Whether you need to stock a new kitchen or just want to upgrade some of your old, scratched pieces, it’s a good idea to do your research first. The following is an excerpt from Consumer Reports Online.
Consider your cooktop
Flat-bottomed pans are essential for a smoothtop range. (Nearly every set out there is flat-bottomed, but double-check with a straight edge.) If you have an induction cooktop, magnetic stainless steel is your best bet (bring along a magnet: if it sticks to the bottom, it’ll work with an induction cooktop).
Choose your pieces
You’ll want an assortment of skillets and pots, a stockpot, and lids. Manufacturers count a lid as a piece, and it might fit more than one piece of cookware in the set. Don’t overbuy. A set that contains more pieces might not be the smartest choice if you use only a few pieces and the rest gather dust in your cabinet.
Pick it up
You might be tempted to buy online, but it’s essential to handle the cookware at a retailer. See how it feels in your hand. If it’s heavy, think how much heavier it will feel when it’s full of food. Is the handle easy to grasp, and is the pot or pan well-balanced overall? Check that handle attachments are tight and sturdy. Read the packaging to see if the cookware can be cleaned in a dishwasher.
Learn the lingo
You’ll see pre-seasoned on labels of cast iron cookware. It usually means a wax-based coating has been applied to prevent rust while the pans are in the warehouse or on store shelves, according to the Cookware Manufacturers Association, a trade group. But some pans may actually be pre-seasoned so they can be used right away. If not, look for the manufacturer’s instructions.
Hard-coat anodized is a fancy way of saying the soft surface of nearly pure aluminum has been changed to a hard surface. It has nothing to do with the nonstick coating. And all the chatter about clad–ultra, classic–typically means the pot is made of separate pieces of metal that were fused together. So while the outer and inner sides of the pan are stainless, the inside layer is aluminum or copper, or another material more conductive or magnetic. Clad can also mean a material was added to the bottom of a stainless-steel pan, enhancing heat transfer.
If the box says the cookware is oven safe, be sure to check the handles. Metal, not plastic, are the only truly safe handles for oven use.
Most cookware sets are made of either nonstick or uncoated materials, and the main product types (material products are made of) are aluminum, stainless steel and hard anodized. Some types of cookware are also made of cast iron and copper.
These are best for simple cleanup. They need less oil for cooking, which eliminates some fat from your diet. But they’re more easily scratched than uncoated cookware, so avoid using metal utensils. Also, food doesn’t brown as well in a nonstick pan.
This is your best choice if you do a lot of browning and braising. But this type of cookware is much tougher to clean. If you choose uncoated, you might still want a nonstick pan or two, and vice versa.
This is probably impractical for everyday cooking, but you might want a piece or two, such as a Dutch oven, which keeps food warm for a long time. But frying pans in this material that we tested cooked very unevenly. And because cast iron is uncoated, it takes extra elbow grease to clean.
A new development in nonstick cookware has been the introduction of a number of new “green” products from a number of brands, including Cuisinart, ScanPan, and Swiss Diamond. Some green claims are that the pans are made using more energy-efficient techniques that reduce carbon emissions and that the nonstick coatings are made without the use of petroleum.
These are the metals most commonly used in cookware, and their properties:
- Aluminum: Conducts heat quickly and evenly, and is sensitive to temperature changes, so it cools nearly as quickly as it heats. Aluminum is also lightweight and durable, but it can adversely react with acidic or alkaline foods so it’s often coated with another material, such as stainless steel or nonstick finish.
- Anodized Aluminum: An electrochemical process makes aluminum nonreactive and resistant to scratches. It also gives the cooking surface nonstick properties. The anodization process also seals in the aluminum so that it is less likely to corrode into food.
- Cast-Iron: Produces heavy, thick, durable pans that are slow to heat but are excellent at retaining and distributing heat. Regular cast iron, or enamel-coated cast iron, are good for deep frying and dishes requiring long cooking periods like braises or stews.
- Copper: Excellent at conducting, distributing and retaining heat, but copper tarnishes and dents easily. Because it is an expensive metal, it’s often used in combination with other metals, such as in only the base or a pan or in a thin layer in the construction.
- Stainless Steel: Durable, non-porous, nonreactive and resistant to rust, corrosion and pitting. Because stainless steel is not very conductive, it is often combined with other metals, such as copper or aluminum.
Information from About.com.
What is Green Cookware?
According to an article on Fox News,
Americans love non-stick because it’s a cinch to clean and requires little or no cooking oil or fat, but they don’t love harmful chemicals, so manufacturers came up with a solution – or several.
Stephanie Beck, Senior Sales Director of Meyer Corporation, the largest manufacturer of cookware in the US, says their EarthPan is a direct response to consumer concerns. Meyer’s proprietary sand-based, non-stick PFOA- and PTFE-free coating is called SandFlow. It earned the EarthPan a top ranking from “Consumer Reports” in food-release, hardness (the resistance to wear and tear) and durability.
Of course, Consumer Reports also heated up both new and used cookware made with PFOA, collected air samples and found very little PFOA in them. Beck says that consumers don’t realize that PFOA is removed when the pots and pans are being made, “like the alcohol in Bananas Foster is all burned-off before you eat it,” she explains. “Research showed that consumers didn’t make that distinction, so we listened.” The EarthPan is a fantastic product, ranked number one, she says, but like many green pieces of cookware it doesn’t hold up to the durability of Meyer’s popular Circulon line of non-stick pans. “The best green product is not going to be up to the performance of our higher-end non-stick cookware.” Consumers must have realistic expectations, advises Beck.
The most important detail to remember (environmentally-speaking) is that if you don’t need cookware, don’t buy it just because some new product has come out. After all, using what you’ve got is usually the most eco-way to go.
How Do I Decide?
If you need a new cookware set, how do you choose? The best way that I’ve found to prepare for any significant purchase it to start on Amazon. Start with a general category search for cookware sets on Amazon.
The thing I love the most about shopping on Amazon is the user reviews and ratings. You get to hear from a lot of people that actually purchased the item and have used it.
Another great way to make a decision is to check out Consumer Reports. You need to be a member to see the ratings, but that’s something that I’m willing to pay for. Here is an example page:
I was looking to replace all of my cookware so that I could hand the old stuff down to my college-aged daughter. This was done as part of the Kitchen Organization article, #16 in the Organized Life Series.