Back to the Basics: Cookware Materials

Back to the Basics: Cookware Materials

Last time, in my Back to the Basics series, I explained the difference between the basic types of pots and pans that every kitchen should have. But when you start to look into buying new pans, there are still so many options.

There are multiple materials that cookware is made of: aluminum, carbon steel, cast iron, ceramic, porcelain, stoneware, earthenware, clad, copper, stainless steel, and nonstick. As with most things, there are pros and cons to each of these, and the way you cook will have a significant impact on which is best for you. I also know some cooks who have a variety of pans in different materials to use for specific recipes.


A few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have a budget?
  • Do you want something lightweight or heavy?
  • Is nonstick important for you?
  • Do you need pans that are easy to manage?

Aluminum

Aluminum is an excellent option for those starting out because they are reasonably inexpensive and durable. They provide excellent heat distribution and can be cleaned in the dishwasher.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Great for starters
  • Excellent heat conductor to evenly heat the pan
  • Varying thickness
  • Can use any type of utensils

Cons:

  • Untreated
  • Prone to staining
  • Reacts with foods


Cast Iron

Cast Iron pans are very thick and heavy duty. They are great for someone who is looking to really up their cooking game. I haven’t invested in any yet, but it’s on my list to get this year. Cast Iron takes a bit more care, so make sure to use and clean them properly to extend the life of your pans.

Pros:

  • Heavy duty
  • Distributes heat evenly
  • Holds heat well
  • Can be used on the stovetop and in the oven
  • Moderately priced

Cons:

  • Needs to be seasoned
  • Require more care and maintenance
  • Can rust and stain when not cared for properly
  • Metal utensils can ruin the surface


Clad

Clad cookware is made by combining two types of cookware, usually stainless steel and aluminum. This combination is great because the aluminum gives it thickness while stainless steel is easy to maintain.

Pros:

  • Excellent heat conductivity
  • Easy to maintain
  • Doesn’t rust or corrode
  • Will last a lifetime
  • Can use any type of utensils

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Expensive


Copper

Copper pans are the best at conducting heat and are great for recipes where you need to have complete control over the heat. Copper also looks pretty but can dent and scratch easily. Not to mention, if the copper pans aren’t lined with another material, usually stainless steel, it can react with certain foods and become toxic.

Pros:

  • Best heat conductor
  • Changes temperature quickly
  • Looks pretty
  • Can use any type of utensils (depending on what the surface is lined with)

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Scratches and dents easily
  • Can react with foods and render them toxic


Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel is another great option for your first set of cookware because the pans are lightweight, durable, and relatively inexpensive. My first pots and pans were stainless steel. Cookware made from this material are usually durable and won’t corrode or interact with foods. Since steel is a poor conductor of heat, they are typically lined with copper or aluminum discs on the bottom to help distribute the heat.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to maintain
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Can use any type of utensils

Cons:

  • Poor heat conductor
  • Can discolor


Nonstick

Nonstick pans are currently my favorite pans. They have a coating applied so that the food doesn’t stick to the pans, making it easy to cook without using a large amount of oil or other cooking fats. They are easy to clean since the food doesn’t stick. Nonstick pans are made from different types of materials, and the nonstick is applied to it. The pans I currently have are hard-anodized aluminum pans.

Pros:

  • Food doesn’t stick
  • Use less oil or cooking fats
  • Easy to clean

Cons:

  • Scratches easily
  • Metal utensils can ruin the surface
  • Coating interferes with the transfer of heat
  • Not dishwasher safe


Which type of cookware do you prefer? Have you tried more than one of these and found you like one better than others? Or which would you love to have if you could?

Back to the Basics: Cookware Materials Back to the Basics: Cookware Materials

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13 thoughts on “Back to the Basics: Cookware Materials

  1. Great, informative advice and tips! When I was younger I have to be honest and say I went with cost (okay, the cheapest) but as I’ve got older, I’ve realised that you can’t skimp on quality when it comes to things like pans! I prefer non-stick but have a couple of inherited cast iron skillets!

  2. What great information for those just moving out and setting up a kitchen. What about us old timers who could use some new cookware. Great information to know and what kind to buy.

  3. This is so true! Everything has it’s pros and cons. Even at our home, when we make typical Indian/Asian dishes, we use Chinese woks, but for making a Indian breads we use castiron tava and for rest of the dishes either we use castiron or nonstick cookware so these days it’s getting really difficult to choose one.

  4. The different types of cookware materials tend to overwhelm me so I usually stick to nonstick options. I do have one cast iron pan but the maintenance and care of it can be a bit much for me. I love the look of copper cookware but don’t know enough I think to use them correctly.

  5. This is a really nice and quick guide to some of the basic materials! I think it’s important to choose the right material for the right application. I wouldn’t attempt to make an omelet in my cast iron if I have a non-stick pan. I could, but I wouldn’t. Just like I wouldn’t try to sear a steak in my non-stick pan. And even though people say you can’t skimp on quality, all non-stick pans will eventually lose their non-stickiness regardless of their initial price. Great post!!

  6. I have slowly been upgrading my dishes. My issue is our water is very corrosive and so it damages everything. I need a water softener before I truly invest. That said I have never heard of clod and it’s a unique idea for sure.

  7. That was a great read! The cookware looks awesome…I have been looking nonstick pans lately and loved your picks. Definitely goin to check them out.

  8. I have all cast iron and carbon steel. I love them and I love cooking. It’s a passion of mine. Most of my cast iron pots and pans are enameled which is one you don’t talk about on here, but require less care because you don’t have to season them or worry about them rusting.

  9. Great information. Cookware is so important. I am thankful I received a nice set of stainless steel for my wedding that’s lasted me over 10 years and cooks well. Although I would love to add a cast iron pan to my set.

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