Cooking Materials – Choose the Right Material for Pots and Pans for the Right Job
Choosing the right cooking materials – pots and pans – can be an expensive and difficult task. There are quite a few different materials to choose from which may or may not be suitable for the various cooking methods and heat sources used in your kitchen.
“Size does matter” when choosing your cooking equipment. A variety of sizes of pots and pans (check a variety of chef’s pans on Amazon) need to be purchased.
In a well equipped kitchen, there should be at least one tall pot for boiling pastas, blanching vegetables or similar and two straight sided pots with lids. In addition, one taller pan for cooking sauces and similar items and one wider with lower sides suitable for risottos, braising vegetables or stewing smaller quantities of food.
Then there are of course the frying pans which really depend very much on the individual and what one feels comfortable with in terms of diameter as well as height. It can be very frustrating if the right size pan is not available and one must cook in batches. Keep in mind that a quality pot or pan will last a lifetime and therefore the choices you make when initially purchasing your pans becomes very important, and is worth the extra homework now.
Different materials and metals used in your pots and pans react differently to the various types of heat sources used in the modern kitchen. Some will conduct heat more or less rapidly and evenly than others. Below are some pros and cons as well as some suggestions and thoughts that may help you in choosing the right material for your cookware.
Stainless steel cookware – Pros and Cons
Pros: One of the most durable materials used for making pots or pans is stainless steel. It does not absorb odors or corrode and, as it is a very hard material, it will not easily be deformed or dented. Stainless steel is suitable for any heat source one may use – induction, gas, electric or radiation. Choose double bottomed pans as they are less prone to get deformed over the years. Often double bottomed pans also have copper or aluminum inlays which aid in faster and more even heat distribution.
Cons: On the negative side, stainless steel is very heavy and therefore not always easy to handle and it is a slow heat conductor. Stainless steel pans are also fairly expensive but with the proper care will last a lifetime. Stainless steel comes in a variety of different alloys with various percentages of steel as main component.
Copper cookware – Pros and Cons
Copper is a metal that conducts the heat very fast and also looks great. Untreated copper is still the best for cooking sugar or fruit jams, purees or preservatives and for making sabayon (i.e. Zabaione). Copper can be fantastic for baking with the fast heat conduction of copper helping the caramelization process of the baked goods. It is also commonly acceptable to use copper pans or pots as serving vessels directly onto the table.
Copper does react (oxidize) with acid foods and needs to be tin, nickel, stainless steel or silver lined on the inside. This lining usually does not last very long and needs to be replaced over the years. The upkeep through the constant polishing and replacement of inner lining as well as the initial purchase of copper pans and pots is rather expensive and something for you to consider before outlaying for a set of copper pots and pans.
Aluminum cookware – Pros and Cons
Aluminum is a softer metal, light weight and a very good heat conductor. Aluminum is fairly reasonable priced. However, acid food may corrode the porous surface of aluminum pots and pans and at times food will get a metallic taste. In addition, white sauces may appear as off white to grey in color when cooked or stored for a prolonged period in an aluminum pan. These days aluminum is less and less the first choice when purchasing pots and pans.
Blue or Black Iron
In a professional Chinese kitchen the woks are almost certainly made out of this lightweight and thin material. At home, a well seasoned iron skillet is still the chef’s best friend. Choose a skillet with a thick bottom rather than a very thin bottom as those tend to get deformed very easily, especially when used directly on gas flames, which are often very powerful.
Cast Iron Pot and Pans
Cast iron pots and pans are not only great heat conductors but just like iron pans, when well seasoned, a joy to cook with. They are reasonable prized and almost indestructible. Buy a cast iron skillet today and more often than not your children will inherit them still fully functional. Cast iron suits almost any cooking method and can easily be used for baking in an oven, or over open flames as well.
Non stick & Teflon Cookware – Pros and Cons
These are generally the easiest pans to use and usually fairly reasonably priced. Teflon or similar non stick surfaces that are used to line the inside of non stick pans are mostly mounted on aluminum and similar lightweight materials. Although the non stick surface inside these pans makes them perfect for many households, especially to make pan-fried dishes, the coatings are often not very heat resistant and not scratch proof and wear off very fast.
Silver is very elegant and suitable for service containers, platters and vessels. However in the kitchen for cooking the material is not particularly suitable, with the exception that it may be used as a lining for copper pans.
Glass and Ceramics Cookware
Although well suited for baking dishes, pie moulds, ramekins and soufflé dishes, in general glass and ceramic can not be used for open flame cooking and is only suitable for baking. Glass and ceramic is of course breakable and sooner or later will need to be replaced.
It is recommended to have a variety cooking containers made of different materials, for example:
- A cast iron Dutch oven for pot roasts, braised dishes and stews and all dishes that are cooked under cover in the oven.
- A couple of well seasoned cast iron skillets for all the grilling, shallow frying and pan-frying.
- A non-stick frying pan for egg dishes.
- A variety of sizes of stainless steel pots and sauté pans for everyday use and everything that needs to be boiled and cooked.
- Some ceramic or glass baking dishes for pies, quiches, lasagnas and other baked dishes.
- And for those Sunday lunches where the whole family gets together and the simple meal becomes a celebration, we’d recommend some copper sauce pans, wide open frying pans (round or oval), for cooking as well as presentation right from the stove to the table.
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