Category Archives: Cookware

Pressure Cookers (Stovetop & Electric)

Pressure cookers have been making a big comeback over the last decade. Gone are the days of a shaky pot spitting hot steam out at your face. Safety features abound and they’ve even gone from the stovetop to the countertop in many electric models.

How Does a Pressure Cooker Work?

A pressure cooker, stovetop or electric, has a gasket seal on the lid piece that makes it impossible for steam to escape from inside of the cooking vessel once locked into place. As you heat the water/food inside the vessel, the water turns to vapor. Since the steam cannot escape, its molecules will increase velocity, which will increase pressure on the surface of the liquid and the also increase the temperature of the water.*


Why Pressure Cook?

  • Fast – steam cooks food faster than dry cooking methods
  • Nutritional – steamed food retain vitamins and nutrients better than other cooking methods
  • One pot – easy cleanup
  • Braising – works well with foods that require water infusion or braising methods
  • Safe – food is cooked above boiling point, killing most bacteria and micro-organisms
  • Pressure Canning – if you get a large enough pressure cooker, you can also use it for pressure canning. Some people don’t trust themselves to get the time/temperature correct when using a regular pot for canning.
    • Or purchase a pressure canner, which is essentially the same thing, it just won’t have the fancy handles and locks like a stovetop pressure cooker.

Most people really love pressure cookers for cooking beans, artichokes, and making soup stocks.

Fissler pressure cooker pans with pressure lid,
glass lid and perforated insert pan

Things to Consider With Both Stovetop and Electric Pressure Cookers:

  • Gaskets wear out (like they would on anything requiring a gasket seal), so I would recommend making sure you can find replacement ones.
  • On that note, making sure any parts are replaceable is key, in my opinion.
  • Reviews on pressure cookers can be tough, because a lot of people are overwhelmed when they finally get it home, don’t use it properly, etc. Reviews on anything, in general, tends to be on the negative side since people with positive experiences don’t feel the urge to get online and complain! So make sure you really do your homework and check reviews from several sources. Cook’s Illustrated and Consumer Reports are high-quality resources.
  • With something that can be considered so dangerous, I personally would spend more to get the top-rated brands. I don’t want to skimp on materials to save a couple of bucks!
  • Find pressure cooker cookbooks that appeal to you. I would refer to something published versus a recipe you find on the internet (unless you know it’s a reputable source!), just like with canning (or pressure canning!) You don’t want to assume everyone knows their internal meat cooking temperatures, etc. At least this isn’t canning and you can always throw your food in a pot on the stove afterwards if it’s not cooked properly!
  • The European Union has very strict standards on pressurized equipment (pressure equipment directive), so if you are still worried, I would look for a European brand to have comfort in knowing it has to be up to par.
  • Everything has to be cooked at once, and some foods don’t taste quite right with the addition of water required to use the cooker.
  • You have to reduce pressure just to inspect the food while cooking, so that is discouraged. It’s recommended to aim to undercook versus overcook, since you can always continue cooking if it’s not done yet.
Duromatic pressure cookers and accessories

Stovetop Pressure Cookers

Stovetop pressure cookers aren’t what they used to be. Every model I have seen now comes with two ways to release the pressure buildup; a release button on the handle, and the old-school way, by running water over the lid.

All new stovetop pressure cooker lids are shaped in a way or designed in a way that forces the hot steam downwards, away from the cook’s face. They also won’t open until the pressure has been fully released.

You can use your pressure cooker pan as a regular pan without the lid, and my favorite brand, Fissler, actually makes a set that comes with a glass lid, a pressure lid, and two different sized pots that you can interchange the lids between for pressure and regular cooking. I know Kuhn Rikon sells the glass lids with certain cookers and separately. I’m sure other brands must also make glass lids, as well.

Fissler & Kuhn Rikon also make a bunch of really cool accessory pieces if you really want to get into using your pressure cooker as an essential kitchen tool. Who knew you could make a cheesecake in a pressure cooker?

Fissler is made in Germany. They have a unique indicator system that they’ve actually improved upon so you can really see what pressure level you are at; it uses the “traffic light” color model. Their newer models have cool features like an electronic digital readout and a pressure-free steam setting. They are also just very well-marked, making them almost fool-proof to get together and lock into place, unlike some other brands can be.

Kuhn Rikon’s Duromatic, is made in Switzerland. And yes, the pressure cookers are still made there, I know that a lot of their smaller gadgets are not. You can order replacement parts, so that is positive, as well. They’ve pretty much been producing the same cookers for a long time, so they are definitely sturdy and reliable, I just say they’re my second favorite because Fissler has so many cool features. They are both high quality pieces of kitchen equipment, and actually now that pressure cooking is becoming popular again, Kuhn Rikon are starting to revamp their wares again, so check them out!

Fagor is supposed to be a very good inexpensive alternative to these two, so I would recommend checking that brand out above anything else since it had a good rating with Cook’s Illustrated, but I personally have no knowledge about them.

Cuisinart electric pressure cooker

Electric Pressure Cookers

Electric pressure cookers are a great ease if you have room for another countertop appliance in your home. The biggest difference from the stovetop is that you can’t use this as a regular pot on the stove. You can, however, use most of them as slow cookers. Depending on the settings yours comes with, you should also be able to brown or sauté, so you have the potential to use it without pressure.

The safety features on these should really just be that it won’t start unless it’s all locked into place properly. If you are doing slow release, you don’t even have to let the pressure out yourself, it does it for you. (Fast release, you push a lever.)

I am really only familiar with the Cuisinart model; most other models are very new to the market over the last decade and the companies producing them are constantly changing the machines so you generally never see the exact same ones twice. Cuisinart has been making pretty much the same model for longer than that, proving it’s sturdiness and reliability. You can buy replacement parts easily, it comes with a rack and a nice recipe book, along with a 3-year warranty.


Clay & Terra Cotta Cookware

Emile Henry Flame Top Brasier

Anything ceramic/stoneware/terra cotta/earthenware being sold as sturdy cookware should be high-fired. This means when it’s being made, it is put in the oven once at a really high temperature, versus being pulled in and out several times like how most ceramics are made*. Doing this causes a piece of stoneware to become more brittle so it won’t hold up as long. A high-fire piece is going to be a heck of a lot stronger and can handle the stove top and oven. Since this cookware is just clay, the heat will distribute evenly, just like a stainless clad pan!

Emile Henry and Piral are the brands I am most familiar with. Since it is sold as an “all-natural” cookware, the colors (at least in these brands) are actually derived from metal oxides, not dyes, which are naturally occurring. These companies make a lot of dutch oven style pots, so they’re a great alternative to a heavy cast iron dutch oven. I always tell people to pick up the pan, then imagine it full of food. Can you carry it? If not, clay is probably the better option!

Natural cookware like this will generally require special care, so read your instructions! Cookware like Piral asks you to soak it before just the first use and to utilize a heat diffuser on electric stoves. Emile Henry also has seasoning instructions before first use, which are kind of funny. You boil a layer of milk and immediately turn the heat off and let it cool. Emile Henry will also start producing what look like hairline cracks inside the piece over time. Completely normal, and actually most cookware in this category will warn you of natural flaws that will occur!

Piral Cookware

If you are cooking with unsealed clay, you will need to soak the piece, usually for 15-20 minutes. The water turns to steam and keeps the food really moist, so these are really great for roasting meat! Generally, clay is only for oven use and is a bit more fragile than the ceramic cookware mentioned above. Clay cookware can be really inexpensive or really expensive like the Romertopf brand that I remember selling a lot of during the holiday season.

Sealed cookware like Emile Henry and Piral are going to be a bit more costly than clay, but are backed by warranty periods, which I think is amazing for something that seems like it should be so fragile.

Click here to return to “Buying Cookware” to compare to other types of cookware! 

*Read about “Ceramic Dinnerware and Bakeware Basics

*Read about “Ceramic & Glass Dinnerware Brands

*Read about “Buying Ceramic Dinnerware and Bakeware

Cast Iron Cookware

Lodge cast iron
Lodge cast iron

Since we started talking about these guys with enamel, we now have to discuss in depth.  For regular cast iron with no enamel coating:


  • All natural!
  • Adds iron to your food
  • Distributes heat evenly
  • Gets better with age – the more you season it, the more nonstick it will become. Make sure grandma leaves hers to you in her will!  I met a man whose family had passed theirs down for over 100 years – he couldn’t believe how “rough” new cast iron feels!
  • Hard to kill – if you accidentally wash it with soap, just re-season it!  My friend found some badly treated cast iron second-hand and happened to be an art student with access to a sandblaster, so she sandblasted it and re-seasoned it – good as new!
  • Lodge – the original cast iron, still made in the USA!
Rusty skillet can be fixed! Don't toss it out!
Rusty skillet can be fixed! Don’t toss it out!


  • Heavy
  • Takes a long time to heat up/cool down
  • Not supposed to wash with soap (but if you do, just re-season) or dishwasher
    • This leads most people to have specific pans for specific things, and then they just don’t ever wash them, or rarely, at least.
    • You can use a mild soap but make sure to dry and season immediately!
Cast iron cornbread pan
Cast iron cornbread pan

Nowadays, brand new cast iron pans will come “pre-seasoned”.  This means that they put a bunch of pans in a giant oven and blasted them with vegetable oil.  You’re still going to need to season it!  Like I said, the older the better, so you’re going to need to break this baby in.  Lodge’s website has great use and care tips that I direct everyone to.

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Porcelain & Enamel Cookware

Chantal 10" frypan
Chantal 10″ frypan

As I’ve mentioned before, enamel becomes glass.  (This will come up again when we discuss dinnerware.)  Glass is non-porous, meaning nothing gets in or out.  So any of you thinking that all these funky colors they put on enamel cookware are going to leech into your food, fear not!  Glass is also pretty tough, meaning you can be a little harder on these like you would with stainless.  This also means you can use metal utensils!  You will get surface scratching, but nothing that will damage the cookware.*

Chantal 1.5qt saucepan
Chantal 1.5qt saucepan

Chantal has a patented enamel-on-steel product that really can’t be matched!  They’ve been doing this for years—I actually met a girl who said her German grandmother had owned these pans for decades and passed them on to her.  (They’re made in Germany!)  Their newer line actually has a copper core and was created specifically for induction cook tops, but works well on all types of stoves.  The drawback is it’s quite a bit heavier than their older lines, but they put “helper handles” on most pieces to assist.  That would be a second short handle on the opposite side of the regular handle so you can grab with both hands.

Le Creuset 6.75qt dutch oven
Le Creuset 6.75qt dutch oven

Porcelain enamel would be what you normally see on enameled cast iron, like Le Creuset, Staub, Lodge and other brands of enameled dutch ovens.

Some enamels are cheaply made in places like China and I’ve heard negative things in the past about potential issues, but I can’t find anything about it now, so it must not be a problem anymore. This would include the cheaper brands like Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart, and now even Lodge, which is made in the USA, but the enamel comes from China.  Lowers the price so they can compete with the French brands Le Creuset & Staub.

Paula Deen grill pan
Paula Deen grill pan

Don’t confuse porcelain enamel cooking surface with the pans that are porcelain enamel with a nonstick cooking surface.  Those pans are just nonstick with an enamel exterior.  I have a Paula Dean grill pan that is porcelain enamel, and it’s just like any other nonstick—I’ve had it for a couple of years and use it frequently, so it’s starting to die.  The exterior has held up really well, though, I must say.  I’ve read mixed reviews on other brands holding up as well on the outside.

*To clarify to the less graceful ones (like myself), if you drop the pan really hard, you can chip the exterior, which does not affect the cooking of the food, so no worries.  (Actually, if it’s REALLY hard, you can damage the whole dang thing, which isn’t covered in the lifetime warranty, kids!)

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Nonstick Cookware

There are a lot of varieties of nonstick coatings out there, and the great thing is that a lot of them don’t contain PFOAs. Teflon has even bounced back from their name being dug through the dirt* and producing nonstick for some of the top brand names again. Unfortunately, in my experience, no matter how much you spend on nonstick cookware, it will always end up “sticking” and eventually chipping or peeling off. At least it’s not toxic anymore, though, right? 😉

A way to keep your nonstick lasting longer is to give it a baking soda or Barkeeper’s Friend “bath” every now and again. Nonstick cookware is porous, so even though you think you’ve cleaned it, there is stuff down in those pores. Baking soda sucks everything out of the pores.

CIA 10″ Nonstick…a little worn out already.

Stainless steel with nonstick interior pans will usually still have rivets (see above photo), but on a lot of cheaper nonstick lines you can find rivet-less cookware, which is nice. You can also find some pretty cheap sets, making it a little easier on the wallet to have to replace every 4-5 years. You can’t use metal utensils on nonstick cookware, either.

Paula Deen 11″ Nonstick Grill Pan; need to replace soon!

Another thing you want to avoid with nonstick cookware is aerosol cooking sprays because the propellant in it causes the nonstick to break down. You’ll also get a sticky residue on the pan. Oil misters can work, but it’s easier to use a brush or swirl oil in a pan if you need to use it.

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*In researching this article, I discovered that by Google searching “Teflon”, everything below DuPont’s website being first related to articles about how PFOA and Teflon are two different things!