More often than not you find yourself wondering which cookware material is best for you. It may sound like an easy decision to make, but it can be a challenging task. If all it entailed were looking and picking one I would tell you to do it.
However, there is a broad range of materials used in the cookware manufacturing industry. The catch here is to choose a cookware material that will serve you best and not jeopardize your health.
Particular cookware materials are more efficient than others. For instance, the ideal material for braising should be able to hold and regulate heat irrespective of changes in temperature. Also, a perfect sauté pan should be very sensitive to changes in temperature. Your goal should, therefore, be having a collection of pieces with material that suit your cooking styles or to some extent the type of food you cook and your heating system. Some of the best cookware is designed with a blend of various material to give it a few desirable factors and make it efficient. In this guide, we will discuss the various materials used in cookware and how they will affect your cooking styles.
Of all the materials used in cookware, copper is best to heat conductor. As a result, it is most highly responsive material. This means that it heats evenly and rapidly when on a cooktop and cools down as soon as it is removed from heat. This gives you complete control on heat application as well as the cooking process. Due to its high responsiveness, it is the most priced cookware material. High-quality copper pans are made of a heavy gauge ranging from 1/16 to 1/8 inches in thickness.
As good as it sounds, in most cookware, copper cannot be used alone as reacts with acidic foods as well as natural minerals, which could result in a metallic taste and a yellow tint on food. Cooper cookware must be therefore lined with nonreactive metals such as stainless steel or tin to ensure a protective barrier between copper and food content. Tin has been traditionally used to line most copper cookware since it is equally responsive and non-reactive. The only shortcoming with tin is that it is prone to ware with time and will, therefore, need a re-application. Stainless steel, on the other hand, will last a long time but it will alter copper’s responsiveness. At an extra cost, you can reduce this effect by using a thick gauge copper.
Copper is nonmagnetic hence not ideal for use with induction cooktops. Copper cookware handles are either made of iron, stainless steel or brass. All handle types are safe for use in ovens. This material cookware is however not dishwasher safe. Always hand wash it and probably apply copper polish to maintain the shiny luster. However, polish or not, its performance is always at its best.
- Non-reactive when lined with other metals
- Exquisite heat conductivity
- Not compatible with induction cooktops without installation disks.
After copper, pure aluminum is the next best in heat conductivity. It is however not as expensive as copper. It makes a perfectly responsive and lightweight cookware especially when strengthened using copper, magnesium or other metals. As good as it is, natural aluminum is highly reactive with acidic foods like tomatoes hence giving food a dull gray tint and a metallic taste. In an attempt to curb this effect, most aluminum cookware sets are clad with stainless steel, anodized or lined with a nonstick coat. Anodizing is a process that hardens the aluminum’s surface that results in a dark grey color. Anodizing has become a trend in that even aluminum with stainless steel or nonstick interiors are being anodized to increase durability, ease of cleaning and attractiveness.
Though most aluminum cookware is not compatible with induction cooktops unless they have a steel exterior, it makes the finest line of nonstick cookware. Aluminum cookware remains the most practical choice for large pot pieces because of its lightweight nature. Aluminum remains the most popular core for clad stainless steel cookware.
- Non-reactive and non-porous when lined with other materials
- High heat conductivity
- Non-stick lining has a short lifespan
- Cannot be used in high heat lined with ceramic and other nonstick materials
Stainless steel results from the addition of nickel and chromium to steel. This makes the steel mainly anti-corrosive hence the name stainless steel. The most preferred type of stainless steel has nickel and chromium in the ratio of 10/18 though other forms still perform great. This material is however commonly used due to its attractiveness and durability. Stainless steel is often used in cookware interiors because it does not react with alkaline or acidic foods. This quality ensures a great degree of purity of any food cooked. No matter what food it is, you can be assured that it will have no metallic taste or discoloration. Stainless steel does not scratch easily, and it is oven, broiler, and dishwasher safe.
Stainless steel by itself would make pathetic cookware. This is because it has very poor or low heat conductivity. However, through the permanent bonding of stainless steel layers to highly conductive metals like copper and aluminum, stainless steel clad cookware that results is considered one of the most practical and versatile. This process marries the conductive qualities of copper and aluminum to the impervious nature of stainless steel resulting to a do-anything attractive cookware.
In addition to permanent bonding, stainless steel is also improved by impact bonding a heavy gauge aluminum disk to the bottom of a thin gauge sheet of a straight stainless steel. Compared to clad cookware, this improvement method does not yield as much heat conductivity and durability. However, well-made cookware performs great with reduced uses. In addition to that, impact-bonded cookware comes at a lower cost yet maintains its easy maintenance and nonreactive interior.
Cast iron itself is a very poor heat conductor. This means that it is slow to heat up when putting on a cooktop and slow to cool down when removed. This self-regulating mechanism makes cast iron the most preferred material for grill pans, griddles, Dutch ovens and frying pans. Cast iron in cookware comes in two forms that are, enameled coated or in its natural state. Both perform great except a few notable differences. While enameled cast iron cookware is easy to clean, totally nonreactive and maintenance free, original cast iron will require seasoning otherwise it will rust. It, however, develops a completely non-stick surface after several seasonings.
Enameled cast iron cookware is, however, more pricey than original cast iron cookware. Besides its cumbersome nature, cast iron cookware is very durable and is chipping, denting and warping resistant.
- Very long lasting
- A good self-regulating nature that allows it to heat up slowly and cool down slowly keeping food warm for longer periods of time
- Natural cast iron requires regular seasoning to avoid rusting
- Too heavy to small-scale everyday use
- Some uncoated cast iron pans cook unevenly
Which Is the Safest and Healthiest?
Settling on the decision of which of these materials is most reliable and healthy is not an easy thing. This is because each of these materials has its pros and cons and in addition to that, different types of cooking will call for cookware made of different material. However, from a quick glance at each of these metals, it is safe to conclude that stainless steel cookware is the safest and healthiest to use.
Though copper and aluminum cookware have been coated or clad with other nonreactive material, you would be best placed with a stainless steel cookware in case of things like chipping or scratching. Cast iron, on the other hand, is not reactive but is highly prone to rust unless enamel-coated or seasoned. In cases of seasoning, you can never be 100% sure that you have done it right and that consumption of rust is out of the question. When weight is concerned, stainless steel still has the right or rather most practical weight in handling hence reduced damages in cases of accidents.
In conclusion, deciding the best cookware for your kitchen depends on some several factors and not the material used only. You should, therefore, consider all the factors that are both universal and personal factors. By personal factors I mean such thing as your style of cooking, type of cooking tops and or the styles of cooking you hope to achieve.
All these factors put together should inform your final decision on the best product for your kitchen. Have in mind that for reactive metals like copper and aluminum, precaution has been taken in their manufacture to ensure that they are safe for use in cooking and you should not shy from purchasing them. The secret is going for what works for you best as far as your cooking style, cooktops, budget, weight, material among others is concerned. The goal is to have an assorted collection of cookware that serves your various cooking needs.