There are a lot of conflicting opinions out there these days about the best cookware material. It seems like every time you open social media or a magazine, you see articles claiming that “cast iron is the only cookware you’ll ever need” or, “nothing beats stainless steel!”
Feeling confused and overwhelmed by all the options? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. This post will cut through all that noise and help you to choose the very best cookware for your home – without any phony advertising.
How to Choose Cookware
Everyone needs multiple types of cookware in their kitchen – we all know that. You can’t cook a full meal with only one pot or a single pan. That said, there is a lot of technical cookware out there that may seem extraneous or too specific – do you really need to buy everything you see advertised?
Of course not. The key to a well-stocked, but clutter-free kitchen is knowing exactly what you need.
In this section, we will go over the different types of cookware and their purposes, so you know what will be an absolute necessity on your home.
Types of Cookware
Here is a list of the most common cookware types, necessary in every kitchen. If you are buying your cookware in a complete set, you will want to make sure that all of these items are included.
- Stockpot: a stockpot is a deep, tall pan with a flat bottom. It is designed to hold a large amount of liquid for making stocks or soups. The bottom should be nonstick so that you can brown meats and vegetables before adding liquids.
- Frypan: A frypan is one of the most common types of cookware. It has a flat bottom and a short wall. Frypans are used for frying and reheating food. A frypan should always be non-stick, for easier cooking and cleaning.
- Skillet: A skillet differs from a frypan in that it can be safely used in the oven as well as on the stove. Skillets are often made of cast iron. It is helpful for cooking certain meat dishes that can be started on the stove and finished in the oven, or vice versa.
- Sauté Pan: A sauté pan, unlike a frypan, has straight, taller sides. These pans are meant for sautéing large amounts of food at once – the tall walls allow you to cook with liquids without spilling. Your sauté pan should always be nonstick, and it helps to have a larger cooking area.
- Sauce Pan: Saucepans are often mistakenly referred to as pots. In fact, they look very similar to small pots, with flat bottoms and tall, straight sides – but saucepans are much smaller, and not designed for cooking full meals. A saucepan is great for boiling grains or sides, or – as the name suggests – for preparing sauces.
In addition to those common types, here are a few more specific cookware items that will get a lot of use in your kitchen, if you are a passionate cook.
- Braising Pan: A braising pan is a large flat-bottom pan with high walls and a moisture-locking lid. These are ideal for cooking meats and tough root vegetables.
- Griddle: A griddle, or grill pan, is designed to mimic grill cooking on a stovetop. It has a flat, generally cast iron bottom and low or nonexistent walls. Some griddles come with ridged surfaces to get those beautiful grill marks we love on grilled food.
- Wok: Heavily used in Asian cooking, woks have small round bottoms and high, slanted walls. A wok is great for stir-frying or steaming vegetables, with high heat on the bottom and cooler sides.
Health Benefits and Safety
No matter what type or material of cookware you choose, the most important feature is safety. It is absolutely crucial that you purchase cookware with no harmful chemical coatings or lacquers. In the section below we will discuss a lot of different materials for cookware, but there is one thing they all have in common: they are totally non-toxic.
To be sure that you are not cooking with harmful chemicals, you should always wash your cookware with soap and warm water before you cook with it. You should also make sure that you are always storing your cookware in a safe, dust-free space – far from where you keep your chemical cleaners.
Heat is the most important element of cooking. All types of cookware conduct and retain heat differently – that’s why it is so important to have a diverse set. Frypans, for example, are designed to heat up quickly and conduct an even amount of heat across their entire surface. Griddles, on the other hand, take a while to heat up and will be much hotter in the area right over the heat source.
Different cookware materials have different heat retention capabilities, too. Check out the next section to see how different materials handle heat.
Have you ever bought a great pot or pan and been really excited about it, only to have it become scorched and unusable within a few weeks? It’s a common problem, and it happens when you purchase cheap, unreliable cookware.
The best pots and pans will be resistant to scorch marks or burning, as well as to scratches and nicks. Stainless steel and cast iron are among the most durable cookware materials – that’s why they are so popular in commercial kitchens.
There is nothing more annoying than cooking a great meal, just to have it stick to the pan. It is really important that all of your cookware is made with nonstick material – not only will it improve your meals, but making cooking and cleaning up a whole lot easier.
Some materials are much better for nonstick cooking than others – ceramic, cast iron and stainless steel are among them.
Ease of Cleaning
Cooking your meal is half the job – cleaning up is the other half. One of the reasons nonstick cookware is so important is that it is much easier to clean. Nonstick surfaces will not collect crusted-on grime and oil so that they wipe off cleanly and without soaking or heavy chemical use.
Last but not least, you will definitely want to consider the price of your cookware. Unfortunately, all of the great features named above will make the cookware a little more expensive. Higher priced cookware will last for much longer, though, so you won’t have to purchase new pots and pans for a long time to come.
If you are on a budget, you might want to consider buying your cookware in a set – cookware sets in 5 or more pieces generally give you a great deal for the quality.
Different Types of Cookware Material
The key to choosing the best material for cookware is knowing your priorities. There are pros and cons to different materials for various purposes. Before you go out and purchase a new pan, pot or cookware set, you will want to consider the important factors and know which attributes are most important for you.
Aluminum is one of the most common materials for cookware. Aluminum cookware is generally very affordable, and highly practical. It heats up very quickly and conducts heat evenly throughout the bottom of the pot or pan. It is also dishwasher safe – a huge benefit for a busy kitchen.
Aluminum pots and pans can be anodized for a harder surface. They can also come with a nonstick coating. Unfortunately, the nonstick coating will wear down with time, especially if you are washing the aluminum cookware in the dishwasher.
- Dishwasher safe
- Heats up quickly and conducts heat evenly
- Can come with a nonstick coating
- Prone to discoloring or burn marks
- Nonstick coating can wear down
- Not as durable long term
What to look for in aluminum cookware
The thicker your aluminum cookware is, the more durable and high quality it will be. Look for pots and pans that have thick aluminum bottoms. For better long-lasting nonstick ability, look for cookware that has been hard-anodized.
Aluminum cookware is one of the most affordable options. Aluminum pots and pans can be as cheap as less than $10 – but for the best durability, you should look for around a $20 to $40 price range.
Cast iron is a really popular cookware material, in commercial and home kitchens alike. This heavy, super durable metal takes a long time to heat up, but it conducts heat evenly and can handle extremely high temperatures. People love cast iron for braising, frying and baking.
Cast iron pots and pans do require a little more care and maintenance than some other materials, but they will last forever if you take good care of them. One of the best features of cast iron is that it can keep its naturally nonstick surface for years.
- Super durable
- Stands up to high heat
- Conducts heat evenly
- Naturally nonstick
- Resistant to scorch marks, cracks, and dents
- Takes a long time to heat up
- Needs regular care and maintenance
- Prone to rust if not well cared for
What to look for in cast iron cookware
There are two main types of cast iron pots and pans: bare, and enamel coated. While most cooks prefer bare cast iron, an enamel coating can help to ensure a nonstick surface, even without regular oiling.
One of the best things about cast iron is that it is shockingly affordable. You can find a high quality cast iron pan for around $15-$30.
Ceramic cookware is a little less common than other options. Similar to cast iron, ceramic pots and pans take a long time to heat up but conduct heat evenly once they do. Ceramic can be great for baking, stewing, or other cooking methods that involve low heat over a long time.
Unlike cast iron, ceramic can be very fragile – it is prone to scorching, cracks and chips if not cared for properly.
- Naturally nonstick
- Conducts heat evenly and holds heat well
- Lasts for a long time
- Easy to clean
- Can be fragile
- A little pricier
- Takes a long time to heat up
What to look for in ceramic cookware
There are three main types of ceramic cookware: porcelain, stoneware, and earthenware. Out of the three of them, porcelain is the most durable – though it is generally white, so will show stains. Earthenware can chip easily and is best used for serving food.
Clad cookware is made from more than one material. Generally, clad cookware will have a different metal on the cooking surface than on the core, giving you the best of multiple materials. For example, stainless steel pans are often clad with aluminum – that way you get the quick heat conducting properties of aluminum with the nonstick durability of steel.
Clad cookware can be a lot more expensive than pots and pans made from a single material, but it is definitely worth the price for the quality.
Clad cookware is also induction friendly.
- Combines the cooking qualities of multiple metals
- Allows for best heat conductivity
- Nonstick without sacrificing quick heat
- Durability for long term use
- More expensive than other options
- Requires some regular care and maintenance
- Can be heavy and bulky
What to look for in clad cookware
Clad cookware is often used in commercial kitchens. To find the best deal on quality, you should look for your clad cookware at restaurant wholesalers. Aluminum and steel is one of the best combinations for great quality and durability.
Unfortunately, clad cookware is one of the more expensive options out there. The general price range for a single piece is around $50 – $200.
Hard anodized cookware is aluminum cookware that has been anodized with an electro-chemical process to become harder than stainless steel. Hard anodized aluminum is great for conducting and retaining heat.
Even though it is so thick, hard anodized cookware is generally very lightweight, easy to pack and store.
- Great heat conductivity
- Nonstick and easy to clean
- Not dishwasher safe
- More expensive than regular aluminum
What to look for in hard anodized cookware
Your hard anodized aluminum cookware will not be as prone to sticking as ordinary aluminum, but it is still helpful to look for hard anodized pots and pans with a nonstick coating.
Hard anodized cookware will be more expensive than standard aluminum, but still fairly affordable. Prices can range from around $20 – $50.
Copper pots and pans are often used in commercial kitchens. It is a great heat conductor and retains heat really well – unfortunately, bare copper can react negatively to certain foods, with toxic results.
Most copper cookware are coated in stainless steel or another metal to make it safe.
- Great heat conductivity
- Easy temperature control and adjustment
- Unique look
- Can be toxic without a coating
- Requires regular maintenance
- Prone to scorch marks
What to look for in copper cookware
Because of the dangers of bare copper, you should always look for copper pots and pans that have a coating of another metal – stainless steel is best.
As it is rare and not widely produced, copper cookware can be fairly expensive, generally around $50-$100.
Copper-coated cookware such as the Gotham Steel Pan can be a cheaper alternative.
Stainless steel is one of the most common cookware materials used in restaurants and commercial kitchens. It is light, durable, easy to clean and dishwasher safe. Unfortunately, stainless steel pots and pans can also be poor heat conductors – they often have a base of copper or another metal for better heat conductivity.
Stainless steel cookware is one of the best cookware types for glass top stoves.
- Easy to clean
- Dishwasher safe
- Poor heat conductivity
- Can burn or scorch easily
What to look for in stainless steel cookware
When it comes to stainless steel, the thicker the better – a thicker pot or pan, often with a copper core, will have great heat conductivity and last much longer.
Stainless steel cookware is much more affordable than it used to be – standard prices range from around $20 – $60.
Nonstick cookware can refer to cookware of any material that has a special nonstick coating on the cooking surface. This coating allows you to cook without oils, for healthier meals – and cleaning up is a breeze. It can scratch easily, though – make sure you use rubber, wood or nylon cooking utensils.
Find out how nonstick cookware compares to stainless steel and ceramic cookware here.
- Easy to clean
- Cook healthier, fat-free meals
- Not as durable
- The coating can easily scratch with metal utensils
What to look for in nonstick cookware
For the best nonstick quality, we recommend paying a slightly higher price – look for nonstick cookware with a safe, chemical-free and durable nonstick coating.
Nonstick cookware can be really affordable, ranging from under $10 to around $50, depending on the core material.
Food is an important part of our lives. Preparing meals is a necessity that we all take part in, but many people love cooking and enjoy doing it as a hobby. Whether you’re a chef-in-the-making or a person that just likes to cook something quick, you’re going to need a good set of cookware to help you in your daily life.
We hope that our article opened your eyes to some of the benefits and disadvantages of certain types of cookware. Prior to your next purchase, you will now be able to make an informed decision without outside influence. In turn, you can be sure to pick something that you will love for many years to come.