How do you know which cookware you need? There’s an endless variety of materials and types to choose from such as aluminum, stainless steel, copper, skillets, fry pans, stockpots, hard anodized, clay bakers, roasters, cast iron, and the list goes on. It’s hard to know where to begin. While cookware is not one-size-fits-all product, there are key differences to note about each material-type that will help narrow down your choices.
A common, less expensive, and lightweight metal is aluminum. These pans often react with acidic foods and will therefore often change the resulting flavor of your dish. As it’s a soft metal, it will also dent easily. A more durable type of aluminum to choose would be either anodized or hard anodized. This cookware is made with a non-stick finish so it will not ruin the flavor of your foods. Any of these non-stick finishes should be hand-washed and not be placed in the dishwasher as it ruins the finish.
Cast iron has been around for a long time. It has excellent heat retention and is a very durable metal. Available in enameled and non-enameled finishes, the non-enameled will require periodic seasoning with a thin layer of vegetable oil for longevity. Cast iron should be hand-washed and it being a very heavy cookware material, it is not recommended for those suffering from arthritis or for anyone who has issues lifting heavy objects.
A lesser-known cookware material is clay. Dating back to Roman times, cooking with clay is reported to be a healthy cooking method as the dishes cook in their own juices rather than in added oils or fats. Ideal for baking or roasting your meats and vegetables, clay bakers are breakable but will give you many years of use with good care. Always soak your clay cooker in water for 15-20 minutes prior cooking.
Beautiful copper is another excellent heat conductor but is also like aluminum in that it is a soft metal known to react with acidic foods. If you’re interested in copper cookware, look for the copper product lines now available with stainless steel linings to avoid food reactions. These pots and pans are generally on the more expensive side of cookware options and will require regular polishing in order to maintain their beauty.
Stainless Steel is very versatile and is probably the most widespread material used in kitchens across the country. Its attractiveness, easy maintenance, relatively inexpensive price and durability make it a popular choice. Plain stainless steel is not a good conductor of heat, so many of the better stainless steel pots are known as “Tri-Ply” with an interior and exterior layer of stainless steel encapsulating a layer of aluminum – creating excellent heat conductivity. As with aluminum, any non-stick versions would not be dishwasher safe.
You will most likely want to purchase a variety of cookware – many people start out with a quality set of stainless steel pots along with some add-ons like clay roasters and cast iron skillets or Dutch ovens to round out your collection. Buy the best quality of cookware that you can reasonably afford and then add pieces as your needs and budget dictate. Or even better, you can drop hints at birthdays and holidays.
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