Pots and pans are a part of a cook’s history, an extension of their owners. New ones earn their affections. Those that are inherited or discovered in a second hand store come already laden with history, but tend to quickly fit into their adopted life if only because they possess an attraction that has drawn the cook’s eye.
Used pots and pans form the spine of my kitchen. There’s an undeniable case to be made that, unless you’re running a kitchen, no one needs more that four: 1 skillet, 1 sauce pan, 1 stock pot, 1 Dutch oven. I started out with the first three new then added an old Dutch oven. By now it’s been joined by 21 pieces of varying provenance: 1 more Dutch oven; 3 restaurant-grade stainless steel skillets; 4 cast-iron skillets; 1 wok; 4 sauce pans; 4 copper pots; 2 stock pots, all of them different sizes; a double boiler and an omelet pan. Most are used at least once a week, especially during this period when lunches have suddenly become a genuine meal.
At least twice a month I head to a place called Build It Green (BIG), a large warehouse filled with other people’s and construction companies’ cast offs of just about everything imaginable and then some more. I can’t feel easy in the presence of someone who doesn’t see BIG as a heaven of possibilities. My extremely well-worn root begins at lamps then meanders through furniture, over to sinks, the wood pile and ripped-out architectural pieces, a long stop at the books and records to finally land among the shelves filled with china from many eras, knick-knacks that once seemed like treasures, and forlorn personal items.
Lastly, I search through all the pots and pans each shouting to be picked up and carted home.
What to look for in a good pot
What’s Cooking America‘s website gives a comprehensive guide to what to look for and avoid. But I also think each cook should follow her own instincts and cooking style. For instance, I bang around a lot and tend to shift equipment across the stove so my equipment has to be very sturdy, though not needlessly heavy, and have a solid handle. If not cast-iron, then it must be stainless steal and double-checked to make sure it’s not Teflon coated. Lids aren’t necessary–I have a lot–but it’s a bonus if they still have their own. A copper pot should never be just for show because, if one is honest, you will never polish it.
How to season a cast-iron Dutch oven or skillet
I bought a new cast iron skillet once and it never quite seasoned right. This is why you should buy only used cast iron because it has already been perfected. It becomes all yours with just a couple of good damp wipes. But if you’re someone who believes in scrubbing and boiling everything from a thrift store then go ahead and buy new cast iron and follow the directions that come with it but one exception. Generally they’ll tell you to scrub it but this may very well lead to your new pan rusting right away. Instead, wipe it several times then dry it well and go on to these steps:
With the rack placed in the middle of the oven, preheat to 400 degrees.
Coat the bottom and sides of the pan with a skin of oil–lard is perfect but most people use vegetable oil.
Place the cast iron pan upside down on the middle rack with foil or a cookie sheet on the bottom wrack to catch drippings.
Bake 1 hour then turn the oven off and let the pan cool down.
Take the pan from the oven and repeat at least 4 times.