In this article, I’ll go over all the important differences between various cookware materials in order to help you decide which ones are best for your kitchen. This surface is easier to clean than the top of your range and can hold liquids or trap steam underneath a lid.
While aluminum is an excellent cookware material, it’s prone to get scratched, chipped, or damaged. It’s somewhat non-stick on its own, although cookware manufacturers usually coat it with an additional layer of non-stick material instead of using it as a cooking surface.
Pots and pans like this are referred to as hard anodized and are excellent additions to most kitchens. Most cookware manufacturers use stainless steel in conjunction with aluminum or copper to provide better heating characteristics in their pots and pans.
It’s one of the more durable materials that’s used in cookware, meaning that stainless steel pots and pans can easily last for a decade or more. It’s not non-stick in the way that PTFE or Thermal is non-stick, but you can still cook eggs over-easy on a stainless steel pan.
Stainless steel pots and pans are often chosen by people who value longevity and durability over convenience. It’s even more thermally conductive than aluminum, to the point where it transfers about twice as much heat energy in the same amount of time.
This means that it’s normally reserved for specialty applications (like candy making) or used as one of many materials in more complex pots and pans. This means that they can’t cook with acidic foods, they have to use special copper cleaners to polish their pots and pans, and they have to store their cookware carefully.
More commonly, copper serves as an inner layer in cookware that also uses stainless steel and sometimes aluminum. By coating the copper with a more robust metal, cookware manufacturers can nullify most of these concerns.
This hybrid cookware combines the excellent heat conductivity of copper with the ease of use and cleaning of stainless. One category uses something called PTFE, which is a family of substances that includes Teflon.
It’s safe at much higher temperatures, it doesn’t scratch or flake off, and it’s pretty darn non-stick. In my experience, it’s a bit more non-stick, it lasts about the same amount of time, and any differences in thermal conductivity are too small to notice.
Modern PTFE variants are very scratch resistant and can even be used with metal utensils. You also don’t need to use any fat at all with PTFE, whereas you absolutely need to use a small amount of oil or butter to keep your Thermal non-stick pans non-stick.
The biggest and most important difference is that PTFE starts to be very unsafe and can release toxic gases at around 400 – 500 degrees Fahrenheit. If you leave a pot or pan unattended on high-heat it’ll quickly hit this temperature.
Thermal is “safe” to over 600 degrees, although using it on high heat will quickly degrade its effectiveness as a non-stick surface. This comparison is a bit odd since almost all stainless steel cookware has an aluminum core.
One of them has frosting and cake, but both of them are primarily made from delicious frozen dairy. Cookware that’s made with only copper is soft, delicate, and unsuited for general cooking.
You’ll also need to use special copper cleaning solutions to keep it bright and shiny. Since steel isn’t as good of a thermal conductor as aluminum, it can slightly impede the ability of your pots and pans to transfer heat, even when it’s used as a thin outer layer or cooking surface.
This means that hard anodized pots and pans might boil water faster and heat up more evenly. The stainless steel simply provides a more durable exterior and cooking surface.
If you’re looking for a set of cookware that will last for years, you’ll probably want to choose something with a stainless exterior and cooking surface and an aluminum or copper core. Making the right choice will lead to your food being cooked well, your family being safe and your cookware lasting many, many years.
Rustic, and reminiscent of old southern hospitality, cast iron cookware remains a classic as ever. Try and talk a connoisseur into parting with her 150-year-old, family handed down cast iron skillet and chances are, you would leave with a sore bump on your head.
Cast iron pots and pans are sort of heirlooms, that have again become the battle tools of modern chefs, food influencers on social media, amateur cuisine enthusiasts and even the person next door. So these sets developed a seasoning over time with the cooking oil, giving way to a much-prized shiny black patina over the years.
Diehard fans make sure that their cast iron casseroles, pans, skillets, and such never see soap and water, instead maintaining them by hand cleaning and baking them with a barely-there coating of oil. Steel is usually combined with other metals such as nickel, carbon, and chromium to produce enduring alloys that are corrosion free and tough.
In fact, seasoning carbon steel over time gives a better non-stick patina than cast iron. Also, your cast iron pot may recover from an occasional lime splash or red wine reduction but carbon steel won’t.
Great for making foods that don’t have a long cooking time such as eggs, stir fries, sauté dishes and pancakes, carbon steel cookware can be quite a handy addition to your kitchen. Like steel alloys, aluminum is corrosion resistant although certain kinds of foods will stain or discolor it.
Ceramic items have always dominated the baking market, but newer renditions of cookware now feature it in all kinds of forms such as non-stick coatings and reinforcements. Like steel, ceramic surfaces are tough and you can use metal spatulas or hard scourers on it without scratches.
Ceramics are also widely considered to be the most non-reactive so that you have no harmful substances leaching into your food while cooking certain kinds of dishes. Pretty much one of the best conductors of heat that results in even cooking, copper is great for foods that you leave in the pot undisturbed for longer periods of time.
The best copper cookware sets can get very expensive, and just like iron and carbon steel, you cannot cook reactive foods in it. These days besides the above, cookware can also be found made of titanium, silicon, porcelain, diamonds, nanotech, and other compositions.
Stainless steel pans also can take a beating from high heat, metal utensils, and deep cleanings and still maintain functionality which is why I keep one in my kitchen. Not all stainless steel pans are created equally, lower ply and cheaper construction can lead to unevenly cooked food and pans that don't heat very well.
Stainless is also not non-stick, you will have to cook with more fats and oils to prevent food sticking (which can be a good thing when making pan sauces). And their lifetime warranty shows that they stand behind their USA made pots and pans.
Non-stick cookware allows you to cook without fats and oils for healthier meals and helps create perfect eggs, hash browns, and hamburgers that will never stick. Ceramic non-stick cookware material used in pans like Willing Spirit's Thermal Coated Ceramic Cookware has become increasingly popular as it is free from PTFE and FOA, and the coating is scratch-resistant.
With the Willing Spirit collection, you're also getting the heat reactive benefits like from a clad stainless steel pan. Their proprietary coating is made with actual diamonds which has amazing non-stick properties.
I've used mine at home for perfect crêpes and omelets that slide right off of the pan. From aluminum, stainless steel, copper, and other metals, read the manufacturer's description of what your pan is made of.
Cookware Material Best For: Frying, searing, and slow cooking. Traditionally, cast iron cookware was handed down for generations as it is made of no coatings beyond use and oils, cast iron cookware will not be a wasted investment.
Cast iron is the best cookware material for heat retention. These very heavy-duty pans keep in heat which makes it perfect for deep-frying and searing steaks.
Carbon steel cookware works a lot like cast iron with half the weight. When properly seasoned, your pan will take on non-stick properties and will give your food a unique flavor.
The thinness of the pan also helps it heat up and cool down quickly compared to cast iron. Carbon steel cookware is great for high heat fast cooking applications; these pans are a staple in commercial kitchens.
Cookware Material Best For: Frying, searing, and slow cooking. All the benefits of bare cast iron with added beauty and easier maintenance.
This makes enameled cast iron great for deep-frying and slow-cooked meals at low heat. Enamel cookware with lighter color interiors can show discoloration and wear over time.
Enjoy the even and long-lasting heat distribution of cast iron and go straight from stove top to oven in the same pan. The porcelain coating on these pans is cast in many colors making it a tool and a showpiece for your kitchen.
The enamel is simply cleaned with soap and water, no special steps here. Le Crest is one of the most iconic manufacturers of this style and like cast iron, it is one of those tools that you can pass down to future generations.
Enamel cast iron cookware is an investment and has a high price tag. The enamel coating can crack and chip from drops or extreme temperature changes (running a hot pan under cold water).
The copper provides ultimate heat distribution and reaction time while the stainless steel is there for easy cleaning. These won't be as reactive as the 90% copper pans, but will still do an awesome job heating up and cooling down quickly.
We go through all the major shapes and sizes of cookware and explain the types of pans out there and tell you what they're best for. Chef Austin Death is Everything Kitchen's Culinary Wizard, Kitchen-Gadget Reviewer, and New-Product Tester.
It's his job to make sure you choose the kitchen tools that are right for you by testing the best we have to offer. When not cooking, Austin is tinkering with computers or exploring the Ozarks with his wife Amy.