General Cookware Product Guide
For thousands of years cooking has been a major part of human civilization. Pots and pans have evolved quite a bit over the years and there's now a wide variety to choose from. Whether you cook out of necessity or for culinary art, using the right pot or pan can play a significant role in the speed and quality of the results.
Since the 1960's, the public has become very interested in creating more exotic or professional-type of cooking. This enthusiasm has been fueled by many popular cooking shows appearing on TV, particularly the Food Channel. Some chefs enjoy comparable celebrity status as movie actors. Cookbooks have been steadily gaining popularity, including those associated with certain diet and health concerns. Though statistic sources are a little vague, cookbook sales rose from 25 million books a year (1990) to over 200 million books a year (2000). Interest in taking cooking classes has risen as well. All that aside, in order to cook food, you need pots and pans. J&R has quite a large variety of cookware and we've prepared this guide to help you decide about which is best for you.
Pots and pans are available in many varieties and price ranges. Which is best for you? What are you looking for? Is price a factor? Is maintenance an issue? Is ease of cleaning important? There are lots of things to consider when choosing the pot that's the best value for your needs. Here are some important things to think about:
How much can you afford to spend on the pots and pans? You should purchase the best quality that you can afford. Over the long term, you want something that serves you best and many quality pots can last many years. Replacing cheap cookware many times can be far more costly
Do you tend to eat at home or do you, for the most part, eat out or order prepared food for delivery?
How much will you be cooking? Do you like to prepare foods from scratch or follow recipes? Do you mostly warm pre-cooked or convenience foods?
Do you plan to prepare meats, fish, soup, noodles, and fried foods? Will you be baking or preparing roasts?
Will you be cooking for 1 person, 2 people or several people on a regular basis? Choosing the size that meets your needs increases efficiency and helps reduce waste. If you heat a 20-ounce can of prepared soup, you'd likely find it best if you used a 1-quart saucepan. You might also use a 2-quart saucepan, but a larger size would seem absurd. In the same sense, if you're preparing a soup or stew from scratch, you'd need ample room for your ingredients. A 4-quart saucepan or 8-quart pot may be more suitable.
How much effort does it take to clean and maintain this cookware? Do they require special cleaning? Are they dishwasher safe?
Most pots and pans are made from metallic or glass/ceramic materials. Some metals may be inappropriate for use with certain foods because of certain chemical reactions. Will this pot be complementary to your favorite foods?
Once you've mulled these over, you should be aware that many different materials are used to make cookware.
You'll find stainless steel, aluminum, copper, cast iron, ceramic, tempered glass, enamel coated among others. How similar or different are they? Which will best fit your needs?
Cookware made from aluminum is relatively inexpensive when compared to cookware made of other materials. It's lightweight but fairly strong. It is a good conductor of heat and does not easily distort when exposed to high temperatures. It's very good for frying foods because if its heat responsiveness. The drawback of aluminum is that it reacts to acidic and alkaline foods, causing it to corrode and affect the taste of the food being cooked. Aluminum is generally used as a core heat conductor, or coated with stainless steel or an anodized coating to protect the food.
A special coating has been added to the aluminum to help make it reduce effects that regular aluminum might have on certain foods. Anodizing is one of the oldest and most reliable ways of protecting aluminum. Aluminum is a good conductor of heat and the special finish makes it stick-resistant. It is a good choice of material to look for in pots and pans for most any type of cooking. Pots and pans made from anodized aluminum are not dishwasher safe and can be dark in color, making it hard to see slight color changes in the food being cooked. Also, when washing by hand, it's generally advised not to use corrosive detergents or scrubbing tools as that will likely damage the anodized finish.
Stainless steel cookware is very popular because of its moderate price and its versatility. It will, over time, retain a bright shine, has good tensile strength, and is easy to maintain. Stainless steel is a good material for any type of pan because it does not corrode and does not react with alkaline or acidic materials. Unless it has a non-stick coating (and many do not), burned or overcooked foods may stick to its surface. It is easy to clean. Harder than aluminum, it can withstand more detergents and scrubbing, though many manufacturers advise not to scrub too frequently. The drawback here is that stainless steel doesn't distribute heat evenly across a surface so foods may take longer to heat or require more mixing or stirring during the cooking process. Some stainless steel cookwares add other metals into its core, creating multiple layers. Adding aluminum or copper bottom helps distribute heat more effectively.
As certain metals vary among heat conductivity and reactions with foods, some cookware is made of two or more layers of different metals. The combination is designed to offer faster and tastier results.
Perhaps the oldest form of cookware material, cast iron cookware is relatively inexpensive. It is fairly heavy and conducts heat evenly. It heats slowly but once it is hot it holds the heat well. This makes it good for deep frying and slow-cooking. It can be used on top of the stove and in the oven. Drawbacks to cast iron are that it rusts, stains and becomes pitted when exposed to air, moisture and certain foods. Some find cast iron pots to be too heavy to handle comfortably. Also, these pots and pans may need their cooking surfaces primed with oil prior to first use. It does not have a non-stick surface. Some cast iron cookware use a baked enamel coating that reduces stick and allows for easier cleaning than ordinary cast iron surfaces.
Copper is one of the more expensive materials used to make pots and pans. Copper is an excellent conductor. That's why it's often used in making electric wires. As such, It conducts heat evenly, heats up quickly and cools quickly when removed from the heat. This makes copper an ideal metal for cooking. Unfortunately, there are some problems to contend with. Copper interacts with everything it comes in contact with - storing in humid places may result in a formation of film on it that may be toxic; salty food reacts with copper in a way that the food may attain a metallic taste. It needs to be cleaned regularly but because it has a negative effect with water, regular washing isn't advise. Manufacturers advise using copper polish. This can be a rather tedious process. To aid heating properties of certain cookware, copper is sometimes added to the bottom of the pot or pan.
Tempered Glass or Ceramic
Used as stovetop cookware or bake ware, these surfaces are fairly resistant to sticking from food. Their operable temperature range may not be as high as metals and their heating properties vary. They can be relatively inexpensive and very easy to maintain. They generally are neutral and do not react to foods in a way that might alter flavor. They may, however, be prone to breakage. Most glass and ceramic cookware can be used in both regular and microwave ovens. This offers greater flexibility as metal pans should not be used in a microwave oven.
Non-stick / Protective Surfaces are used, when possible, to help make cooking and cleaning easier. Virtually all metallic pots and pans may be coated with a non-stick or other protective surface. Some materials are anodized with a thin surface that's baked on at very high temperatures for extreme integrity. Enamel coatings are used more for protective than non-stick properties; it helps eliminate corrosion and metallic reactions with food. Enamel, however, may reduce sticking of certain foods but is not really considered to be a non-stick surface. Other non-stick coatings are made from synthetic materials, such as Teflon. These surfaces are excellent for frying or grilling foods. The fundamental thing to realize is that these non-stick surfaces are coatings. They have little influence over the cooking efficiency of the pot material. While these surfaces are very durable, they are subject to wear away. Manufacturers usually advise not to use abrasive detergents or scrubbing products.
Types of Cookware
Please help me identify what each type of pot does?
Usually a round pan with an elongated handle, saucepans may be sold with or without a lid. Considered by many as the standard pot, it comes in sizes ranging from 1 to 3 quarts. Though the name precludes it to be designed for preparing sauces, it is used for cooking fruits, vegetables, soups, and stews. For a household of 1 or 2 people, a set of 2 or 3 saucepans might cover about 80% of cooking needs.
Frying Pan / Skillet
Frying Pan and Skillet are the same type of pot. Some people may refer to it as a Sauté Pan. A frying pan has a flat bottom with short sides that are flared or sloped, which makes it easier to toss and turn food with a spatula. Sizes range from 6 inches to about 14 inches in diameter, about 2 to 4 inches high. They usually have an elongated handle. The pan should be made of heavyweight material that is responsive to heat, such as lined copper, stainless steel with a copper or aluminum core, anodized aluminum or cast iron. Frying pans may be sold with or without a lid. This pan is good for frying meats, fish, and vegetables. Many people also use it for preparing scrambled eggs and omelettes. Many frying pans are available with non-stick surfaces.
A deep, straight-sided pot that tends to be taller than it is wide. It has two attached, loop handles that are big enough to easily allow the use of potholders or oven mitts. It is used for simmering a large amount of liquid, such as stock, soup and stews, but also works well for thick soups, chili and for boiling pasta. Food quantity is the issue here. Stockpots range from 8 quarts and more. The most popular sizes are 10, 12, and 14 quarts. A lid is usually included.
A double boiler consists of two pans where one sits inside of the other. The bottom pan is slightly larger so the top pan can fit inside. The bottom pan contains hot water and the top pan holds the ingredients that are being cooked. They usually have attached loop handles. This pot is useful for steaming vegetables, meats, and fish. Sometimes it's also used for melting chocolate.
Roasting / Baking Pan
A rectangular shaped pan with low sides, which allows the heat from the oven to expose the entire surface. They range in sizes for different purposes. A roasting pan usually adds a rack for mounting meat. 9x13 or 9x15 inch pans are very popular, though you'll also find various cake, muffin, loaf, and flat cookie pans. Most have a non-stick surface suitable for oven use.
This is a usually flat pan that has moderately sized ridges spaced evenly across the bottom that closely resemble an outdoor grill surface. They can be used like a frying pan for grilling meats, fish, and vegetables. The ridges raise the food off the bottom surface of the pan, which helps prevent the food from steaming as it cooks. The ridges also serve as a method for allowing the fat contained in some foods to drain away from the food and collect in the spaces between the raised ridges. Many materials are used for making stovetop grill pans but those made of cast iron are considered the best because it retains heat more consistently. Typical grill sizes might be from 12 inches square to 12 x 24 inches. Depending on size or manufacturer, it can have elongated or loop handles.
A Dutch Oven is usually a round or oval, heavyweight pot with a domed cover that is placed in an oven or on the stovetop. It is basically what it says it is. It can create an oven environment on the stovetop or be used as an oven within your oven. It's used for pot-roasting, stewing, braising, boiling pasta and making soup. Its capacity is usually measured in Quarts and run from about 2 to 8 quarts in size.
Typically functions like a roasting pan but, like a dutch oven, is measured in quart capacities. Depending on the material it is made from, it may be used on the stovetop but is generally used in the oven. It is used for cooking one-dish meals such as Lasagna, Noodle Pudding, and others. Unlike roasting pans, a casserole is usually round or oval shaped. It is available with a lid and is often sized by quart capacity.
The Wok is a large pan used in many Chinese restaurants for preparing foods. Its use in the United States has increased since 1980. A wok for home use may range from about 12 to 16 inches in diameter, with a depth of 4 to 6 inches. It has become popular for preparing a variety of stir-fry foods using a wide variety of ingredients. There are two different types of Wok designs for use at home. A traditional type wok (seen in many Chinese restaurants) has a rounded bottom and is used over a flamed heat source, such as a gas burner. The round bottom wok usually has a base to keep it steady on the stovetop surface. The flat bottom wok was designed to use on an electric burner or a ceramic stovetop but can also be used on a gas stove. It's excellent for preparing large quantities of food at relatively fast speed.
Is it better to buy cookware as a set or as individual pieces?
This is a personal decision. This is where your budget, lifestyle, and cooking habits really come in to consideration. There may be reduced pricing when buying the pieces in a set over buying them separately but you should contemplate whether all the pieces in the set are pots and pans that you will use. Sets usually consist of 1 or 2 saucepans, a frying pan, and a stockpot, with accompanying lids. Some people like to buy sets especially if they plan to hang pots and pans on a rack instead of placing them in cabinets. In this case, aesthetics may be an issue.
Though they seem like simple objects, there is much to consider when buying cookware. A pot and a pan is an investment that should suit your budget and lifestyle. Though many people replace cookware over time, knowing the different styles and materials used to make them is very valuable. A key concern is the ease of maintaining and cleaning a pot. We've addressed these questions here and hope we've given you some guidelines to make your choice easier.
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