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Types of Cookware
Cast Iron cookware is made by pouring iron into a mold. It is the heaviest of the cookware choices and can often be hard to manipulate due to the weight. Its thick sides and bottom retain heat, and heat evenly, which makes cast iron ideal for braising and deep frying. Unlike other options, it must be seasoned to prevent rusting and can't be cleaned with soap. Cast iron is reactive to acidic foods such as tomatoes, which absorb a metallic taste and should be avoided. It is very durable (it will last for generations), and once properly seasoned it is virtually non-stick. It can be used on the stove top and in the oven, or even over a camp fire.
Cast Iron cookware is sometimes lined with enamel. It still has the benefits of retaining heat and heating evenly, but it doesn't need to be seasoned, can be washed with soap and won't leech iron into the food or react to acidic ingredients.
Cast iron is best for searing, deep frying, roasting and braising.
Non-Stick cookware is the most convenient for basic stove-top tasks. Its metal core is covered with a layer of non-stick coating. It can be cleaned in seconds with a sponge, or simply by wiping it out with a towel. If you use a sponge with an abrasive side, make sure it is safe for non-stick cookware. Do not use metal utensils with non-stick cookware. Not even to flip over the bacon. Once there are scratches in the non-stick coating, or if it starts to flake off, it is time to buy a new one. Heating non-stick cookware to high temperatures releases toxic fumes and causes the non-stick layer to flake off. It is for stove top use only, and shouldn't be heated past medium-high.
Non-stick cookware is ideal for low-fat cooking because you don't have to add oil to keep ingredients from sticking and burning. It's great for fish, eggs and vegetables with a high water content. Although the temperature must be kept lower than the other types of cookware, it will still brown ingredients.
Stainless Steel cookware consists of a metal core (stainless steel, aluminum or copper) that is covered with stainless steel, which is non-reactive. It's best to find stainless steel cookware that has a metal core that extends up the sides and isn't just on the bottom. This ensures the most even distribution and retention of heat. It can be heated to high temperatures and can be used on the stove top and in the oven. It can be cleaned with soap, water, and any sponge, including steel wool, and is the only cookware that is dishwasher safe.
Stainless steel is the most versatile of the choices, but often the hardest to clean. It makes the best fond (little bits of browned food stuck on the bottom) which, with the help of a little liquid, can be scraped off and turned into a delicious sauce. It is more responsive than cast iron, while still retaining heat.
Use stainless steel cookware when making soup or browning meats.
Cookware to avoid
Aluminum and copper cookware leech metal into the food. They are good conductors of heat, especially copper, but both are best when lined with stainless steel. Copper shouldn't be cleaned with abrasive materials and must be polished to prevent tarnishing.
Anodized aluminum is stick resistant but is reactive to highly acidic and alkaline foods. It isn't dishwasher safe and shouldn't be cleaned with abrasive materials. Metal utensils can be used without scratching the surface. The dark color makes is hard to monitor browning.