Case File: Kitchenware
(MONEY Magazine) – THE LAW Both old-world charm and high-tech dazzlery can be deployed against the unwitting shopper in this category. But talk to the experts and you'll find that when it comes to kitchen technology, less is more--and quality is worth paying for.
Cooking is a blend of science and art. Which means that manufacturers and retailers can befuddle you with either a volley of technical specs ("an NSF-certified sanitizing rinse" just means that the water is heated to more than 140°), or with tales of ancient artisans (saying a knife was "built in the same manner as samurai swords" may only mean that both blades are made from steel). Fortunately, you have many options in this category: There are few, if any, exclusive retailers of any one kitchenware brand, so you should never hesitate to shop around.
TESTIMONY You need lots and lots of cookware (preferably copper). If you're looking to save, consider aluminum.
REBUTTAL Copper's great, but it's both pricey and a royal pain to keep clean--most serious cooks don't bother with it. You can get similar quality by using stainless steel with a copper (or aluminum) core. All-aluminum cookware is cheaper but risky; the pots and pans corrode quickly, and the salt content in aluminum can affect food's color and flavor. Unless you've got unlimited space in your kitchen (and an unlimited budget), you'll want to buy carefully--a frying pan, saucepan, sauce pot, stockpot and casserole or stewpan will be enough for most any meal.
VERDICT Stainless-steel cookware is considered to be the best all-around pick, says Jean-Pierre Brehier, director of a Florida cooking school, because it is easy to maintain, is dishwasher-safe and doesn't affect food's flavor. All-Clad's stainless-steel (plus aluminum core) set is a good buy at $539 (allclad.com).
ARTHUR TANTURRI, a New York City kitchen designer
"You'll hear appliance salespeople tell you that all dishwashers have the same kind of motor. Don't believe it: There's a real difference in the motors you'll find in some European machines, particularly those from Miele (I like their new G2000 series), which last longer and are quieter. And while everyone seems to love dishwashers with stainless-steel exteriors, where you really want to see stainless steel is in the interior--it won't rust, it's antibacterial, it doesn't crack as easily over time as plastic, and it makes for better drying. A lot of dishwashers also have countless cycle choices and such options as a water-softening feature, but the average consumer doesn't need all those extra buttons. I like having a china and crystal cycle; otherwise you can do some serious damage over time to those items. I also like having adjustable racks and tines and removable baskets--they help make space for items you might not normally be able to fit. Oh, and don't be fooled by dishwashers that have quicker cycles; they often don't clean as well."
ITEM KITCHEN KNIFE SET
TESTIMONY There's a knife for every job, so the bigger the set, the better. And steel is steel--don't think about paying more than the low price of $100.
REBUTTAL Cut out those giant blocks of knives and stick with the basics: a paring knife, boning knife, serrated knife, slicer and chef's knife. A chef's knife alone can handle most of your chopping and dicing. Watch out for knives that are not forged (made from a single piece of steel) but stamped from a sheet--they're less durable. Makers of forged knives are proud of that fact, so look for that detail in a knife's product literature.
VERDICT Go for quality. Wüsthof's Classic series, favored by cooking-school director Jean-Pierre Brehier, features forged, high-carbon stainless-steel blades that can take a beating in the kitchen. Skip the knife set and order these five à la carte.
Additional Reporting By Asa Fitch, Michelle Kalkhoff and Ingrid Tharasook contributed to this article.