Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Everyday Cooking 101: Comparison of Cookware

This post is inspired by my youngest sister, Jessica. She just got married in December and I was reminded of what it was like to be a newlywed and know nothing about cooking. When blogging, I often assume that readers have some knowledge of cooking, but there are always a few novice  chefs out there, so I thought that some fundamental information might be helpful. So occasionally, I will be posting "Everyday Cooking 101". These posts will go back to the basics of cooking.

I thought I would begin with a comparison of cookware. Purchasing cookware can be overwhelming since  there are so many different materials and brands on the market. This post explain the pros and cons of different types of cookware and hopefully simplify the choice somewhat.

The following information is from and

Cookware Materials

Cookware is made from many different materials. Understanding the differences will assist you in making the best choice for your needs. Some of the most common cookware materials are shown below with a description and pan care instructions for each.

      Aluminum Inside Coated with Stainless Steel
Aluminum cookware is fairly inexpensive in comparison to cookware made from other materials. Aluminum is lightweight but fairly strong. It is a good conductor of heat and does not easily distort when exposed to high temperatures. Aluminum works well for sautéing and frying foods because if its heat responsiveness. The drawback of aluminum is that it reacts to acidic and alkaline foods, causing it to corrode and affect the taste of the food being cook. Aluminum is generally used as a core heat conductor, or coated with stainless steel or an anodized coating to protect the food.

Pan Care: To care for aluminum cookware, wash the pans with hot soapy water. Avoid washing the cookware in hard water because it tends to darken the aluminum. To remove stains, use a cream of tartar and water paste.

Anodized Aluminum
This is aluminum that has been given a special finish to protect it from corrosion. It is a good conductor of heat and the special finish makes it stick-resistant. It is a good choice of material to look for in pots and pans for most any type of cooking. Pots and pans made from anodized aluminum are not dishwasher safe and can be dark in color, making it hard to see slight color changes in the food being cooked.  The nearly complete lack of pores enables hard-anodized cookware to resist food sticking, even if the food is overcooked or burned. Unlike artificial non-stick coatings, hard-anodized surfaces will not peel or chip. Hard-anodized surfaces are also non-toxic and resistant heat up to the melting point of aluminum, or 1,221 degrees Fahrenheit (660.56 degrees Celsius). Quick, uniform heating is another of the many advantages of hard-anodized cookware.

While once in the sole domain of high-end cookware manufacturers such as Calphalon, hard-anodized cookware is now readily available from numerous companies and in a wide range of prices. Though they typically remain more expensive than traditional non-stick cookware, hard-anodized pots and pans are no longer restricted to the realm of commercial kitchens.

 Hard Anodized Nonstick Cookware
With hard anodized nonstick cookware, consumers are able to get the advantages, like durability associated, with hard metal cookware, and keep those of aluminum as well.

Unlike traditional non-stick surfaces, wooden or plastic utensils are not required; the hard-anodized aluminum surface easily withstands non-sharp metal utensils such as spoons, spatulas, and whisks. The surface is non-reactive to acidic foods, and cleanup rarely requires more than a damp cloth. Depending on the construction in regard to materials used for rivets and handles, many brands of hard-anodized cookware are both oven- and broiler-proof. As with all kitchen gear, the manufacturer's instructions should be followed in regard to usage, seasoning, and cleaning methods. Cookware made from hard anodized aluminum has a significantly longer lifespan than traditional non-stick cookware and are the strongest, most durable cookware currently available and is virtually non-porous.
Pan Care: To care for anodized aluminum pans, do not cook foods that are highly acidic or alkaline in them because they have a tendency to cause pitting in the coating. They should be washed by hand in hot soapy water rather than in a dishwasher where the strong detergent would damage the surface of the cookware. To avoid scratching the finish, do not use abrasive materials on the surface of anodized aluminum cookware.

Cast Iron

Cast iron cookware is inexpensive to moderately priced. It is fairly heavy and conducts heat evenly. It heats slowly but once it is hot it holds the heat well. This makes it good for deep frying and slow-cooking. It can be used on top of the stove and in the oven. Drawbacks to cast iron are that it rusts, stains and becomes pitted when exposed to air, moisture and certain foods.

Pan Care: To care for cast iron cookware, do not wash in soapy water but try wiping clean with a paper towel. Run hot water over stuck on food to help loosen and remove. After your cast iron pot has been washed it should be dried thoroughly. To prevent the pan from rusting, rid it of any excess moisture by setting it on the stove over high heat until all moisture has evaporated and coat with oil before storing.

Lined Copper

Copper is one of the more expensive materials used to make pots and pans. It conducts heat evenly and is very responsive to heat. It heats up quickly and will also cool down quickly when removed from the heat, preventing sautés and delicate foods from burning and becoming overdone. Because copper distributes heat so evenly and efficiently, it is the best choice for frying and sautéing, but it is also a good choice for many other cooking methods.

One problem with copper is that it interacts with everything it comes in contact with. Moisture in the air causes it to form a film on it that is poisonous and salty food causes a chemical reaction that can make food have a metallic taste. To make the copper pots and pans safe to use, they are lined with tin, silver or stainless steel to protect any surface that would come in contact with any food. Because copper reacts to everything it touches, it needs to be polished regularly to keep its bright copper shine.

Pan Care: To care for copper cookware, hand wash with hot soapy water and avoid using abrasive materials to clean. Use copper polish to keep copper from tarnishing and free from white spots. The interior should be re-tinned every couple of years, depending on usage.


These pots and pans have had a coating applied to them that prevents food from sticking and makes clean up easier. The non-stick surface is really an advantage when cooking some foods, such as omelets, and when reheating sticky foods, such as rice. It also reduces the amount of fat that is normally required when cooking. The non-stick surface is less efficient when using certain cooking methods, such as sautéing, because the coating interferes with the transfer of heat from the underlying pan.

 Nonstick cookware, first made available in the 1960s, has become ubiquitous due to its easy cooking and cleaning properties. It requires less oil or grease to keep food from sticking, it disperses heat evenly, and cleanup is a breeze with soap and water. Over the years, improved techniques for adhering nonstick coatings to pans have led to different grades of nonstick cookware.

The least expensive type of nonstick cookware features a single, thin layer of nonstick coating. This type of nonstick cookware tends to scratch easily, and in some cases might even begin to peel off after repeated use, particularly if abused. This is most often generic nonstick cookware intended for mass-market use. A better grade of nonstick cookware has a dual layer coating: the nonstick layer is followed by a sealer that helps adhere the first layer and protect it. Dual layer nonstick cookware is more resistant to scratching and peeling, and with proper care should last longer than single layer nonstick cookware.

As price increases, so should the layers of coating. Triple-layer nonstick coating is incrementally more durable than dual-layer, and so forth up to four or more layers. A high quality finish is easy to tell from a single layer coating. The better finish feels smooth to the touch, unlike a single layer in which one can feel tiny ridges. If the finish is shiny, it has likely been coated with silicone. This is fine for bake ware, but is not recommended for cookware.

Pan Care:To care for non-stick cookware, use hot soapy water and avoid using abrasive pads or powders. If food does stick to the pan, soak in hot water to loosen stuck on food. A nylon scouring pad, nylon scraper, or nonabrasive cleaner can also be used to help remove stuck on food. Do not wash in a dishwasher. Also protect the non-stick surface by only using wooden, plastic, or coated utensils when cooking.

There have been concerns about Teflon coating on nonstick pans. I would encourage you to do further research to determine if this product is safe.

Porcelain Enamel

Cast Iron Coated with Porcelain Enamel

Porcelain enamel is applied as a coating only on pots and pans made of other material, such as cast iron or aluminum. It prevents them from corroding or reacting with the food being cooked. A pan coated with porcelain on the inside cannot be used for sautéing or frying but will work as a saucepan and can be used in the oven.

Pan Care: To care for porcelain enamel cookware, wash with hot soapy water. For stuck on food, soak in hot water to loosen. A nylon scouring pad, nylon scraper, or nonabrasive cleaner can also be used to help remove stuck on food. Porcelain enamel can be cleaned occasionally in the dishwasher unless it has a non-stick interior surface. Limit the use of a dishwasher to avoid the strong detergent dulling the enamel surface.

Stainless Steel  

Stainless steel cookware is moderately priced. It is the most versatile material to use because it keeps its bright shine and has good tensile strength, preventing it from denting easily. Stainless steel is a good material for any type of pan because it does not corrode and does not react with alkaline or acidic materials. The one problem with stainless steel is that it does not conduct heat well. To combat this problem, pots and pans made from stainless steel have should have a thick aluminum or copper core in the bottom of the pan to help conduct heat more evenly and make the pan more responsive to heat. In the better quality pans, the aluminum or copper core also runs up the sides. You may find a stainless steel pan with an aluminum or copper plate on the bottom but if the plate is not thick enough, it will not do an efficient job of conducting heat evenly.

Pan Care: To care for stainless steel cookware, wash with hot soapy water. A nylon scouring pad or nylon scraper can be used to remove stuck on food. There are stainless steel cleaners that can also be used to remove stains and bring a shine back to the cookware (I use Bar Keepers Friend. It works great!). Stainless steel cookware can be washed in the dishwasher but the high temperatures in the drying process can cause the water spots. To avoid water spots, remove the pan from the dishwasher before it is dry and wipe with a soft cloth.

You can purchase cookware in sets or open stock. Depending on how often you cook and the types of foods you cook as well as the amount of storage space available to you, will help you to determine whether to purchase an entire set or the specific pieces that you will need. If you prefer more expensive cookware then buying one piece at a time may be a great option as you can collect them over time. My cookware is stainless steel which is not the best material, but it works fine for me and is affordable.

I would recommend checking out the cookware at Sam's club. I really like their Members Mark brand. It is great quality at a great price.

Buon Appetito!




  1. YAY I'm so glad I found you on Or So She Says! Great timing that you had just done this post, too, as I am begging hubby for kitchen supplies - especially pots & pans - for my upcoming bday in Feb. I have a hodge podge of them right now and my two favorite saucepans are stainless steel with copper bottoms. I couldn't figure out what they were before, so I am forever in your debt! Seriously. I have a hard time with heavier pots and the stainless' lightness has been wonderful, PLUS at the same time they cook evenly. I use them constantly. Thank you for the wonderful information!

    1. BTW I'm subscribed every which way. Also LOVE your chosen scriptures and your obvious faith. You are beautiful! :) Thx again!

    2. Evergreen Eden,

      I am so glad you found me and that the cookware info was helpful. I hope you have a wonderful birthday and get some great cookware! I am very grateful for Or So She Says! blog and allowing me to guest post. It has been great!