For the amateur cook and the uninitiated, the vast world of cookware can be quite intimidating. As there are literally hundreds of different vessels in which to cook food, it can be a frustrating process trying to decipher what is the right piece of cookware for the job you are trying to pull off. Fortunately, once you learn how to perform all of the basic methods of cooking, choosing the correct cookware can be come second nature.
Although there are many different cooking methods, those that are most common can be counted on two hands. Grilling, frying, braising,sauteing, baking, broiling, boiling and poaching are the most common methods of cooking in the world, and the versatile cook need not concern himself with any other methods until he becomes much more advanced. For instance, the home cook will likely not find himself using an immersion circulator for suis vide cooking any time soon. One of the best things you can do to preface learning about cookware is to study each and every one of these methods and learn how they differ from one another.
Grilling is one of the most popular methods of cooking in the world, and is also considered to be one of the healthiest. While it goes without saying that an outdoor grill is used for this method, you can also grill indoors by using a grill pan. Grill pans are usually heavy and made out of cast iron. They have raised bars on them just like an outdoor grill, on which the food sits and basically sears. Any excess fat will pour into the well below the food. Grill pans are relatively inexpensive and are extremely versatile in the kitchen.
Frying also requires a strong, weighty pan. A cast iron skillet is an excellent choice, although many good cookware companies build strong frying pans out of stainless steel and even aluminum. Be sure you choose a frying pan with low sides, as you may find yourself braising your food in evaporated liquid otherwise, which is the exact opposite of what you’re going for.
Speaking of braising, it can be a wonderful technique, yielding fall-off-the-bone meats and succulent stews. Choose a heavy pot such as a dutch oven when braising. Enameled cast iron also dutch ovens are best, although those made of porcelain are also very effective when braising.
Saute pans are called such for the obvious reason that they are the cookware of choice when it comes to sauteing food. Choose a saute pan with raised sides so as to keep the food within the boundaries of the pan. Stainless steel and aluminum saute pans are usually best for the job at hand.
Baking and broiling can usually make use of the same cookware, and your absolute best bet is to use an aluminum sheet pan. Aluminum sheet pans are incredibly strong and resilient, and can produce an excellent array of baked and broiled foods. Stainless steel is even better, but tends to be extremely expensive.
Boiling and poaching are generally both done in the same cooking vessels, which are usually stock pots made out of either aluminum or stainless steel. Many people feel that boiling in aluminum can contribute to off-flavors in food, and prefer to use stainless steel. Either one will work, although aluminum is much less expensive than stainless steel. Choose a stock pot with a heavy bottom, as you do not want any food on the bottom of the pan to burn. Make sure you also have a strong and sturdy lid for the pot as well, as it will come in handy.