When choosing the best cookware you first have to think of what you are going to use it for. Are you frying or searing in it or are you just cooking eggs? Cooking temperature and acidity should be your first concern. Some materials used in the production of cookware can react to acidic foods like uncoated or un-anodized aluminium and some can react to high heat as in the case of non-stick, PTFE coated pans. Chose carefully and inspect the materials used in the production of cookware to best suite your needs.
Materials Used for the Best Cookware
Aluminium is a very good heat conductor but the metal is extremely soft so it is usually alloyed with bronze, copper or magnesium. Pans made of sheet aluminium are either spun or stamped into shape to make baking sheets, and deep or shallow pots.
Because of the production process, cast aluminium is made into thicker and irregular shapes. After casting, as the metal cools down, tiny pores form in the metal giving the product low heat conductivity. Cast aluminium products range from Dutch ovens to thick pans but more often used for ladles or handles as less heat conductivity is required.
Anodizing is the process of increasing the natural oxide on metals. Usually used to coat Dutch ovens, sauté pans and stockpots by anodizing the aluminium, increased strength is added as well as a non-reactive surface.
Uncoated, un-anodized and aluminium exposure as health risk
Uncoated or un-anodized cookware can change the taste of your food as aluminium is reactive to acids. Cooking tomatoes, artichokes or asparagus can interact with the metal oxidizing the pot and thus ruining your food. Also, aluminium is thought to have a negative impact on your body as it may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Stainless steel is a chromium-iron based alloy sometimes containing a blend of different percentages of nickel in cookware. It is resistant to corrosion being non-reactive to either alkaline or acidic foods and has a high degree of toughness so it is scratch or nick free. On the other side, it is a poor heat conductor and the fact that it contains chromium plays to the downside.
Chromium is a toxic element, dangerous if ingested. But stainless steel is very hard to scratch so this should not be an issue. Stainless steel is a poor heat conductor that does not spread the heat equally through the metal so to diminish this disadvantage a copper or aluminium core is sandwiched between stainless steel sheets to highly improve your cookware.
Copper is the best heat conductor for cookware as it spreads the heat evenly through. From thick copper sheets producers make pots, which are used to cook non-acidic food as copper is reactive. To overcome the event of copper toxicity the interior of a copper pot is coated with a thin layer of tin or stainless steel. A stainless steel lined pot is generally more expensive but resistant to acidic foods and gives a higher toughness when compared to tin. With modern methods of metallurgical production cooper is often used as the core of high end sets being enclosed in the construction of the cookware.
Cast iron pots and pans are heavy because of their thickness. Also, because of the same reason a cast iron pot heats up hard but when it reaches the desired temperature it is heated evenly and retains heat for longer. It is reactive to very acidic foods like tomatoes and the material is highly porous so it is prone to rust. To avoid rusting a cast iron pot is previously seasoned by heating it up at a high temperature and adding oil that burns and adds a coat of oxidized fat for protection and non-stick purposes.
For a low water evaporation and low scorching the enameled cast iron pot was developed during the 30’s. The enameled pots are non-stick but prone to nicks and 3-5 times more expensive de cast iron pots.
“Non-stick” is actually the quality given to cookware by coating it with a layer of PTFE, a liquid coating that hardens and prevents food from sticking. These types of pans are used for low heat cooking of ingredients that are prone to sticking. The disadvantage of using a non-stick pan is that sucs don’t form thus you can’t build sauces in such pans. A second disadvantage is that high heat (above 240 °C) degrades the coating, and becomes toxic. Screeching the surface is also highly possible if you use abrasive utensils.
Combination of materials
Probably the best cookware you could buy is built by layering a combination of materials in order to reduce the disadvantages. So copper as it is the best heat conductor is pressed in between one or two different types of metals to bring you the best of all worlds.