When my husband and I put together our wedding registry, I did an enormous amount of research. I wanted to make sure that the items our friends and family bought for us would be around for a long time. We're big cooks, so most of what we registered for was for the kitchen, and I was beyond excited to upgrade from the hand-me-down set of 1960s Faberware cookware I had been using since college. Turns out the only pan we needed was our All-Clad 12-inch pan (buy it for $129 at amazon.com and williamssonoma.com). Here's why it was the best option, and we didn't need to have an entire set of pricey pots and pans.
I set out to research the best option for a durable, high-performing set of pots and pans that could handle nearly any cooking task and would last a lifetime. Pretty quickly, one name kept popping up above the rest: All-Clad. Their stainless line of pots and pans have a stellar reputation for their tri-ply construction, which sandwiches aluminum between layers of stainless steel around the entire cooking surface, ensuring even heating. The cookware is made in the USA and has a lifetime warranty, and I didn't find a single review that didn't rave about its performance. But when I looked at the price of the cookware, it gave me pause. A 10-piece set will set you back $700, and individual pieces run from $100-$350, depending on their size. I knew the prices were well above the gift budgets of many of our friends and family members, and it seemed like a big ask to include so many expensive items on our registry. So I kept researching.
It turns out that multi-clad cookware excels most at one specific task: searing. When you're cooking over high heat, the aluminum (or sometimes copper) core heats quickly and evenly, allowing meat and vegetables to brown on the surface. This browning enhances flavor and allows a layer of fond to form (the fond is those little bits of browned fat that stick to your pan), which can be deglazed into a delicious pan sauce. The best tri-ply pans are fully clad, which means the layers continue all the way up the sides of the pan, rather than just on the bottom. This ensures even heating across the entire pan's surface with no hot or cool spots, resulting in more uniform browning. That's why All-Clad cookware has such a stellar reputation: it has excellent heat distribution and allows for near-perfect browning when pan-searing steaks, browning roasts and cooking skin-on chicken.
But here's the thing: when you're cooking, you're not always searing. I use a large stockpot for making broth and soups, a medium stockpot to cook pasta and beans, and a medium saucepan to cook oatmeal, rice, and other grains (I also have a dutch oven, which I use for baking bread and long-simmering chilis and stews, and a well-seasoned cast iron skillet for sautéing veggies and frying eggs). The expensive construction of an All-Clad pan doesn't actually outperform other multi-clad pots and pans when cooking in these ways (you don't need to worry as much about hotspots when your entire pot of liquid is simmering). I realized that I didn't really need a top-of-the line—read, expensive—pan for a lot of tasks in the kitchen.
In the end, I put just one All-Clad pan on my registry: an All-Clad Stainless Steel 12-inch fry pan. It's generous size can fit four steaks, a whole cut-up chicken, and a long pork tenderloin. It's heat-resistant handles make it easy to maneuver, and it can go from stovetop to oven to dishwasher. For the rest of our pots and pans, I chose Cuisinart Multiclad Pro, a less expensive tri-ply cookware that has way less cache but is extremely durable and easy to care for, and also has a lifetime warranty (get an entire set at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $300). I could rest easy knowing I had put together a versatile, high-performing set of cookware that friends and family could gift us without breaking the bank.
Oh, and our wedding? It was back in 2010. Our entire collection of pots and pans is still going strong 10+ years later, well on its way to serving us for a lifetime.