In this comprehensive guide of the best cookware materials, I’ll clear the confusion. If you only have a minute, check out the table below for a quick summary of the key differences between the best cookware materials.
While the interior and exterior are always stainless steel, the core materials vary. The number of layers and the type of core materials impact the performance.
Versatile: Since stainless steel is non-reactive and ultra-durable, it’s great for searing, browning, frying, sautéing, and much more. It should last a lifetime and won’t rust, flake, chip, or warp (as long as you don’t subject it to drastic temperature changes).
Distributes heat quickly and evenly: A major advantage of fully-clad stainless steel is that it distributes heat quickly and evenly throughout the whole pan, including the sides, which is great when cooking sauces: no cold spots or uneven sears. It’s also usually tolerant of high heats, making it safe for the oven and broiler.
Stubborn bits of food, especially if left for a long time, can be tricky to remove. Cooking with stainless steel takes some culinary knowledge and technique.
The combination of its highly conductive core and non-reactive surface makes fully-clad stainless steel cookware perfect for steak, chicken, and other meats. Since it can handle high temperatures, you can use it to brown on the stove and then finish in the oven.
If you’re looking for fully-clad stainless steel cookware, here are the top brands I recommend (click the links to view details on Amazon): If fully-clad stainless steel seems like a match with your culinary know-how, take some time to explore some of these brands.
In other words, the cooking surface and exterior are stainless steel, and aluminum or copper is bonded to the base. The disadvantage is that it doesn’t conduct heat evenly because the cookware ’s sides don’t contain an aluminum or copper layer.
This cookware is suitable for sautéing and frying, rather than simmering sauces or boiling liquids. Lightweight: Since the conductive layers don’t extend up the sides of the pots and pans, this type of cookware tends to be lighter and easier to handle than fully-clad.
If there are stubborn bits of food, it takes time and effort to remove. It’s especially good for browning, searing, and frying since the construction can handle high heats.
Cast iron cookware is heavy-duty, made from one single piece of metal, including the handle. Most people don’t know this since cast iron cookware is so rugged, but the carbon content makes it less malleable and quite brittle.
Therefore, to make it more durable, cast iron cookware is made with thick, heavy walls. The thick walls not only increase cast iron cookware ’s durability, but they allow it to absorb and retain heat exceptionally well.
Its thick walls absorb and retain heat well, so when you slap a cold piece of meat on it, the cooking surface stays hot, allowing you to create a crust and lock in the juices. On the other hand, enameled cast iron is quite expensive (I’ll cover that in the next section).
So if you want the benefits of non-stick cooking but trying to avoid synthetic chemicals in the kitchen, this is a good choice. Heavy: If you want something lightweight and easy to maneuver, I don’t recommend cast iron.
On average, cast iron skillets weigh eight pounds, and that’s without food in them. Seasoning involves rubbing it with fat or oil and baking it in the oven for a couple of hours.
Prolonged exposure to acidic foods can break down the seasoning layer, destroying its non-stick properties. You need to clean it properly (no soap), season it regularly, and store it correctly to avoid rust.
Unlike stainless steel, it’s natural non-stick layer allows you to cook eggs and bake with ease. Since it retains heat well, the meat doesn’t impact the cookware ’s temperature, so you get a perfect crust every time.
This type of cookware is similar to cast iron, but it has an enameled coating to prevent rusting, eliminate the need for seasoning, and make it easier to clean. Non-reactive: The enameled coating prevents the metal from reacting with acidic foods, so go ahead and cook any ingredient you’d like in this cookware.
So, if you’re cooking a one-pot meal and need to adjust the heat often, you might want to pick another cookware type. Food can stick: Although the enamel improves its non-stick properties, it’s not nearly as slick as a Teflon-coated pan.
Enameled cast iron has many uses, but it’s especially popular as a Dutch oven, which is ideal for slow-cooking. You can use an enameled cast iron Dutch oven for braising, stews, chilies, and much more.
Other types of enameled cast iron cookware are suitable for braising, baking and frying. You’ll find skillets, woks, pots, roasters, and pans made from carbon steel.
While it’s beloved by professionals due to its high heat tolerance, it’s gaining popularity among home cooks as well. That makes it easier to maneuver, especially when pouring sauce or transferring to the oven.
Versatile: With carbon steel, you can make eggs, grill steaks, fry vegetables, roast chicken, and much more. Durable: Carbon steel is strong, so if you drop it on the floor or smack it against another pan, it’s unlikely to break or scratch.
Affordable: If you want a quality pan at a fraction of the cost compared to enameled cast iron, carbon steel is an excellent option. Responsive: When switching from high to low heat, it doesn’t take the surface long to respond since the walls are thinner than cast iron.
Difficult to clean: Carbon steel isn’t dishwasher safe, so cleanup requires some effort. It’s excellent for searing, browning, and broiling since it can handle extremely high temperatures.
While some brands use copper as the exterior, others use it as the core material for fully-clad stainless steel cookware. Copper is rarely used for the cooking surface because it reacts with acidic foods.
Simply wash with warm water and a soft cloth, and the food will slide right off. Not only is the raw material more expensive than aluminum and steel, but much leading copper cookware brands manufacture their products in France.
It also tarnishes when exposed to moisture and needs to be polished regularly to maintain its beauty. This isn’t a problem in most cases since most brands utilize stainless steel for the surface.
You’ll find it’s especially useful for meals that benefit from precise temperature control, such as fish, sauces, caramels, and fruit flambé. Copper cookware makes a stunning statement and performs beautifully.
Non-stick cookware with PTFE (or Teflon) coating is made with synthetic materials to prevent food from sticking and make cleanup easy. It’s most suitable for vegetables, eggs, fish, sauces, pancakes and crêpes, curries, stir-fry, and much more.
I don’t recommend it for searing or frying meat, broiling, or grilling as the high temperatures can ruin the non-stick coating. Ceramic non-stick cookware has a cooking surface made of natural sand-derived silicon using a process called sol-gel.
So it’s not technically made from ceramic, but it’s labeled as such because of its smooth glossy texture. The coating is derived from natural sand and doesn’t contain lead, cadmium, or other potentially dangerous chemicals or elements.
Non-stick: Ceramic coated cookware is naturally non-stick, so it boasts excellent food release, and it’s easy to clean. There’s not much scientific evidence to back these claims, but this is a pro if you trust the brands.
Color options: Ceramic-coating cookware allows you to match your pots and pans to your kitchen decor. Although it’s affordable, you should only expect your ceramic cookware to last around one year before it loses its non-stick ability, cracks, chips, or before the paint discolors.
The surface is made of tiny particles, and, at a microscopic level, food isn’t always in direct contact with the heat. Like PTFE coated non-stick cookware, ceramic cookware is best for delicate foods that tend to stick such as eggs, pancakes, stir-fry, vegetables, and other delicate, flakes foods.
It doesn’t react to acidic foods; you can use it for tomato, lemon, and wine sauces. It’s not the best cookware for searing and browning meat, since it’s more effective at low and medium temperatures.
Plus, searing requires adhesion between the meat and the cookware, and, with non-stick, the food tends to slide around too much. While most aluminum cookware is treated with a non-stick or stainless steel interior, be cautious if yours isn’t.
Since most aluminum cookware has a non-stick coating, it’s best for vegetables, stir-fry, curries, eggs, pancakes, and more. It’s not recommended for searing or browning meat or other recipes that require high heat.
Heavy: This cookware is harder, denser, and heavier than standard aluminum. Quality varies across brands: There are many hard-anodized aluminum options on the market, and no two products are the same.
Most hard-anodized aluminum cookware is coated with a PTFE non-stick surface, making it a top choice for cooking eggs, pancakes, grilled cheese, and other recipes that tend to stick. It’s thick, durable, and can handle higher heat than standard aluminum.
Go ahead and test out most recipes in this cookware, but be careful with acidic foods if the surface isn’t coated with non-stick materials or stainless steel. I recommend something with a hard-anodized aluminum base and PTFE non-stick coating for ultimate durability.
An excellent option is the Clifton Contemporary collection, which you can learn about in my in-depth review or check out on Amazon. One stainless steel pan or skillet for searing, browning, and simmering sauces.
Either a cast iron or carbon steel skillet for roasting, sautéing, braising, and frying. Keep in mind that carbon steel is lighter, whereas cast iron is heavier but retains heat well.
For cast iron, go with Lodge (available on Amazon), one of the best brands that still makes its cookware in the USA. You can check out Le Crest’s enameled cast iron cookware on Amazon.