If you wander into any “big box” store you can probably find a slew of pots and pans, including complete sets, for under $50. But then, there are also pieces of cookware that will run you several thousand dollars. This begs the question: is it really worth it? After all, you probably aren’t an executive chef working in a gourmet kitchen. Do you really need all this high priced equipment?
When you’re looking at buying high-end cookware, you have to realize the big three issues that are behind that high price tag: durability, heat conduction, and reactivity.
This is just a matter of high quality construction. Sure, you can find an entire set of pots and pans for under fifty bucks. But in six months or so, those pans will have issues. They may break completely or they may start to crack or peel. The metal may become warped over time and exposure to the heating element in your stove or oven. Any one of these can reduce the effectiveness of the item and make it so you can’t cook as efficiently as you did before.
If you are a science geek, you probably already know that different metals transfer heat at different rates. Just like certain items are excellent conductors of electricity, the same is true for the metals that make up pots and pans. For example, copper tends to be one of the more expensive metals for pots and pans. This is because copper is an excellent conductor of heat. If you make just a slight correction to the stove’s temperature, the metal will quickly respond. Other good conductors include aluminum and stainless steel. The better the heat conduction, the more expensive your cookware will be. This heat conduction helps the food to cook evenly and regularly, so that you don’t have meats that are not cooked thoroughly or vegetables that are partially crispy and partially soggy.
Believe it or not, foods can have a chemical reaction with the pots or pans that are being used to cook them. Aluminum, copper, iron, and steel are reactive and can be a bad choice if you are cooking something that is heavily acidic, like tomatoes. This can actually change the taste of your food if you are not careful. So yes, expensive pans are great for some dishes, but for others you will probably need a non-reactive pan.
Unfortunately, whether or not you buy an expensive set of cookware is not an easy answer. For some situations, your investment will pay off with more cooking and as a better long-term investment. But for other items, it is always a good idea to have an inexpensive non-reactive pot on hand for emergencies.