Chapter 2 – OK, that’s all great, but what do I NEED?

If you missed out on Chapter 1, you should probably start here.

So what do you need? Honestly, not much. You can do just about any cooking with a range of some sort and an 8qt pot and a large saute pan, both need lids. You need a place to cut and a sharp knife. You should have some way to clean up afterward, too.

But if you’re reading this blog, that’s probably not really the answer you’re looking for, and that’s OK too. Hell, we all want toys and tools and variety and things that make life easier, right? So here’s some things that I have that I like.

Pots and Pans

I purchased a set of 18/10 stainless steel pots from Costco. For those not familiar with 18/10, another name for this is 316 Stainless. 316 is the type of steel used to make the equipment that is used by pharmaceutical companies, dairies, and many, many other food producers in the US, Canada, and Europe. It’s not the most durable metal (you’ll never find it used inside a car engine), but it is very, very highly resistant to corrosion (rust) and for that reason you’ll find it in all these other places.
But there is a problem with stainless steel: it has poor heat transfer rates so it actually makes a shitty pot that heats unevenly and has a lot of hotspots.

You’re probably wondering, “didn’t he just tell me to buy 18/10 stainless?”

Yes.

But here’s the thing – the pots to buy will have a copper core, a layer about an eighth of an inch thick that spans at least the bottom of each pan, and may extend up onto the sides. The thicker this copper is, the more evenly your pots will heat.

This reduces hot-spotting in your pans, reduces burning of your food, and will ease cleanup when you’re done with dinner. No one wants to work too hard cleaning up after a great meal, anyway.

So what about true copper pots? Oh, they’re much better for cooking and maybe one day I’ll have one copper kettle in my kitchen, but no more than that. They are extremely expensive, hard to maintain, and when you cook acidic foods, like tomato sauce, they dissolve a little, and that dissolved copper oxide goes into your food. Over a lifetime, I doubt this is harmful, but why ingest metal if you don’t have to?

You could probably spend the equivalent of one month’s mortgage on a set of good cookware. That’s a lot of money for most people, and maybe you’re thinking that it’s just too much money for what are essentially just chunks of metal. But, remember that it’s very, very likely that if you do spend that much on a set of good cookware from All-Clad, it is highly unlikely that you will ever need to buy any new pots for the rest of your life. Using myself as an example, I’m about to be 32 years old. If I live to 75, that’s 2 cooked meals per day for the next 42 years. Break the cost down like that (84*365 = 30660) and you’ll find that $1500.00 spent on pots comes to about a nickel per meal. Got a spouse? Cut that in half. Kids? I have four, so I can divide the $0.049 by 6 for a whopping 5/8 of a penny per meal. Cheap. And heck, if you live longer than another 42 years, it’s even less. I’m not even going to think about adjusting for inflation.

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to spend $1500. Try this instead, which is similar to my main set, for $179, shipped:

Costco

Here’s a couple other places* to consider shopping for new cookware:

Williams-Sonoma
Macy’s

Occasionally you can find similar stuff on Amazon, and get deals on shipping.

Knives

I will admit right here that the set of knives in my kitchen is ridiculous. Stupid. Cheap. Horrible. Chinese crap magnetic stainless steel. I won’t tell you what to buy because I can’t testify to solid performance when it comes to kitchen knives. I can tell you that the set of Farberware knives I have I bought from Kohls nearly 10 years ago. I bought them because they were one-piece construction and easy to clean, particularly at the joint between blade and handle.

I have since learned that the type of steel from which they are made is at least as important as the ability to clean them. But I can’t replace them just yet, so they’ll continue in my kitchen for another few years.

I know that Gerber makes awesome knives because I have 3 of their pocket knives and would gladly use them in my kitchen if my wife never saw me do it. Unfortunately, she’d see me and then not eat whatever I cooked.

I have heard that there are some awesome santoku knives out there, and I do think that I could get by with one really high-quality knife. Part of a blade’s quality is in its ability to hold a sharp edge. I’ve learned how to sharpen knives so they are dangerously sharp, but the cheaper knives won’t hold an edge for a long period of time. I think that there’s a tradeoff… You can spend a lot of money on a knife that stays sharp, or you can spend a lot of money on abrasives to keep junky knives in top form.

I am not religious about sharpening, though, so my knives are a source of daily aggravation. Don’t be like me. Get one good knife and keep it sharp. The rest of them can be crap stainless steel from China that is magnetic and gets spots in the dishwasher, but your workhorse should be a chef’s knife or a santoku and you should spend some money on it. I hear that Wusthof makes a really special hollow-ground santoku.

And speaking of things to cut with, you should have something to cut on. I own 2 cutting boards. One of them is a nylon board and the other is bamboo. The bamboo is a recent addition and it’s about 50% larger than the nylon board. This size differential is why I got it. It’s tough to cut a pizza on the smaller nylon board.

Some like glass cutting boards.  I want to like them because I know they can be cleaned really well, but glass will really wreck a knife edge.  There are two other types of cutting boards available, though.  Wood, or nylon.

I have found that the “nylon vs wood cutting board” debate has been done to death and I do not want to get into it. I will say, as I have said previously, that wood is not allowed in a food production facility because it is impossible to clean.

I will also say that if you must have a wooden cutting board, bamboo is a pretty tough and environmentally-friendly alternative to a hardwood like maple. I like my bamboo cutting board.

Baking Pans

You can find two different types of baking pans: metal or glass. If you go with metal, you have coated steel or disposable aluminum. Both of these are equivalent. The coated ones cost 3x more than the disposables and they last just as long.  The coating comes off, your stuff sticks to the pan, and then the pan gets all rusty and gross, and then you should throw it in the trash.  Or recycling bin.

Glass (pyrex) baking pans take a little longer to transfer heat, but they do it more uniformly (just like copper-core pots) and they are easier to clean. And as long as you can clean them, they are 100% reusable. I use mostly glass bakeware in my kitchen for these reasons.  If they somehow become unusable, remember that 1 pound of glass to a recycling facility = 1 pound of glass out of that facility.

Clean up

You need three things. In order of importance, here we go:

My grandpa taught me about elbow grease. He advised the use of elbow grease for just about everything I came across until he passed when I was 14. I never really understood what he meant until I started cooking on my own. Sometimes, you get in there with a vigorous amount of elbow grease and the results will stun you.

Soap is also great and helpful, and one bit of new info I proffer to my readers is something that would have saved me and my siblings a lot of angst as we grew up. In a food manufacturing plant, we use a technique called CIP, or clean-in-place. CIP describes the methods for cleaning pipelines and 500 gallon kettles and pumps and nearly everything in most modern food plants. There’s a chemical we use to do this and it goes by a lot of different names: Caustic, Alkali, Chlorinated Caustic, etc. All of them sound nasty. And almost everyone has some of this stuff in their house. Usually, you can find it in a Clorox bottle. It is, essentially, bleach. Bleach dissolves both fats and sugars. Usually, anything burned on is made of some combination of fat and sugar.

So if you burn popcorn or milk or almost anything else onto the bottoms of your stainless cookware, pouring straight bleach onto the burn-on and letting it sit for an hour or two should be enough to loosen all but the worst of the problem (which is where you will need a lot of elbow grease). Preferably, it should be placed outside or in some other well-ventilated area because the fumes are something else. Also, bleach will wreck nearly 100% of things it touches if they are not metal or glass. Skin, clothes, eyes, pets, carpet. DO NOT splash this stuff! Don’t! If you mess up with bleach it can permanently change your life, and not often in a good way.

Warm water is your friend, and possibly the one best invention that makes cleaning with elbow grease a possibility. If you are using water that’s as hot as you can stand it without scalding yourself, soap and elbow grease will both reach maximum efficacy. Don’t be afraid of the left water handle. Use it with reckless abandon.

* This blog is not sponsored by these companies, or any other.  I only recommend them because they have what I like.

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