Choosing Pots And Pans
So your housemate has moved out and taken the pans that you used to use with him because he's an idiot, or you're fed up of your cheap budget pots and pans that never seem to cook properly and are your sole excuse for your bad cooking.
You're in the market for new pots and pans, but you don't have a clue which is which, what is better than what, which brands to go for, where to get them. Well, ok. There are a heap of different pan material types. More often then not, you'll get them in a set which'd usually compromise of a bunch of pans and a milk pan or some other shit like that.
But all this stuff about Anodized Aluminium and Clad Copper is making things 10 times worse.
WELL! Off we go to be gay at Pan Materials Land!
Okay, with pans, you generally tend to have metallic pans and metallic composite pans. The metallic ones, are ones which are purely made out of metal (usually the handles can be made out of plastic), whereas the others are composite or coated.
The ones you'll most likely come across will be:
- Cast Iron
- Stainless Steel
- Carbon Steel
- All Clad
So, without further ado, lets get explaining what these are~
These usually tend to be the cheapest. They have good heat conductivity, and don't rust or corrode easily.
Usually with aluminium pans, you're looking for anodized aluminium. This is because aluminium that is not anodized can react with acidic or alkaline foods, tarnishing the taste. With anodized aluminium pans, there is an oxide layer which prevents this from happening. The only bad thing is that this coating is pretty sensitive, so be careful when washing it. You should gently handwash it as opposed to throwing it in the dishwasher.
These tend to be my favourite. These pans are, as the name implies, made out of stainless steel. Stainless steel doesn't react with foods and doesn't rust, and you can go at it with the scouring pad all you like. Stainless-steel pans are also very good at creating a fond (caramelized bits at the bottom) while cooking, making them ideal for making pan sauces. You may get the occasional thing burnt on the bottom, but that's nothing a quick soak and a go at it with the scouring pad won't solve.
The only drawback to these is that stainless steel tends to have a bad heat conducitivity. However, stainless steel pans often have a disc of a more conductive metal, i.e. copper or aluminium on the bottom. The best ones to go for are stainless steel pans with thick and encapsulated bases. A thicker base means it will conduct and hold heat better, and an encapsulated base is built into the actual base of the pan, thus providing better heat as opposed to just being stuck on the bottom like with most budget stainless steel pans.
Stainless steel pans are the most common in restaurants, due to their versatility, durability, price, and light weight.
Multi-ply pans go beyond stainless-steel pans with an encapsulated base. They have a copper or aluminum core completely surrounded with stainless steel and reaching along all sides of the pan, so you get some of the pluses of copper or aluminium, but with the ease and non-reactivity of stainless steel.
A well-known brand is All-Clad. You may see these as "clad aluminium" or "clad copper" pans.
Copper pans behave much like stainless-steel pans, but have the best heat conductivity and even heating, allowing them to heat faster on lower flames. They are usually coated with tin or steel to stop them reacting with foods; however, this coating will wear off with use, requiring retinning.
They are the most expensive type of pan, and will also cost you in upkeep due to the need for retinning.
Due to their cost, copper pans are usually found only in high-end restaurants.
These are those heavy pans you've most likely seen and picked up and gone "jeez these are heavy" and swung about and then knocked everything over and got sent out of the shop. Due to their heavy weight, they take a while to warm up, once they're warm, they hold the heat very well. Due to their even heat distribution, they are good for frying, and searing, or other high-heat cooking methods.
Cast iron pans are seasoned with oil or fat before use. This creates an extremely non-stick cooking surface. However, if not stored or seasoned properly, they tend to rust, corrode, tarnish, become damaged etc. quite easily and can be a bitch to clean. If necessary, it can be cleaned with paper towels and salt, and then given a light coat of oil; washing with soap will remove the seasoning. Cooking fatty foods such as bacon will help season and maintain your cast iron. Eventually you'll build up that wonderful layer of burnt oil and carbon that is better than any artificial non-stick surface.
They tend to be around the cheap level of aluminium pans, but a bit more expensive. However, cast iron pans have a very long lifespan, and you may be able to get one cheaply from a thrift store or a family member. Pans that are rusted or dirty can be scoured with steel wool, then thoroughly washed with soap and water to bring the pan to its original, unseasoned state.
Carbon steel tends to have high strength and heat resistance, and is often used for high heating. They do not have even heat distribution or good heat retention, which is why paella pans and Chinese woks are often made of carbon steel; this allows rapid heating and cooling in localized areas.
Carbon steel pans also need regular seasoning. They are cheaper than most other types of cookware, but may not be versatile enough for general use.
You'll have seen these in the shops, the ones with the special teflon coating. The non-stick surface makes cooking and cleaning easy, and theoretically, it also allows you to use a smaller amount of oil.
The quality of non-stick pans varies with price, but all non-stick pans have a number of limitations. The non-stick coating will degrade with use, and metal utensils can mar the surface - if you get something burnt on them, you can't even consider using the rough end of a scouring pad on them or you will fuck them up something chronic. They are also not suited to high-heat cooking. Leaving the pan over a flame empty will eventually cause it to break down and release fumes. At normal kitchen temperatures, these fumes have little effect on humans, but can be fatal to pet birds.
Cheap brands of non-stick cookware are much more likely to suffer from these shortcomings, so invest in a good-quality one.
Personally, you're probably not out for spending masses, but if I must reccommend a decent all-rounder as far as pan materials go, I personally go for Stainless Steel. Good for all-round cooking, cleans well, doesn't screw with the food and isn't as massively expensive. Make sure you go for a decent quality set though, with a decent thick bottom, usually encapsulated. I personally have a set of Judge pans (with a Mayer skillet) which I managed to get from ebay (for £2.99 not including shipping, bwa ha ha ha ha) and they work pretty damn decent on my house's shitty oven.
Types of pots and pans
A basic cookware set consists of at least one frying pan, one saucepan, and one stock pot. It is advisable to buy cookware separately rather than in large sets, which may come with things you don't need or like.
Frying pans are the absolute most essential piece of cookware. A 10" or 12" model is good for general use, while an 8" model is convenient for frying eggs. Pans with sloping sides are easier to remove food from.
- Sauté pans are wider and have vertical sides to hold more food. Obviously, they are useful for sautéing.
- Griddles have flat surfaces and short sides. They are useful for things like pancakes, tortillas, and crêpes. Large griddles are available that occupy two stovetop burners at once.
- Grill pans have ridges in the bottom that help carry fat away and simulate cooking on a grill.
Pans and Pots
Saucepans and pots are used for simmering and boiling liquids. They are usually available in sizes between 1-8 quarts.
- Sauciers have rounded sides that allow rapid evaporation and easy access with a whisk, making them ideal for making sauces.
- Stock pots refer to large pots (upwards of 8 quarts), used to make large quantities of stocks and soups.
- Dutch ovens, casseroles, and roasting pans are useful for cooking both on a stovetop and in an oven.