Cookware Basics

Confused About Cookware?

Calphalon 10-pc. Contemporary Stainless Cookware Set
The price and cooking performance of cookware is largely dependent on the type of materials used in the construction. The type of material used can make a huge difference in how evenly the heat is distributed across the pot or pan. If the heat is not distributed evenly hot spots can form which can cause your delicious meal to burn or turn out less than perfect. The material used can also affect how easily the food is released from the pan. No one wants to serve food to their guests that looks like it got run over by a truck because you had to fight to get it out of the pan. You should also take note of the care instructions because some types of cookware will require hand washing which is a small trade off for superior cooking performance. However, if you hate doing dishes with a passion you should probably look for the best quality cookware you can afford that is dishwasher safe.

Basic Types of Cookware

Cast Aluminum - Cast aluminum cookware has adequate strength and conducts heat well. Acidic foods such as tomato sauce, however, will tend to cause aluminum cookware to discolor, stain and corrode. There are studies on record that suggest that the ingestion of aluminum that can leach into food cooked in aluminum cookware can be linked to a higher risk for Alzheimers disease, kidney damage and weakening of the bones. Alzheimers experts generally claim that studies do not show aluminum cookware to be a risk as any amount transferred to food is to small to have adverse effects on health or safety.

Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookware - hard anodized aluminum cookware has become very popular due to its durable nature. Anodized aluminum is put through a process called anodizing that creates a thick oxide layer over the aluminum. This anodized coating prevents corrosion, is non reactive with food and creates a scratch resistant nonstick cooking surface. The aluminum metal conducts heat quickly and evenly to prevent hot spots yet never comes in contact with the food due to the anodized coating thereby eliminating the health risks associated with cast aluminum cookware. The drawback to most hard anodized aluminum cookware is that while it is nonstick, it is not dishwasher safe. The harsh detergents used in dishwashers can compromise the anodized coating over time. Today's technology has brought about some hard anodized aluminum cookware that the manufacturers claim are dishwasher safe. My advice is this; if you are going to spend the money on a good set of hard anodized aluminum cookware take a few extra minutes to hand wash to keep it in pristine condition. Also, although some manufacturers claim that the coating can handle metal utensils I would recommend using utensils made from less abrasive materials such as nylon or silicon.

Stainless Steel Cookware - Stainless Steel Cookware is another popular type of cookware because it is a strong material that does not react with food, can be used with any type of utensils and is generally dishwasher safe. The drawback with stainless steel is that it does not conduct heat nearly as well or as evenly as aluminum. If you are purchasing stainless steel cookware you should look for cookware that features an alumimum or copper core on the bottom. This basically means that a sheet of aluminum or copper is sandwiched between two pieces of stainless steel to provide fast and even heating of the cooking surface. The aluminum never comes in contact with the food so you get the benefits of the heat conductivity without the health risks. The aluminum and copper core stainless steel cookware will cost a bit more but the cooking performance is well worth the extra money.

Copper Cookware - You may notice that copper cookware looks like stainless steel and not copper. This is because copper will react with just about anything and can produce chemicals that can be harmful. However, copper does conduct heat very evenly and can heat up and cool down quickly to enhance cooking and prevent scorching. Therefore copper cookware is lined with stainless steel to provide a safe cooking surface. On copper cookware you can usually see the copper on the outer bottom surface of the pan which needs to be polished regularly if you want it to stay shiny.

Cast Iron Cookware - Yes these are the pans that the victim always uses to knock out the robber in the movies because it is heavy and hard as nails. Cast Iron cookware will take longer to heat up but once it is hot it will conduct heat very evenly and works well to keep food warm for a while even after being removed from the heat source. It also transfers some of the iron to the food which provides a health benefit as many of us tend to be iron deficient. So why is this inexpensive, even heating cookware not more popular? Frankly, food tends to stick to it, it needs to be seasoned and is prone to rust. If you enjoy cooking with this durable cookware be sure to dry it thoroughly and store it in a dry place where is it not exposed to moisture.

Cast Iron Enamel Cookware - Cast Iron enamel Cookware can be a versitile and attractive addition to your kitchen. Generally used in ;the oven this cookware provides a protective coating around the cast iron pan allowing it to be used with all types of foods and protecting it from rust and corrosion. These attractive pieces can go straight from the oven to the table and will help to keep the food warm during the meal.

Teflon Nonstick Cookware - There has been much debate about Teflon nonstick cookware. This cookware is very affordable and convenient however is not as durable as a hard anodized aluminum. There are also those who feel that the nonstick coating has a negative effect on the heat distribution which can result in hot spots. This cookware is much more likely to scratch and flake but is also easy to occasionally replace. There are reports on both sides as to whether the pieces of coating that tend to flake off are actually dangerous to ones health. You need to make your own assessment on that issue. My advice is this; if you own this type of nonstick cookware always used plastic or wooden cooking utensils and never put it in the dishwasher. This will prevent it from scratching and flaking to begin with.

Glass Cookware - Glass Cookware is made with flameproof tempered glass. Some cooks like the fact that you can see through it so you know how the food is cooking. Glass does not conduct heat evenly and you are almost certain to have hot spots that will cause burning and sticking. Glass cookware generally does not perform well, so you would do better to go with another type of cookware.

Basically choosing cookware is a matter of preference. There are many wonderful brands and products to choose from. Of course the best quality and best cooking performance are going to come from your top of the line cookware that can be a bit costly. There are however many good choices that will give excellent performance in the average kitchen in a more moderate price range. If you go for the best quality that will fit your budget and take good care of it you will get more that your moneys worth of use from it. So go start your gourmet kitchen right now!