How do you choose the best cookware? Understanding the different materials used in making your pots and pans is the first step.
Stainless Steel Cookware
The most popular cookware in North America, stainless steel, is durable, easy to clean and doesn’t react with food. You’ll often seen stainless steel graded with a number such as “18/0” or “18/10”. The “18” represents the chromium content of the material, and it remains the same for almost all stainless steel cookware. Pay attention to the second number, which indicates the percentage of nickel content. Nickel gives stainless steel its shiny, rust-resistant finish. The higher the nickel content, the better quality the stainless steel. Top of the line cookware will have 10% nickel and be labeled as ‘18/10 stainless steel’.
Since stainless steel itself is a poor heat conductor, an aluminum or copper disc is added to the bottom of the pot or pan to help disperse heat and avoid hot spots. The thicker the disc, the better the heat distribution. Aluminum discs run from 1.5 mm to 5.0 mm. Copper discs go from .5 mm to 2.0 mm. Go with copper if you want greater heat control, while aluminum is better for heat retention.
Non-stick stainless steel uses ‘arc-spray’ technology to create cookware that has the shine of stainless steel and the convenience of non-stick cooking.
Lightweight, inexpensive and an excellent conductor of heat, it’s not surprising that aluminum is the most common cookware material worldwide. And since an aluminum pot or pan is all aluminum, heat spreads evenly all over, including the sidewalls. The key to picking quality aluminum cookware is thickness. The thicker the pan, the better the heat distribution, so there is less chance of hot spots and burning.
The downside of aluminum is that it can react with acidic or alkaline foods, which corrodes the material and affects the flavour of food. As well, plain, uncoated pans are harder to clean. For these reasons, most people prefer coated or non-stick aluminum pans. To increase the non-stick coating’s durability, get a thick pan, avoid using high heat except for short periods (e.g. when searing) or when the pan is filled with liquid, and do not use metal utensils.
Hard-Anodized Non-Stick Cookware
Originally developed for restaurants because of its durability and performance, hard-anodized cookware is twice as hard as stainless steel, has the excellent heat conductivity of aluminum and boasts a non-stick surface. This cookware material is created by placing aluminum in an acid solution and exposing it to an electric current, which deposits a layer of aluminum oxide on the surface of the aluminum. The process is called anodization. Because the non-stick surface of hard-anodized cookware can be discoloured by automatic dishwasher detergents, it is best to hand wash your set.
Other MaterialsCast Aluminum Cookware
An excellent heat conductor, cast aluminum cookware is generally thicker than standard pressed aluminum cookware. This results in better heat distribution and retention, which is great for simmered dishes. While it is heavy, it is also low maintenance and dishwasher safe.
Due to its heavy weight and durability, a cast iron pan seems nearly indestructible. It is a good heat conductor and retains heat very well. It does require more careful care and cleaning than aluminum or stainless steel.
Featuring a range of shapes, colours and& designs, ceramic cookware is durable and scratch resistant. While it holds heat very well, it's a poor heat conductor so it is best used for dishes cooked in the oven or that simmer at low temperatures for a long time.
Clad Multi-ply Cookware
Made of a combination of metals like aluminum, stainless steel and copper, clad multi-ply is one of the best energy conductors, heating the entire pot or pan evenly. It is very durable, low maintenance but is more expensive.
The gourmet gleam of copper cookware is part of its allure. Copper is also preferred because it’s a fabulous heat conductor, and will warm up and cool down quickly. However along with a high price tag, it is also high maintenance with the interior needing periodic relining.
Enamel on Steel Cookware
Extremely durable, dishwasher safe and available in a variety of colours, enamel cookware is a good choice for tasks such as slow cooking. Its poor heat distribution makes it impractical for everyday use.
Save your glass cookware for baking, as its inferior heat distribution makes it a poor choice for stovetop cooking.
Generally found on aluminum cookware, non-stick coating makes cleaning pots and pans much easier. It also means less oil or butter is needed during the cooking process for those on low-fat diets. Avoid using metal utensils as they will scratch the coating.