I have an update to my Pots and Pans post and some wonderful news for people who prefer not to spend all their disposable income on cooking equipment. I finally got around to buying a few pieces of Tramontina cookware highly recommended by Cook's Illustrated.
10 inch TriPly-Clad skillet ($30)
6.5 quart dutch oven ($50)
I've been using the skillet interchangeably with my 10 inch all-clad skillet for 3 weeks now and I can't see the difference in performance. Heats quickly, cooks evenly, browns well producing excellent fond (brown bits). If anything I found one benefit to the Tramontina skillet over All-clad. Its handle doesn't have a dip right down the middle making it easier to handle. That dip never bothered me about the all-clad skillet, but I know it bothers some people, so Tramontina makes a great alternative. It's also one third of the price. An equivalent all-clad skillet is $90. I can't speak for durability yet. I've had the all-clad for 10 years and it's in perfect shape. If I am still blogging in 10 years, I'll let you know how Tramontina holds up :)
The dutch oven is huge and performs great. So far, I've made 2 braises and one no-knead bread.
In case you are wondering why my lid handle looks different than the one on Walmart's site, it's because Jason replaced it for me with a metal cabinet knob per Cook's Instructions. The one that came with the pot is technically not safe at 500F necessary for the bread.
My only two gripes with the dutch oven is that it's insanely heavy (they are all like this, so it's nothing against Tramontina) and the rim of the pot and the lid are naked cast iron, not covered with enamel.
This means that they need to be rubbed with oil and seasoned in 350F oven for an hour before first use. That's a minor annoyance since it's a one time activity. But it also means that you can't let them stay wet or they might rust, and the pot needs to be dried by hand after washing. That's a somewhat bigger annoyance since it happens every time I use the pot. Not sure why they left them naked. They covered the entire pot with enamel. How hard would it be to do the edges too?! The reason I am not too worried about it is that the edges don't normally touch the food.
The price for this beast is simply incomparable. An equivalent Le Creuset costs $240 (five times the price of Tramontina). Again, I can't say anything about reliability, and since I don't have any Le Creuset cookware, I can't compare them first hand. But Cook's has been using and abusing these pots for years and I doubt they'd be recommending them if they fell apart.
So, where do you buy these pots and pans? Walmart. If such huge stores make you feel agoraphobic, you can order your pots on-line and have them shipped to your local store for free. That's the best way to make sure you'll get exactly what you want. My wonderful husband spared me the need to go to Walmart and picked up the pots for me. From what I hear it took forever to find a helpful staff member who knew where my pots were, so be prepared to wait. But the goodies that have been coming out of these wonderful pots every day, quickly erased the memory of dealing with Walmart personel.