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Choosing Cookware


Two of the most frequent questions customers ask us at Broadway Panhandler are, "What is the best cookware?" and "How many different pots and pans do I need?" Unfortunately, there is no single answer to either of these questions. In response, we usually ask our customer the following questions:

"What are your favorite recipes?" and "What cookbooks do you own/use?"

We do this because when selecting cookware, you must first think about your personal taste and cooking preferences and what types of food you are most likely to prepare. Second, you need to understand that various cookware characteristics, such as the material used, the construction and the shape of the pan, will affect how your food is cooked. Tall, narrow shapes minimize evaporation; broad, shallow shapes speed evaporation. Flared rims or spouts allow for dripless pouring. Heavy gauge and double thick bottoms allow for even heating and durability. Well-designed handles are comfortable, stay cool, provide for a firm grasp and balance and are securely spot welded or riveted to the body of the cooking vessel. Covers should be well fitted and self-basting. All surfaces and edges should have a smooth and polished finish. Size, capacity, maintenance requirements and storage needs are also important factors that must be taken into consideration. Finally, think about your budget. Very good cookware may cost a bit more than lesser quality cookware; however, it will deliver a lifetime of outstanding performance with just a little maintenance. We at Broadway Panhandler also realize that for certain types of cooking, inexpensive pieces may work just as well as expensive items. Feel free to call on one of our experienced sales associates for guidance in this decision making process.

Cookware Basics...Metal Cookware for Top of Stove

The gauge (thickness) of the metal is an extremely important feature of stove top cookware. Usually, the thicker the metal the more control you have over the cooking process. Thicker material allows for more even heat distribution and predictable results. Heavier gauge cookware is also more durable and is often warranted for life by the manufacturer.

In the past few years, new metal alloys and bonding of various materials have enhanced cooking performance and minimized the disadvantages of certain metals. Metals with excellent conducting capability, such as copper or aluminum, can be bonded with easy-to-maintain, non-reactive stainless steel, producing cookware that is superior to products constructed from only one metal.

New non-stick enhancements (more on that below) include multi-layer applications that significantly improve durability and new technology that hardens the surface of PTFE (Silverstone) to allow the use of metal utensils on some non-stick cookware.

Metal Choices

The most highly conductive types of metal cookware are (in order of best conductivity) copper, aluminum, carbon steel, cast iron and lastly, stainless steel. Although both copper and aluminum are superb heat conductors, they have disadvantages (see chart below).

Copper Cookware
Although heavy gauge copper is the best heat conductor, raw, uncoated copper has a toxic reaction with many foods and is unacceptable as a cooking surface for most applications. It must be lined with tin or nickel or clad with a stainless steel interior to overcome this drawback. (Unlined copper is just fine for melting sugar). Copper is a relatively soft metal and scratches easily. It also requires regular polishing to maintain its original luster. Not to worry, scratches and dings are a sign of an often used pan and an oxidized exterior will not affect the pans cooking ability.

Copper Characteristics
Bourgeat, Alessi, Mauviel Best heat conductivity; most responsive to heat source; cooking surface must be lined; maintenance required to maintain original luster, scratches easily.

Raw, uncoated aluminum reacts much less with food than unlined copper, but does react with acidic foods and can discolor white sauces. Aluminum can be anodized to create a hard coat oxidized surface (such as Calphalon), which reduces the reaction with acidic food and sauces. Other treatments include applying non-stick coatings (Silverstone) and bonding with stainless steel interiors. Aluminum core cookware offers value to the cook who prefers a less expensive product than copper, or does not require the quicker responsiveness the copper offers. Aluminum, like copper, is a relatively soft metal and scratches easily.

Aluminum Cookware Characteristics
Cold Drawn stamped 3004 alloy
(Wearever Professional)
Heavy gauge is highly conductive; even heating; inexpensive; acidic foods can cause discoloration, metallic taste; light gauge could get hot spots, warps.
Hard anodized
As above; anodized surface reacts less with acidic foods, is more stick-resistant.
(Wearever Professional, Calphalon, All-Clad, Swiss Diamond)
Highly conductive; allows for reduced fat cooking; does not react with foods; quick release; surface may wear off; should use non-metal utensils on most surfaces.

Carbon Steel
Carbon steel is both durable and an efficient conductor of heat. When "seasoned" it becomes darker, stronger and more conductive. The slight amount of iron that could be absorbed by the cooking food is well below any level of concern (less than 20% of the daily recommended does of iron). When left "un-seasoned", steel pans can rust by just being exposed to humid air. Maintenance is required (see cookware maintenance and care instructions).

Blue or black steel has been annealed or heated during the manufacturing process to allow oxidation to form as a thin bluish layer on the metal's surface. These pans are essentially "pre-seasoned" and resist rust as well as allow for even more efficient conductivity and heat tranfer.

Steel pans are excellent for searing foods as they can handle high heat very well. Acidic foods should not be cooked in steel pans for extended periods, as steel is a reactive metal. It is best to add foods like tomatoes near the end of the cooking process.

Carbon Steel (Black Steel) Cookware Characteristics
duBuyer, Matfer Durable; heavy guage; conducts well; darkens with use and age; requires seasoning to avoid rusting

Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron cookware offers the best heat retention and good heat conductivity. Molten metal is cast in sand molds and then cooled. The result is cookware that is a bit heavy but very durable and when seasoned with vegetable oil becomes nearly non-stick in a natural way (see cookware maintenance and care instructions).

Cast Iron Characteristics
Lodge Durable; rust resistant and non-stick once properly seasoned

Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is a popular metal choice for cookware because it has several outstanding characteristics. It is a hard metal and resists scratches and dents from metal utensils and is relatively easy to clean. When alloyed with a high nickel content it becomes non-magnetic and highly resistant to reactions from acidic foods. Stainless steel cookware designated 18/8 or 18/10 has a high nickel content and will be non-reactive with anything you cook. Lower nickel content than 18/8 may react with some acidic foods, allowing the metal to be pitted or corroded. Check the interior cooking surface of stainless steel cookware with a magnet to be sure that it is non-magnetic and is constructed with 18/8 or better stainless steel.

The downside to stainless steel cookware is it inability to conduct heat efficiently. Unless stainless steel is clad or combined with another metal or has a conductive disc bonded to the bottom it will have hot spots at the heat source rather than an even distribution of heat throughout the cooking surface.

Clad Cookware Characteristics
Copper bonded to stainless steel cooking surface
(Bourgeat, Alessi, Mauviel)
Extremely conductive; even heating; durable; very responsive to heat source; expensive; high maintenance exterior.
Aluminum core bonded to Stainless steel cooking surface
(All-Clad's Master Chef, LTD, Stainless, KitchenAid Stainless)
Highly conductive; non-reactive; easy to clean; durable; even heating aluminum core throughout.
Stainless steel interior with aluminum disc sandwich bottom
Centurion, Tramontina, Sitram Profiserie)
Durable; non-reactive; even heating; do not extend heat source beyond disc bottom.
Stainless steel interior with copper disc sandwich bottom
(Sitram Catering)
Durable; non-reactive; even heating; do not extend heat source beyond disc bottom.

Non-Stick Cookware

Non-stick cookware surfaces have continued to improve since the first introduction of Teflon in the late 1960s. Today, the newest of the non-stick surfaces are highly scratch resistant and most can handle light use with metal utensils. However, when deglazing, you should use wood utensils with non-stick cookware.

Fry pans and grills are the most popular non-stick cookware items, allowing many egg and omelet dishes to be prepared "fat-free". Better application technology allows the new non-stick items to get hot enough to properly sear foods while eliminating the worry of surface bubbling, flaking and/or chipping. When browning foods in a non-stick pan your technique may need to be altered from that which you would use when cooking with a non-coated pan.

Although the newest non-stick surfaces are improved, it is still important that top-of-stove cookware be of sufficient thickness to conduct heat evenly without having hot spots.

Non-stick Coated Cookware Characteristics
Non-stick (Wearever Professional, Calphalon, All-Clad, Swiss Diamond) Highly conductive; allows for reduced fat cooking; does not react with foods; quick release; surface may wear off; should use non-metal utensils on most surfaces.