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When it comes to good stovetop cookware, I rely heavily on the thump test. What's the thump test? Next time you’re shopping for that perfect stock pot or frying pan, flip a potential buy over and thump the bottom. A good pan should thump -- not ping. This all translates to a simple rule: Buy stovetop cookware with a heavy bottom. If you buy a pot that sends out a resounding ping, you are setting yourself up for uneven cooking, burnt food, and a short lifespan for your pot. Of course, it's true that cookware with proper bottoms do usually cost more than their pinging counterparts. However, there are many kitchen and home warehouses that stock such finds at reasonable prices. Also, in the long run, they save you money by reducing burnt food and lasting much longer.
What's the best material for your cookware? That's a question that you need to answer based on your needs, desires, and budget. You can stock your shelves with everything from copper pots to glass skillets to stainless steel pans. Some cookware comes with special Teflon coatings to reduce sticking. These require plastic utensils to avoid scratching it. Once you've introduced a fair number of scratches into such a pan, you're likely to have more problems with sticking and even the coating flaking into your food. If this is happening, it's time to replace your cookware again. Some cookware has no coatings and can be as nonstick as Teflon coated pans, but requires more diligence from the chef. What's my favorite cookware material? I'm a sucker for a good stainless steel pan with no coatings. They heat well, wear well and I can use any type of utensil I want on them! But, like I said, get the cookware that fits your lifestyle.
What if you're just starting out and don't have the budget for accumulating a full cookware set? Never fear. Everyone has to start somewhere and I have a few suggestions on what you can start with if your shelves are bare. First, for your stove, you can go a long way with a good stock pot or Dutch oven, a 12-inch deep skillet with a lid (if you're lucky, the lid from the Dutch oven might fit both), and a 1-quart saucepan. These three items will accommodate most meal requirements and are, overall, exceptionally flexible. Some other kitchen cookware you should have on hand include:
An oven-proof casserole dish with lid (choose the size that fits your lifestyle -- 2 quart is a favorite)
A loaf pan for making breads, meatloaf, and warming your favorite leftovers
A jelly-roll pan that can double as a cookie sheet (or a smaller cookie sheet if you have a tiny oven)
A 9x13-inch baking pan
An 8-inch square baking pan
A 9-inch pie pan
A few assorted glass mixing bowls (for preparation, cooking, and serving)
When buying ovenware, I try to find Pyrex. It's easy to clean, heats evenly, and can be used in the microwave as well as the oven. Some pans can be purchased with plastic covers for storing. You can invest in these if you often have large amounts of leftovers or transport food on a regular basis.