Aluminum base â€“
There are many companies who use thick stainless steel for the main pan and then put an aluminum disk on the bottom. These work very well and depending on the design can be extremely effective, producing even consistent heat. There is a valid argument against needing the aluminum all the way up the sides of a pan, save for maybe a skillet. I wouldn't ignore this style of pans. They are usually a good value and can perform very well for many years.
Manufacturers - Sitram, Demeyere, Farberware, MIU, Metro Marketing,
Styles â€“ You will find the shapes and styles are mostly skillets, saute pans, saucepans and stockpots.
Uses - These pans will be good for any use where the piece suits. In other words, frying, sautÃ©ing, making sauces and soups, etc. I like the function and performance. They are durable and easy to care for and clean. NOTE â€“ aluminum base canNOT be used with induction cooktops, UNLESS it has a magnetic stainless steel layer.
Clad aluminum/Aluminum core â€“
This is the cookware you see almost everywhere. It is often called Tri-Ply, which means it is aluminum core sandwiched between two stainless steel layers. Tri-ply is the most popular cookware sold and advertised in North America. The quality can vary from excellent to just so-so. This is what you see chefs/cooks on the Food Network use. The quality will vary depending on the thickness of the aluminum layer, the type of stainless steel, the handle and lid designs. Every type of cook can use these pans with great effect. If you heat and serve or create fine cuisine, these pans will serve you well. There are options in every price range. AllClad was the pioneer here and according to many is the best manufacturer in this field. For me, AllClad, Viking, Demeyere and Mauviel are the best. However, they can be very expensive. If you don't want to spend the money, Cuisinart, Kitchenaid, and Sur La Table may be your pans. They are of very good quality and in most cases almost half the price of the the top brands. The other makers listed below create good value to quality cookware also. I am only familiar with the ones I have mentioned. WARNING â€“ really inexpensive cookware is really inexpensive for a reason: the quality is not there. There have to be sacrifices to make the price point.
You may now see 5-ply or 7-ply being sold; other layers of metals like copper or silver are added. While they are good metals for heat diffusivity, I am not sure they add real functional value for the additional price.
Styles â€“ These pans come in every shape and size.
Uses - There is no purpose for which these pans cannot be used. When made well, they are effective and efficient. NOTE â€“ not all brands are suited for Induction cooktops. I know that AllClad (classic polished stainless steel line), Demeyere, Viking and Sur La Table can be used. For the others either ask or take a magnet with you.
Cast aluminum â€“
These are the pans you want if you are scared of Teflon. You will find that cast aluminum pans act more like cast iron than aluminum. By that I mean they have a higher heat capacity. They will be slower to heat up and cool down. This will allow you to finish cooking with the residual heat and also to cook on lower burner settings. You will find most are PFOA free. They have some form of ceramic titanium coating versus traditional nonstick surfaces such as Teflon. The ceramic titanium coating is more durable and actually an effective nonstick surface. One can use metal utensils on the surface unlike on Teflon like coatings. However, some of these still use Teflon or a teflon-like material. I love cast aluminum for skillets, however for saucepans or stockpots I am a tri-ply guy. This new surface is marketed as â€œGreenâ€ due to the lack of PFOAs in the process.
Manufacturers - Look, Brendes, Scanpan, Swiss diamond
Uses - Many people like cast aluminum for everything. In general, you won't find sauciers, true roasting pans or specialty pans. NOTE â€“ these pans are NOT suited for Induction cooktops.
Anodized aluminum â€“
Anodized aluminum has been electrochemically treated to form a thick and stable oxidation layer, hardening the aluminum. During hard-anodization, aluminum is submerged in an acid bath, then subjected to electrical charges. Hard-anodization is actually controlled, accelerated oxidation, which is a natural process. Hard-Anodized aluminum is 30% harder than stainless steel. The aluminum is less reactive to acidic things. There is additionally no loss of energy conductivity. Most brands now apply Teflon to the interiors as a non-stick surface. Only the original Calphalon, now called Calphalon One I believe, was anodized aluminum inside and out. They are good mid-range to inexpensive cookware options. My preferences are Analon and Calphalon, though Circulon has many fans. I have never been convinced of the need for teflon in saucepans and saute pans, however it is the most prevalent coating.
Uses - Good for skillets and woks, maybe crepe pans and griddles. While they work fine in other functions, I just don't feel it plays into their non-stick design. However my opinions aside, you will these pans perform well with most tasks. Just remember non-stick coatings don't lend themselves to making great pan sauces/gravies which need some fond to add flavor. [ Fond is the French term for those browned on bits at the bottom of the pan.] Good sauces can be made with broth or stock and fluid pan drippings. NOTE â€“ will NOT work on Induction cooktops.
Stainless steel â€“
These are the most cost effective cookware. If one has simple uncomplicated cooking needs, these are the pans for you. They are made of thin layers of all stainless steel. Due to the poor heat diffusivity of pure stainless steel, they are not going to provide good or even heat mangement or distribution. Stainless steel is a great insulator and used in combination with other metals can make great saucepans. But the thin design of most lesser priced lines, just won't be satisfying in performance to the serious cook. If money is an issue, this class of pans can do the job well enough. A good cook can learn to use their cookware to produce nice meals for a family. Yes, I did own cookware like this when I first got married, but as I grew in culinary interest and skill, I found I needed better cookware.
Uses - As stated I wouldn't try to be a gourmet cook with them, but for everyday, simple serve and heat meals, they are just fine. Beginning cooks, college dorm/apartment cooking may find them useful. NOTE â€“ won't work on Induction cooktop.
Enamel coated steel -
These tend to be lower priced options of cookware. These are typically stock pots, campfire coffee pots and cookware. Not the best heat management or diffusion, but they have their benefits. The better companies produce enamel coated carbon or thick stainless steel. Can look good, but subject to hot spots depending on the heat source.
Manufacturers - Chantal, Le Creuset and hundreds of store brands.
Uses - Great for seafood boils, stocks, pasta or similar cooking needs. NOTE â€“ Some of these will work on Induction cooktops, but not all. Take your magnet with you to be sure.
Copper coated stainless steel â€“
like stainless steel, these pans don't perform well for exacting cooking skills, but for everyday use can be fine. The copper coating doesn't provide any extra heat management or benefit, other than looks.
Styles â€“ You will find these are skillets, saucepans, stockpots, tea kettles, your general cooking pan types.
Uses - Will do most things, just not all that well. Fine for the less ambitious cooks and - as stated above in stainless steel section â€“ beginners. NOTE â€“ won't work on Induction cooktop.
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