Culinary Crash Course Series – Comparing Cookware Materials

*By: Christi Shingara*

Photo: Cooker King

There are many different cookware materials out to consider when buying pots and pans. So where do you start? The 4 main things to consider when buying pots and pans are heat performance, durability, maintenance, and price. Also, depending on what you will be cooking, some cookware materials fare better than others.

Non-Stick

Heat performance

Non-stick cookware is a great heat conductor, however, most non-stick pans should not be placed in heat above 500°F. Read your instructions when you buy your set. It will let you know the highest heat the cookware can withstand.

Durability

Non-stick cookware is generally light in weight, however they can be easily scratched and the food might not brown as well with non-stick as with other materials. If you take care of them, they can last for a number of years. When you notice peeling and scratching it is time to replace them.

Maintenance

Some cookware requires oils to prevent food from sticking to them. When using non-stick cookware you may only have to use very little oil or none at all. They are also easy to clean and some can even be put in the dishwasher (I still wouldn’t recommend it though).

Price

Depending on what kind of brand you are looking at, non-stick cookware sets may generally run a few hundred dollars and are typically not as expensive as other materials. If you just need a great pan to cook eggs or sauté veggies, I strongly recommend investing in a GreenPan.

Stainless Steel

Heat performance

Stainless steel isn’t a great heat conductor unless you buy your pots and pans with a copper or aluminum core. However heat distribution is superior and cooks food evenly. It’s a great choice for browning and braising.

Durability

Stainless steel is very durable and can last for a long time. It is also scratch resistant unlike non-stick cookware.

Maintenance

This material will allow food to stick to it easily and can be more difficult to clean. Using oil or butter before cooking will prevent foods from sticking. Cleaning should be done with warm water and soap. Even though some models can be put in the dishwasher, I recommend washing by hand instead.

Price

Depending on what kind of stainless steel cookware you get they can range from $100 to $1000. It is best to do your research and figure out what you actually need. All-Clad is a very popular and respected brand of stainless steel cookware.

Enameled Cast Iron

Heat performance

Cast iron is popular due to high heats that it can withstand. However, enameled cast iron can’t be held over an open flame like uncoated cast iron, and if you heat a pot while empty, it can crack. Some models can be heated to 480°F in the oven. It holds heat well due to it being a poor conductor of heat. It gets hot slowly, but once it is hot, it holds the heat extremely well. Enameled cast iron is great for searing, sautéing, browning, and frying foods at high temperatures.

Durability

This cookware can last a number of years if taken care of properly. However, the paint and glaze can chip throughout years of use. They are also quite heavy but some models are not as heavy as uncoated cast iron, so if you are looking for a more lightweight choice this material is not for you.

Maintenance

Enameled cast iron has an enamel glaze that is applied to its surface and helps protect the cast iron. They don’t need seasoned like traditional cast iron. They can also be washed with soap and water and won’t rust like uncoated cast iron.

Price

A set of enameled cast iron cookware can cost a pretty penny. Most sets range around $600 to a few thousand dollars. Le Creuset is a timeless brand of enameled cast iron cookware that come in a variety of colors and sizes.

Uncoated Cast Iron

Heat performance

Uncoated cast iron can withstand temperatures up to 500°F or more and can be used over open flame. It holds heat well due to it being a poor conductor of heat. It gets hot slowly, but once hot, holds heat extremely well. It will also withstand oven temperatures well above what is considered safe for nonstick pans.

Durability

This material is basically bulletproof and if cared for properly can be passed down from generation to generation. Even if it gets rusted, it can be repaired. This type of material is very heavy and can be more-so than enameled cast iron.

Maintenance

Uncoated cast iron does require some maintenance and more than most materials. It needs to be seasoned properly and water should not be left on your cookware or rust will set in. I found a great tutorial on how to care for your cast iron cookware at Tasty.com in an article called Everything You Need To Know About Cooking With Cast-Iron Pans.

Price

Uncoated cast iron is cheaper than enameled cast iron and can range from around $100 to a few hundred dollars. Lodge is a respected brand of cast iron cookware.

Copper

Heat performance

Copper has excellent heat conductivity. Real copper cookware provides quick and even cooking, and cools down quickly, providing maximum control. Ideal for everything from high-heat searing, sautéing, and frying to gently simmering delicate sauces.

Durability

Copper pots and pans can last around 15 to 20 years if taken care of properly. What eventually happens is they start to tarnish and get a “rust-like” coating due to oxidation.

Maintenance

Cleaning copper cookware can be a bit involved and require some tender loving care. Tomato paste and salt can be used and also lemon and salt for the exterior. When cleaning the interior you can use a wet cloth and dish soap. A great article on how to maintain copper cookware is How to Clean Copper Cookware for That Like-New Shine.

Price

A full set of copper cookware could run into the thousands. This is definitely the high end of the cookware world so tread carefully.

Do you have a favorite cookware/bakeware set? Let me know in the comments below!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s