How to choose and buy cookware set for your home is not easy. The number of cookware brands seems to be growing every day and the range of pots and pans is enormous with materials varying from stainless steel, cast iron, aluminum and copper. Confusing the issue even more is the clad style cookware range which is cookware made up of two or more different metals.
So with all this in mind how do you eventually decide on the right type of cookware whilst keeping within your budget? The answer is to know exactly what you want before you buy. In a nutshell this means that you need to know enough about cookware to enable you to make an informed decision.
What should you look for when buying cookware?
There are certain things you need to consider when choosing cookware. These include:
Heat conductivity: Some metals are better heat conductors than others. For instance, copper is a particularly good heat conductor whereas stainless steel is not. What this means in terms of cookware is that the better the heat conductivity the better and the more evenly your food will cook. It also means that when you turn the heat up or down the copper cookware will react a lot quicker to the temperature change than stainless steel cookware.
Price: The amount you pay for your cookware will most likely be a determining factor in what you end up buying. The rule of thumb with cookware is to buy the best you can afford.
Durability: Some types of cookware will maintain their good looks and last longer than others. Stainless steel is considered to be one of the best in this respect.
Reactivity: Some metals react with certain foods. Aluminum for instance has a tendency to react with tomato and other acidic dishes. This means that your food can actually absorb some of the metal, so take care with your cookware choices and ensure that you are aware of the reactivity of each product.
Maintenance: If you would prefer to not to have to shine your cookware every night just to keep it looking good then you will need to consider the amount of maintenance required to keep it in tip-top shape. Copper and cast iron cookware generally require quite a bit of work to keep it looking pristine whilst stainless steel is normally a little easier to look after.
Most people don’t understand the makeup of cookware nor do they understand why some cookware materials are better than others. With this in mind let’s take a look at each type of cookware and the advantages and disadvantages of each:
Stainless Steel Cookware:
Stainless steel would have to be the most common type of cookware materials. You will probably find it in most households.
Stainless steel is actually an alloy of metals including steel, carbon and chromium. The reason stainless steel is called ‘stainless’ is because of its ability to resist corrosion.
Stainless steel is an excellent choice for cookware BUT because of its inability to conduct heat well it is important that you choose stainless steel cookware that has an aluminum or copper core. Without it you will find that you will get hot spots on the cooking surface and foods will cook unevenly.
Keeps it shiny look for a long time
Doesn’t react with foods
Not a good conductor of heat.
Cast Iron Cookware:
Cast iron is a material that has been used to create cookware for hundreds of years.
Those that use cast iron cookware absolutely swear by it for its exceptional cooking ability. Nevertheless, cast iron cookware is not an easy to maintain product. It requires a little effort to keep it working the way it should.
It is extremely durable and it is not uncommon to find cast iron cookware that has been passed down through the generations.
Check out Linda Stradley’s article onCast-Iron Pots & Pans.
Good heat retention
Reacts with foods unless seasoned
High maintenance; requires regular seasoning
Is heavier than most other types of cookware
Can rust unless seasoned
Aluminum is used in approximately 50% of all cookware manufactured today because of its excellent heat conduction.
Aluminum is a soft metal and can scratch and dent easily. It can also react with certain foods which is why it is generally sandwiched between other metals. You will often find stainless steel cookware with a layer of aluminum offering the benefits of both materials.
Aluminum is also often treated through a process known as anodization. This process places a layer of aluminum oxide onto the surface making it scratch resistant as well as ensuring that it doesn’t react with foods. Aluminum cookware is often finished with a nonstick coating to ensure food remains unburned.
Excellent heat conduction
Reacts with acidic foods
Scratches and dents easily
Copper cookware is commonly used amongst professional chefs because of its excellent heat conduction. Copper cookware on its own is generally quite expensive so it is not often seen in many home kitchens.
Copper is also often found sandwiched between layers of other materials like stainless steel.
Copper cookware is the cookware of chefs and for good reason. It conducts heat extremely well which means it heats quickly and adjusts to changes in temperature just as quickly. This allows greater control over your cooking.
Excellent heat conduction
Reacts with acidic foods
Requires regular polishing
Some final tips:
Think about what pieces of cookware you need before setting out to the shops. There is no point in buying a 20 piece set if you will only end up using a few pieces.
Buying a cookware set is usually a lot cheaper than buying piece by piece. But again if you are not going to use all the pieces then really consider if a set is worth the money.
Buy the best you can buy for your money.
And finally – Making the final decision:
Making the final decision on whether you want stainless steel, cast iron, copper or aluminium is really a personal decision based on how much time you spend cooking, your expertise in the kitchen and your budget.
For all round flexibility, usability, and price, stainless steel cookware would be at the top of the list. When you consider the advantages it beats the others hands down. However it does have one big drawback in that it doesn’t conduct heat well and if you are concerned about having evenly cooked foods then heat conduction is important.
The solution to this is clad cookware. This style of cookware is made up of multiple layers of different metals. So, when shopping, look for stainless steel cookware with a layer of copper or aluminium sandwiched in the base. Stainless steel cookware with a copper base is generally more expensive than cookware with an aluminium base, but it does have the advantage of better heat conduction.
Take your time when choosing cookware, buy the best product you can afford, and follow the manufacturers instructions on looking after your pots and pans and you will be rewarded with years of good service and an enjoyable cooking experience.