Hints & guides: Cookware
Good cookware is one that not only cooks well, but also is durable, easy to use, and has been designed with safety in mind. The main quality issues are:
- Efficiency and evenness of heating
- Whether food sticks to the bottom
- Durability (pitting, staining, cleaning response)
- Function (stability, balance and weight; the comfort of its handle and whether they get hot; how easy it was to clean; whether it dribbled when pouring; and whether any steam vents were easy to control)
Cookware can be made from a variety of the different materials - cast iron, steel, stainless steel:
- Cast iron is very heavy. It absorbs heat slowly and evenly, retains it, and is a good conductor as well. Cast iron is best for long slow cooking. Cast iron is rather brittle and rusts, stains, and becomes pitted on exposure to air, dampness, some foods, and it tends to become distorted when heat is applied. Enamel coating can help stop rust but these can craze or chip if roughly handled. The worst thing about a cast iron saucepan though, is that it has a very heavy base.
- Steel is iron from which a number of problems have been removed by the addition of carbon and, usually, other elements. High carbon steel (just iron and carbon) is harder and stronger than iron, but it is still brittle and subject to corrosion.
- Stainless Steel is the most popular material for saucepans because it is strong, hard and non-corrosive. However, it doesn’t conduct heat very well so many saucepans made from it have a base that also contains a layer of metal which is a good conductor, such as aluminium or copper. Sometimes these are referred to as sandwiched bases. Note: 18/10 means that it is made up to 18% chromium (which gives the product its hardness and durability and 10% nickel (which acts as a corrosive resistant agent).
- Copper is an extremely good conductor, of electricity as well as heat. It is softer than iron, and can be beaten and hammered to shape. But it is quite hard enough, and can be formed by casting or drawing as well. Copper distorts significantly when heated. The biggest problem with copper is that it interacts with everything it touches. The biggest problem with copper is that it interacts with everything it touches. It reacts with the moisture in the air, resulting in a greenish surface film – verdigris – that protects the metal underneath but is devastating in a pot because it is ultimately poisonous. Copper is corroded by salt water, and therefore by salted foods, in contact with which it forms chloride. As a result of these chemical reactions, food cooked in copper vessels, even when there is no noticeable corrosion, make take on a metallic taste. All copper vessels must be kept clean, and require constant polishing if they are to be completely safe to use.
- Aluminium is very lightweight, fairly strong and tough and an excellent conductor of heat. It is one of the metals least likely to distort from a rise in temperature. Aluminium becomes even harder and stronger when it is alloyed with such substances as magnesium, manganese, nickel, chromium, zinc, iron, copper, and silicon.
- Non Stick Cookware prevents food from sticking, so minimal amounts of oil or butter are needed. This type of saucepan has traditionally meant non stick linings that are easy to clean but not as durable as plain metal. However the new generation of non-stick surfaces such as anodized aluminium or ceramic titanium, are making non stick a more desirable option.
- Glass is a poor heat conductor but doesn’t stain, looks good and you can see what you’re cooking all the time.