The Only Cookware a Beginner Needs, According to a Top Chef

Updated 08/31/19
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Best Stainless Steel Cookware
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Standing in front of a wall of cookware at your local kitchen store can be confusing. Between cast iron, stainless steel, nonstick, ceramic, copper, or carbon steel, it's hard to really decipher what the best option is or what each of these finishes is for. What's even more frustrating is trying to fry an egg on a stainless-steel pan, only to realize that it will stick to it like glue. Is nonstick the only solution? Should you invest in a cast-iron skillet? What should you sear your steak in?

To demystify the world of cookware, we tapped chef Michael Chernow, co-owner of The Meatball Shop, owner of Seamore's, host of Food Porn, and chef ambassador of Calphalon. Wondering which set of pans to buy or what stainless-steel cookware is worth investing in? Don't spend another minute cooking with the wrong tools—chef Chernow gives us the lowdown on every type of cookware.

Stainless Steel

Misen Skillet $55
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"I love cooking with stainless steel for most everything except for eggs," says Chernow. "Stainless allows for a great sear on all proteins and veggies. I would say stainless is the go-to for me and most chefs or home cooks globally."

Nonstick

Premier 3-Pc. Space-Saving Hard-Anodized Non-Stick Cookware Set
Calphalon Premier Space-Saving Hard-Anodized Non-Stick Cookware Set $125
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"Nonstick is great for most everything one would want to cook in the morning like eggs, pancakes, or French toast," explains Chernow. "That said, nonstick is also a great entry-level cooking surface for cooking everything and the cook who isn't confident in the kitchen because it is much harder to burn with. My mom is all nonstick, all the time."

Cast Iron

Field Company Skillet $125
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"I love cooking with uncoated cast iron. It gets insanely hot and allows for incredible sears and caramelization," says the chef. "I like to cook steaks, burgers, pancakes, and french toast on cast iron. I would not recommend cast iron for the entry-level cook for a host of reasons, namely that they are hard to maintain, and they conduct heat so well that it is very easy to burn if you are not paying close attention and don't have enough fat in the pan."

Carbon Steel

Lodge Seasoned Steel Skillet
Lodge Seasoned Steel Skillet $45
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"Carbon steel is kind of the best of both worlds, nonstick and cast iron," explains Chernow. "It's typically on the pricier side of cookware and also can be a pain to maintain. I would recommend a carbon-steel set to someone who is a kitchen geek and loves to cook all the time. If you like cooking with cast iron, then carbon steel is a step up: It's a lighter weight, it typically offers a nonstick element, and it will sear like cast iron. It's cool stuff, but it's for the higher-level cook or chef."

Copper

Mauviel M150c2 Copper Fry Pan $175
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"Copper is top of the line cookware," says the chef. "It's very expensive, but it can essentially handle it all. The benefits of copper are that it heats up fast, it heats up evenly, and it stays hot for a long time. Copper is a great all-around cooking tool, but I like it best for boiling, braising, and cooking soups and stews. The icing on the cake is that it will style out your kitchen, as it is truly beautiful."

Ceramic

Le Creuset ® Signature Cerise 3.5-qt. Buffet Casserole
Le Creuset Signature Buffet Casserole $285
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"Ceramic cookware dates back thousands of years, and I love it for that," explains Chernow. "I am a huge fan of Dutch oven cooking, though ceramic cookware comes in all styles and is typically coated. I pull out my ceramic for long, slow cooking—braises and stews mainly—they are great to stick in the oven, set, and forget."

This post was originally published on November 4, 2017, and has since been updated.

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