Next time you find yourself shopping for kitchenware, you’ll quickly be bombarded by different brands at different price points. You’ll see some that look nearly identical that cost nearly double or more. The question is, are these pricier examples actually worth the money or are they a scam? The truth is that it depends. Value is in the eye of the beholder, but there are some characteristics that may determine if and when certain pieces of expensive cookware or utensils are of value to you. Finally, we’ll give our suggestions for building up your cookware collection.
While most examples of cookware that you’ll be able to purchase can do the basics of their jobs, not all pots and pans are made equal. Some nonstick pans are more nonstick while some barely qualify. Some materials cook more evenly or hold heat better than others. Some pans aren’t oven-safe. These are the obvious examples, but you should also consider things like the handling and comfort of the cookware. Is it balanced well? This will make it easier to carry when it’s hot, preventing spills or burns. Does it feel sturdy, especially on the handles, so that they don’t come off while you’re holding them?
You should be able to easily research all of these, which should help you discern the functional cookware from the expensive fads.
While it’s tougher to test the evenness of the cook or how effective the nonstick is, you should try handling the pot or pan before buying. For the less tangible aspects of function, you can do your research since most expensive pieces you find will be legacy brands, up-and-comers, or a trendy new piece. You should be able to easily research all of these, which should help you discern the functional cookware from the expensive fads.
Another factor of kitchenware that can be difficult to know in the store but is no less essential than functionality is durability (or how long something will last). For something like cast iron, you may be able to get away with saving some money since the material can be cheap and last a long time if you take care of it. Sometimes, though, cheaper cast iron can rust more easily than some of the more expensive enameled cast iron. Comparatively, you may also find that less expensive cookware breaks easily (i.e., cheap handles coming off or scratches in the metal base), rendering them less effective or useless. You may even see warping in some cheaper or less durable materials like aluminum and copper.
Sometimes, it’s better to buy an expensive pan once rather than buying an inexpensive one every few years.
While even the most durable pans can become unusable if you’re abusing them, they can also last for decades if you take care of them. Sometimes, it’s better to buy an expensive pan once rather than buying an inexpensive one every few years. To know the durability of your prospective cookware, look into what the pot or pan is made of (like cast iron, stainless steel, glass, and ceramic) and research the brand. This can tell you a lot about the expected durability of the equipment.
Speaking of brand, this can be both the cause of and the justification for a higher price for a similar product. In some cases, you’re truly just paying for the name, as there is a less expensive imitator that is more than comparable in overall quality. In recent years especially, the cookware “dupe” (or duplicate) has exploded, with newer brands popping up to challenge some of the old stalwarts. This can often mean similar quality for a fraction of the cost, but there are other brands that have not only earned their reputation, but also sustained their place at the summit of cookware quality.
Anyone who’s done some research or knows their way around a kitchen likely has heard of a few examples of brands that justify their elevated price point.
We’re not going to name any specific brands because we’re not trying to do an ad. Anyone who’s done some research or knows their way around a kitchen likely has heard of a few examples of brands that justify their elevated price point. You can see some of these in the Medicareful kitchen, which you can see in our Cookbook YouTube series.
Our Equipment Replacement Process
If you’re just starting out building your cookware set or have the basics and are wondering if it’s time to expand into more expensive or high-end equipment, how should you go about it? You should start with a solid set of cookware that isn’t too expensive — your base set. This should include a large (at least 12-inch wide), medium (10-inch wide), and small (eight-inch wide) pans, an eight-to-12-quart stock pot, and two saucepans (two-quart and four-quart). One of the pans should be cast iron, preferably one of the larger two. These should cover you on a day-to-day basis and be purchased on a budget. A quality cast iron pan can be bought for around $20, for example.
As you grow in your cooking abilities and feel comfortable looking into more expensive options, start with your everyday use cookware.
You can branch out from this starter set, adding pots and pans for different uses or with specific strengths, or stick to replacing your set as needed. As you grow in your cooking abilities and feel comfortable looking into more expensive options, start with your everyday use cookware. You can replace your non-cast iron pans with high-end stainless steel or enameled cast iron. From there, you can replace the saucepans and eventually add a high-end Dutch oven. The last to be replaced is the stockpot, as they tend to be used for more gentler styles of cooking (boiling) that helps them last longer.
Get each piece of cookware one at a time so you aren’t overburdening your budget and are giving yourself time to test the new equipment. If you really like it and it checks off each quality category we listed above, stick with that brand. This shows that the brand meets your standard of quality and should be a safe buy for other products.
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The fact is that you don’t need high-end or expensive cookware to make a great meal. The best home cooks could make something delicious with a $5 pan. But top-quality kitchenware can make top quality cooking more attainable. They can be more reliable, more durable, and more functional than some budget equipment, making them more valuable. The key is deciding where the value lies and if more expensive pots and pans are necessary to meet your standards.