As a college student, I pretty much cooked with just a toaster oven, microwave, or a nonstick pan. Sometimes I’d get fancy and boil water to make pasta or mac & cheese. My dad who had worked in several restaurants would give me various pans and knives over the years but I didn’t really appreciate what he was trying to teach me until very recently. I’m just an artist/programmer, that grew up watching a lot of PBS, sharing my experiences and maybe they’ll inspire you as well. Today, let’s start with some good options for pans. With a pan you can cook eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, steak, and even pan pizza. I’ll use the Diablo/Borderlands rating/color system.
Pro tip: pans are vastly superior to microwaves for heating up pizza; it takes only a few minutes and gets the cheesy melty and crust crispy.
Beginner/Common: Nonstick if you like it simple and aren’t afraid of a little teflon in your food. Most of the time you need to avoid using metal on these pans. There are also ceramic and anodized aluminium options. A lot can be found in the $10-$30 range but can get much more expensive as well. Having one around is not a bad idea for quickly cooking some eggs or vegetables.
Pros: inexpensive, easy to maintain/clean, non-stick, heats quickly
Cons: Cheaper models may chip and flake. Most are not oven safe.
Intermediate/Rare: Cast Iron if you really want a solid piece that’ll last you through many upgrades. You’ll want to avoid using soapy water unless you have a huge mess to clean up, but generally all you need to do is wipe it down or run some warm water over it and keep it lightly oiled. It’ll get to a really good non-stick status in no time. This piece of cookware will level up with you. 90% of my cooking is with a cast iron skillet. Lodge is a good brand you can find for around $20 for a basic 10″ model. You can also put these in the oven which is great for steaks, one-pan recipes, and even pan pizza.
Pros: Heats evenly. Durable. Oven safe.
Cons: Heavy. Some effort to maintain seasoning.
Legendary: Le Creuset. This stuff is the Rare/Legendary grade hardware. From what I understand, they’re cast iron but ceramic coated. Very easy to maintain but with all the benefits of cast iron. It’s like cast iron that has been magically upgraded by a French blacksmith named Creuset. They are generally quite expensive but you see many professional kitchens and chefs using them. It’s more than just a name. I’ve bought my wife a few pieces over the years when we happen upon an outlet store or deep sale when a store is overstocked or they’re discontinuing a color/piece. As one may treat a legendary armor-set though, my wife will not let us mix and match colors. I think we have one salt crock, a dutch oven, and something that looks like a tomato.
Pros: Durable. High quality. Easier to maintain than cast-iron
Just like in Diablo or Borderlands, there are many different builds/options and everyone has their own preference. You could just have a cheap non-stick pan and that’s all you need, or you may have 20 different civil-war era cast iron’s you’ve found and restored off ebay. You probably already have what you need, but if you don’t and are cooking everything with a microwave then please consider picking up one of these to start.