Cookware is one of the most important things you’ll buy for your kitchen, but even professionals can get confused with the hundreds of choices of materials and types of pans out there. Restaurant owners think carefully about the equipment they purchase, and pots and pans are no exception.
While there are a lot of options for home chefs, knowing the pros and cons of the most popular choices and which type of cooking they are best for, is important in deciding what to buy for your kitchen.
Cast iron is a popular type of cookware for many chefs, both professional and amateur. It’s got a lot of benefits, but there are a few things you need to consider.
Cast iron is prized for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that it’s got a natural, nonstick surface if you take care of it properly. It’s also extremely durable, and will last a lifetime. In fact, many people who own cast iron skillets will tell you that they’ve been in the family for generations; it really does last forever.
Perhaps the biggest reason to use cast iron is that it heats evenly, and will brown meat and fish like virtually nothing else. You end up with a perfectly golden browned crust on your food, and it doesn’t stick. It’s ideal for cooking meat, vegetables, eggs, burgers and more.
With all the pros of using cast iron, it doesn’t come without a few negatives. For starters, the durability of cast iron makes it extremely heavy. This can make it difficult for some people to use. Draining a cast iron pot can be quite the task, even for the strongest chefs.
It also requires special care. Although not difficult to care for, it does require maintenance to keep it working properly. Cast iron must be “seasoned” on a regular basis, or coated with a thin layer of oil and heated for an hour or so. This is what makes it such a slick non-stick surface. You can’t put cast iron in the dishwasher, and you should avoid using soap or abrasive cleaners on it. Properly taken care of, cast iron will rarely need anything more than to be wiped down with a paper towel.
One more word of caution about cast iron: Raw cast iron (a typical black skillet) shouldn’t be used to cook acidic foods. Citrus juices, tomatoes, or vinegar can break down the seasoning of your pan, which can take time to build up again.
Bottom line: If you’re willing to learn to care for it, and don’t mind the weight, cast iron can be an amazing tool for cooking flavorful foods.
Stainless steel is one of the most popular types of cookware, and for good reason, but not all stainless steel pans are created equal. Let’s go over the pros and cons of this cookware.
Stainless steel retains heat fairly well, but not as well as some other materials. For this reason, most stainless steel cookware has a copper core, which helps it heat food evenly. Good stainless steel cookware is heavy and durable, and can last years if taken care of properly. It’s also budget friendly; you can buy everything from a cheap set at your local discount retailer to expensive high end cookware in your favorite gourmet kitchen shop.
It’s easy to clean, and in most cases can be put in the dishwasher, although you should check with the manufacturer of the specific pieces you own. It can go from stove to oven as long as you it’s all stainless steel (pieces with plastic or rubber handles may not be oven safe.)
If you’re looking for a versatile set of cookware that will be useful in most types of cooking, stainless steel is the way to go. The only real cons come from the type that you use.
If you buy cheap pots and pans made of lightweight material, you will likely have trouble retaining heat, and the metal may warp or pit over time. Handles made of plastic mean you can’t put your pan in the oven if necessary, which can be a pain if you do a lot of stove to oven cooking.
Bottom line: You don’t need to buy the most expensive set of stainless steel pots and pans on the market, unless you are an experienced chef looking to get the most out your cookware. The cheapest products won’t do you any good, and will likely need to be replaced. There are plenty of high quality mid priced sets that will serve the average cook well.
Copper is one of the best conductors of heat available, but it’s not as widely used today as it once was. This is mostly due to the availability and durability of other materials.
In addition to being strikingly beautiful, copper cookware offers some of the best heat retention you’ll find in pots and pans. This means even cooking for all types of foods.
That’s about it for the pros of copper, and unfortunately, there are quite a few cons.
It’s expensive. Unlike stainless steel, which is readily available at all price points, you’ll only likely find copper in high end cookware stores, and you’ll pay several hundred dollars for a single small pot or pan.
It’s also reactive, which like cast iron, means that you can’t cook everything in it. Acidic foods may have a metallic taste, and the compounds in the copper may even discolor some foods. It’s not necessarily dangerous, but it’s visually unappealing.
Copper also requires regular maintenance and polishing with copper cleaner to maintain that beautiful look. You definitely don’t want to put it in the dishwasher, and depending on what you cook in it, cleaning can be a drag.
Bottom line: Unless you are a professional with the knowledge and desire to care for copper pots (and the money to invest in a set), stick to stainless steel with a copper core. While not as pretty, it’s a much better option for the average cook.
If you’re new to cooking, you may think that non-stick cookware is the way to go; after all, why would you want your food to stick if it doesn’t have to? Unfortunately, there’s more to this popular cookware than meets the eye.
If you cook a lot of foods that tend to stick like eggs or fish, non-stick cookware can be your friend, especially if you are inexperienced in the kitchen. Most non-stick cookware is easy to handle, and fairly inexpensive, which makes it a good choice for new cooks that don’t know exactly what they want.
The cons of non-stick cookware should not be taken lightly. For starters, the Teflon coating that is used to keep foods from sticking to these pans has been shown to be toxic. They’re still deemed safe to use by the FDA, but the more you use these pans, the more of this toxic material you are ingesting. If you use metal utensils, or regularly heat your pans to high temperatures, you’re ingesting even more of these fumes or materials.
Another reason not to use them is that they simply aren’t the best when it comes to actual cooking. Most won’t heat evenly, and if you like a browned crust on your fish or meat, you will have a difficult time achieving that in a non-stick skillet.
And, finally, non-stick pans don’t last long if used regularly, no matter how careful you are when using them, which means you’re looking to replace them fairly often.
Bottom line: Even if you eat a lot of foods that tend to stick, non-stick cookware isn’t the best option. A better choice would be to learn cooking techniques that make using other types of cookware easy to use. Cast iron is a much better non-stick option.
Choosing cookware can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you are new to cooking or have been cooking for years, the right cookware can definitely make the job easier. Before shopping, figure out your budget, as well as what types of foods you’ll be cooking. You’ll likely find that a decent set of stainless steel pots and pans, with maybe a cast iron skillet or two will be more than enough to meet your needs.