Guide to Cookware Material - Best Pots & Pans Material for the Kitchen
Guide to Cookware Material - Best Pots & Pans Material for the Kitchen
By Everything Kitchens
When it comes to choosing cookware one of the most important aspects to consider is what material the cookware is made from. From copper to aluminum, from cast iron to stainless steel, cookware comes in a variety of materials, and each material is suited to specific cooking styles. This cookware material guide will detail which material is best suited for your cooking style.
Cookware Material Best For: Everyday cooking and multi-tasking. Stainless steel is tough and versatile so it's suited to cooking all food types.
Scratch & Dent Resistant - Don't worry about hurting stainless steel pans, they can take heavy use and cleaning and are not harmed by the use of metal utensils.
Heat Reactive - Stainless steel cookware quickly heats and reacts to changes in temperature which gives you more control.
Withstands High Heats - Stainless steel cookware can withstand high searing heats and high oven temperatures. Cookware with stainless steel handles is safe for use in the oven as well, adding more flexibility to these pieces.
No Transferred Flavors - Stainless steel transfers no flavors from the pan to your food, making this a great pan for clean cooking.
Easy to maintain - These pans are sometimes dishwasher safe, depending on their construction, and easy to clean. Not being coated or made of reactive material, stainless steel is durable and resistant to damage.
Learning Curve - Like any tool, you need to learn to use it to get the most out of it. Food does naturally stick to stainless steel, inexperienced cooks may have trouble with stainless steel pots and pans.
Not Created Equally - Not all cookware is created the same, cheaper stainless steel options for cookware exist but the result of having cheaper materials are more likely to pit and warp, unlike quality stainless steel pans.
I think it's necessary to have stainless steel in the kitchen. If you want the natural flavor of your food to shine, stainless steel is the best cookware material because it doesn't have a chemical coating or porous metal that can absorb flavors. Stainless steel pans also can take a beating from high heat, metal utensils, and deep cleanings and still maintain functionality which is why I keep one in my kitchen. Not all stainless steel pans are created equally, lower ply and cheaper construction can lead to unevenly cooked food and pans that don't heat very well. Stainless is also not non-stick, you will have to cook with more fats and oils to prevent food sticking (which can be a good thing when making pan sauces). If you are using induction, make sure your stainless steel pan choice is induction compatible.
Hammer Stahl's 7-ply stainless steelcookware sandwiches multiple layers of stainless steel and aluminum in their cookware to achieve the ease of care of stainless steel and the great conductivity and heat distribution of aluminum. Hammer Stahl's handles are hollow, stay-cool handles that remain at a lower temp than solid metal handles would for easier handling while cooking. And their lifetime warranty shows that they stand behind their USA made pots and pans.
Chef Austin's Recommendations For Stainless Steel Pans
Hammer Stahl 10 Piece Set - "The complete stainless steel cookware set - if you love stainless steel, get all of the pans you need for the kitchen at once."
Cookware Material Best For: Tricky & sticky foods. Everything from eggs, to fish that stick to cookware will slide out of non-stick cookware. Non-stick cookware is also great for oil-free cooking and for beginner cooks who want easy-to-use cookware.
Easy to Use - Non-stick cookware is the easiest cookware to use. Food is repelled from the pan because of its special coating so you don't need any special cooking knowledge to pick one of these up and start using it.
Easy to Clean - Food washes right off of non-stick pans with minimal scrubbing and elbow grease.
Low-Fat Cooking - The non-stick surface allows food to be cooked with minimal or completely without oil, fat, or butter making your recipes healthier.
Perfect for Sticky & Tricky Foods - Everything from pancakes to crepes, some foods are notoriously known for sticking and burning to pans. These are perfect foods for non-stick cookware.
Inexpensive pans may not be durable - Some non-stick cookware can wear down incredibly fast and the cheaper coatings may flake and shorten the lifespan of the pans.
Not for High Heat - Non-stick coatings aren't made for high-heat applications like searing or broiling as it breaks the coating down.
Special Utensils Needed - Avoid using metal utensils and abrasive cleaners in non-stick pans, they can scratch the coating and diminish the lifespan.
Non-stick pans are great for those who are just starting to cook. This comes from a specially designed non-stick coating sprayed and cured onto a pan. Many manufacturers have unique formulas and methods to make their own non-stick coatings. Non-stick cookware allows you to cook without fats and oils for healthier meals and helps create perfect eggs, hash browns, and hamburgers that will never stick. I avoid Teflon non-stick because there are far superior non-stick materials nowadays.
I think the best non-stick pan is from Swiss Diamond. Their proprietary coating is made with actual diamonds which has amazing non-stick properties. They're also a 'clean cooking' pan free fromPFOA and PTFE chemicals. I've used mine at home for perfect crepes and omelets that slide right off of the pan.
Like stainless steel, there are many variants of what non-stick pan bases can be made of. From aluminum, stainless steel, copper, and other metals, read the manufacturer's description of what your pan is made of. Look for even heat dispersing metals like aluminum in your non-stick pan. Coatings are susceptible to scratches which diminishes their lifespan. There are some brands claim that can be used with metal utensils, but generally, we recommend silicone or wooden utensils for non-stick pans.
Large Frying Pan- "If you want oil-free cooking or if you're not the most skilled chef in the kitchen, an All-Clad anodized non-stick frying pan will be better for you versus a stainless steel frying pan."
Griddle - "If you make hash browns, crepes, big omelets, or pancakes for the family, cook a massive amount with a 2-burner griddle. Cleanup is so easy with non-stick Swiss Diamond griddle."
Cookware Material Best For: Frying, searing, and slow cooking. Cast iron can take high heats for searing steaks and can keep in that heat keeping oil hot to deep-fry chicken
High Heat Retention - Once a cast iron pan is hot, it will keep that heat longer than other metals. This makes cast iron great for quick sears or a slow-cooked stew at low heat
Naturally Non-Stick - Cast iron pans can develop a natural non-chemical coating that acts as a non-stick surface
Adds Minerals to Dishes - Using a cast iron pan does transfer some amounts of iron (an essential mineral) into your diet as well
Long-Lived - Cast iron has an incredible lifespan if it is cared for properly. Traditionally, cast iron cookware was handed down for generations as it is made of no coatings beyond use and oils, cast iron cookware will not be a wasted investment.
Not Heat Reactive - Cast iron pans have slow reaction times to heat. This cookware is slow to heat up and slow to cool down which is not good if you're trying to do fast precise cooking that depends on a variable amount of temperatures.
Transfers Flavors - Cast iron can hold flavors from what you cook and naturally season your food- It's great for foods like burgers, but lighter tasting foods can pick up too much of the natural seasoning of the pan.
Special Care Needed - Bare cast iron can rust and lose it's non-stick properties if not cared for properly, special washing and maintenance is required, and there are special tools on the market to make this easier for even the novice cook.
Heavy Lifting - Cast iron cookware can easily weigh 10+ pounds, if this is an issue, maybe consider lightweight carbon steel pans.
Chef Austin's Thoughts:
Cast iron is the best cookware material for heat retention. These very heavy duty pans keep in heat which makes it perfect for deep-frying and searing steaks. Cast iron can be used for generations when correctly cleaned and maintained. When properly seasoned, your pan can take on non-stick properties and will give your food a unique flavor that can’t be reproduced with other types of pans. Use cast iron anywhere from the stove straight to the oven or even over a campfire. Almost all modern cast iron typically has a rough bumpy surface whereas vintage cast iron has a machine smoothed surface. FINEX has brought back this sought after characteristic and has an extremely high-quality smooth surface, Finex's pre-seasoned skillets that would please even the pickiest chef. Seasoning and proper cleaning is a must. Cast iron is not dishwasher or soap safe. Soaps destroy the naturally built-up oils on the pan and can cause rust. Due to the thickness and material of the pan, it does take a while to heat up and to cool down.
Chef Austin's Recommended Essential Cast Iron Pans:
Cast Iron Skillet- "At the minimum, I'd say have at least one cast-iron skillet. I love the retro-modern design ofFinex's cast iron. It is pre-seasoned and has had the interior polished for a smooth finish just like the vintage pieces have."
Cast Iron Dutch Oven - "You need a dutch oven in the kitchen for long-simmered beef stew, jambalaya, and even whole roast chickens. Cast iron is not good for acidic foods, so avoid chili and tomato soup."
If you like cast iron, you'll also like carbon steel cookware
Carbon steel cookware works a lot like cast iron with half the weight. When properly seasoned, your pan will take on non-stick properties and will give your food a unique flavor. The thinness of the pan also helps it heat up and cool down quickly compared to cast iron. Carbon steel cookware is great for high heat fast cooking applications; these pans are a staple in commercial kitchens. Mauviel creates crepe pans, paella pans, and saute pans all made from carbon steel. You will have to season these pans yourself before first use, and, like cast iron, regular seasoning and proper cleaning is a must.
Cookware Material Best For: Frying, searing, and slow cooking. All the benefits of bare cast iron with added beauty and easier maintenance.
High Heat Retention - Once enameled cast iron is hot, it will retain this heat. This makes enameled cast iron great for deep frying and slow-cooked meals at low heat.
Low Maintenance - Get cast iron without all the hard work. Simply wash with soap and water, no seasoning.
Longevity - When properly cared for, you can pass these down to your children. Most enamel cast iron at Everything Kitchens has a lifetime warranty.
Not Heat Reactive - Enameledcast iron pans have slow reaction times to heat. This cookware is slow to heat up and slow to cool down.
Enamel Can Deteriorate - The enamel on the cast iron can crack or chip if dropped or mishandled. Enamel cookware with lighter color interiors can show discoloration and wear over time.
Pricey - High quality comes with a price tag and those pieces that are produced cheaply easily chip and crack.
Heavy Lifting - Cast iron cookware can easily weigh 10+ pound per piece, so it can be difficult to maneuver them for some cooks.
The cookware material known as enameled cast iron has the benefits of cast iron without the work of special cleaning and seasoning the pan. Enjoy the even and long-lasting heat distribution of cast iron and go straight from stovetop to oven in the same pan. Enamel cookware is where functionality meets beauty. The porcelain coating on these pans is cast in many colors making it a tool and a showpiece for your kitchen. The enamel is simply cleaned with soap and water, no special steps here. Le Creuset is one of the most iconic manufacturers of this style and like cast iron, it is one of those tools that you can pass down to future generations. Enamel cast iron cookware is an investment and has a high price tag. You are paying for longevity and beauty though. The enamel coating can crack and chip from drops or extreme temperature changes (running a hot pan under cold water). Cast iron is heavy, to begin with, the enamel coating adds to the weight of the pan making these some of the heaviest pans around.
Dansk Saucepans - "If you want saucepans to match or accent your kitchen go with Dansk. These pans are enamel on steel making them more lightweight than enameled cast iron."
Frying Pan - "For searing and sauteing and transferring straight to the oven, get an enameled cast iron frying pan. Le Creuset has many color options and Staub has frying pans with stay-cool wooden handles."
Dutch Oven - "Transfer the coq au vin or beef bourguignon straight from the stove to the oven. You can't go wrong with a dutch oven from Le Creuset and Staub. For an in-depth dutch oven review, check out our Top Dutch Oven article."
If you like enameled cast iron, you'll also like enameled steel cookware
Enameled steel cookware uses a steel core instead of a cast iron core. Steel is much more lightweight and heats more quickly than cast iron. It does not hold the heat nearly as long as cast iron though. Dansk makes an iconic mid-century design for their cookware (featured in the above photo! Teal saucepan). Check out their enameled saucepans and bakers.
Cookware Material Best For: Ultimate control while cooking. Copper features the best heat distribution as well as quick heat up and cool down times so you can create perfectly finished culinary masterpieces
Very Conductive - Copper is the most conductive of the cookware metals which results in copper cookware having incomparable heat distribution.
Best Pan For Chefs - Copper pans have quick heat reaction times. This cookware is quick to heat up and quick to cool down giving you ultimate control to prevent burning and quickly changing a boil to a simmer. Modern copper pans are lined with stainless steel so they don't transfer any additional flavors to your food.
Beautiful - The mirror finish of copper is gorgeous, copper pans are to be displayed and admired.
Pricey - Real copper pans come with an impressive price tag as it is the most expensive of cookware material.
Special Care Needed - Copper cookware also requires polishing as the copper will develop a natural patina over time if not cared for.
Heavy - Pure copper gets quite heavy - a single medium skillet can weigh over 3 pounds.
Chef Austin's Thoughts: This is the cookware material you’ll see in the top chef’s kitchens from around the world. Mauviel is our recommendation as to the best copper pots and pan. Their pans have a ratio of 90% copper to 10% stainless steel. The copper provides ultimate heat distribution and reaction time while the stainless steel is there for easy cleaning.
Copper is also by far the most expensive cookware material there is. If you want the benefits of copper without the price, check out All-Clad's copper core pans. These are stainless steel clad pans that have a layer of the awesome heat distributing copper in the middle of the pan. These won't be as reactive as the 90% copper pans, but will still do an awesome job heating up and cooling down quickly.
Should I use a skillet or saucier? What cookware do I need?
What are the essential pans for the kitchen? What pan do I use to cook a steak? What about a pan for risotto? We go through all the major shapes and sizes of cookware and explain the types of pans out there and tell you what they're best for. Check out Everything Kitchen's Guide to Cookware - Types of Pots & Pans to make your life in the kitchen easier.
About the Chef:
Chef Austin Merath is Everything Kitchen's Culinary Wizard, Kitchen-Gadget Reviewer, and New-Product Tester. He studied under chefs in College of the Ozarks' Culinary Program. It's his job to make sure you choose the kitchen tools that are right for you by testing the best we have to offer. When not cooking, Austin is tinkering with computers or exploring the Ozarks with his wife Amy. Click here for his full bio.