We’ve talked before about kitchen utensils and tools, and how you should be aware of exactly what you need for certain tasks, or what options out of the millions available will best work for you- we pride ourselves on the fact that we offer this advice in addition to providing top quality modern kitchens. But today, we here at Silke would like to talk about something you’ve probably never considered to any serious degree before; what material should your pots and pans be made out of?
Pots and Pans: All The Facts
Some of you are likely amazed that there’s even options available in the first place, but yes, pots and pans, and other means of cooking food absolutely come in different materials. By far and away the most common is Stainless Steel, but you will also find pots or pans in Copper or Aluminium, and all three have a variety of pros and cons to their use within the kitchen. For this article, we’ll be focusing on Stainless Steel specifically.
The first and most obvious pro to stainless steel is that it’s incredibly common and most basic models are very affordable. They’re so common and readily affordable, in fact, that even selected larger outlets of chains like Sainsbury’s will have them for sale. Another huge benefit is that they’re magnetic, and thus can be used with induction hobs. It’s such a pervasive material as it is a) heavy and durable enough to stand up to high temperatures and other damages, b) is completely dishwasher safe if need be, and c) it’s non-reactive. If the term is confusing you, non-reactive simply means that nothing you could possibly cook in a stainless steel pot or pan will be affected by the material itself in any way, and will only react to the heat from the flames beneath.
That does lead into the one con stainless steel has going for it, however; the heat transference and distribution is actually fairly poor. By and large you’re not going to notice this too much when cooking, but if you start experimenting with pots of other materials you will begin to notice the difference. There exist out there more expensive variants on stainless steel cookware that includes copper or aluminium cores and are made of a better quality steel, but those start to run into much higher prices then your standard stainless steel pots and pans. It’s a worthwhile expenditure, but understandably not everyone is going to be thrilled at the idea.
Aluminium probably doesn’t seem like a material you’d think of when it comes to cookware; at least some of you probably went “what, that flimsy stuff they use to make 330ml cans?” Truth be told, we can’t blame you for worrying- cheaper, raw aluminium pots and pans are very malleable when introduced to heat or implements that can easily damage it, meaning it tends to warp and scratch very easily. It’s also something of a reactive material; this effectively means that, conversely to what we said about Stainless Steel last time, cookware made of raw aluminium will either by damaged by or could in turn oddly flavour or otherwise alter foods cooked in them in ways it wouldn’t with a non-reactive material. Aluminium specifically should generally never be used with foods that are either heavily acidic or heavily alkaline, as those will generally react the most with the material. The only real pro to raw aluminium is that it has a greater heat transference then other materials, and will generally heat up much faster and more evenly.
So, you’re probably wondering why you’d bother with aluminium pots and pans at all if the only benefit is it’s ability to get hot quicker. Well, as you’ve noticed, we specifically kept referring to raw aluminium; aluminium that hasn’t been treated or heavily altered in any serious way for the most part. There exist plenty of aluminium cookware brands that chemically treat the raw aluminium and turn it into an alternative called Anodised Aluminium. After the process, the material is far harder (and hardier) then it was before, meaning it will stand up to heat and scratch damage much more then the raw alternative will, whilst remaining lightweight. It takes a little bit of a hit via the heat transference this way, but only a minor one; it will still heat up more evenly and much faster then a standard stainless steel pot would.
The ever popular cast iron pots and pans are typically associated with Griddles specifically, but it can and often is used for a wide range of cookware. In accordance with this, Cast Iron comes with a number of added benefits that make it infinitely more reliable then bog standard stainless steel. First and foremost, it not only distributes and transfers heat well, but it actively retains that heat for longer then almost any other material available, ensuring it keeps the heat of anything lain atop it for far longer. It’s also very durable and resistant to heat or scratch damage, it is naturally non-stick when properly prepared, and will generally impart small amounts of Iron into foods cooked with it- which can actually be very beneficial. A lot of people have picked up the misconception that it’s an expensive material, but actually, cast iron (especially raw cast iron) is a very affordable material.
As always, though, there are some downsides; first, the material is very heavy. As a result, even with how durable it is, it has to be handled with care and careful consideration- likewise, the same care and careful consideration should be taken into account when actually cleaning it, which makes for a more arduous process then cleaning most other materials. In spite of all the pro’s that it has in the heating department, it actually takes quite some time to heat through completely, and as a reactive surface, heavily acidic foods will not take well to the material. One possible option that mitigates the extra trouble is Enamelled Cast Iron; a form of cast iron with a protective porcelain enamel; it’s far easier to clean, and is entirely non-reactive. Which of the two sounds more attractive ultimately will be down to the individual.
Copper pots and pans have a certain level history attached to them, and along with that comes a certain Retro appeal to both it’s function and it’s form (who hasn’t occasionally been taken by the bronzed sheen of a copper pot at least once, right?). There is a little more the material has to offer then Retro Chic, mind; Copper has a practically unparalleled natural thermal conductivity, taking on heat extremely quickly, and distributing that heat evenly across the board. To that end, copper could arguably be considered the go-to material for people looking to reduce their cooking time outside of resorting to convection ovens or the like. There is also something of an assurance in knowing that food cooked using copper cookware will not only cook fast, but cook evenly due to it’s ability to distribute heat extremely well.
If you’re wondering why it’s not used much more commonly, it’s that the quicker cooking time and higher chance of even cooking comes at a price. First and foremost, it’s one of the single most reactive materials you can cook with; not only do foods high in acidic or alkaline content react with it very heavily, but even light coloured foods neutral in both departments, such as Eggs, can and often will pick up grey streaks when cooked with copper cookware. This is a visible sign that the food has picked up some copper compounds from the material, and a metallic taste will often be imparted on food that doesn’t appear visibly altered.
Needless to say, whilst eating food that has picked up copper compounds to such an extent isn’t an issue very often, it’s a pretty bad thing if you intend to use copper pots and pans for everyday use. The material is also very cumbersome to maintain and clean thanks to it’s easily damaged and reactive nature, and it’s also far more pricey then people realise. There is a silver lining, though; copper pots that have tin or stainless steel lining on their innermost areas make for safer and slightly less delicate cooking, and retain that same level of thermal conductivity.