Choosing the best cookware is all about materials and the quality of materials. Sure, you can purchase cookware from a bargain chain store, but odds are that you will have to replace that pan or pot 4 or 5 times over time when you could buy a quality one that lasts a lifetime. The surface material and the material running throughout the pan are of paramount importance when deciding which set or individual piece you should purchase.
When purchasing cookware you will need to think about the surface material, pan construction material, and the overall appearance and design.
The most prominent cookware surface options available in the marketplace are nonstick, stainless steel, and hard anodized aluminum.
Nonstick pans release food better and are easier to clean than stainless steel and hard anodized aluminum. Every home cook should have at least one good nonstick pan on their pot rack. However, it doesn’t necessarily make sense for the entire set to be nonstick. Nonstick pans can be too slippery for sauce making and make it difficult to properly brown your food. Non-stick surfaces serve an important purpose and can make cooking foods that tend to stick a breeze. See below for tips on how to choose the best nonstick surface coating.
Stainless steel cookware surfaces are the best choice for browning red meats, fish and poultry as well as for simmering your favorite sauces. (When you brown meats you want “fond.” Fond is the little dark bits of meat and seasoning that stick to the pan after browning meats. The fond creates the base for sauces and can easily be lifted from the hot pan when a liquid is added.) Some argue that the downside of a stainless steel surface is that it is more difficult to clean. While this is true, deglazing a pan after cooking will greatly minimize the time you spend scrubbing the pan in your sink. By far, stainless steel is the best all-around cooking surface because stainless steel is non reactive and can take a beating.
Hard anodized aluminum cookware surfaces are sealed through the anodizing process. Allow us to say from the onset that there is a contingent who argue that cooking with non-sealed aluminum cookware is harmful. Also, non-sealed aluminum will react with some foods causing either a funny taste or a change in the color of the food. However, hard anodized aluminum will not do this. The anodizing process not only hardens the aluminum, but also seals the surface creating a non-porous and non-reactive cooking surface. Anodized aluminum will not leach out into your food. The hardening and sealing produced by anodizing creates a cooking surface that is easy to clean and will brown meats sufficiently.
Choosing the Right Nonstick Pan
With all the talk about PFOA, the believed carcinogen in nonstick cookware, it is best to steer clear of brands that use PFOA to adhere their nonstick coating to the pans. We suggest Swiss Diamond cookware. It has no PFOA. In addition, we believe that Swiss Diamond cookware is the best nonstick cookware on the market. The pans have a lifetime warranty on the nonstick coating, the coating is encrusted with industrial diamonds so you can use metal utensils when cooking, it is dishwasher safe, oven safe and has the slickest nonstick coating on the market. Swiss Diamond is our best selling cookware.
Look for stainless steel pans that are fully “clad” or “plied.” When a pan is clad or plied it means that aluminum, or some other good heat conductor like copper, has been sandwiched between layers of stainless steel. This way you get the even conductivity of the aluminum or copper with the durability of the non-reactive stainless steel.
Be sure to read about the pans and know if they are “bottom clad” or “fully clad.” Bottom clad pans are the least desirable of the two when it comes to fry pans. For saute pans, reduction pans and sauce pans bottom clad pans may be superior. They focus the heat at the bottom of the pan (where you want it). Fry pans should always be fully clad.
Bottom clad pots and pans will have the aluminum or copper sandwich on the bottom of the pan only and stainless steel on the sides. Fully clad pans have the aluminum or copper sandwiched throughout the entire pan including the sides. Herein lays the superiority of fully clad fry pans — heat is distributed up the sides of the pan for more even cooking while bottom clad pans do not heat well up the sides.
Maybe hard anodized aluminum pans tickle your fancy. Make sure to find out how much pure aluminum is contained in them. Don’t buy a pan containing less than 80% pure aluminum. (If you have a induction range, make sure that you buy a hard anodized aluminum pan that has an induction disc in the bottom or your induction range will not heat the pan.
Allow us to throw in cast iron cookware and ceramic cookware. Cast iron surfaces must be properly seasoned to seal the pan. The seasoning process creates a nice stick-resistant coating. Cast iron is heavy, will heat slowly and hold heat longer than any other type of cookware. When enamel coating is added there is no need to season the pan. The enamel seals the surface. Here we have to go with what we know and what we have used. When buying enamel coated cast iron cookware, look no further than Le Creuset and Staub.
Emile Henry has perfected ceramic cookware. Their unique firing enables the cookware to be used on your range or in the oven. It is lighter than cast iron and has many of the same uses. Ceramic cookware aficionados swear that using ceramics is the best way to preserve the nutritional qualities and flavor of food. Emile Henry stewpots are perfect for searing and then braising in the oven at low heat.
Make sure that the pans are oven proof to 400 or 500 degrees with stainless steel handles, make sure the lid is tight fitting and that the pan feels good in your hand (not too heavy or imbalanced). Look at the overall design: what design factors do you find appealing, what design aspects make the pan safer to move around, pick up and prevent burns?
While this is not an exhaustive buyer's guide for choosing cookware hopefully it provides help in choosing the best cookware. Using the information given here will give you the proper foundation to choose cookware that is of the quality you expect. The outside color, style and attractiveness are important, but the materials that make the pan are crucial.