In the cookware market today, well and truly, there is a problem of plenty. There are literally thousands of brands, hundreds of choices and many different materials. For somebody that is not really an expert in metallurgy, it is not easy to understand the concepts behind the selection of the material of the cookware, as well as to understand which one is best for you. In this article we will attempt to break down all the different cookware materials available these days and try and find out how each one is different to the other in terms of characteristics and usages.
- Stainless Steel: Stainless Steel is one of the most popular cooking surfaces known to man and in many parts of the world is among the only choice available. Although stainless steel in itself is an extremely poor conductor of heat, It is definitely more durable, resistant to dust and corrosion, non reactive and doesn’t dent easily. Generally stainless steel cookware has a core of another metal (CLAD), generally aluminum or copper. The copper cored ones are certainly more expensive but are better at heating fast and are more durable. Cleaning a stainless steel cookware is also quite easy and can be cleaned easily with commonly available soap and water. Stainless steel can also be used on all kinds of cook-tops, stoves, ovens and even broilers and that makes it among the most versatile cookware there is. They can also be used for almost all cooking procedures such as searing, sautéing, braising, making sauces, as a stock pot etc.
- Aluminum: Aluminum is one of the most common materials available naturally and is also the cheapest. Raw aluminum is quite soft and reactive; it is generally processed before molding into cookware. Anodizing aluminum makes it hard as well as non reactive and is one of the most commonly utilized ways to create aluminum cookware. Aluminum is also an extremely popular bake ware material and aluminum steel trays are used in almost all professional bakeries due to its excellent characteristics of durability, resistance to corrosion and extremely effective heat transfer properties. Aluminum is also very easy to clean and maintain. Most Anodized aluminum is dish washer safe too. Aluminum cookware can be used for any kind of cookery, but are more popular for searing, sautéing and bakewares. The best thing about aluminum in general is it's ability to come in different shapes, colors and nonstick coatings since it's the easiest of all materials to apply these properties to.
- Copper: Copper is among the oldest metals known to mankind and one of the most popular too. In cookware, though it has not been able to become very popular, mostly owing to it being extremely expensive in comparison to other cookware metals. Copper is a great conductor of heat and reacts too quickly to changes in temperatures providing the cook with better cooking controls. Copper can be used for almost all kinds of cookery such as steaming, broiling or braising and can be used in almost all kinds of cooktops, with the exception of induction. Copper pots are also very popular in high heat sugar cookery, mainly due to its excellent distribution of heat and quick cool down time. Copper is slightly more difficult to maintain than stainless steel, but can be cleaned with most commercially available cleaners as long as those are not abrasive.
- Cast Iron: Cast Iron is an extremely versatile cooking material and is extremely durable and can be used on almost all cooking surfaces, grills and ovens too. One of the problems of cast Iron cookware though is that it is slightly hard to maintain and take care of. To prevent the food from sticking , the cookware have to be intermittently seasoned, but once you have been able to master that, it is an excellent cooking surface, since it retains heat for a much longer time and is durable as well as affordable in terms of price. Although cast iron cookware is heavier and sometimes reactive, especially if not seasoned properly, it does have an appeal and a following of its own.
- Non Stick Cookware: Non stick cookware is, without argument the fastest growing market in the cookware segment and is gaining immense popularity worldwide, mostly owing to its excellent characteristics with regards to convenience, versatility, huge choice as well as the fact that they allow for cooking with mush lesser fat and are extremely easy to clean and maintain. Non stick pans can be made out of all the metals discussed above, but are coated with specialized non stick coatings. The most commonly used metal for making non stick cookware is aluminum because of its excellent properties of being lightweight, anti corrosion, a great conductor of heat and affordable. Non stick pans can be used for any kind of cookery but are mostly used for items that are prone to sticking to the cooking utensils surface such as eggs, fish, pancakes, meats etc.Non stick cookware should also be cared for more than other cookware and care should be taken not to use any abrasive brushes or cleaning agents.
- Silicone: silicone is the new cooking material that is widely described as the new non stick. Silicon sheets or moulds can be used for baking, chilling, freezing and even serving and in addition silicone is absolutely non stick. Till now used exclusively for bakeware and some use in ladles and spoons, silicon is the next generation’s cookware. The silicon sheets and moulds are extremely versatile, dishwasher safe and can even be folded and stored. The silicon sheets can also be used to roll doughs without sticking and the silicone mats are the single most useful product for a home or a professional baker. On the flip side, though, silicon is not such a great conductor of heat and is extremely expensive. Silicon is also used extensively for cookery related to sugar or caramel and is the only surface on which caramel doesn’t stick at all.
It is easy to find from the above discussion that the cooking surfaces are in a period of transition and the preferred cookware for you will have to be decided by you only, based on your budget, cooking sensibilities, usage and most important, budget .