This is a guest post from Daniel Koontz, who teaches readers to “cook more, think more and spend less” at Casual Kitchen. I really enjoy his posts a lot and hope that you will as well!
At my blog Casual Kitchen, I spend a lot of time showing readers that healthy and delicious home-cooked food doesn’t have to be expensive. Unfortunately, there’s one way you can make cooking at home devastatingly expensive–and potentially suck the fun out of cooking for years.
How? By overpaying for high-end cookware.
Don’t get me wrong: some high-quality kitchen items are worth it. But it’s usually a good idea to defer all expensive cookware purchases until you’ve determined what kind of cooking you like to do–and more critically, how much cooking you’d like to do. Don’t run the risk of buying an expensive item you think you need when the real risk is that you simply won’t use a high-end item enough to make it worthwhile.
And having an unused $300 Signature Le Creuset Dutch Oven collecting dust in your cupboard, right next to that $150 egg-poaching set you’ll never use… well, I don’t know about you, but just thinking about wasted purchases like these makes me want to cook even less. Not to mention you could cook all 25 of Casual Kitchen’s Best Laughably Cheap Recipes four times over for the cost of those two items.
Another way to think about the “is high-end cookware really worth it?” question 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: you don’t really know yet how serious a player you intend to be, and a $400 racquet in the hands of a tennis newbie is a laughable waste of money and equipment. Instead, learn proper form and technique first. Get some practice and see how much you enjoy playing.
See how good you get–or how good you don’t get. Hey, you never know, you might even smash your racquet in frustration at some point–better that it be a cheap one!
Most importantly, starting with a less expensive racquet now doesn’t mean you’re condemned to a lifetime of cheap racquets. You can always decide later whether a more expensive racquet will help your game. Likewise with cooking: choosing some lower-end or mid-range cookware now doesn’t doom you to a lifetime of cheap kitchenware, and much less does it imply you’ll cook lousy-tasting food. But down the road, you’ll be in a far better position to know exactly which high-end equipment will provide good value to you–and which won’t.
The thing is, department stores and cookware retailers want us to believe that paying double, triple or more for cookware will somehow make our cooking taste better. However, the only thing you can really count on with high-priced, aspirational cookware products is that it’ll cost you lots of money.
There’s one more thing you can count on: high-priced aspirational products and brands are extremely profitable. Which might explain why retailers so badly want to sell them to you.
So, with cooking, find the best values. Start small and modest with your cookware acquisitions. See if you can borrow, share, or even “inherit” cookware and kitchen 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 set of Revere pots and pans is still going strong after more than 20 years). See what recipes you prefer to cook, and let that help you determine how broad your cookware needs really are. If a recipe you’d really like to make requires some unusual cookware item, see if you can borrow it from a friend or neighbor for your first try.
One final thought. There’s nothing more pathetic than that guy at the tennis club who brags about his new $400 tennis racquet when he can’t even hit the ball. Don’t be that person with thousands of dollars of kitchen equipment… who can’t really cook.
Readers, what’s your opinion? What do you think about high-priced cookware and kitchen equipment?
Wonderful post. I love the suggestion of borrowing an item from a friend or neighbor to try it out before you invest the money in purchasing an expensive item. One area where I think any cook should make a bit of an investment is in purchasing a couple of good knives. Having a high quality knife that feels comfortable in your hand can make you a better cook. That being said, no one should buy a knife without trying it out first!
I love to cook and cook a lot. But it wasn’t until I was about 45 years old that I finally bought myself a decent set of cookware. And it wasn’t Le Creuset or anything like that. I bought some chef-branded (Wolfgang Puck?) set sold by Costco. It was probably less than $200. It’s heavy duty and should last the rest of my life.
I do agree with Fuji Mama’s comment about knives. Even at that, I don’t think a person needs to go crazy. Several years ago, I spent $600 on a great Cutco set and absolutely love them. A few years after that initial purchase, I added about another $300 worth, including steak knives. I’ve never, ever regretted buying good knives. They make a cook’s life so much easier.
After having the same Faberware for over 30 yrs, my husband just gave me a set of all-clad for my birthday. I was shocked. I donated my old pans to a womans shelter. I cook with clay mostly but these new all-clad are quite something. I’d never have bought them for myself as I’m far too cheap. I’ve been lucky enough to be given several recycled kitchen items from my friend Paula Wolfert, who also has let me borrow some things to try them out before buying, always a good idea. No sense in spending money on something one will never or rarely use.
I have mid-ranged priced Oneida cookware and I love it!
This is exactly what I needed to read.. the temptation to succumb & indulge in a set of uber expensive Le creuset pans can be overwhelming at times, even though I have a perfectly beautiful set that works great. Agree with the comment about the knives. that is definitely an investment.
Love this–I bought cheap stuff from Target when I started really cooking, and invested in a (very) few high-end pieces after a year or two, when I figure out what I’d actually use day-to-day. I do think you should invest in one really good chef’s knife, though. Life is much easier with one. 🙂
I think you just need to make sure it’s money well spent. I regret the money I spent on my two Le Creuset pieces and all my other various pots and pans. Now that I have had much more time and experience, I know that what I really want is one good quality stainless steel set of pots, pans, large skillets and that’s it and that’s all. You should definitely wait to see how much you cook and how you LIKE to cook (i.e., what material you prefer) before dropping hundreds of dollars on expensive cookware.
I have been very lucky – I found a Cuisinart 5 quart Dutch oven at HomeGoods that has stood up to use and abuse for the last three years for a very reasonable price. If only I could score a 9 quart the same way! I haven’t seen decent Dutch ovens there in a while. I agree with the investments in knives. Although we tried them at the store, we ended up ordering a nice basic Wusthof set at eBay for a fraction of the cost. It’s a matter of knowing where to look.
I agree with Daniel Koontz. For years I wanted a piece of LeCreuset. It took forever to decide what piece I wanted to buy and what color to choose. FINALLY I chose a 6 ¾ qt. oval Dutch Oven. What a poor decision that was. Most of the time it sits on a shelf gathering dust. Oh it cooks beautifully and is beautiful, but it weighs a ton – even empty. Recently I made a delicious chicken dish with artichoke hearts, carrots, black olives, fresh mushrooms and leeks for a potluck dinner. However once filled with the ingredients, I could barely lift the pot to place it in the oven. Once it was cooked I had to transfer everything to another far less beautiful, but much lighter, piece of cookware to take it to the potluck! If I had it to do again, I’d buy a smaller and much less expensive Dutch oven than the LeCreuset.
Cook’s Illustrated is one of my “go to” resources when it comes to finding excellent cooking tools and cookware. They test high end products as well as many others that are bargains and tell readers which are the best, regardless of the price. Because of their recommendation I use a MAC Superior Santoku Knife ($51.95), a Victorinox Fibrox Chef’s Knife ($22.95) and a Victorinox Fibrox Paring Knife ($4.95). These knives take care of 98% of my cutting tasks for less than $80 bucks.
When I needed some new nonstick pans I remembered that Cook’s Illustrated wrote that no matter how gently you treat your nonstick skillet and regardless of manufacturer’s claims, scratches will eventually appear and the slickness will eventually fade. CI further noted that “if we’re going to keep replacing nonstick pans, we’d prefer to spend less on them. CI recommended a T-Fal Professional Total Nonstick Fry Pan that outperformed All-Clad at a quarter of the price. That was good enough for me and so I purchased the T-Fal fry pan for $34.99. I would also note that the knives and cookware I’ve mentioned all received CI’s “highly recommended” designation, its best recommendation for products reviewed.
Thanks for this informative post. I cook a lot, and, I am good at it, so using the tennis analogy, I need Babolat type cookware! I did invest in All Clad cookware, and I think its worth it. I have resisted Le Creuset ( I bought one small pot from Williams Sonoma on sale) but I am glad I didn’t buy based on the comments above. Especially w/ the weight.
I do agree w/ the comment about the knives…I just bought a good Santuko on sale at Williams Sonoma, and I love it. I posted about a little blurb about it on my new blog, Laziza Bites: http://lazizabites.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/i-have-a-thing-for-knives/
Thanks for the comments, feedback and insights so far!
I tend to agree with the readers who talk about paying up a bit for good quality knives, but just as with any other kitchen item, there are overpriced aspirational products lurking in the knife category too. Here at Casual Kitchen, we used the “tennis racquet method” with higher-end knives, and we waited until we had developed good knife skills and a good sense of exactly what we wanted before we bought, and we ended up purchasing a few Henckels knives.
Glad to hear so many examples of people buying mid-range cookware and *still* finding that it lasts forever. Hey, your food doesn’t know how much you paid for your set of pots and pans!
I was given some Revere ware as a wedding present in 1955. Over the years some of it has been replaced, and we have added some pieces that I didn’t start with. I still like it, and use it daily. I also use cast iron, which I have purchased used at garage sales. I’m happy with them all.
Daniel, you’re so sensible! And, as someone who is really lousy at tennis, I love your tennis racquet analogy. It also made me think of the time when I was seriously thinking about spending a great deal of money on a serious flautist’s flute. Then my common sense kicked in, and I realized I wouldn’t be able to play it any better than I played my inferior flute. But I do have a very well equipped (over many years) kitchen, because I cook waaaaayyy better than I play tennis or flute!