How to Choose the Best Cookware

by Purvin Arshad

Regardless if you are a professional chef or a day to day cook, home cookware supplies are essential. This does not mean you need to run out and purchase every cookware item ever advertised. According to celebrity chef Curtis Stone “if you use quality ingredients, you don’t need anything fancy to make delicious food.”

The majority of the meals can be created using rudimentary cookware items. That is why it is wise to invest in pieces that will be used most often and last a lifetime. Read on to learn about the best home cookware arsenal you can’t do without the best materials available.

Essential Home Cookware

Searing, frying, braising, poaching, roasting and grilling are the most fundamental cooking methods. These methods make use of a variety of home cookware. While none of these methods requires any specialized items, the items that every kitchen should have in stock include the following:

Skillet & Sauté Pans

skillet & sauté pans

They look so similar that sometimes people confuse the two. The sauté pan has straight edges, a skillet (frying pan) has tapered ones. The straight edges are better equipped to enclose the liquids. This aids in cooking with liquids, like poaching, simmering, braising or deep frying.

Skillets are typically used for frying or scrambling. The slanted edges better facilitate turning the food. It is possible to use them interchangeably and just get one of these items instead of investing in two separate ones.

Saucepan

sauce pan

As the name suggests, this is good for making sauces, but it does a whole lot more! This is one essential cookware you simply can’t do without. It works great for boiling, simmering, steeping or just plain old everyday reheating.

A good quality saucepan should have a thick base for even heating. Since saucepans are multifunctional, using them for making egg-based custards, oatmeal or rice requires steady even heating.

Roasting Pans

roasting pan

A roasting pan is used for larger pieces of meat or poultry requiring cooking temperatures of 350 degrees or more. They need to be made from a material that can withstand high temperatures over long periods. Ideally, roasting pans should be made of thick metal. A roasting pan with a non-stick coating will provide additional benefits. They are often paired with racks.

Casserole Dish

casserole dish

This is another classic and versatile must-have kitchenware utensil. While it may seem like it is just another roasting pan, this perception is incorrect. It works equally well for roasting vegetables, as it does for making casseroles or baking cakes and cookies.

One big difference between a casserole dish and a roasting pan is size. Roasting turkey or leg of lamb requires larger capacity while roasting of vegetables or casseroles does not. Also, casserole dishes do not need to stay in the oven over long periods. That is why casserole dishes can even be made of glass, whereas roasting pans are always metal.

Stewpot (also known as Dutch Oven)

dutch oven

These are intended for slow-cooking things like soups, making sauces and stews. A stockpot should be narrow with tall sides. The tall narrow construction facilitates convection currents allowing the flavours to be extracted. They are equipped with a tight-fitting cover that minimizes evaporation.

Good quality stew pots are rugged and heavy. A thin-walled pot does not conduct heat evenly and will end up scorching the food.

Home Cookware Materials

The material of the cookware you choose is vital to the type of cooking it is selected for. Each material has different properties. Some are strong, others conduct heat better and others are easy to maintain. Consider which properties are important to your lifestyle and choose your cookware material accordingly.

Cast Iron

cast iron pan

Cast iron pots and pans have been around since the Middle Ages. You may even have something handed down from your great grandmother.

Cast iron cookware is very versatile. Use it on the stove to sauté veggies then add noodles and meat and pop it in the oven to bake. A complete meal in one dish that can go directly from the stove to the oven.

Cast iron retains heat and cooks evenly. It will withstand temperatures that are not considered safe for pans with nonstick coating.

Using uncoated cast iron kitchenware requires a great deal of effort. Because iron will rust! They need to be seasoned each time you use them. You need to coat them with an ever-so-slight layer of oil before each use.

For better protection against rusting, they have to be hand cleaned. Soap destroys their natural nonstick properties.

Cooking acidic foods like tomato sauce will allow the iron to seep into your food, and excessive iron is unhealthy.

Finally, it is heavy; imagine having to lift the larger pots, worse yet with food in it.

Stainless Steel

stainless steel pan

Looks great, is easily available in a large variety of sizes and shapes and is very easy to maintain. It is also very durable, fairly lightweight, and handles high temperatures. Unlike cast iron, it heats up relatively fast and provides uniform heating. It is boiler, oven, and dishwasher safe, as long as handles are made of the same material.

So what’s the issue? Stainless steel pans are more suitable for boiling and lower-temperature cooking.  For someone new to cooking, it can be difficult to use as food tends to stick. Uncoated stainless steel can be hard to clean. The biggest concern being, at continuously high-temperature nickel and chromium, can seep into your food. If the foods are acidic more chemicals will enter your food.

Nonstick

non stick pan

Non-stick cookware is a common sight all over the world. Such cookware uses a metal base which is usually aluminium or steel, with Teflon coating. The typical non-stick coating is made of something called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) also called Teflon.

The non-stick surface allows for foods to be cooked with minimal to no fat. This is fantastic for those on a low-calorie diet and it is low maintenance as it cleans easily. Most Teflon coated cookware is oven-safe up to 500°F and dishwasher safe (make sure handle material is compatible.) But keep in mind that the harsh environment of the dishwasher can damage the coating and shorten the life of the item.

Teflon kitchenware is great for day to day jobs like making pancakes, eggs, pasta or oatmeal. It is a safe healthy way to cook a meal. However, it does not brown food too well. The Teflon also tends to get easily scratched, so care is required. It works well for foods cooked at low to medium heat. At temperatures over 300°C (570°F) the Teflon coating releases fumes that can be dangerous if inhaled.

Enamel Coated Cookware

enamel

Cookware coated with enamel has now become a common sight. Companies use steel, iron or aluminium base and coat it with porcelain. As no chemicals are used such cookware is not only healthy but environment friendly as well.

Cleaning is easy as the enamel coating provides non-stick properties. Good quality enamel coated cookware can withstand very high temperatures, up to 842°F and do not react with acidic foods. The best quality is that it can go from the stove to the oven to the table!

It is important to purchase enamel cookware from companies of repute. United States law requires that coating be free of lead and cadmium. Some countries with lax regulations allow the use of these chemicals and they may seep into your food.

Some basic precautions are necessary to maintain the integrity of the enamel. Sudden changes in temperature should be avoided. Meaning avoid removing your pot from the stove and putting it under cold running water. Also use only nylon, silicone or wooden utensils when cooking.

Copper

copper pot

This is the best of all materials when it comes to the conduction of heat. Unlike cast iron which takes a long time to heat but cools slowly, copper heats and cools quickly. This gives you more control over the food you are cooking and allows food to cook more evenly.

Being a reactive metal, it has to be lined with another metal so it is safe for cooking. This is usually stainless steel or tin.

Unlined copperware can be purchased, but that is mostly reserved for sweet sugary cooking. To maintain the shine of copper it has to be polished although some people like the rustic look. The biggest deterrent to copper cookware is the fact that it is the most expensive of all.

How do you know which cookware is best?

Price is the biggest factor in determining what you end buying. However, other considerations should also be kept in mind.

The better the heat conductor material is the more evenly your food will cook. Good conductors also respond faster to higher or lower flames, giving you more control over what you are cooking.

Steel is not a very good conductor while copper is the best. Some metals like aluminium will react with your food, allowing metals to seep into your food. Finally, how much effort will maintenance take?

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