Shopping like a professional (chef): Where to find the best "BAM" for your buck on cookware

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The following list of items can be sourced from local restaurant supply stores and offer the most “BAM” for your buck (bad pun intended).

[image-1]Pots and Pans: High grade aluminum stock pots and sauce pans are available in all sizes, ranging from the useful to the ridiculous. Whether you’re boiling water or making soup for 50 people, most restaurant supply stores have got it covered.

Skillets: Basic skillets in all sizes, usually in aluminum, are great things to pick up at one of these places. A commercial nonstick pan will stay that way longer than anything else.

Cast Iron: Classic, indispensable and indestructible. While the best place to get a cast iron skillet is from your grandmother’s kitchen, you can usually find cast iron at a commercial supply store. A well-seasoned cast iron pan can be your best friend in the kitchen. I use mine almost daily.

Sheet Pans: The classic sheet pan, in its smaller form, is a workhorse in professional kitchens everywhere. Bright, shiny aluminum distributes heat evenly and will keep performing longer than almost anything else in your kitchen. Get a rack that fits in your sheet pan and you’ve got dozens of options for roasting, drying, baking, resting, and even serving, for about $15.

Knives: Some of the best knives you’ll ever come across are ones with white plastic handles. The big four (chef, paring, boning, slicing) will take care of nearly everything you’ll encounter in your home kitchen, and only set you back about $35 for a full set.

Smallwares: Whisks, spatulas, wooden spoons, graters, can openers, shakers and anything else you’ll ever need are available cheaper and in better quality at commercial supply houses. Tongs are my new favorite tool to cook with. It’s like cooking with your hand right there in the hot zone. You can pick up great tongs (or anything else listed above) for a few bucks each at most restaurant supply stores.

[image-2]There are more than a handful of commercial supply houses around town, but the two that I frequent most are Beltram Restaurant Supply and Oceanic Restaurant Equipment and Supply.

Beltram Restaurant Supply (6800 N. Florida Ave., Tampa; is a classic example of a commercial restaurant supply company, conveniently located just north of Seminole Heights. It’s your best bet for pots, pans and skillets. Sheet pans are a great bargain here and always seem to be on sale for around $6.

Oceanic Restaurant Equipment and Supply (1542 N. Franklin St., Tampa; is in a great location right near downtown Tampa, sandwiched between Café Hey and Oceanic Supermarket (both also well worth checking out if you haven’t already). This store has a cool warehouse feel, with most items stacked in their original cardboard shipping boxes. Because they cater to a decidedly Asian clientele, you’ll not only find what you’re looking for but a bunch of other fun stuff as well. I found a box labeled ‘fish tweezers’ last time. I’m still not really sure what they are.

Think that your Emeril Lagasse cookware set will give you an edge in the kitchen? Or that if you drop a grand on that fancy cookware set the TV chef uses, you’ll cook like them?

Hopefully you still have your receipts.

If you want to cook like a professional at home, start by shopping where the pros do. Odds are the most delicious restaurant meals you’ve ever had were not cooked on All-Clad, but on inexpensive, commercial grade cookware from a restaurant supply company.

These businesses cater mostly to professional kitchens but are also open to the general public, and are the best choice for stocking your kitchen with great equipment — without breaking the bank.

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