A few short decades ago it seems as if there weren’t many types of cookware to worry about. When someone mentioned buying a saucepan, chances are they meant they bought a stainless-steel pan of a certain size and that was the end of that.
Nowadays there are more types of cookware sets than there are types of surfaces to cook on, which can lead to an understandable bout of confusion during any given trip through the housewares department of your local box store.
What Cookware Set to Choose?
If you aren’t sure what cookware are best for your growing collection, worry no more. All it takes is a little knowledge about kitchen terminology to turn your barren cabinets into perfectly stocked food prep storage with every pan you could possibly need within reach.
Get to Know Your Range
Of course, the range referred to here is about your cooktop, not the extent of your natural singing voice. While there are several types of ranges available, most homes will have either an electric, gas, induction or radiant stove.
The type of cookware you use will depend heavily on your stove; For example, electric stoves are almost always flat whether they use coil or smooth-top style heating elements, which makes the use of curved-bottom cooking vessels nearly impossible without constant babysitting. This is a common trend that also shows up in induction ranges.
Gas ranges are more accommodating to differently-shaped pans, such as woks with heavily curved bottoms, thanks to how most burners are constructed. On the other hand, if the wok uses a metal ring that slips over the burner grate for support, there is a chance that ring may overheat and cause damage to the burner.
Induction ranges have special pan requirements; Electromagnets produce heat through magnetic surfaces, which means certain non-metal or non-ferrous pans will outright not heat up on an induction range. This trade-off does have advantages, however, as induction ranges are very environmentally friendly while also offering quick heating like a gas range and the ease of cleaning that comes with a smooth-top stove.
Glass top stoves have a few similarities with smooth-tops and electric stoves, though the construction of your pans becomes more important in avoiding damage to the stove. You’ll have to look into the best cookware for glass top stoves to ensure what you choose will give the best results without scratching the glass surface.
Metals vs. Glass vs. Ceramic: Who wins?
As you may have guessed, different styles of cookware have just as much importance as the type of material that goes into the construction of your favorite saucepan. If you use an induction range, for example, you won’t get a use out of a fancy copper pan no matter how nice it may be.
Aluminum and stainless steel are some of the most common types of cookware sets to find in the wild as they are often affordable, durable and provide good results with most styles of cooking and at nearly any temperature.
You can often throw them in the dishwasher and not have to worry about damaging them, but they’re often not heavy enough to conduct or store heat very well. This can lead to hot spots in your pans that lead to over-cooking or under-cooking.
Cast iron steps away from user friendliness and requires seasoning, careful use and demands to be kept away from water. At the same time, it heats up slowly and stores that heat amazingly well and there are few better ways to produce a quality pan of cornbread. Cast iron also swaps between the stove and oven without missing a beat, but its rough surface can damage more delicate cooktops.
Copper pans are like the more expensive cousins of aluminum and stainless steel. They conduct heat extremely well, heat up quickly without the need for much preheating and are usually oven-safe. They require more care than stainless steel pans, however, and don’t work with induction ranges unless clad in steel with the copper acting as a heat-storing core.
Finally, ceramic and glass cookware work well for oven applications. Ceramic heats more slowly and helps ward off over-browning while glass conducts heat a little too zealously at times. If you’re cooking something high in sugar content, you’ll have to be careful not to overdo the heat lest it lead to burning.
What you choose to cook in your cookware can alter the flavor of your food or even damage your vessels depending on the acidity of the ingredients and how reactive the pan’s materials are. For example, tomatoes are fairly acidic and can leech metallic flavors from reactive pans which make choices like aluminum, iron, copper and steel very poor for cooking up a traditional red sauce. Cast iron in particular can be nearly ruined by cooking a single tomato-heavy dish in them.
If you plan to cook with lemon juice, tomato or other acidic or alkaline foods, go for a non-reactive pan or pot made out of ceramics or stainless steel. Not only will they last longer, you also won’t have to worry about unintended tastes in your dishes.
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into buying proper cookware these days and no chef can truly over-prepare with so many options at their disposal.
Fill your cabinets with pots and pans that cater to the foods you cook, keep your range type in mind and always make sure you keep your reactive pans away from acidic foods.
Amanda Wilks is a motivational writer, editor and cooking enthusiast. She firmly believes that a balanced lifestyle means focusing on good habits, such as exercising and healthy eating.
Amanda hopes that her writings will inspire others to make smart choices regarding their health and diet. Learn more about Amanda on Twitter.