I’m a retired chef and CIA grad so I have been asked this question many times. I’ve given it a lot of thought. Let’s say you are a beginner cook with aspirations to become a proficient cook and you have a budget of around $200.00 for pots and pans.
I would start out with a set like this:
I like the All Clad style stainless steel fully encapsulated aluminum (not just the base but up the sides too) that this set offers but remember food sticks on stainless unless a few precautions are taken, primarily you must preheat the pan and add oil liberally . Most people recommend not buying full sets because you get pieces you don't need which is true but frequently buying pans a la carte is much more expensive. I would also get a couple of aluminum nonstick pieces for eggs, low fat cooking and other items prone to sticking. Teflon coating is great but many people have health concerns about it leaching into your food. DuPont claims this only happens at higher temperatures but they've got a horse in the race. If Teflon is out there are “green” alternatives like ceramic but none I’ve found are as slippery as Teflon, especially after repeated use. Don’t spend a lot on nonstick coated pans as the coating tends to get scratched and degrade after a few years and they should be tossed. I bought a nice set of Bailetti similar to this one @ Costco a couple of years ago for under $90.00.
I like these nonstick pots for rice and for sauteeing because they transfer heat fast and they're dishwasher safe.
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