Cookware Material Types
The truth is, every type of cookware has pros and cons. And certain cooking methods work better in certain materials. For example, the ideal pan for saute will be very sensitive to temperature changes, whereas the best pot for braising will hold and regulate heat despite temperature changes. Your goal should be to assemble the pieces that are most appropriate for the foods you cook. This guide will help you learn more about the materials used in most cookware and how they may work for you.
Stainless steel is made by adding chromium and nickel to steel, making it highly anti-corrosive. The most preferred type will be stamped "18/10" (the ratio of chromium to nickel added) though other types of stainless steel are also used with very good results. This material can be found in many of the best pots and pans because it is durable and attractive. Stainless steel (particularly "18/10") is also prized as an interior cooking surface because it does not react with acidic or alkaline foods and won't pit or scratch easily. This quality is an important one, as it promises a certain purity to whatever gets cooked in it; it will not discolor foods or impart metallic flavors no matter what they are. Additionally, stainless steel is dishwasher, oven and broiler safe.
Pure Aluminum is inexpensive, and when strengthened (usually by adding magnesium, copper or other metals) it makes wonderfully light and responsive cookware on its own. But as you may have guessed, natural aluminum will react with certain acidic foods, imparting a metallic taste and dull gray tint. To address this shortcoming, the best pieces are either lined with a nonstick coating, clad with stainless steel, or undergo anodization (a process that significantly hardens the surface and gives it a very dark grey color). In fact, more and more manufacturers are anodizing pieces that will also have nonstick or stainless interiors because it is attractive, more durable and easier to clean.
Because aluminum is lightweight, it makes a practical choice for larger pieces like roasting pans, griddles, rondeau pots and large water pots, particularly when anodized or nonstick coated.
Cast Iron is a poor conductor of heat; which means it's slow to heat up and slow to cool down. But this self-regulating nature makes cast iron a preferred material for dutch ovens, fry pans, griddles and grill pans. These pieces are exceedingly durable and resist warping, denting and chipping. Cast iron cookware is available in its natural state or enamel coated and both cook similarly but there are other notable differences. Natural cast iron costs substantially less, but it requires the user to apply a "seasoning" coat to protect it from rust. Aside from preventing rust, seasoning creates a wonderfully nonstick interior, and it has rustic/iconic good looks.
Enameled Cast Iron pieces are maintenance free- easy to clean, completely nonreactive and boast beautifully colored glazes. Benefits that are, of course, reflected in the higher cost.
Nonstick surfaces are not only popular because of their ease during clean-up but also because they lend themselves to healthy cooking. Most non-sticks allow the cook to use minimal amounts of oil or or even advertise that you can use none at all (though, to maintain the performance and lifespan of quality nonstick surfaces, we don't recommend that). It's best to take special care with nonstick surfaces because they only really work well when they are intact, any once they are scratched or scuffed, things can go quickly downhill. Don't use metal utensils on nonstick surfaces, instead use heat-safe materials such as hard nylon, silicone or wood. And regardless of the type of nonstick you use, take care not to use excessive heat. Clean your cookware with a natural sponge or soft plastic brush. Avoid stacking nonstick pans, as the metal bottoms can scratch the pan beneath.
PTFE is the “classic” nonstick material made famous by the brand Teflon. While it is extremely functional, some are concerned about its safety because when overheated, PTFE coatings can break down and release gases. You can use PTFE cookware safely as long as you use it properly. 500ºF is the maximum temperature recommended for cooking with PTFE cookware. So when baking, roasting or especially broiling with PTFE cookware, make sure to stay within the manufacturers recommended maximum oven safe temperature. For stovetop cooking, simply avoid overheating the pan before food goes in it. Once oils, foods and liquids are added, overheating is far less of a concern but you should still not allow the pan to stay over the high setting for a prolonged period of time.
Ceramic is a newer surface material in the world of nonstick cookware. It’s widely considered to be the safest and most environmentally friendly option but some argue that it is not as long lasting as PTFE. It’s free of PTFE and PFOA, and comes in a wide variety of styles and colors. Again, it is recommended to avoid the use of high heat when using ceramic cookware, as this will affect its nonstick properties. If you cook with oil, it’s important to completely clean off all of the cooked oil after each use. Otherwise layers of oil will build up, diminishing the nonstick properties of the cookware.
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