America’s Test Kitchen: Frugal Ideas On Cookware And More

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I’m sure the foodies already know about this site, but I just learned about it recently so I figured I’d throw it out there for discussion… America’s Test Kitchen is a very popular PBS show that shares carefully tested recipes, review cooking gear, and even taste-test supermarket products. I figured this would fit in with the frugal theme since they can help you get the best value when buying knives, pots, pans, and even olive oil. I would describe it as a food-focused Consumer Reports.

You can access their recent reviews and articles online for free, but you must provide an e-mail and mailing address. They say they won’t sell your e-mail, but they will force you subscribe to their newsletter and try to get you to sign up for a subscription of Cook’s Illustrated. Let’s just say both can be fake, and you can still gain access… Note that many of the older articles are archived into a paid-only area that costs $24.95 annually.

Now, the most expensive models do often end up being rated the best. However, sometimes there is a surprise and the $30 pan matches or beats out the $100 pan. If not, there is usually a model that ranks nearly as well but is also significantly cheaper. Here’s a sampling of articles I found interesting. Note that these direct links will only work after you have logged in.

  • Inexpensive Knife Sets. Scroll to the bottom to find their recommendation for how to build your own cheap but high-quality knife set for under $100. They really like the R .H. Forschner by Victorinox brank of knives (the Swiss Army knives people).
  • The Little Nonstick Saucepan That Could: “You can spend $100 on a 2-quart nonstick saucepan–but should you?” I’m glad to see my Calphalon pans rated pretty well.
  • Inexpensive Dutch Ovens. “Our favorite Dutch ovens cost more than $200. Ouch! Is there a cheaper version that performs almost as well? Yes. It costs $40.” I don’t own one of these, but I like how the Target brand kept up with fancy-pants Le Creuset. 🙂
  • Drip Coffee Makers. “Does an Inexpensive Model Have to Feel Cheap?”
  • Commuter Coffee Mugs. “We didn’t find perfection, but we came close.”

I can’t wait until Spring and we can grill in our own new backyard. Bobby Flay, watch out!

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  1. Cook’s Illustrated, however, is a fabulous magazine if you enjoy cooking in the least. I have never made a recipe from it that wasn’t strictly amazing, the text is entertaining, the reasoning behind each recipe is made clear, and the physical copies are solid (such that archiving them doesn’t feel silly).

    I’m just saying, if you do decide to buy it, it’s not a bad deal 🙂

  2. Dan Isaacs says

    Looks like Amazon reviews beg to differ with their top choice.

  3. Dan – Your link doesn’t go anywhere, do you mean this set? The Amazon reviews on it aren’t that great at all.

    Wusthof seems to be like Henckels and are now making a wide range of knives using their brand name, some of which are pretty crappy.

    I have some Wusthof Classic knives from our wedding registry, but they are forged and cost $300 for the set. Not bad knives, but pricey.

  4. I just don’t trust those non-stick ones. I prefer cast iron cookware.

  5. This was a great article, not sure if you’ve seen it on putting together an inexpensive kitchen:

  6. Amazon is still the best place for product reviews because they are more reviews from users like you and me. Unlike reviews from American’s Test Kitchen, reviews from Amazon can be edit/update later. Products might die after 2 months.

  7. I never understood why we wait till it is hot outside to grill. I have to stand next to that thing and it is uncomfortable. When it is cold outside I stay nice and warm grilling away.

  8. I work in one of those “fancy” kitchen stores and have learned when one should spend and when one should save. Yes Henckels has been getting crappier over the years with only one higher quality line left, but, Wusthof’s Top lines are worth every penny. If knives are properly taken care of they will last a lifetime. In such a case what is $300 spread over 20+ years. I never understood people’s unwillingness to spend money on quality kitchen items (pots pans knives) since these are a lifetime investment (if properly cared for), and are used every single day. I’d rather buy one pan and have it last me 30 + years. Of course not everything is worth spending crazy money on but basics like knives and cookware should be looked at over the long term. Meanwhile I have a Le Creuset oven from my grandmother that I myself have used for 25 years. I bought a kitchen tools oven in a different size 5 years ago and it Cracked during my thanksgiving cookfest.

  9. As a foodie, I’ve always enjoyed this show, and Cook’s Illustrated is one of the best food magazines for recipes and instruction without advertisements on every other page.

    For cookware, I’m an advocate of buying good quality individual pieces. Cookware sets give you more than you need. Some pieces can be pricy, but they’ll last a lifetime and more. Non-stick fry pans won’t last, so I buy moderate quality and replace them every year or two. I also buy knives individually. It would be great to have matching cookware and tools, but truthfully you’ll do better by searching for the best quality in each category.

    Ebay can be great for some of these things. I also like the selection on the following website.

  10. Like lulu, I firmly believe there are some items that are absolutely worth the higher price and a good knife is first on that list. A Wusthof Classic 8″ chef’s knife will do 95% of all the knifework you’ll ever do in a kitchen and properly cared for, it’ll last forever. At ~$100, it’s an outright bargain.

  11. I have a Tivo season pass for American Test Kitchen, even older shows have some equipment reviews worth seeing (beats having to pay $25 for the web reviews)

  12. That Wusthof set that comes up in the link is a lower end set That you would possibly even find at target. The same steel isn’t used to make the knife as the higher lines. Plus, this is a stamped set vs a forged blade so it won’t have the heft and lasting power of a better set. That is probably part of the reason for bad reviews

  13. I wanted Wusthof’s my whole life – finally got them and am VERY disappointed in the Customer Service and in the quality of the knife – my biggest complaints?

    1. Metal discoloration – I NEVER wash my knives in the dishwasher, always hand wash and immediately towel dry, yet the blades are spotty and discolored.

    2. Dont hold an edge – I have had my knifes professionally sharpened and they still dont hold an edge for more than a month in my “cook-3-4x-per-week-home-kitchen” (stored in wooden Wusthof block).

    3. Handles – The prominent Wusthof “W” logo was the first to peel off and then the ultimate embarassment when a knife slipped down onto a hot pan and I didnt retrieve it right away – the PLASTIC handle melted – looks horrible – PLASTIC!!! On a Wusthof!!!

    I am seriously thinking about selling my whole set at a steep discount on CraigsList and buying new Victorinox!


  14. I will say this, I have a Le Creuset French Oven that I picked up at their outlet store and I love it. Cost me around $100, so way cheaper than new, and cooks amazingly evenly and is cake to clean. As far as I can tell the only “issue” that it has that could have gotten it into the outlet store is that the lid fits tighter one direction versus the opposite… not a big deal at all.

    Just thought I’d share. If you’re looking for Le Creuset, definitely check their outlet stores if they’re around. Often they’ll just be trying to sellout stock of discontinued colors.

  15. Thanks for giving tips on quality cookware to purchase. As long as different brands of non-stick pans are composed of the same materials, one may take advantage of purchasing a less expensive one.

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