How To Choose Pots and Pans

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The right pots and pans are essential. If you are thinking of purchasing a good set, you need to do some homework because there are so many choices out there: cast iron, lined copper, aluminum, Anodized aluminum, stainless steel, non-stick and lined copper (just to name a few). You will also need to know why it is important to have at least one type of each pan (one of my favorite things is  deglazing my pans and taking advantage of that amazing fond). I’ll give you the break down here on the advantages and disadvantages of each type of cookware, as well as the reasons why I like and own certain kinds:

Non-stick pots and pans

They have become the most purchased type of pans. Non-stick cookware is very easy to clean and are marketed as a healthier way of cooking. Non-stick pots and pans don’t need oil for cooking, so the fat content is automatically reduced. This is very good for those who have high cholesterol or are trying to shed a few pounds. Since non-stick pots and pans have a special coating that keeps the food from sticking into the surface, there is no need to stand at the sink for hours. These pans are good for someone who’s just getting started and for those who are short on time. It is important to use plastic tools with these guys as metal can scrape off the non-stick coating. Also the non-stick coating (Teflon) can release dangerous fumes when heated to 680F, so it is very important to keep an eye on these pans when they are being used. The fumes can cause “Teflon® flu” which includes symptoms such as chills, fever, headaches and nausea. Just make sure you use these as they are intended to be. I own one of these which I use for frying eggs only and I use it sparingly.

Copper core pans

These are quite costly compared to others, but for chefs, this kind of pan is a must. Copper core conducts heat extremely well and at the same time, cools down fast. Cooking in these pots is fast and efficient. Copper pans are lined with other materials (like tin) because copper is reactive. This is not an issue with any of the copper pans that you will find in the market as they are now lined with stainless steel or aluminum for protection. Copper is great for cooking sugar and anything with fruits. They will require a lot of care and can be quite heavy (as a novice cook it is quite easy to burn your forearms if these pots are not held properly). Even if your pans say they are dishwasher safe, I recommend that you spend the time washing them by hand with detergents that do not contain lemon or chlorine. Do not use steel wool, steel scouring pads or harsh detergents. Grab a nice nylon scouring pad for removing those tough pieces stuck to your copper pans.

Stainless steel

This type has been around for ages due to its durability and price. These are super easy to clean so you have no need for special solutions; a little soap and water does the trick with these guys. Downside is that it is not a great heat conductor and it does not distribute heat evenly like copper does, so your food can burn easily. On the upside, this is good if you are cooking at low temperatures. If you still want to purchase stainless steel, make sure they have a thick layer of aluminum or a copper core below to aid in heat conduction. It really makes sense to spend a little extra money when buying a set of pots and pans, it will save you lots of aggravation and grief when cooking.

Aluminum-made pots and pans

Are perfect for those who are on a tight budget. They can withstand high temperature and are lightweight yet (fairly) durable. These are second to copper when it comes to conducting heat. One issue is that you must avoid cooking foods that could cause acid and alkaline (Aluminum reacts on these elements). Also, light colored foods (think a cream sauce) can change color when cooked in aluminum. If you opt to go with these, buy anodized aluminum to avoid such problems. Anodized aluminum is placed in a chemical bath that is then treated to an electric current. Basically, the cookware is coated in this process to prevent the reaction of acidic and alkaline foods and helps prevent sticking and discoloration. Once Aluminum has been anodized, it won’t dent as easily, food won’t stick as much, won’t scratch as easily and will make it a little heavier which will better on your stove. Just keep in mind that Aluminum is a softer metal, so it won’t hurt to be careful and avoid denting your new pots and pans. Make sure to hand wash the pots in warm and soapy water in order to avoid damage.

Cast iron pans

Cast iron pans can be pretty affordable and are ideal for slow cooking and frying. I could not live without my dutch oven and my cast iron frying pan. This type of cookware takes time to heat up but holds heat well. They also distribute heat slowly and evenly. I use these in the stove, on the stove, in my grill…pretty much anywhere. The downside; they are very sensitive, stain easily and get rusted and rough over time. A good set will be enamel coated, so that this is not an issue. If you opt to go with a non-coated set, you will need to season your cast iron pots and pans. For non-coated cast iron, when you see food sticking to the pot or pan; or your pan is turning gray you may need to season your pan. It’s pretty easy. Put aluminum wrap on the bottom rack of your oven to catch drips. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Wash your pot or pan with soapy water and a brush Rinse the pan and dry it thoroughly.  Apply melted vegetable solid shortening to the pot or pan (inside and out). put your pot or pan in the oven upside down. Bake it for an hour, turn the oven off and let the pot cool in the oven. For regular care of a non-coated cast iron pot or pan, start by letting your pot cool before washing. Under no circumstances are you to plop these in cold water while they are hot. Do not use soap or harsh detergents on these. If food is stuck to the bottom, add water to the pot or pan and let the water boil. This should loosen the food that is stuck. Always dry your cast iron immediately after cleaning to prevent rust. For your enameled cast iron, even if they are “dishwasher safe” just take the time and give them some love.  Wash them in warm soapy water after they have cooled. If food has stuck on your cast iron, let the pot cool, fill it with warm soapy water and let it sit for 20 minutes to a half hour. Use a nylon scrubbing pad to clean stubborn gunk. Dry your enamel cast iron thoroughly with paper towels immediately after washing. I have found that Bon Ami will clean your enameled cast iron without harming them.

I have a combination of copper core (All-Clad), non-stick and enameled cast iron (Le Creuset). When cooking making the investment is so worth the money. Your starter set of All-Clad will cost you about $900. Sounds prohibitive, but it is a one-time buy that will last you your entire life with proper care. Get started with a few pieces and build your collection slowly. I could not live without my dutch oven. Start with a 7 ¼enameled cast iron quart dutch oven and you will never mess up a roasted chicken again, also grab a nice cast iron frying pan. If you go with the less popular colors, you can get a nice deal on the Le Creuset Brand. Lodge is another option (that I have no experience with) but most cooks rave about. Seriously, buy them used or purchase using coupons if you have to, but get the right equipment, your tongue and tummy  will thank you.

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Blanca Valbuena
I am one of the co-founders of FriendsEAT. Obviously, I love to eat. Other passions include A Song of Ice and Fire, Shakespeare, Dostoyevski, and Aldous Huxley.
Blanca Valbuena
Blanca Valbuena

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