Pots, Pans and Oven Cookware
Just like a recipe method I’m going through the different types of cookware in a sequence – what tools you will need first in the meal preparation process.
In today’s post we’ll look at the pots, pans and oven cookware of different sizes and materials, from cast iron to non-stick cookware, to cook your healthy, delicious meals.
Pot Boiling & Steaming
Stainless steel is a standard material for stove-top cooking. What size should you get? That depends on how many people are in your household.
For example, if you’re cooking rice for 1-2 people for the week you may only need a 4-cup (1 litre) pot.
If you’re cooking for more, and for versatility in meal preparation, I suggest one small, a 3 and 5 litre pot (or larger stock pot). You will need a large (preferably deep) pot for cooking soups, stews, boiling pasta, corn on the cob, etc.
A larger pot is also used for steaming vegetables in a bamboo steamer. Steaming vegetables retains most of the vitamins and minerals instead of having them boiled out and drained away. Note that you only need about an inch of water at a gentle boil to steam vegetables
I recommend buying 18/10 quality stainless steel cookware – it will last a long time, it won’t rust, and it conducts heat more evenly than a cheaper product.
Cast Iron Pans
Cast iron cookware is incredibly versatile. These pans are heavy and take a while to heat up, but if you are using a gas stove this is the best type of pan for the stove-top. It will evenly distribute the heat and hold heat for a long time – perfect for dense proteins like steak and burgers.
Cast iron pans are great for browning meats. You can complete the cooking process on the stove or put the pan in the oven to finish.
For example, you can brown chicken breasts on both sides and then put the pan in the oven at 350° F to cook for 20-30 minutes.
One of my favourite meat dishes is flank steak cooked in the oven in my large 13″ cast iron pan with chopped onions, Balsamic vinegar and a bit of red wine.
Non-Stick Fry Pans
Non-stick cookware should not be used at the highest temperature or the coating can break down and give off potentially poisonous fumes.
Non-sick fry pans are best used for more fragile and moisture-rich foods like eggs, crepes, fish (like sole or tilapia), and other foods that don’t need to be cooked at maximum heat. The non-stick surface makes it easier to turn these foods without sticking or breaking apart.
To protect the surface coating and life of a non-stick pan, only use a silicon-type spatula, bamboo or wooden spoon/spatula. Never use metal as this will scratch the surface. When cleaning, use a dishcloth, sponge or a gentle plastic/synthetic scouring sponge.
When buying a non-stick fry pan look for a decent thickness and weight. There are many ‘eco-friendly’ brands available. For more information read my article about safe and healthy cookware options.
I cook the majority of my meals in the oven. It’s an efficient way to cook in bulk and you can cook many dishes at the same time. Planning and organizations are important tenants in bulk cooking for the week.
Your choice of oven dishes will depend in part on the size of your oven (measure it before you buy oven dishes). I recommend buying a few types of dishes for versatility.
For example, I have two Pyrex glass baking dishes. The small one fits inside the larger one for easy storage. I use these mostly for chicken breasts cooked in liquid, pork, squash, mixed roast vegetables and casseroles. The thicker base allows for even cooking without burning.
Finally, a roasting pan is used for whole chicken, turkey, a beef roast, flank steak, etc. This could be stainless steel or non-stick. Look for a roast pan with a removable grilling rack – you will need this if you’re dry roasting meat and want the fat to drain on to the bottom of the pan.
If you plan to bake breads, cakes, and cookies you will need non-stick bakeware. I would recommend a pair of bread pans, two pie/cake tins, a square 9″ bake tin, and a pair of baking sheets.
Before buying baking sheets make sure you know the width of the inside of your oven. Yes, I have made the mistake of buying baking sheets that didn’t fit!
Note that baking dishes aren’t just for desserts! You can use the bread pans or the baking sheet for a meatloaf. I use my baking trays to roast red and yellow peppers, cut in half, face down, dry roasting chicken breast, or for dry roasting potatoes (a healthy alternative to deep-fried potatoes).
Oven Mitts & Grips
You will absolutely need oven mitts or oven grips to take hot dishes out of the oven and sometimes to grab handles on pots and pans from the stove, especially cast iron cookware (the handle will heat up). I have mitts and grips, but I find grips easier to use. However, this is a personal preference.
An oven mitt will protect your whole hand and part of your arm from searing oven heat and potential burns or splashes. If you are inexperienced in the kitchen get a pair of quality mitts.
A last word on mitts and grips: when they start to wear replace them! Otherwise one day you will grab a hot dish that’s been in a 400° F oven and you risk not only burning your fingers or hand, but dropping the dish – which could be an even bigger disaster!
How to Shop for Pots & Pans
When shopping for pots and pans look for quality, i.e. smoothness of finish (so that food won’t get trapped in cracks, etc. and cause bacterial growth), ease in cleaning, “weight” of the product (or the thickness of the base) to offer better heat transfer, heat retention and less burning or sticking of food on the bottom of the pan.
Know the limits of the type of cookware you are using – i.e. the material effects what you can and cannot do. You can only use low to moderate heat with non-stick cookware, but you can cook at very high temperatures with cast iron cookware.
Coming Up Next…
In the next post we will look at small kitchen appliances – things like blenders and food choppers, which can make meal preparation faster and easier.
Eat well to be well.