What gifts might you be looking for this coming holiday season? If you’re like us, you’d just love to have some new kitchen cookware! But what specific cookware would you like to ask the “Holiday Gifter” for?
Well, we haven’t quite decided ourselves yet. But we’d love to take you along on our journey as we discover how to choose pots and pans.
In this article, we’ll look at cookware materials available, brands, size(s), styles, and other decision factors. We’ll also look at some product reviews. Are you ready? Ho! Ho! Ho!
How to Choose Cookware
TheSpruce.com reminds us that cookware material should be the first consideration when making a selection. There are other criteria to consider as well, though, such as:
- Ease of storage
If your criteria are too specific (e.g., there must be a crepe pan included in the set), then you might be limited to just one choice. However, most criteria offer you several choices. So, per the recommendation, let’s look at cookware material first.
This is a very common material for kitchen cookware. It is available at department stores, discount stores, specialty kitchen stores, and online–not to mention from second-hand outlets ranging from e-Bay to your neighbor’s garage sale.
The pros of stainless steel cookware include
- Quick and even heat absorption
- Relatively easy to clean and low-maintenance (although burned-on food can be hard to remove)
- Good weight
- Generally attractive appearance and design
- An extensive price range to choose from
The cons of stainless steel include:
- Uneven heat distribution without one or more bonded heat conductors
- Food tends to stick.
- It can stain or pit.
Nonstick cookware is very popular, especially the frying pans–which many households own in addition to other types of cookware. If well cared for, nonstick cookware can be a breeze to clean after use. Sometimes, just wiping it will do.
Like any cookware, the nonstick variety has both pros and cons, though. It’s pros include:
- Convenience: easy to use and clean
- Doesn’t require much fat to be added for cooking
The cons of nonstick include:
- Generally, easily scratched and requires plastic or other non-scratching utensils
- Almost impossible to sear or deglaze food being cooked
- Shorter lifetime due to wearing of the nonstick coating
- Concerns of health risks from the nonstick coating
Enamel Cast Iron
This material is known for its elaborate designs–for example, Dansk’s Kobenstyle casserole dish, which comes in an array of vibrant colors. So design is definitely one of its pros. Other pros of enamel cast iron include:
- The enamel protects it from rusting
- Better than uncoated cast iron for acidic foods
The cons of enamel cast iron include:
- Food tends to stick.
- Enamel scratches, chips, and wears down over time.
- It’s less durable than uncoated cast iron and some other materials (e.g., stainless steel, copper).
Uncoated Cast Iron
This is truly the workhorse of kitchen cookware. A single pan can last for generations, needing only to be seasoned regularly and protected from rust. And every cowboy out on the range has one, right?
So advantages of uncoated cast iron definitely include durability and longevity. Other pros are:
- Food will stick only if the pan hasn’t been seasoned properly. Even then, it won’t be harmed by all the scrubbing it takes to remove the burned food.
- Very inexpensive
- Can rust if not kept well-seasoned
- Can react to acidic food
- Can add iron to the cooked food (not necessarily a bad thing)
Described as “the fancy sportscar of the cookware world by SeriousEats.com, copper is less common in people’s kitchens due to its high price. But what do you get for that price?
- Heats quickly and loses heat just as quickly–making it highly responsive (the opposite of cast iron, which takes a long time to heat and then holds the heat for a long time)
- If not coated or doesn’t have cladding, copper pans apparently can kill you gradually by leaching copper into your food. When coated or cladded, though, they can be quite good–though expensive by and large.
Carbon Steel and Blue Steel
Carbon steel is very similar to cast iron in its properties. Both metals rust and thus need to be seasoned regularly. Both also happen to make excellent cookware. Blue vs. black color refers to the surface-hardening treatment; both are carbon steel.
Carbon steel cookware may be new to American home chefs, but it is hardly new to the world; it’s been in use by professional chefs for centuries.
Pros of carbon steel cookware are that it “is lightweight, hard-wearing and conducts heat faster and more evenly than pretty much any other similar material…
It’s more versatile and easier to maneuver than cast iron, and way more durable than stainless steel, copper and regular ‘nonstick.'”
Aluminum is a common and popular cookware material with many advantages, including:
- Heats very quickly–much faster than stainless steel
- Affordable (due to abundance of the metal)
Both a pro and a con of aluminum cookware is that it reacts with acid and oxidizes, forming an unpleasant gray powder residue that can leach into food and is suspected by some of being carcinogenic or causing Alzheimer’s Disease.
However, the oxidized layer can be anodized to seal it, and then it forms a protective barrier against the raw aluminum.
When an especially thick layer of the oxidized material is formed and this is anodized, the resulting metal has twice the strength of stainless steel and is durable, non-reactive and resistant to corrosion and abrasion.
Along with being anodized a lot of aluminum cookware is either clad with another metal to coat the aluminum itself and protect the food or covered with a nonstick coating.
Ceramic cookware has the reputation of having nonstick properties without PTFE or PFOA (the controversial Teflon coatings used in most nonstick cookware). However, this really isn’t true, since the nonstick properties tend to last only a short while.
Moreover, ceramic cookware isn’t actually ceramic; rather, it’s coated by a silicon-based finish intended to prevent sticking. It can resist high heat better than most nonstick cookware but shouldn’t be heated above 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your “ceramic” cookware is washed by hand and not overheated, it should be fine and last you a while. It does have an attractive appearance, much like that of enamel-coated cast-iron cookware.
How Much Cookware Do I Need?
There is a certain appeal to buying cookware in combined sets:
- Pieces tend to cost less than if purchased individually.
- You have a uniform look to your cookware, which might be desirable is it is stored in the open. for example, hanging on a rack.
- If you’ve had very good experience with the brand through a single piece, it might make sense to extend that to other pieces.
Cookware sets are good if you’re equipping a kitchen for the first time. However, you shouldn’t feel compelled to buy the same brand of everything simply because it comes in a single package. You might actually be buying more than you need.
Plus, some pieces of the set might not be as well suited for their intended use as others in the set are for theirs. For example, a saucepan has different uses than a skillet. So you might want to purchase a dedicated skillet for its unique qualities.
The amount and types of cookware you own really should be determined by your cooking needs and preferences, not by the way they’re sold. If you see exactly what you need in a package, go ahead and buy it. But don’t feel compelled to do so.
In other words, if you want a good, reliable iron skillet, you don’t need to make bare cast iron the look of your entire kitchen just to make other pots and pans match the skillet.
Top-Rated Cookware Sets
Top-rated cookware sets tend to vary according to the material, so this is how we’ll categorize items in this section.
The Cuisinart Stainless Steel 7-Piece Set seems to be the most popular cookware model overall. It is moderately priced, comes in different configurations, and has a nice design.
Best Stainless Steel
The Tramontina Domus Tri-Ply Base Stainless Steel 8-Piece Cookware Set was a top-pick based on lab tests.
Good Housekeeping says it “won us over for its excellent browning and simmering abilities and perfectly even heating. The cookware’s bell-shaped?handles are super comfortable to grip and?stay cool to the touch?when on the stove.
The Spruce.com describes this set as a “beautiful, functional workhorse.” Its “five alternating layers of stainless steel and aluminum” give it strength and allow food to cook evenly.
T-fal Hard Anodized Cookware is another popular line of cookware. Its silicon handles make the pans safe and comfortable to grip. And thecookwareadvisor.com says that:
“The T-Fal Ultimate Hard Anodized cookware set uses Expert, a Titanium reinforced nonstick coating that is very durable and scratch resistant ? which means you can use metal utensils!”
Anolon Advanced Hard Anodized Nonstick 11-Piece Cookware Set?is also highly rated in the nonstick cookware category.
It is popular with Amazon buyers. It “has been tested to restaurant standards for its non stick surface meaning that it will last for a very long time if looked after properly.”
Best Uncoated Cast Iron
Lodge Cast Iron sets would earn an “enduring popularity” prize since they have remained virtually the same since the company’s founding in 1896. The classic 10.25″ skillet also has had some different-sized siblings added to the mix.
Since there are so many variations on the composition of copper cookware, it’s hard to discern the “one best” from among the various reviews. But we’d like to mention that thespruceeats.com likes the Copper Chef Frying Pan Set. They say:
“The pans are made from aluminum, so they?re very lightweight and easy to handle. They have a proprietary cerami-tech outer coating while the interior has a copper-colored nonstick ceramic coating.”
Since aluminum cookware needs to be either coated or clad to be considered safe for cooking, the T-Fal and Anolon lines discussed above can be considered good representatives of what good aluminum cookware has to offer.
Best Carbon Steel
The Marquette Carbon Steel Skillet
According to Men’s Journal, “This pan nails all of carbon steel?s strengths: quicker heating, lighter weight, great heat retention, and a perfect sear on everything from skin-on red snapper to poultry and vegetables.
It’s ‘Just a freaking awesome skillet,’ says chef David Bancroft. A baked-on oil coating means the 103?4-inch pan is ready to cook out of the box without seasoning.”
Where to Buy Cookware
Not surprisingly, Amazon seems to be the destination of choice for most cookware shopping. It does have the downside, though, of not allowing you to touch and handle the cookware you’re thinking about purchasing.
For those who prefer this experience, department stores are a good choice: discount stores like Target and Wal-Mart for low-to-medium levels of products and traditional department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom for mid-to-higher levels.
Kitchen specialty stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table offer an excellent selection of higher-end cookware plus just about any other kitchen specialty products you can think of (or never would have thought of).
What Will You Prepare for Us Now?
Knowing how to choose cookware is important. There are so many materials available and other selection criteria that making a decision can be very difficult. We hope this article has helped you with that, at least to some extent.
But we think the only thing more enjoyable than selecting good cookware is actually using it. And so we hope that whatever brand and line you end up choosing will give you many years of enjoyment in your kitchen.
Something else to consider in closing: when selecting cookware, don’t forget that most of it is quite durable and therefore you might find some excellent pieces available second-hand from various sources, such as online or at estate sales.
We’re just getting started with our brand-new cooking site and are so excited about it! Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions to share with us as we move forward.