Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cookware...where to begin!

I get so many questions about what types of cookware to buy-non stick, stainless, cast iron, etc. There are pros and cons to all cooking metals but, a few are better than others for an all purpose solution.

When you're looking for cookware, a few things are important to keep in mind-conductivity, retention and reactivity. Conductivity is how quickly the pan will conduct heat-how fast (or slow) it heats up. Retention is how the pan retains heat once it heats up-does it stay hot. Reactivity is how the metal reacts with different foods-does it impart a metalic taste.

The list below details each type of cooking metal but, I think the best all purpose pan is a stainless steel with a heavy bottom and, if possible, an aluminum lining. Pans like this can generally go in the dishwasher, they heat up quickly, they are oven safe, and they are non-reactive. For more details, see below:

**Highest conductivity and lowest retention
**Reactive with highly acidic foods (wine, vinegar, tomatoes,
lemon, etc.) causing them to turn color and have a metallic taste
**often lined with aluminum or tin to help retain heat and to prevent it from being reactive
**very expensive metal and hard to keep up (copper tarnishes over time)
**Good for caramel/sugar work

**High conductivity and medium-high retention
**Reactive to acidic foods, milk and eggs causing them to turn a gray color
**Often lined to prevent reactions with food
**Very thick aluminum pans are great for cooking and easy to maintain but can be expensive
**Good for sautéing but if not thick enough, aluminum pans can get hot very fast and cause things to burn

**Medium-High conductivity and medium retention
**Not reactive and very easy to maintain as it doesn’t stain
**Should be thick to avoid burning foods, can be expensive
**Good for wine based/acidic dishes

**Low conductivity but high retention
**Reactive to acidic and dairy-based foods unless coated with enamel
**Needs to be seasoned with oil and should never be washed with soap. If your cast iron pan has a lot of caked on 'yuck', smear it with coarse salt and scrub it well with a mildly abrasive sponge. Dry it well before storing it or it will rust
**Great for searing/grill meats or vegetables

NONSTICK ALUMINUM (Best not to use very often)
**Can be toxic if heated too high-never heat it without anything in it!! They contain a chemical called PTFE and there is a lot of controversy over what these can do in your bloodstream
**High conductivity and medium-high retention
**Not reactive if coating is consistent
**Easy to clean, avoid using any metal utensils as it will scratch and eventually remove the non-stick surface
**Great for eggs/crepes/pancakes or sautéing meats and fish (when a pan sauce is not desired), not good for deglazing or browning

**Good conductivity and medium retention
**Great for baking, easy to maintain, low cost

**Pans with lower sides are better for reducing things as the liquid will evaporate more quickly/the steam escapes faster (i.e., Sauté Pan, Frying Pan or Skillet)
**Pans with high sides are good for liquid based items (soups) as it will take longer for the liquid to evaporate. Lids on pans will also keep the liquid from evaporating too quickly as the steam will not be able to escape (i.e., Stock Pot, Sauce Pan, Casserole)
**If a pan is too small for the items you are cooking, you will not get efficient browning
**If a pan is too big for what you are cooking, the items will burn


Card Girl said...

thank goodness you posted this.. I had the list you gave me 5+ years ago and Lord knows where it might be.. now i have it again.. easy access! :)

Card Girl said...

side note: this list is for Beaver Boy.. being that I don't cook.

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