Does it matter what your pots and pans are made out of? Yes! It certainly does! The material your cookware is made from plays a big role in how well… and safely your food is cooked.
Different materials have different properties, and choosing the right cookware can even depend on what type of cooking you do. As an example, cooking on gas requires different properties to cooking on an electric stovetop.
Making the right choice will lead to your food being cooked well, your family being safe and your cookware lasting many, many years.
Our advice is to spend the money on good cookware now and save yourself in the long run. Here is our guide on the different cookware materials available.
Available Cookware Materials
Cast Iron Cookware
Rustic, and reminiscent of old southern hospitality, cast iron cookware remains a classic as ever. Try and talk a connoisseur into parting with her 150-year old, family-handed-down cast iron skillet and chances are, you would leave with a sore bump on your head. Cast iron pots and pans are sort of heirlooms that have again become the battle tools of modern chefs, food influencers on social media, amateur cuisine enthusiasts and even the person next door.
Many heritage cast iron brands remain in the market, but cookware from now-defunct brands from 18th century foundries fetch quite a buck on online auctions. That is the appeal of cast iron cookware.
People get a little perturbed when it comes to maintaining these cookware sets but it is quite simple really. Old school cast iron goodies came uncoated, meaning, a material to protect the iron from rusting.
So these sets developed a “seasoning” over time with the cooking oil, giving way to a much-prized shiny black patina over the years. The coating forms due to thin layers of fat heating on the pan. Diehard fans make sure that their cast iron casseroles, pans, skillets, and such never see soap and water, instead maintaining them by hand cleaning and baking them with a barely-there coating of oil.
If this is too much for you, modern-day sets usually come pre-seasoned or coated with enamel which cuts down on the maintenance time.
Even though it takes a while to heat it, iron retains heat for a long time resulting in thorough cooking, and saving you those bills in the long run since you do not need to cook constantly on high heat.
- Envious Instagram pictures
- Fire-top, stove-top, oven, gas to oven cooking
- Great for outdoor cooking
- Cooking acidic foods although enameled cast iron cookware eliminates this problem
- Very heavy
- Can be difficult to clean
- Heating time
- Not a good choice for glass top stoves.
Stainless Steel Cookware
Quintessential steel is a fail-safe approach to your new cookware set. Steel is usually combined with other metals such as nickel, carbon, and chromium to produce enduring alloys that are corrosion free and tough.
Pretty much since its invention, steel has been used to make cookery items that are no-nonsense, durable, and economical. Humble steel has evolved too, available in fascinating varieties coated with scientific-sounding epic non-stick surfaces. They come with cores of copper or aluminum to improve its heat conductivity, clad within multiple reinforced layers to enable cooking in extremely high heat, and even in not-so-boring colors now.
Scratch away all you want at your steel stock-pot because unlike so many other materials, this metal is resilient to the T. Even handling burnt food like a champ, steel ensures extreme longevity to your cookware set.
- Good for everyday cooking
- Easy cleaning
- Compatible with all kinds of cooktops
- Short cooking times.
- More expensive than other types
- No Non-stick cooking (unless coated).
Carbon Steel Cookware
Carbon steel has similar qualities to cast iron minus the heavy weight. Carbon steel is nothing but iron combined with carbon that makes it less brittle. Those dark thin pans you see in restaurant kitchens? Yep, carbon steel. In fact, seasoning carbon steel over time gives a better non-stick patina than cast iron. But very thin pans and such, made of this material will bend with time.
Also, your cast iron pot may recover from an occasional lime splash or red wine reduction but carbon steel won’t. Great for making foods that don’t have a long cooking time such as eggs, stir fries, sauté dishes and pancakes, carbon steel cookware can be quite a handy addition to your kitchen.
- Cleaning can be a pain
- Can overheat
- Can be damaged by acidic foods
A versatile material, aluminum cookware is extremely economical. Like steel alloys, aluminum is corrosion resistant although certain kinds of foods will stain or discolor it.
It also leaches into your food if you cook with acidic ingredients on high heat for longer durations. However, this problem is easily appended by investing in anodized aluminum cookware. Anodization uses electrical charges to increase the thickness of the outer layers of your pot and pan, in turn increasing its durability to an extreme degree. Aluminum is an excellent heat conductor—one of the top ones actually—which ensures that you don’t stand around waiting when you begin your culinary experiment.
- Durability when combined with other materials
- Heat conductivity
- Very affordable
- Discoloration over time
- leaching into food
Ceramic items have always dominated the baking market, but newer renditions of cookware now feature it in all kinds of forms such as non-stick coatings and reinforcements.
Ceramic is naturally non-stick and can withstand temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees. Like steel, ceramic surfaces are tough and you can use metal spatulas or hard scourers on it without scratches.
Ceramics are also widely considered to be the most non-reactive so that you have no harmful substances leaching into your food while cooking certain kinds of dishes.
Most ceramic sets also look pretty good; you can skip the server-ware and put it on the table straight.
- Good for Extreme heat
- Cooktop versatility
Shiny copper has also been used for cooking through the ages. Pretty much one of the best conductors of heat that results in even cooking, copper is great for foods that you leave in the pot undisturbed for longer periods of time.
Copper is also now mostly integrated with other materials, unlike in the past where it was used in standalone pieces. The best copper cookware sets can get very expensive, and just like iron and carbon steel, you cannot cook reactive foods in it.
- Excellent heat conductivity
- Ideal weight
- Visually appealing
- Highly reactive
- High maintenance
Other Cookware Types
These days besides the above, cookware can also be found made of titanium, silicon, porcelain, diamonds, nano-tech, and other compositions. These kinds of sets also tend to be on the pricier side, considering the many qualities they offer.