Cookware Buying Guide

by Staff Writer
Published April 28, 2010 | Updated March 20, 2015

When you're shopping for the right cookware it's all about the metal, because that is the vehicle that delivers heat to food. Before you shop for any pots and pans, consider the different types of metals and their benefits.

Cookware Materials to Consider:

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  • Stainless steel cookware

    The cookware of choice for many cooks is stainless steel. It is easy to clean, it won't react with food, and it is resistant to rust, stains, and corrosion. It's also dishwasher safe, though hand washing will help it keep its luster. Pure stainless steel cookware does not conduct heat very well, however; it tends to develop hotspots. For that reason, it is important to get "encapsulated" stainless steel cookware. That means the bottom of the pan includes a layer of copper or aluminum to ensure even heat distribution. Overheated stainless steel cookware sometimes develops a rainbow-like discoloration that can be removed with stainless steel cleaner.

  • Cast-iron cookware

    If you need to cook food on a low, steady temperature or heat a pan up to a high heat for searing, cast-iron cookware will serve you best. Cast iron heats up and stays that way for a long time, even when food is added to the pan. Bare cast iron needs to be seasoned by cooking some oil on it and letting it cool several times. It should not be washed, as that will remove the seasoning. Bare cast iron is also prone to rust, so most cooks just wipe it clean with a damp cloth. You can find cast iron skillets and griddles with an enamel coating that makes for easier cleaning and maintenance. These do not need to be seasoned.

  • Carbon steel cookware

    Known for its quick heating and strength, carbon steel is commonly used to make woks and crepe pans, where one portion of the pan is intentionally kept at a different temperature than the rest. Like cast iron, carbon steel cookware also needs to be seasoned before the first use, and it requires a little more work to keep it in good shape; carbon steel will easily rust if not seasoned.

  • Aluminum cookware

    Aluminum pots and pans are excellent, lightweight heat conductors, however it can react with acidic food and it is easily dented. Hard-anodized aluminum goes through a process that hardens the aluminum and makes it less reactive. Cast aluminum cookware is another variation that is thicker and stronger than regular pressed aluminum.

  • Copper cookware

    The most efficient heat conductor is copper. It heats quickly and uniformly, and it responds immediately to changes in temperature. Copper cookware does require more work to keep it in good shape, and overheating it can cause discoloration. It can also react with some food, changing the color and taste. In order to remedy that problem, many copper pots and pans are lined with stainless steel or tin.

  • Nonstick cookware

    Nonstick coatings on the interiors of pots and pans can make cooking and cleaning very easy. Though it tends to be easily scratched, nonstick cookware is especially good for those watching their waistline, since less oil is needed for cooking. Good nonstick cookware will have several layers of nonstick coating; the best options will have up to seven layers. This coating ensures a smoother surface and longer-lasting pans. Nonstick cookware with a silicone coating can react badly with animal fats. Ceramic nonstick coating is a new, more eco-friendly option that many users find works well as long as no oil is used when cooking.

  • Multi-ply cookware

    Since no one material is perfect for every type of cooking, multi-ply cookware combines several metals in one pot or pan. Multi-ply cookware usually has a copper or aluminum core, with a stainless steel or nonstick interior. The exterior could be a number of different metals. This combination of strengths makes multi-ply cookware the most versatile and user-friendly.