"Your cookware will be a partner in producing your meals and will act as a liaison between your watchful eye and the stove. Using poor-quality or damaged cookware allows for problems to occur during the cooking process," says Tonkinson. "Bent, misshapen pots and pans with uneven cooking surfaces will lead to a haphazard cooking process and will, in turn, affect the flavor you are producing," he says. "Gaining an even sear on a piece of steak or caramelizing onions at an even pace will be all but impossible if heat is not generated and distributed at an even level."
Like most things, higher quality cookware comes with a higher price tag, but Abbie Gellman, RDN, chef and registered dietitian says that's not always the case.
"Luckily, price is not necessarily the main indicator or be-all end-all for quality," says Gellman. "I love my cast iron skillet, which cost $20, and is one of my go-to kitchen tools. On the other end of the spectrum I have an amazing Le Creuset Dutch Oven, which is a higher-priced item that is well worth the cost if you use it regularly."
Tonkinson says to get excellent results on the plate, you need to invest in reliable equipment. "Do this and you will be the full master of your cookery," he says. But, Gellman says to make sure you don't overdo it. "Better to have a handful of pieces you'll use over and over rather than a kitchen full of cookware that you rarely (or never) use."
What chefs use for cookware at home
1. Cast-iron skillet
"Cast irons [skillets] are the perfect pan," says Gabe Kennedy, classically trained chef and founder of hemp cannabinoid brand Plant People. "A well-seasoned cast iron can substitute for any pan, including a non-stick. You can cook meat, fish, vegetables, eggs and even make braises."
This is Kennedy's favorite cast iron skillet. It's enameled and it doesn't need to be seasoned so it isn't as prone to rusting as traditional cast iron skillets.
2. Dutch Oven
Gellman says as long as you think you'll use it, a big Dutch oven is great tool to have on hand.
Most of the chefs we spoke to agreed that a Le Creuset Dutch oven is well worth the investment. "It’s also extremely versatile, you can do anything from slow cooking in a Dutch-oven to baking bread, searing, braising, and frying," says Tonkinson. Bonus: he says that it's super easy to clean.
3. Sharp Knife set
"You need good knives is for control of the knife. You need to be able to cut quickly and accurately," says Tonkinson. "The most important reason is for safety. If knives are blunt or not sharp, they can cause injury when cutting. For instance, if you’re cutting a piece of carrot and the knife is blunt it won’t go straight downward; it will turn and can turn into your hand."
"Tojiro makes affordable high-quality Japanese-style knives," says Kennedy. This set includes a 4-inch paring knife and an 8.25-inch chef's knife.
Tonkinson is a big fan of knives from Rhineland Cutlery. This three-piece set includes an 8-inch all-purpose French chef knife, a 6-inch Santoku knife for more precise cuts, and a paring knife for peeling and garnishing.
4. Reliable pots and pans
Tonkinson says the last thing you want getting in the way of a good meal is poor quality pots and pans.
At home I use a set of Le Creuset cast iron and enameled pots and pans," says Tonkinson. "It took me 10 years to invest in a set after churning through countless sets and mismatched pieces. While they are very different to what I would use in a professional setting, there is no doubt that these are the king for the home cook." This set includes a 5.5-quart Dutch oven, a 9-inch cast-iron skillet, and a 1.75-quart saucepan.
Kennedy loves this multitasking pot from Demeyere. "[It's] a hybrid of a sauce pot and sauté pan which allows it to be versatile and great for pasta, sauces, oatmeal, soups... really whatever. If you're looking for a set, Demeyere offers this seven-piece set ($500).
Bacon loves the ceramic non-stick pans from Scanpan. This set includes 9-inch and 11-inch fry pans.
5. Odds and ends
These may not be staples in your kitchen, but the chefs say these items are essential.
Named after the late chef Gray Kunz, this spoon is perhaps Kennedy's favorite kitchen tool. "I use spoons as my primary tool and will use it as a more gentle way of handling food—forget the tongs and forks."
"The thicker the cutting board, the better. This is because there is less of a chance that it will break up, especially with a wood material," says Tonkinson. "It’s important to use wood or plastic over something like ceramic, marble, or glass—these materials can be a slipping hazard for knives and can therefore be dangerous. You want the knife to be able to cut into the board slightly (you’ll see small slices in the board, that’s a good thing) and not slip."
A fine microplane is always in use in Kennedy's kitchen. "I am a zest addict, but [a microplane] is also great to grate garlic, ginger, cheese—just make sure not to add the tips of your fingers," he says.
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