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Tips and Techniques

Pots and Pans

Cookware can seem so utilitarian and the prices can rival the cost of a new CD player or a small television set, but pots and pans don't go on the fritz and the technology is unlikely to be revolutionized. It's a lifetime investment that ensures good eating. They're one of the key tools in the kitchen that make or break your cooking experience.

"People don't realize how important pots and pans are," says FoodFit's Executive Chef Bonnie Moore. "If you don't have good ones you open yourself up to trouble — food is more likely to burn, the pots are harder to clean. It really cuts down on your enjoyment."

Pots and Pans Picks

The best bet is to forget about a set — have a mix of different pots and pans instead in cast iron, aluminum, stainless steel, even copper for panache on hand in your kitchen. Word to the wise, never buy pots or pans with plastic handles. You can't move them from stovetop to oven to finish the dish.

A two-quart saucepan, a four-quart saucepan, an eight-quart stockpot and a nonstick fry pan are all must-haves. You'll never be stumped when you open a cookbook. The emphasis is on nonstick with the fry pan — that way you skip the fat. Other good additions are a saucier pan or a chef's pan and a roasting pan with a rack.

Heavy Metal

Pots and pans come in aluminum, cast iron, copper and stainless steel. Copper is the crème de la crème because it conducts heat so well but probably is not the best choice for the home cook. They're expensive and you have to polish them regularly.

Cast iron is great but it weighs a ton, which makes it hard to handle, plus the metal can interact with acidic sauces, altering their flavor and color. They also are prone to rust, so you have to take special care when cleaning.

Aluminum pots and pans are good heat conductors but the metal can react with some foods, such as acidic sauces or dishes made with milk or eggs. Also aluminum is a soft metal and it can bend and dent easily. A lot of chefs vote for top quality stainless steel pots and pans that have a copper or aluminum insert. This cookware is pricey, for a reason. Unfortunately, you can't cut corners buying inexpensive stainless steel pots or pans because they don't conduct heat well.

Avoid cheap pots and pans in general. The metal is thinner, it doesn't dispense heat as well and is very likely to have a weak spot where food burns.

Stirring the Pot

Use wooden or heat-resistant plastic utensils when you're cooking, because they won't scrap your pots and pans or react with the food. Metal spoons are ideal for serving food. Our chef gives you tips on how to season your pan.

Pot Stickers

If food has scorched at the bottom of a pot or pan, don't scrub it instead add baking soda (or salt) to the pan in the ratio of one tablespoon per cup of cold water and bring to a boil; simmer until the crust of the food lifts off by itself. This tip comes from The New Making of a Cook by Madeleine Kamman, who says it will save any pot.

Pot Luck

Some historians now wonder if lead cookware and lead-lined water pipes and storage containers used during the Roman Empire may have contributed to its decline by giving top citizens lead poisoning.


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