the cookware is hefty (but not "heavy", if you know what I mean).

You probably should use a hot pad when holding them as the handles might get hot, but since I always do that anyway so it's not an issue for me.  The handles are well-insulated but not heat proof because these pots are also oven safe (plastic heat-safe handles usually aren't also oven safe).

Another thing about the handles is that they're welded onto the pot instead of just being held by screws/pins.  No worries about handles coming loose and splattering hot food around!

The pots are a thing of beauty.  What's awesome about these is that they are an 18/10 ratio of stainless steel and aluminum and are fully clad.  No scantily dressed pots around here, no-sir!  These pots have modesty!  You can tell right away just by lifting them that they're exceptional quality.  They're heavy and also balanced (don't worry though, it's not like having to haul cast iron around).
What "clad" means, is that the stainless steel and aluminum layers are hammered together and then formed into the entire pot, instead of having the steel sandwiching the aluminum, or worse yet, only used as the base of the pot like many cheaper sets.  A lot of sets will say they have a good ratio of aluminum to steel, but only on the base.  The problem with this is that it doesn't conduct heat well up the sides of the pot, especially if you have a gas stove (which I don't).  Since a base only radiates heat from the bottom instead of from all sides, the bottom will cook faster than the top/middle of the pot, and scorching is more likely to occur.  It's the 18/10 clad part that makes this set so fabulous.
It's a bit of an adjustment for me to get used to cooking on a lower temperature.  With my old set a "high" setting on the stove was just that, "high", but with the better heat conduction of this new set I only set it on a 6 for it to get to the "high heat" temperature. (If Handyman scorches this set I'm going to bury him.  In pieces.  Alive.)
Okay, next I took at look at the lids.  They're also stainless steel and aluminum (not glass).  While it's nice to have glass for the obvious see-through properties, once the interior gets hot the glass steams up anyway, making it a moot point.
They fit very well into the pot, with no danger of them sliding off if you're moving the pot around.
I found the grips to be perfect for my hands, which are medium-to-small in size, but if you have larger hands you might be in danger of burning your knuckles, so beware or use a pot holder.
I also liked how the lids of the pots can double as lids for the pans as well.  This is useful because you don't have excess cookware cluttering the cupboard and lids for pans are very handy.

One of the things I did like about my old cheapy set was that I could put the lids on the pots upside down and then stack each pot on top of the next. 

Unfortunately I can't do that with this set.  If I put the lids on upside down they slide around.  I hate having to store lids separately from the pots, but I don't have the cupboard space for each pot to have it's own section of the pantry, meaning I'll stack them into each other and put the lids in a magazine holder or use a towel rod to hang them on the door.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I purchased a steamer set, also by Tramontina, but while this set was an 18/10 aluminum to stainless steel ratio, only the base of the bottom pot was clad instead of the entire pot, and the difference is obvious.

 I definitely wouldn't want to rely on these pots for all-purpose cooking, but for steaming and gentle cooking I think the bottom pot would be okay.  I have doubts about the middle one being useful for much as it's very thin and would scorch the contents easily. (Frankly, I'm not entirely sure what it's for.)
The handles aren't stainless steel like the other set but instead have a plastic coating.  They're supposed to be heat resistant, meaning I don't necessarily need to use a pot holder.  They're therefore not oven safe, but I don't think I'd ever be tempted to use these in the oven anyway.

The size of the steamer insert is perfect.  We tend to eat a lot of veggies, and I think this insert could hold two heads of cut up broccoli (stalk removed).  I'm so sick of trying to steam vegetables with my old cheapy folding insert steamer, and despite this set not being up to the quality of my other new cookware, I'm very pleased!