The Best Cookware Materials For Your Kitchen
With the huge variety of cooking pots and pans to choose from, how can you know what to buy? Find out about the different types of cookware available, and which ones are best for you.
Cookware Shopping Basics
Having a few basic points of comparison will help you make your best cookware choices. Here are a few factors to consider when shopping for pots and pans:
- Price: What are you willing to spend? Just about everyone has a budget, and price will most likely have a strong influence on the cookware you choose.
- Maintenance: How much work are you willing to put into your cookware? Some types of pots and pans, such as copper and cast iron require time and energy to keep them at their best. Other materials, particularly stainless steel, are easier to maintain.
- Reactivity: Do you often cook with tomatoes or other acidic foods? Certain metals, including aluminum, react with particular foods, which can cause some metal to actually be absorbed into your meals.
- Durability: How long to you plan to keep your pots and pans? Some types of cookware may last generations while others will be ready for the trash much sooner.
- Heat conductivity: How precise are your cooking needs? Some metals conduct heat much better than others, resulting in quicker reaction time when you turn up or down the heat and more even cooking overall.
Cooking with Steel
If you're interested in cooking with steel, you've got three basic options: stainless steel, steel clad and carbon steel cookware.
Stainless steel gets its name from its resistance to corrosion, and is one of the most popular choices for pots and pans. In actuality it isn't pure steel at all, but an alloy of steel and other metals. You'll enjoy a number of advantages with stainless steel cookware, such as:
- Affordable price
- Low maintenance – stays shiny and attractive over the years
- No reactivity with foods
- Resistance to scratches and warping
- Excellent durability.
You'll probably be able to pass your stainless steel cookware on to your children and grandchildren looking as good as the day you bought it. The only disadvantage to stainless steel is that it is a poor heat conductor.
Steel clad cookware offers a solution to the conductivity issue. This type of cookware, generally steel over aluminum or copper, has good conductivity, low maintenance and is very durable. The trade off is that it is heavy, and can be expensive.
Carbon steel is a durable low maintenance choice, however, like stainless steel, it is a poor heat conductor.
Classic Copper Kitchenware
If you're serious about meal preparation, you'll probably want to look into copper cooking because of its superior heat conduction. Although this strikingly beautiful cooking surface is the choice of many professional chefs, consider these possible drawbacks before adding pure copper pots and pans to your collection:
- High cost
- High maintenance (needs to be polished regularly and re-tinned periodically)
- Reactivity with acidic foods.
Nothing beats the easy cleanup of non-stick cookware, however non-stick surfaces such as Teflon can get scratched over time, allowing unhealthy particles to flake off and get into your food.
A possible solution may lie in "green" nonstick cookware, recently developed by a number of companies using manufacturing methods that reduce carbon emissions. Some of these products claim to be made without petroleum in their cooking surfaces, so they may offer a safer cooking experience.
Basic Aluminum Cookware
Classic aluminum is found in kitchens almost everywhere because it's such a great heat conductor and is inexpensive as well. Cooking with pure aluminum does have a few drawbacks, however. These include:
- Vulnerability to scratches and dents
- Reactivity with acidic foods
- Discoloration with some foods.
Additionally, bacteria can breed in tiny food particles that get trapped in scratches.
Anodization provides solutions to some of these concerns. Anodized aluminum is scratch resistant and doesn't react with foods.
Historic Cast Iron Cooking
Cast iron cookware has been around for hundreds of years, and with good reason: This material is:
- Extremely durable
- Excellent for searing and blackening
- Retains heat well
If you choose cast iron pots and pans, be aware of these possible drawbacks:
- High maintenance (will rust and react with foods unless seasoned regularly)
- May harbor bacteria or add unintended flavors to food
- Heavier than other cookware.
Other Cookware Surfaces
Other less common cookware surfaces include ceramic and glass pots and pans. Both of these options offer unique and beautiful cookware pieces that are as decorative as they are functional. Both can be used for serving as well as cooking, and ceramic cookware is particularly easy to clean. Be aware though, that these choices are not as durable as other types of cookware. In addition, glass is a poor conductor of heat and can develop hot spots during cooking.
If you're just getting started in your first kitchen, here are a few essential pots and pans everyone should have around:
- Basic saucepan: When you need to heat soup, or make pasta sauce or rice, a two-quart saucepan is just right. For a great balance of easy maintenance and excellent heat conductivity, consider a stainless steel saucepan with a copper bottom.
- Large stockpot: This type of cookware is excellent for making pasta, soup, stews and steaming vegetables. An anodized aluminum stockpot with large handles is a good choice.
- Sauté Pan: You'll need a large, versatile pan for sautéing and searing vegetables, poultry and meats. A three-quart sauté pan will do these jobs and fry as well. Stainless steel is an excellent choice for this type of pan.
Your Best Cookware
No single surface is right for all cooking situations. Understanding the pros and cons of each will help you have the best cookware for your unique cooking style.