From stainless steel to aluminum to copper to cast iron, which cookware material is the best? Well, that’s what today’s article aims to answer!
You see, the materials that your pots and pans are made of matter. Among many things, your cookware material plays a big role in how well your food cooks and how good it ends up tasting.
Now, every material has its pros and cons. Some cooking methods tend to work better with different types of pots and pans.
In this article, we'll explore the best cookware materials and the pros and cons of each to help you buy the best cookware set.
Best Types of Pots and Pans and Pros & Cons of Each
This is arguably one of the most common materials for cookware sets in U.S. homes. Stainless steel is an alloy of metals such as nickel, iron ore, and chromium. The result is durable, attractive, and anti-corrosive cookware.
In addition, stainless steel pans don't react with either acidic or alkaline foods. This property is especially important as it ensures the purity of the food prepared.
That said, stainless steel cannot work on its own. In fact, by itself, stainless steel wouldn’t qualify as a cooking material. To solve that problem, stainless steel has to be bonded with copper, aluminum and other highly conductive materials.
Essentially, what that process does is marry the tough nature of stainless steel with the conductivity of other metals to produce a versatile alloy.
- It is durable. Stainless steel cookware has immense ability to withstand both physical and chemical conditions. Whereas steel begins to deteriorate after 15-20 years, stainless steel can easily last over 60 years.
- It can be recycled. Stainless steel cookware is 100% recyclable. It can be recycled an infinite number of times without losing its key properties.
- Stainless steel is corrosion-resistant. This is thanks to the addition of other metals such as nickel, chromium, and molybdenum.
- It is easy to clean. Usually, washing stainless steel cookware with soap or a mild detergent is adequate.
- Stainless steel pans are strong and won’t bend even after prolonged use.
- A stainless steel pan may be prone to collecting grime. Although it’s easy to clean off, stainless steel cookware is a magnet for grime, dust, and smudges.
- Tends to be more costly than other cookware materials like aluminum.
- No non stick cooking, but you can season a stainless steel pan.
Copper has been used and cherished for thousands of years (around 10,000, to be specific). Its popularity as a cookware material first boomed in France. The flexibility of copper allowed chefs to create specialized equipment to suit a variety of needs.
Copper pots are ideal heat conductors. In fact, copper conducts heat 5x better than iron and 20X better than stainless steel. This means less energy is needed to cook as compared to other cookware materials.
What’s more, copper cookware is hygienic, durable, and corrosion-resistant. It’s no wonder, then, that copper is the most highly sought-after cookware material by top chefs.
That being said, copper cannot be used purely on its own. This is because it tends to be reactive with acidic foods and natural minerals. For this reason, copper cookware must be lined with non-reactive materials such as stainless steel or tin to provide a safe barrier between the food and the copper material.
- Looks and feels glamorous. Copper cookware is a head-turner and adds class to any kitchen – there is no denying it.
- Has antibacterial properties. Copper and microbes don’t get along well, so germs and bacteria can’t survive on the surface.
- Allows for even cooking. Copper warms up quickly and spreads heat evenly, so there won’t be any hot or cold spots.
- Copper requires regular polishing. This is because copper will otherwise oxidize and turn green like an old penny.
- It is high-maintenance. Similar to cast iron, it isn’t something that you can just run through a dishwasher.
- It is expensive. A single pot can set you back by a whopping $100 and a full set can cost upwards of a thousand dollars.
- Copper is reactive to alkaline or acidic foods, which can take on a metallic taste after being prepared or cooked in a copper pot.
Aluminum cookware is a popular option for most Americans. In fact, 60% of all cookware sold in the U.S in 2015 was aluminum – according to the Cookware Manufacturers Association.
In terms of conductivity, aluminum cookware comes only second to copper. It is also inexpensive, and when strengthened with materials such as copper and magnesium, makes for light and functional cookware.
Just like copper, pure aluminum will react with certain foods. For this reason, the inner cooking surface will usually be lined with stainless steel. Another common alternative is to anodize it (harden it).
- Aluminum cookware is lightweight.
- It is efficient, meaning it transfers heat quickly.
- It has excellent thermal conductivity. It only ranks second to copper.
- It is affordable.
- Aluminum is delicate and tends to warp in high heat.
- It can scratch easily.
- It is highly reactive to alkaline or acidic foods.
- It discolors over time.
Hard Anodized Aluminum
As mentioned above, hard anodized cookware is a great alternative to regular aluminum pots and pans. It's made by giving the cookware a sulfuric acid bath, then electrically charging it.
This creates a tougher metal surface that heats evenly, is twice as durable as stainless steel, is non-reactive, and moderately nonstick.
- Hard anodized cookware is nonstick.
- It's more durable than most other metals.
- It's low maintenance.
- It has great, even heating.
- This kind of cookware needs to be hand-washed only.
- It's more expensive than regular aluminum cookware.
- It isn't compatible with non stick sprays. You'll need to use oil.
Unlike the aforementioned cookware materials, enamel cookware simply indicates the material used to coat the inside of a pan or pot.
Enameled cast iron is a popular material, but enameled cookware can also be made from copper, stainless steel and aluminum.
The enamel coating is applied on said materials by a firing glass powder at top temperatures. The technology behind enamel coating has been around for hundreds of years.
- It is versatile. You can use it in many cooking processes; for example, frying, boiling and sautéing. Excluding microwaves, enameled cookware can be used in all oven types.
- It is resistant to heat. Provided the pot or pan isn’t empty, enamel kitchenware can be used on strong flames without incurring any damage. It’s designed to allow expansion of the underlying metal without breaking or cracking.
- It is easy to clean. Its smooth cooking surface makes cleaning easy, as food will not stick.
- It’s easy to maintain. Enameled cookware does not need extra polishing. It’ll maintain its look even after prolonged usage.
- It isn’t non stick, so oil will be required.
- Thermal conductivity is lower than, say, a seasoned cast iron pan.
Carbon Steel Cookware
Carbon Steel cookware is right next to aluminum when it comes to thermal conductivity. It’s relatively cheap and very durable, and is often used for skillets. Carbon steel is basically a combination of iron and carbon.
Carbon steel adds hardness and strength but also makes the material less malleable.
Now, carbon steel cookware is very susceptible to rusting, more so if it isn’t seasoned properly. However, the upside is that once properly oiled, it’ll develop a naturally non stick interior comparable to a cast iron pan.
Pans made of carbon steel don’t have good thermal conductivity. For this reason, they are ideal for cooking things like pancakes, eggs, stir-fries, and sauté dishes.
- It is safe. Both iron and carbon are non-toxic. You are able to create a non stick cooking surface by seasoning it.
- Compatible with all heat sources and cooktops. Whatever heat source you’re using – oven, broiler, grill, stove, or even a campfire – carbon steel cookware will adapt. Also, it’ll adapt to every cooktop type, including electric, gas, and even induction.
- Responds quickly to changes in temperature. In other words, you won’t need to wait for ages for the cooking surface temperature to change once you turn the knob from low to high.
- Pots and pans made of carbon steel are affordable. You can get a beautiful frying pan made of carbon steel for under $50.
- It is durable. If you treat it right, your carbon steel cookware can last a lifetime.
- Although it’s versatile, it reacts to acidic foods such as citrus, vinegar, wine and tomatoes.
- Failure to season it regularly can cause it to get discolored, rusty and spotty over time.
- Its thinner design makes it have less heat retention capacity. This means that you might find some parts of the pan hotter than others.
- It isn’t dishwasher-safe. A dishwasher can ruin it and the seasoning, causing it to rust and lose its non stick ability.
Cast iron isn’t a very good heat conductor. In other words, it doesn’t heat well or cool quickly. This self-regulating nature, nonetheless, makes cast iron cookware the ideal material for grill pans, griddles, fry pans and dutch ovens.
Cookware made of cast iron is exceedingly durable and is warping-, chipping-, and dent–resistant.
Cast iron cookware is usually available in two forms: its natural state or with enamel coating. Both options cook in the same way but some notable differences exist.
First, cast iron cookware is relatively inexpensive. On the flipside, though, you’ll need to season it to shield it from rusting. Besides rust prevention, the seasoning helps make the interior non stick.
Recently, “craft” cast iron has created a new excitement in the cookware market. The forges that have sprung up all over the country are beautiful and highly refined. Most manufacturers are offering it with an already “factory-applied” seasoning coating to prevent the cookware from rusting.
Enameled cast iron cookware, as already mentioned, is easy to clean, has a non stick surface, and is completely non-reactive. Enameled cast iron will not build up a naturally nonstick cooking surface, however, unlike a regular cast iron pan.
- Cast iron cookware is great for outdoor cooking.
- Every time you cook in your cast iron pans you are making them better by seasoning them.
- Cast iron is great for keeping food warm since it holds heat for a considerable length of time.
- Once cast iron is hot, it stays hot.
- Cast iron is tough.
- Cooking in cast iron means naturally added iron in your meals (yes, seriously!)
- A cast iron skillet or pot will be heavy.
- Cast iron pans are poor conductors of heat. Sure, it retains heat; but it isn’t as good when it comes to transmitting (conducting) heat.
- Prone to rusting.
Clay & Stoneware Pots & Pans
While it’s one of the oldest cookware types, they are still not obsolete. Clay and stoneware vessels are practical and durable. Besides, “Old Fashioned” is still a very positive connotation when it comes to cooking.
In the American market today, the majority of clay and stone cookware are glazed baking dishes and casseroles. These come in all assortment of colors, and are intended for oven use only.
Just like cast iron, clay and stoneware heats up and holds heat quite well. They are also very unlikely to burn anything. For this reason, they are ideal for cooking cheese, macaroni, lasagna, casserole, baked scalloped potatoes, enchiladas, pasta, or for use as roasting pans.
Also, they are ideal cookware for custards, bread puddings, and other baked goods. This, of course, depends on the shape and size.
Other stoneware available in American kitchens include tagine pots, pizza stones, and bread cloches and bread pans.
Did you know that stoneware cookware manufacturers are also making pots and pans that are compatible with gas and electric stovetops? That’s right! These behave much like cast-iron cookware and can be seasoned to create a non-stick cooking surface.
- Inexpensive and easily available.
- Ensures flavorful food due to the slow cooking and porous nature of clay pots.
- Clay is alkaline in nature and will neutralize acidic food.
- Clay pot’s porous nature will allow both heat and moisture to circulate through the food.
- Not suitable at high heat, as high temperature decreases stone coating durability.
PTFE is, without a doubt, the “classic” nonstick coating. While the material is usually very functional, some safety concerns exist when it's overheated. That’s because PTFE coatings can break down and release gases at high heat.
For this reason, PTFE cookware are only intended to be used in cooking conditions not exceeding 536℉. So, when roasting, baking or broiling with non stick PTFE cookware, make sure to stay within the manufacturer’s recommended temperature.
When using it over a stovetop, take caution not to overheat the pan prior to cooking. Once you add in the food, overheating is usually less concerning. Nonetheless, never allow the non stick pan to overheat without food for an extended period of time.
Besides PTFE, Ceramic cookware is another popular option for non stick cookware. It is widely considered to be a safer and more environmentally friendly option than PTFE. The same cannot be said when it comes to durability, though. See more pros and cons of ceramic cookware.
Just like PTFE, experts recommend avoiding high heat when cooking using non stick ceramic cookware. You should always make sure to clean off all cooking oil after each use to prevent the buildup of oil which can diminish its non stick property.
Popular Cookware Brands
The cookware industry consists mainly of large corporations that manufacture several brands. The brands include Farberware, Circulon, Anolon, Rachael Ray, Calphalon, Lodge, Cuisinart, and Le Creuset.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the best material for pots and pans?
Cast iron, glass, ceramic, and stainless steel cookware are usually the go-to materials for chefs who don’t want to risk nonstick PTFE chemicals seeping into their food.
That said, non stick pots and pans also bring convenience. They are easy to clean, use less oil and ensure the food is cooked to perfection.
If you are looking for the best non-stick cookware material, newer brands like Our Place and Caraway have some of the best products out there. They have developed innovative cookware products that are both nonstick and non-toxic.
2. What is the best professional cookware set?
In most cases, a single frying pan and a couple of pots are enough to meet the needs of a single person. The same, however, cannot be said of a professional chef. A professional chef will have an assortment of different cookware designed for specific cooking purposes.
Some of the pans a professional chef will have include:
- A pressure cooker. This is a deep-bottomed pan that comes with a lid that seals tight and prevents water vapor from escaping during the cooking process. This is a pan that has a very smooth slope, a very rounded bottom and no edges.
- Griddle pans. These are usually square-shaped pans with a base that has raised ridges. They are perfect for making hotdogs, pancakes, and eggs as well as hamburgers, sausages and grilled chicken.
- Brazier pans. These have a flat-bottom design and come with a moisture-locking lid. They are versatile cookware and ideal for sautéing and roasting. These have a rounded bottom and tall sides.
- Sauté pans. Sauté pans look like a hybrid between fry pans and pots. And because they are deeper, they are ideal for searing, cooking, and frying. These are designed to cook food at high heat.
- Frying pans. Frying pans are made of a variety of different materials. For example, iron, carbon steel, copper, and stainless steel. They have a flat bottom and rounded edges, making them a great option for cooking eggs. Besides frying eggs, you can also use a frying pan to sear or pan roast meat. There are also egg pans specifically designed for frying eggs.
3. What is the best cookware material for a gas stove?
Unlike electric stovetops, gas stovetops are affordable and offer quick temperature control. The best material to use on a gas top stove is one that conducts heat and distributes it evenly.
So, what is the best cookware for gas stoves? Well, experts agree that stainless steel, aluminum, and copper cookware work best.
Other cookware materials like ceramic, carbon steel, and cast iron have their own pros and cons, but generally aren’t ideal for gas stoves.
4. What is the best type of cookware to use?
The countless beautiful displays and endless cookware options can definitely feel overwhelming.
Where do you start? Which cookware set will fit your needs? Should you go with stainless steel or copper cookware? How do you know if you’re choosing the right cookware?
The questions can seem endless!
Thankfully, with some quality checks, choosing the best cookware set won’t have to be such a pain. It's just a matter of weighing their pros and cons.
The following are some of the things you’ll need to consider.
- Your budget. Look for cookware that is durable and will pay for itself in regard to performance.
- The type of cooking you’ll mostly be doing. Will you be cooking a lot of meat? Or, are you into vegetarian cooking? There is no use in buying an expensive pot that you’re not going to use.
- The material. The cookware material you choose makes a big difference in the final result.
- The type of stove. The heat source also has a bearing on the selection of the cookware. For example, if you have an induction stovetop, then you must be careful when selecting cookware that’s induction friendly. Similarly, even if of superlative quality, a round-bottomed pot or pan won’t really perform well if it can’t sit well on the heat source.
5. What is the best frying pan material?
Frying pans come in different variety of coatings, materials, and handle types. Whether you natural finish fry pans for searing or non-stick fry pans for omelet stations, you’ll need to consider the various materials available.
- Carbon steel. This is a good heat conductor and is induction-ready.
- Copper / stainless steel. Creates excellent heat conduction, is induction ready, resists rust and corrosion, and is dishwasher-ready.
- Hard Anodized Aluminum. Creates excellent heat conduction and is scratch and dent-resistant.
- Aluminum Clad Stainless Steel. Creates excellent heat conduction, is induction ready, and resists rust and corrosion.
So, does it matter what your pots and pans are made out of?
Clearly, yes, it does matter!
Different cookware materials have different properties, and your choice should be based on the type of cooking you mostly do.
If you choose the right cookware set, the food will cook well, you and your family will remain healthy, and your cookware will last for many years.