Thoughts On High-End Cookware

Long time CK readers can pretty much guess my opinion on paying for expensive, high-end cookware: Very, very few high-end kitchen items are worth a premium price.

And newer cooks, take heed: If you're new to cooking and looking to stock your first kitchen, you should always defer buying any high-end cooking gear. Wait a while.

Why? Because the real risk, especially when you're first starting to cook, is that you won't use the item enough to make it worthwhile. And having a $295 Signature Le Creuset Dutch Oven collecting dust in your cupboard, right next to that $130 Calphalon Egg-Poaching set you'll never use... well, just thinking about wasted purchases like this can suck the fun out of cooking for years.

Not to mention for the combined price of those two items you could have cooked all 25 of Casual Kitchen's Best Laughably Cheap Recipes four times over. And fed 400 people.

And yet it shouldn't be a surprise that department stores and cookware retailers want you to believe that paying double, triple or more for high-end cookware will somehow make your food taste better. Remember: high-priced aspirational products are extremely profitable. Which is why retailers so badly want to sell them to you.

Granted, some expensive kitchen items may end up being worth it. One example from our kitchen: we held off on buying expensive knives for a few years until we were confident we would use them heavily, and until we had developed sufficient knife skills to make a high-end knife purchase a truly worthwhile investment. We saved ourselves money and quite a bit of resentment by waiting until there was no risk that this expensive purchase would go unused.

My favorite way to think about high end cookware is to use tennis racquets as an analogy. If you're a beginner at tennis, you should always start with a less-expensive racquet. Be honest with yourself: you don't even really know yet how serious a player you intend to be. Learn proper form and technique. Get some practice and see how much you like playing. See how good you get--or see how good you don't get. Hey, you might even want to smash that cheaper racquet in frustration at some point!

The bottom line: you can always make a decision later on a more expensive racquet. And even then you still might decide to pass. Heck, I still play with a $45 racquet--and I almost always win against Laura.

So, with cooking, start small and start modest. See if you can borrow or even "inherit" some cookware and tools from others. Go low-end or mid-range with the pots and pans you buy at first (I'm a gigantic fan of sturdy mid-range brands like Revere--my full set of Revere pots and pans is still going strong after more than 20 years). See what recipes you tend to like to make, and how broad and wide your cookware needs really will be. If you stumble onto a recipe you really want to make that requires some unusual cookware item, see if you can borrow it on your first try. And avoid, at all costs, overpriced celebrity-endorsed cookware. Don't pay your own hard-earned cash for extra branding that provides minimal value to you as a consumer.

One final thought. There is nothing more pitiful than the guy at the tennis club who brags about his new $400 racquet when he can't even hit the ball. Don't be the person with thousands of dollars of kitchen equipment who can't really cook.

Readers, what's your take? What do you think about extremely high-priced cookware and appliances?

A variation of this post appeared on A Life Of Spice several months ago.

Related Posts:
Why Spices Are a Complete Rip-Off and What You Can Do About It
A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food
How to Enjoy Wine On A Budget
Does Healthy Eating Really Cost Too Much? A Blogger Roundtable
Spending to Save: Frugality and Expensive Food

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Anonymous said...

I use my enamelled cast iron dutch oven for "everything." Tonight, I will use it to fry burgers.

Everything = soup/stew, meat sauce, boil water for pasta or potatoes or other boiled uses like a poached egg, no knead bread, baked chicken, fried chicken, steaming veggies off the top of my head.

Bottom line, if you use it then don't feel guilty about how much you paid for it.

Jen Blacker said...

My Kitchenaid mixer is the most expensive thing in my kitchen. It has paid for itself over and over again. I make pizzas, breads, desserts, and so many other things using that puppy. Well worth the up front expense if you are going to be cooking and baking from scratch.

KCMama said...

I have a small oval Le Creuset Dutch oven that I got on clearance for $19. I use it a lot and love it! I also have two other larger off brand Le Creuset style Dutch ovens that I use a lot and love as well. I notice no difference in the cooking. However, the cheaper set does get stained inside and is impossible to get stain out compared to the expensive French brand but I can live with stains!

The Messy Baker said...

Interesting, Dan. I ditched my cheap stainless steel cookware for high end and have never regretted it. I waited until they went on sale but even deeply discounted thee set was more than the cheap cookware at retail. However, I haven't burned the rice since.

I agree that you don't have to pay top dollar for decent cookware, but inexpensive pots and pans are a false bargain if they cook unevenly or need to be replaced on a regular basis. Buyers need to do a bit of research before they buy. Plus as Jen Blacker points out, if you use a high end item a lot, it's worth the money.

Katie Mack said...

I have been cooking seriously for a long, long time and the only kitchen equipment I've ever felt I needed was a good quality mandolin to slice and dice. That being said, I was recently the recipient of a good quality mandolin and I've only used it once. I just don't need it as often as I once imagined. I find this to be true with most cooking gear.

I often raid the kitchen/home section of my favorite discount department stores (Home Goods, anyone?)because there are some seriously good bargains there.

Melissa said...

I remember when you guest posted about this. I think it's just as you said. People have no idea what their cooking style or preferences will be until they do it for a long time, know how good they will be at it, how dedicated, so for the sake of their wallet, they need to hold off on expensive purchases.

For me, it's a matter of material over price. As a couple of ladies above me remarked, I don't mind paying more if I know I will use the equipment well and long-term. Sadly, I regret buying my two large Le Creuset pieces and that has only gotten truer over time, as I have decided, firmly, how much I prefer stainless steel for all my cooking needs. I am very seriously looking forward to moving into my new home in a couple of months and beginning my cooking life anew with all stainless steel cookware, regardless of how much I spend on it, because at least now I know.

chacha1 said...

There are certain very expensive things that I'm very glad we got. Our Ruffino copper risotto pans in large and extra-large come to mind - I use them constantly - and best of all, they were wedding presents.

Also love my (very heavy) copper-clad stainless steel frying pan which was pretty darned expensive and gets wicked hot.

There are other things that are just kinda ... well, the cheap one works fine. :-) Like our slow cooker. And we are still using a rice cooker that DH's mom gave him when he moved out 30 years ago. Our coffeemaker was free from Gevalia and our coffee grinder was free from Green Mountain.

And other things that we really don't use enough to justify the expense, like the double boiler and the fondue set. But the db was a hand-me-down and the fondue was also a wedding present, and when we've HAD fondue it's been a ton of fun, so, you know. :-)

Anonymous said...

And the best part of living in a college town? The little punks who spend their parents' money to buy top end goods and then dump it all at Goodwill where cheap bastards like me buy it for less than "laughably cheap".

Joanne said...

I truly think the only thing worth spending money on is a good knife. And I have the cuts from bad knives to prove it!

Daniel said...

Great comments. I do want to clarify one thing: expensive cookware isn't bad--it's just risky. It increases the risk that you'll waste money and it increases the risk that you'll make cooking less fun because of dumb purchases you regret.

If you use the heck out of an expensive piece of gear, great. The risk comes from buying things you *think* you'll use ... and yet you don't.


Mumsy said...

I love, love, love my All-Clad cookware. I wasn't able to afford to buy it all at once, so I've picked up a few pieces here and a few pieces there. It does actually change the way my food turns out. However, I am also in love with my super cheap cast iron. I use it just as much as the All-Clad.

So I think you're right--if you are a beginner or you don't cook that much, you probably don't need the most expensive cookware out there. (I agree with you about the celebrity endorsements.)

I do wish that I would have bought my All-Clad right from the beginning instead of spending years with crappy cookware that I settled for when I got married. The All-Clad makes cooking so much more enjoyable. (They're not paying me to say that!)

And I have to throw in another plug for a good knife. Worth every single penny.

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

I don't know if I agree with you on this one. I wouldn't waste my money on a 'celebrity' brand; that doesn't necessarily mean quality but only that the price of their endorsement is now a part of the production costs.

I bought a nice set of cookware when I first left home at 19. I used it for decades but I did buy a full set of All Clad cookware about 10 years ago and I've never regretted it once. I would rather splurge on a high quality product than buy crap over and over.

I did not buy All Clad for my girls after both had graduated from college but I did get them a set of what I would call faux All Clad from Costco...a fraction of the cost but a very good quality set of stainless. I expect that it will last them for decades.

I'm as frugal as the next guy but in this case; knowing from the getgo that cooking was important to me and that having good cookware that would last a long time would be worth the investment, I've never regretted that expense.

One last thing. I did find that buying a 'set' was the best bang for my buck. If had had bought my pieces individually the total cost would have been much higher. Search online; I got a great price and free shipping; no one locally could come close to the price I found online.

Kay Chipper said...

Your opinions are true enough. Sometimes thoughts just enter our minds saying, "no, I'm not going to use this item now. I purchased this with a lot of money. Maybe it'll be worth using in the next occasion." Most can relate to that. What's best to do is to make it economical. Buy only what you need.

Brittany said...

I mostly agree, although I might instead suggest 1-3 mid-quality pieces instead of an entire set of low-quality ones, if you're making an attempt to be serious about starting cooking. I've seen incredibly low-end cookware turn people off from cooking because it's too easy to burn food in super cheap pans or hard to chop with super cheap knives.

Anonymous said...

Good pots are like a good rifle and learning to shoot. You learn better if you know its you and not the equipment. Same goes for cooking. We live in an era of cheap disposible things. getting the best up front is greener, and may actually save money in the long run. don't forget, burnt food from a bad pan is also a cost.

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Learn more said...

I've been cooking peppers and onions in the skillet on the grill a lot lately. I'll have to add jalapenos next time. Yum. I like cooking bacon that way too, although hot fat + open flame adds a nice element of danger. I used to get flank steak, but my husband got me to try the carne asada cut from our local market, and I prefer it. Not sure if it's thin-cut flank or skirt (I'll have to ask), but it looks like this 

Leslie Fambrini said...

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