When choosing pots and pans to add to your kitchen there are only a few choices of materials available. In this article we will explore the nature of each material and look into the pros and cons of each.
The main purpose of any pot or pan, of course, is to transfer heat from a stove or oven or other heat source to the food contained in the pot. In most cases the faster this heat is transferred the quicker the food is cooked. This could lead you to believe that the choice of material would be a simple process of choosing the one that has the best heat transfer ability but of course, it is never quite that simple.
Copper, for instance, has the highest heat transfer efficiency of all the available metals. Almost 98 percent of the heat is transferred very quickly to the food being cooked. While this alone would seem to make copper an easy choice there are some drawbacks. Good quality copper is heavy and quite expensive. In addition, it is very soft and dents easily. Because of this softness copper is usually used as a coating on the bottom of pots or pans and sometimes in high-quality stainless utensils is sandwiched in as a core material. This sandwich core helps the transfer of heat while protecting the soft copper.
Copper discolors very easily and if not polished regularly it will soon become very unattractive. Some high-end copper pots have linings of tin. This lining can be very easily damaged if overheated and is best left to professional chefs who are experienced it its use.
Stainless steel is very common in pots and pans even though it does not transfer heat very efficiently. It does, however, have other advantages. It is very tough and almost impossible to damage while being the easiest of all materials to clean. When it has a copper or aluminum core it is one of the best all-around choices which explains its popularity.
Aluminum has long been a popular choice, especially when combined with bright outer colors to enhance its appearance. However, it did have some problems not so long ago when reports were issued claiming that it released harmful toxins. Recently those fears seem to have been proved unfounded. One problem that continues, however, is its problem of reacting with acidic foods such as tomatoes causing some sauces to turn unsightly colors. Many aluminum pots and pans have received various inner coatings to eliminate the chance of problem contamination. Aluminum has remained a staple material in many restaurant kitchens.
The benefits of cast iron have long been recognized. While it does conduct heat very evenly it does take longer to heat and also demands more care and cleaning than stainless or aluminum. The negatives are far outnumbered by its positive features and for many cooking chores, it is still the material of choice.
For an all around set of pots and pans it would seem that quality stainless has much to offer with aluminum perhaps the second choice. Of course, no kitchen would be complete with out a few light gauge sauce pans and any number of cast iron items for specialty cooking tasks.