Alright, let’s get into talking about pots and pans. When was the last time you purchased a pot or a pan? What influenced you in your purchase? Was it price, looks, reputation of the company, receipt of something free with purchase? According to manufacturers, we often purchase items with our emotions which then produce impulse purchases. But if you are interested in having quality cooking tools, you will need more information than your emotions to choose the proper equipment.
Today I am going to talk about just a couple of different types of materials that pots and pans are made of. The primary consideration in choosing cookware is the material it is constructed from.
Copper, aluminum, and to a lesser extent cast iron, are “reactive” metals. That means they will chemically combine with certain ingredients, usually acidic ones, and alter the flavor and color of your food. Not to mention that you will be consuming unwanted levels of the metal.
Copper is the most expensive but also the best heat conductor. Superior heat conduction allows for even cooking. Copper discolors and scratches easily.
Aluminum is a good heat conductor but it is a soft metal and eventually wears down but remains popular because it’s inexpensive. There are anodized aluminum pans, which are chemically treated to prevent reactivity. If you insist on aluminum, anodized is the way to go.
Cast iron is also a superb heat conductor and inexpensive. However it has drawbacks as well: rusting, pitting, reactivity, and sticking to food. For all of these reasons cast iron pans must be “seasoned.” This means coating the entire pan, inside and out with oil and baking it to seal the fat into the pan. This will prevent rusting and reactivity, and give you a non-stick surface. This protective layer breaks down over time and the process must be repeated. Some cast iron pans are coated with enamel to reduce the problems while maintaining exceptional heat conduction.
You’re probably realizing at this point that there is no perfect pan. So which material can give us most of the qualities we desire with no glaring deficits? Stainless Steel is the ultimate compromise. It provides the mid range in price and heat conduction, is durable, easy to clean, and non-reactive. To increase stainless steel’s heat conduction, aluminum is often sandwiched between an internal and external layer of stainless steel. In a high quality pan, this layer extends all the way up the sides, not just the bottom.
There are questions on the safety of cooking in non-stick pans. Here are a few pointers. Always us nylon or wood utensils, never metal, in the pans (lots available on the market- tongs, whisks, etc.), cook over medium heat or lower to avoid the leaching of formaldehyde from the coating and discard the pan when the coating starts to flake and scratch. I have discovered that no matter how much I spend on non-stick, the pans wear out at about the same rate. So a mid-priced pan with a heavy bottom is sufficient.
The bottom line is better cookware will cook your food better. The degrees of your culinary enthusiasm, the type of cooking you do, and your wallet will determine your final choice. I suggest you acquire the best stainless steel set you can afford plus a few specialty pieces (non-stick, cast iron, copper, etc.).
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