My grandparents fears food sticking to pans the most. They love, but never attended cooking school for, Chinese and Japanese cuisines.

For their current pan probably can't be seasoned or repaired, they went to the store to seek advice, but the salesperson kept promoting the 9-piece cookware set, proclaiming that they needed all 9 to sufficiently distinguish the use of different vessels for different foods, or else they'd ruin their cookware again. Now they're suffering decision paralysis.

  1. My grandparents live in a flat, and have little space. So which cookwares are essential? Let's predicate that their budget is unlimited for now. They prefer buying 2 polytropic versatile excellent cooking vessels that last the longest, rather than 5 "single-minded" cheaper vessels.

They ruled out woks that don't behoove flat electric induction cooktops.

They're befuddled and overwhelmed by the overabundance and paradox of choice e.g. sauce pan, frying pan, and/or skillet. How does Le Creuset's Stir-Fry pan differ from their Deep Fry, Sauté pans? Do non-stick pans comprise a separate category?

  1. For each cookware that you recommend, what surface coating? All-Clad Stainless Steel? Aluminum? Cast Iron again? Ceramic? Carbon steel? Forged iron? Stainless steel? PTFE? Teflon?
  • 1
    While not an answer to the asked question: your grandparents pan isn't ruined. It just needs to be reseasoned
    – AMtwo
    Aug 22, 2020 at 22:14
  • Based on your other question it does not appear that the existing pan is cast iron, but rather anodized aluminum.
    – AMtwo
    Aug 23, 2020 at 4:02

4 Answers 4


So which cookwares are essential?

A 9-inch skillet. That's it. For 90% of stovetop cooking applications, that's all you'll need. Add an 8-qt pot for making pasta, and possibly also a 2-qt or 3-qt saucepan if they like making sauces.

They're befuddled and overwhelmed by the overabundance and paradox of choice e.g. sauce pan, frying pan, and/or skillet.

They need not be. The characteristics that define cookware are shape/size and material/surface. Most of the difference is in marketing. For example, 'frying pan' and 'skillet' are the same item.

How does Le Creuset's Stir-Fry pan differ from their Deep Fry, Sauté pans?

Shape and size. Deep fry pan will be deeper than a sautee pan; stir fry pan is large, typically has a second handle, and a rounder sloped edge (it's for stirring). Etc. I want to note that to the home cook these differences are minor and can quite satisfactorily be ignored in favor of considerations such as "I like how that one looks/feels." These are all, broadly speaking, 'frying pans'.

For each cookware that you recommend, what surface coating? All-Clad Stainless Steel? Aluminum? Cast Iron again? Ceramic? Carbon steel? Forged iron? Stainless steel? PTFE? Teflon?

PTFE = Teflon (Teflon is a well-known brand of PTFE). Aluminum and carbon steel tend to sit under a PTFE ('non stick') coating. I've never heard of forged iron cookware but it looks like it's basically cast iron. So a lot of these 'options' are the same.

I'd break down cookware material options as follows:

  1. Cast iron - this is likely not a good fit for your folks:
  • It's quite heavy
  • It needs to be cared for in a certain way
  • It's not great for Asian cuisines that typically require lots of stirring/tossing
  1. Stainless steel. While it's very durable, I'd rule this out for you because:
  • While it has its proponents, for an amateur it's much more prone to sticking
  • It requires slightly more specialized care than nonstick
  1. Non stick. It doesn't matter much for our purposes what goes underneath (aluminum, carbon steel, what have you).
  • Non stick (regardless what brand name coating is used) cookware is versatile, easy to care for, and not as durable as cast iron or stainless steel. As in, properly cared-for cast iron need never be replaced, stainless steel almost never, and nonstick about, oh, every 500 uses?
  • Clean with hot soapy water.
  • Do not clean with the "scrubby side" of a sponge, or any abrasive cleaning agents. This can damage the coating over time. Almost all messes should come up with a soft sponge and hot soapy water. If something is really gunked on there, throw a cup or two of water in it and heat it up again, stirring the messy part (with a plastic spatula), then take to the sink and try cleaning again (careful; it's hot).
  • Do not scrape/stir/touch with metal utensils.

I recommend that you recommend the following:

  1. Buy a small number of non stick cookware. Two skillets, a saucepan and a pot will cover 100% of your cooking necessities.
  2. Do not metal utensils in them. You can see in the second picture of your previous question where some of the non stick coating has been scraped off; this is likely the culprit.

They can use a medium-end (less expensive than La Creuset) every night for a year without needing to replace it, as long as they clean it each time and don't wreck the coating. Don't overthink the seeming multitude of options, just pick a size/shape that looks and feels fine, and don't think you're missing out. You definitely don't need a 9-piece cookware set.

  • Thanks very much! Welcome, and I hope to see more of you here! My grandparents shunned and never used metal utensils on the pan, but they used both sides of the sponge. Now they know not to!
    – user24882
    Aug 28, 2020 at 4:22
  • 1
    Thanks! I lurk, mostly, there are really good experts on here and I'm just a guy who likes to cook. But I felt this was a great question that had been underserved. In re-reading and adding some edits, I realized I had left something unsaid - I assume that if your folks are frequently preparing Asian food at home that they have a rice cooker. I actually don't know how to make rice on a stovetop. Zojirushi is the ubiquitous brand, and it's pricey but worth it. Apologies if this is already known to you.
    – Alex M
    Aug 28, 2020 at 5:16
  • 1
    No apologies required! Yes, my grandparents have a rice cooker. Thanks again!
    – user24882
    Aug 28, 2020 at 21:16
  1. You can cook with only one pan. Or, if you want to go absolutely minimalistic, you can get the cheapest stainless steel pot you want and both cook and fry in it - not very convenient, but doable. In that sense, the minimum amount of vessels to buy is one.

Of course, your grandparents might find that they don't want to deal with the inconvenience of having only one pan, but nobody can predict which number of pans is optimal for them personally, this is something they have to decide.

  1. Frankly, in your situation, there is no pan in the world that meets your grandparents' expectations. If they don't want to care for a seasoned cast iron or carbon steel, then this is out. If they hate food sticking, all other technologies beside PTFE and ceramic are also out. PTFE and ceramic are not durable, they fail after some time - and the higher the heat you use, the sooner they fail.

The way I have seen most people in your grandparents' situation solve the problem is to use PTFE only and replace it when it gets ruined - about once or twice a year.


i'm always confused by "grandparents" since that can mean people who are 50 and no where near retiring or people who are 100

this is just a quick note on cast iron.

is the "uneven" that the pan is warped? which is really hard to do to a real iron or carbon steal pan.

and no cast iron finishes will not survive say a whole lot of canned tomatoes -

it's quite possible to revitalise a cast iron pan - if it's gunky - there are a bunch of youtube vids, but one way i use frequently is heat up the pan, put in baking soda and enough water to cover the baking soda and let it go for a bit.

Then steal wool (with rubber gloves on) - when cooled enough to touch - you'll get all the gunk off and alot of that black finish.

when you're happy with that state, you can rebuild that non-stick surface using a high heat oil like flax or rice bran - again many you tube vids on applying the oil to a warm pan, wiping it off or really buffing it in to get it to the thinnest layer possible, putting it into the oven at high heat for an hour - and repeating - or just cooking with it to rebuild the surface.

the oil at high heat polymerises - forms a bond with the pan - and creates that nice surface.

so if they want to save their pan there are ways.

you never ever need to replace a cast iron pan and you never have the risk of overheating a coating which is plastic - and having that get into your bod.

hope that helps

as for PART 2 (new bit)

all-clad stainless is lovely - it doesn't do coating - it just uses oil or whatever fat you like for moving food around.

Aluminum is sometimes found (ok often found) in say skillets in restaurant kitchens. It's light and cheap and likewise uses oils - so it's not non-stick. But it's also really light. There have been concerns about cooking with aluminum for fear of toxicity from aluminum.

ALSO FOR INDUCTION ALUMINIMUM is right out and you need to check if the teflon pans have an induction-ready base.

Carbon steel/cast iron - they work fine. Think: will a magnet stick to this? if not, it's no go on induction

Cast iron is pretty fool proof and it can be cheap but heavy like logde or it can be lighter, spun, like netherton foundry (https://www.netherton-foundry.co.uk/iron-frying-pans)

Carbon steel likewise is a kind of iron cookware that may be a little more even in heating, a little more pricey but not much -(https://carbonsteelcookware.com/de-buyer/)

carbon steel and cast iron also need to be seasoned.

The teflonn stuff - well that teflon dies over time and the base is aluminum so while it's fresh if you never overheat it (cook on high) you may not be getting plastics into your system.

so there are risks/trade offs in terms of weight of pans, materials, etc.

If you figure out what your grandparents like to cook, then it's easier to help come up with a set of things that will work for them, and they can feel happy using.

so checklist might be: what do you like to cook? for asian cooking a single thin carbon steal wok is easy if they're happy cooking with oil. They season it - many youtube vids - and they're don.

after that, a good sharp knife and you're away. if you get one with a lid, super.

for example: https://www.seriouseats.com/2019/09/everything-you-can-do-with-a-wok.html

  • Thanks. My grandparents are in their 80s. "is the "uneven" that the pan is warped? which is really hard to do to a real iron or carbon steal pan." Can you please see the linked question? For clarity, I split the two questions.
    – user24882
    Aug 23, 2020 at 17:30
  • ok - updated reply hope that helps
    – user24359
    Aug 25, 2020 at 8:51
  • +1 for links, now to find netherton in the usa... Aug 14, 2022 at 2:10

There is no reason to buy the 9-piece set for most people. The salesperson wants you to buy it, but most people never need it.

I inherited one of those sets when I was in college and my great uncle died, and I only really used three pieces (and their lids) -- a large pot, a small pot / saucepan, and the larger skillet. The double boiler insert got used as a mixing bowl, not as actual cookware. I still use the two pots, 25 years later, although I also have some larger bots now, but I've swapped out the skillet for cast iron.

If you're cooking Chinese food, you probably need two things -- a flat bottomed wok (flat bottomed because of the electric stove), and a small to medium sized pot to cook rice. If you have a rice cooker, you might not even need the pot, but it's still convenient for soups or boiling noodles.

Japanese cooking tends to use more varied cookware, but a basic skillet and a medium sized pot will probably cover you for the majority of things that you'd be cooking, but Japanese cooking tends to be a main, a side, and rice, so you might want a third cooking vessel (possibly a large and medium sized pot, so you can make soup and rice), or a rice cooker.

If you're trying to stick with the minimum number of cooking vessels, I'd also try to make sure the handles are oven-safe, so you can move pots or pans from the stove top to the oven. (although, this technique isn't common in Chinese or Japanese cooking, and they might not even have an oven)


As for the question of materials -- I'd avoid cast iron, either seasoned or enameled for older people, just because they're heavy. You'll also need to avoid aluminum as it won't work with induction cooking.

Otherwise, I would recommend sticking with whatever they're already used to, so they don't have to learn how they need to cook with some new type of cookware.

If they're used to carbon steel or teflon coated, then you might as well stick with those. If they're used to stainless steel, then you could upgrade to a tri-ply one like All Clad, but there are now other brands that are much more affordable. If they're used to enameled cast iron, you might go with one of the lighter weight 'ceramic' pans, provided it's just ceramic coated and rated for use on induction stoves.

Although two exceptions in there -- I'm not a fan of teflon coating in pots, especially large pots. And there's only been one brand of teflon woks that I would use -- Circulon, with the ridges in it, so you can push food to the side and it won't just slide back down. (although there are issues with teflon and high heat, so never heat it up without some oil or water in it)

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