What's the best cookware?
December 11, 2012
Is a cookware set for her first apartment on your niece’s wish list?
Do you want to surprise a cooking enthusiast with a specialty pan that will expand his cooking repertoire?
Is choosing cookware confusing?
If you answered “yes” to at least one question, you've come to the right place. Today at CHEFS Mix, we're sharing cookware basics that will boost your confidence when picking cookware for gifts or for your own kitchen.
What is cookware?
In the United States, cookware usually refers to vessels that cook food on a stove or cooktop. Cookware includes a wide range of pots and pans made from a variety of materials from stainless steel and aluminum to cast iron and ceramic. Some are "covered" and lidded like a sauce pan while others are "open" and lidless like a skillet and grill pan. A pan's interior surface may be uncoated or have a nonstick coating that lets you cook with little or no added fat. Although most nonstick pans are not dishwasher-safe, they usually clean up easily when hand-washed.
Need help deciding between stainless steel, cast iron and aluminum cookware? We provide more information at the end of this post. Scroll down to Shopping List to find a list of cookware by material, the pros and cons of each, and some of the brands to consider when you're ready to buy.
Form dictates function
The shape of the pot or pan and its dimensions affect how well it will perform specific cooking tasks. For example, a skillet with low sloping sides is a poor choice for boiling pasta but great for frying burgers and bacon. Conversely, a stockpot’s tall straight sides and tight fitting lid make it ideal for boiling water to cook linguine but terrible at searing steaks and sausages.
Basic cookware like frying pans, saucepans, saute pans and Dutch ovens are versatile, handling several cooking tasks well. Many cooks stock their kitchen with different sizes, types and brands.
Specialty cooking pans usually excel at only one or two cooking tasks. Because of their unique designs and functions, they are great gifts for a cooking enthusiast who already owns basic cookware. Choose from a wide range of specialty pans including sauciers, rondeaus, risotto pots, crepe pans, asparagus steamers, egg poachers, pressure cookers, tagines, griddles, paella pans and multi-pots.
See our downloadable Quick Guide to Cookware for more information. This one-page reference shows 16 popular basic and specialty pots and pans and explains their primary uses in the kitchen.
Know your cooktop
Gas Electric Ceramic glass Induction
What kind of burner or hob do you cook on: gas, electric, smooth ceramic glass or induction? Did you know that the type of cooktop may limit your cookware options?
Here are three examples where choosing the right cookware pays off:
- Induction cooktops are for pans made with a iron-rich magnetic material like cast iron, enameled cast iron, carbon steel or magnetized steel. Look for the induction symbol on the box or pan bottom. Or, test a pan’s induction-ready status with a magnet. If the magnet clings to the pan’s bottom, the pan will work on an induction burner. If it doesn’t, the pan is not induction-capable.
- Cookware for smooth, glass ceramic cooktops should have perfectly flat bottoms. Otherwise, they will wobble on the burner and heat and cook unevenly. Use heavy pans like cast iron skillets or Dutch ovens with care to prevent marring or damaging the cooktop. When removing a heavy pot from the burner, lift it straight up instead of dragging it to the side.
- If you like to finish meat and other stovetop dishes under the broiler, make sure the manufacturer rates the pan as broiler-safe or oven-safe to 500+ degrees F. Otherwise, the extreme heat may damage the pan.
Start with a cookware set or build as you go
A cookware set is a great option for someone who is starting or upgrading a cookware collection or likes matching cookware. Cookware sets also offer great value for the price, with significant savings over buying each piece individually.
Starter sets have essential pieces like a 10-inch fry pan, 1-1/2 and 3-quart saucepans with lids, a 3-quart saute pan with lid and an 8-quart stockpot with lid. You can add individual pots and pans later to customize the set.
Large cookware sets may include multiple sizes of fry pans, saucepans, saute pans sand stockpots plus other pieces like a steamer insert, pasta insert, braiser, Dutch oven or chef’s pan. Although you get a lot of pieces, more isn’t always better. The largest cookware sets may have odd-sized pans that you don’t need or omit sizes that you prefer. And, for cooks with small kitchens or pantries, storage may be challenging.
Another option is to build as you go, buying individual or open stock pieces that match your personal cooking style and needs. You can stick with a favorite brand and style or build an eclectic collection by mixing and matching. My personal cookware collection is a hard-working mix that includes an All-Clad tri-ply skillet, a Cuisinart tri-ply saucepan and stockpot, a Zwilling nonstick skillet, a de Buyer carbon steel crepe pan, a Le Creuset enameled cast iron bouillabaise pot and braiser, and an Emile Henry ceramic risotto pot.
What’s the best cookware?
I think that most cooks would agree that the best pots and pans are the ones you love to use every day.
Do you have questions about cookware? Did we miss something important? If yes, please share your questions and comments by email or in the comments section. You can also contact us on Facebook or Twitter. Your questions and suggestions are a rich source of great ideas for future posts.
Our Quick Guide to Cookware
This handy one-page reference will help you choose cookware for gifts or your own kitchen. See see 16 popular basic and specialty pots and pans and learn their primary uses in the kitchen.
Download file now
Here’s a list of cookware by material, the pros and cons of each, and some top brands to consider when you’re ready to buy:
- Pros: Heats quickly (aluminum is an excellent heat conductor); light weight; wide price range; available with or without a nonstick coating
- Cons: Uncoated cooking surface may react with acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus; if too lightweight, bottom may warp if overheated; not for induction cooktops
- Top brands include Tramontina, Nordic Ware
Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware
- Pros: Heats quickly (aluminum is an excellent heat conductor); extremely durable; non-reactive cooking surface; corrosion resistant; available with or without a nonstick coating; some are induction-ready (check box or test with magnet to be sure)
- Cons: Most are hand wash only; dark exterior finish may not appeal to some cooks
- Top brands include Cuisinart, Calphalon, Mauviel, Le Creuset
Cast Aluminum Cookware
- Pros: Heats quickly (aluminum is an excellent heat conductor); thicker, stronger and heavier than regular aluminum cookware; available with or without a nonstick coating; some are induction-ready (check box or test with magnet to be sure)
- Cons: More expensive than regular aluminum cookware; uncoated cooking surface may react with acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus; may develop hot spots; check to see if dishwasher-safe
- Top brands include Scanpan, Swiss Diamond, Tramontina, Nordic Ware
Stainless Steel Cookware
- Pros: Durable; stainless is a nonreactive cooking surface; widely available; wide price range; may have an encapsulated bottom that helps pan heat evenly; resists rust, stains and corrosion; available with or without a nonstick coating; many are induction-ready (check description or test with magnet to be sure)
- Cons: At higher heat, may develop hot spots especially around pan edges; may discolor when overheated
- Top brands include Cuisinart, CHEFS Essentials, Fagor, Demeyere, Joyce Chen
Clad Cookware - Tri-ply or 5-ply Stainless with an Aluminum core or Copper core
- Pros: Combines the best qualities of different metals: a fast-heating layer of aluminum or copper sandwiched between durable and nonreactive stainless steel; quick, even heating; durable; popular all-around choice for basic cookware; many brands and price ranges from which to choose; available with or without a nonstick coating; most are are induction-ready (check description or test with magnet to be sure)
- Cons: Heavier than regular stainless steel or aluminum pans; more expensive
- Top brands include All-Clad, Cuisinart, Zwilling, CHEFS Essentials, Chantal, Scanpan, Swiss Diamond, Calphalon, Le Creuset
Cast Iron Cookware
- Pros: Extremely durable – with proper care will last for generations; heats evenly but slowly; retains heat exceptionally well; ideal for deep frying and high heat cooking like searing; seasoning creates a nonstick surface; use for outdoor cooking on grill or campfire; pre-seasoned pans now available; suitable for induction cooktops; affordable
- Cons: Very heavy; cooking surface reacts with acidic foods like tomatoes; may need re-seasoning to maintain nonstick qualities; not dishwasher-safe; to preserve seasoning be sure to follow manufacturer's instuctions for cleaning; may rust if not thoroughly dried before storing
- Top brands include Lodge
Porcelain Enameled Cast Iron or Enameled Cast Iron Cookware
- Pros: Heats evenly but slowly; retains heat exceptionally well; durable; porcelain or enamel coating creates a stick-resistant cooking surface; lighter weight pieces available; suitable for induction cooktops
- Cons: Heavy to very heavy; can be expensive
- Top brands include Lodge, Le Creuset, Lodge, Tramontina, Fagor (Michelle B), Starfrit
Carbon Steel Cookware
- Pros: Durable; ideal for high heat cooking like stir frying and searing; heats and cools down quickly; with proper seasoning becomes virtually nonstick; suitable for induction cooktops
- Cons: Needs to be seasoned; may react with acidic foods like tomatoes; heavy; hand-wash only; may rust if not thoroughly dried after washing
- Top brands include de Buyer, Lodge, Mauviel, Joyce Chen
- Pros: Heats quickly and evenly (copper is the most efficient heat conductor); responds almost immediately to temperature changes; pans with stainless-steel interior lining have a more durable, non-reactive cooking surface
- Cons: Expensive; unlined copper pans have reactive cooking surface; may discolor if overheated; may need periodic polishing to remove tarnish; not suitable for induction cooktops
- Top brands include Mauviel
- Pros: Heats and cooks evenly; retains heat well; makes a beautiful tabletop presentation; broiler-safe; usually coated with enamel or glaze for stain and odor resistance; more durable than typical ceramic baking dishes; microwave-safe; may be induction-ready (see description or test with magnet to be sure)
- Cons: Expensive; does not come in every type of pot or pan; not widely available; may crack or break if bumped against sharp surface
- Top brands include Emile Henry, Revol
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