by Lucinda Gunnin
Choosing the perfect cookware is a matter of personal preference and cooking style, but understanding the differences can help every cook. Professional chefs agree that every household needs an 8- to 10-inch skillet, a 5- to 7-quart sauce pan and a stock pot. Choose pans that fit your needs, and you will love cooking with them.
Non-stick pots and pans. Non-sticks pots and pans are perfect for the health-conscious cook who wants to avoid adding extra fat to his food. Recent innovations in non-stick cookware have made the non-stick coating more durable and less likely to flake off, but this is still not necessarily the best cookware for young cooks in training who might forget not to use a metal spatula. Non-stick pots and pans are often more lightweight than other alternatives and are generally very easy to clean up. Non-stick pots and pans are best used at moderate temperatures.
Cast-iron pots and pans. Many chefs believe that a home is not complete without a cast-iron frying pan -- and if you try to replicate grandma's fried chicken, there is nothing better on the market. Heavy cast-iron pans are great for frying and cooking that requires high temperatures for sustained periods of time. Cast iron will also provide a prettier brown for fried foods than more modern alternatives. The downside to cast iron is that it can be difficult to clean and the pans are very heavy.
Enamel pots and pans. Much of today's popular cookware is coated with enamel and has either a non-stick or metal cooking surface. The exterior of the pot is more adaptable to meet your decorating needs. The main consideration when purchasing enamel pots should be what the cooking surface is made of. A cooking surface with a copper inlay will promote even heat distribution, but a non-stick coating can offer all the benefits of a non-stick pan with the more attractive enamel exterior. One concern about enamel cookware is that the outside of the pan can get very hot while cooking as enamel conducts heat well. The reason these pans often have a metal cooking surface is that the enamel can conduct heat unevenly.
If you are a more casual cook, consider the type of handles on your cookware. Many nice brands of cookware have metal handles which conduct heat. If you are used to grabbing a pot handle with your bare hands, look for one with plastic or rubberized handles.
Also consider the weight of your pots and pans. Cast iron, stainless steel and other metal-based pans will be much heavier than aluminum or non-stick pans.