"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

The right stuff

by Julie Tilsner on March 25, 2009

in Crockery

So I’m thinking, maybe it’s not all MY fault.

Maybe if I had the correct equipment, properly maintained, I might not burn the steaks and botch the crepes.

I love my crockery, pots and pans, and I have several very nice pieces, all of them bequeathed to me by others. There’s my Le Crueset Dutch oven, courtesy of the Flamenco guitarist, who got points for trying to help. There’s the big, multi-functional skillet my step-mother always employed, which I liberated from certain garage sale banishment after her untimely death. I invoke her spirit whenever I use it, but as of this writing there is no evidence to suggest any of her cooking skills have rubbed off on me.

The pan I use the most, however, is a cheapy non-stick skillet-like thing I picked up at Target, and it’s nearing the end of its useful life. It’s dented. Stained. And its heft no longer satisfies me. Still, I use it for everything, from tortilla Espanola to crepes to pancakes to browning chicken. I’ve been mulling replacing it for months now.

Then I read “The Best All-Purpose Skillets” in my latest Cook’s Illustrated, written by staffer Lisa McManus (who was actually my editor 20 years ago!), and the case was made for me.

Apparently it may not be entirely my lack of cooking skills mucking things up. It could be due in part to my crappy skillet.

This All-Clad 12-inch stainless steel fry pan was voted best in show by the esteemed Cook’s Illustrated team. “One of the lightest pans in the lineup, it also offers one of the thickest bottoms of the fully clad pans, which made it easy to maneuver while providing steady heat and even browning.” It mentions the 10-inches of cooking surface. It mentions the well-balanced weight, making it easy to spread out crepe batter. Yes, it mentioned crepes. I’ve been fancying a crepe pan for a long time.

One glitch: The price tag — $135. Who am I to spend all that money on a pan? Even if it allegedly will last for decades? That’s the cost of one week of summer camp for one of my kids. That’s shoes and new jeans and shirts for both of them. That’s my phone bill. Two weeks of groceries. See where I’m going with this?

But now my tax return has come in and I’m starting to rethink the proposition. Maybe I should do my bit to stimulate the economy. Maybe this could be viewed as my own personal bail-out. What say ye all? Pop for the good stuff or run back to Target?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

JulieR March 26, 2009 at 3:26 am

the all-clad stainless steel looks and sounds a lot better than the non-stick calphalon pan I convinced Javier we absolutley needed about 5 years ago. We’ve been completley underwhelmed by it but we do use it faithfully. Do you know anyone that actually owns the one you are looking at. Maybe you could take it out for a test run?


elfini March 26, 2009 at 10:06 am

Hmm, you didn’t skimp on boots – why would you skimp on the skillet. Although, if it really is all that, you might have to re-think the direction of this blog. Tough choice.
And why do I suddenly crave prawns?


ATriana March 27, 2009 at 4:22 pm

..sounds like its time for a trip to Sur La Table (in Santa Barbara? pretty please??)


Linda McGivern April 5, 2009 at 5:43 am

I vote in favor of skipping the $135 All-Clad purchase and heading right back to Tar-zhay. This time buy a nice $15 cast iron skillet (the residual iron will be good for you and for those growing young thangs you are feeding). They come in all sizes and even arrive at the stores now pre-seasoned so one does not have to slave over one’s pan before one begins slaving over one’s stove!


Mr Squid April 5, 2009 at 6:30 am

Pop for the good stuff. I have been slowly building up a collection of nice cookware, and I am looking forward to the day that I can leave the kitchen sections of Target and Ikea behind. The difference between a good piece and a cheap piece can be hard to quantify, but things do seem to cook better. Perhaps it is just a confidence thing, but they also look nicer in the kitchen. That said, I have found that there is no need to pay a huge sum for a single frying pan (or whatever), but going a step or two up from what’s in the local bib box store seems to make a big difference.


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