The right cookware greatly enhances the results and pleasure of cooking. Buy good quality pots and pans for what you need now—you can always add more to your collection later. When choosing cookware, keep in mind the following:

  • Type and thickness (gauge) of the material used
  • Care and maintenance
  • Cooking function

Cookware Materials

Aluminum: The least expensive cookware, it tends to be lightweight and thin, which means that it will warp easily, heat unevenly and perhaps scorch food. Untreated aluminum is reactive which can affect the taste and color of acidic foods, such as tomato- or citrus-based foods. Some turn black if placed in the dishwasher.

Anodized aluminum: Treated to be nonreactive, it is usually stronger and heavier weight than regular aluminum. The anodizing process hardens the surface which makes it scratch-and stick-resistant. Anodized aluminum cookware typically needs to be washed by hand.

Nonstick: A nonstick coating can be applied to any metal, but is usually applied to aluminum. Nonstick pans allow you to cook without using a lot of oil or butter. To protect the surface, use plastic, rubber or wooden utensils when cooking and use a towel liner if stacking pans for storing. If surface gets scratched, discard immediately to prevent any unsafe chemicals from getting into your food. Should be washed by hand.

Cast iron: This heavy cookware heats slowly, reacts to acidic foods, and rusts easily. Recommended only if you have a special dish that you like to cook in this type of pan.

Enameled cast iron: With the same characteristics as cast iron, it is treated to be nonreactive. Its glass-like surface protects the metal from rust. This cookware is recommended for long, slow braising or simmering. It is versatile as it goes from the stove top to the oven and, because it retains heat longer, it is great to serve in. Should be washed by hand.

Copper: Heats quickly and evenly and also cools quickly, making it ideal for cooking delicate sauces. Most copper pans are lined with stainless steel because of the adverse reaction between copper and acidic foods. Copper is expensive and requires a lot of maintenance. It must be hand-washed and needs regular polishing to retain a shiny appearance, since it tarnishes easily.

Stainless steel: This high-quality cookware typically has a copper or aluminum core which enhances heat conductivity. Heavyweight, it resists denting and scratching. While it is dishwasher-safe, it is best to wash by hand.

Function of Cookware

There are many options for purchasing cookware sets that include an assortment of pieces. The following will provide a guideline to the function of the different types of pots and pans.

Sauce pan: Straight-sided with a handle and usually a cover; sizes range from 2-cups to 4-quarts. The following sizes are recommended:

  • 2-3 quart size for cooking oatmeal, and reheating soups and pasta sauces
  • 4-quart size for making soup and cooking 1-2 servings of pasta
  • Choose a size that will also accommodate a small vegetable steamer basket

Stockpot: Straight-sided with two handles and usually a cover; sizes range from 6-quarts on up. Use to make soup, chili, stew and boiling larger amounts of pasta. Recommend 8-quart size.

Sauté pan or skillet: Straight sided pans are used to cook meats, fish and vegetables, as well as make sauces or to stir-fry. Slope-sided pans are preferable for omelets and fried eggs as it is easier to flip them or remove them from the pan. The following sizes are recommended:

  • 6 and 9-inch slope-sided pan for omelets and eggs
  • 10-inch straight sided pan

Grill pan: The raised ridges add grill marks and allow grease to drip below the food as it cooks. Useful to grill meats, fish and vegetables on the stove top year-round. Available in many sizes and shapes (round and square). Not essential.

Dutch oven: Named for the superior craftsmanship of this vessel made by the Dutch, this was a mainstay cooking vessel in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today it is typically used for slow cooking dishes in the oven. A 6-quart size is recommended.

Roasting pan: Used for roasting turkey, chicken and meats, it usually comes with a rack. Not essential.

Wok: A deep, round-bottomed pan used to stir-fry meats and vegetables. Not essential.

Double boiler: Used to melt chocolate and prepare delicate sauces, one pan sets on top of the bottom pan which holds simmering water. Not essential.