Cooking was a lot simpler back in the day. Pots and pans all looked pretty standard, and everyone used relatively the same cookware and tools. These days, as with everything else in our lives, we have a lot more options available to us (which can be fantastic, but also a little overwhelming.)
One look down the kitchenware aisle (or aisles) at any department or cookware store is enough to give any cooking novice a headache. For the average person, all the pots and pans look the same- so how do we know which type is going to cater best to all our different cooking needs?
Here’s a simple breakdown of the most common types of cookware with some quick pros and cons and cleaning tips so you can shop without becoming overwhelmed.
The pros of aluminum pots and pans is that they transfer heat quickly, aren’t too heavy, and best of all, they are quite affordable. One important note about aluminum cookware is that aluminum itself is soft and can change shape when it’s used on high heat. One way to solve this problem is to use an aluminum pan or pot that has been coated in aluminum oxide, (also called anodized aluminum). Once there is a layer of coating on, the cookware becomes scratch resistant and much stronger under any cooking circumstances. Keep in mind, however, that anodized aluminum cookware is more expensive than a plain aluminum pot or pan.
Care Tip: Check to see if it is dishwasher safe! Some versions of aluminum based cookware cannot be cleaned in a dishwasher.
There are many pros to stainless steel cookware. It’s scratch-resistant, dishwasher safe, strong, and not usually very pricey. However, depending on how often you cook and what you usually like to cook, the cons may not work for you. Stainless steel cookware tends to not be very efficient with transferring heat and it’s also not known for being good with spreading the heat evenly throughout the cooking surface. Now, there are modifications that have been made to certain stainless steel cookware where an inner core with a more conductive metal has been added which will help spread the heat, however, this addition raises the cost.
Care Tip: Store stainless steel cookware in a dry, cool area otherwise you will have to deal with rust on your cookware.
You might have seen cast iron skillets or pots at your friends’ homes and wondered what in the word could be cooking in there. Cast iron looks really heavy duty because it is. It’s one of the strongest, everything-resistant materials for cookware. You can really get a sense of how durable it is when you pick it up and feel just how heavy it is. Heat gets spread out very well with this type of material and what’s even better is that it can keep heat in long after it has been taken off whatever heat source you use. Another pro is that it’s perfect for getting the ideal sear on meats, so even when it’s the dead of winter, you can still get BBQ-esque food without the BBQ. Cons for this type of material are that it takes longer to heat up, and the heaviness of the cookware that was mentioned before isn’t ideal for everyone. Also, in some cases, it’s not a buy and use type situation- some cast iron pans and pots haven’t been “pre-seasoned” (which essentially means a coating of cooked-on vegetable oil that the manufacturer has performed). Without this protection, it can rust or make food stick to the surface. Even if the cast iron cookware is pre-seasoned, it still requires special maintenance in order to preserve its quality.
Care tip: Wash with hot water and mild soap, and remove all moisture completely before storing away in a cool, dry place.
Enameled Cast Iron
Enameled cast iron is very similar to cast iron, except for its (arguably) more attractive exterior. These are the beautifully coloured heavy duty pots you see used on cooking shows where the bright red lid is opened, and a perfectly done pork belly or roast is revealed. Enameled cast iron doesn’t require pre-seasoning as long as the lining is enamel as well, and it’s much easier to clean than raw (or plain) cast iron. Cons are that it may not give the most powerful sear or be as effective when used in its skillet form, but as a covered pot, it performs just as well. A popular example is Le Creuset cookware.
Of all the materials we’ve looked at, copper cookware is the winner when it comes to how fast it heats up and how evenly the heat is distributed. A unique feature that makes it preferable for serious cooks is that it cools as soon as you take it off the heat source which cooks know is essential to get the perfect cook on steaks, fish, and other meat that you want to keep tender and juicy. The cons of copper cookware are primarily that it’s expensive and it requires a little more work to maintain. Lining on a copper pan or pot needs to be replaced every 10-20 years (which isn’t actually too bad). It’s also important to keep in mind that if you cook a lot with acidic ingredients, it could react with the copper to create a metallic taste which isn’t exactly pleasant.
Care Tip: Never put copper cookware in the dishwasher and polish it regularly to keep its shine