There’s a lot more than looks to think about when kitting out your kitchen with a fresh set of cookware.
Some materials distribute heat more evenly than others, for example. Others are more prone to accumulating dents and scratches over time.
To help you work out which is the best type of cookware for you, I’ve put together a guide outlining all the differences between the most common materials in use today.
I’ve also included some tips at the end to help you choose the right set for your own kitchen needs.
(Want to learn more about cookware? Take a look through my archive for more guides and reviews.)
First up, let’s run through five of the most popular materials used for cookware.
As a nonreactive material, stainless steel is a great option if you’re looking for an all-round cookware set.
Stainless steel cookware tends to be relatively inexpensive as well, and quite easy to care for.
Many of these pots and pans can be put through the dishwasher, although you should check the manufacturer’s listing for your own set first.
The flip side of this convenience? You’ll find that heat is distributed more unevenly, although this can be improved by purchasing more expensive sets that feature a copper or aluminum core.
Both of these materials will go a long way towards improving the overall conductivity of this kind of cookware.
If you want to achieve perfect heat distribution, then a copper cookware set will be worth considering.
It’s important to be aware, however, that copper reacts negatively with alkaline or acidic foods. The end result may be a dish with a distinctly metallic after-taste.
Copper cookware sets tend to be quite expensive as well, and you’ll need to spend a fair bit of time maintaining the finish of the pots and pans.
As with the stainless steel option mentioned above, there is a sort of hybrid option that you might consider instead.
Some copper cookware sets also include a stainless steel lining. This prevents the pan from reacting with your food, while you still gain the benefit of very even heat distribution.
Aluminum cookware is very popular for those looking for a light and relatively inexpensive option.
It conducts heat extremely well, although like the copper sets mentioned above you will have reaction problems with very acidic or alkaline foods.
Aluminum is also a comparatively soft material, and it won’t take long at all to build up a collection of unsightly scratches.
You can avoid this problem though by investing in a set made from anodized aluminum. As you can probably imagine, this will prove more expensive.
You’ll also find that the cookware takes a little longer to heat up if it’s been treated in this way.
Cast iron continues to be a popular option for people who want a set that really has that rustic kitchen feel.
It’s also reasonably inexpensive, and has a natural non-stick surface (although you’ll need to re-season it occasionally).
Again though, these pans don’t work very well with acidic foods, and they also take longer than others to reach their optimum cooking temperature.
You can eliminate these drawbacks by researching cast iron sets that have been treated with porcelain enamel. As always though, you’ll pay a little more for these benefits!
How to buy the right cookware set
Once you’ve settled on your preferred material, it’s time to think about what you’ll actually need from a new cookware set.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
If you’re planning on cooking up a lot of sauces, avoid using untreated copper or aluminum cookware.
As mentioned earlier on in this guide, this material does not play nicely with acidic ingredients.
If you’re sauteeing food, you’ll need a pain that transmits heat quickly, while braised foods are best cooked in pans that sustain the heat well over a period of time.
Number of pieces
Consider what you’re likely to actually use, as each set can include a huge number of items. If you’re not going to use any of them – now or in the future – it’s not worth spending money on.
This is especially important if you choose an “upgraded” version of the materials mentioned in this guide, and need to make your money go further.
Oven-safe, but how safe?
If a cookware set is described as oven-safe, that’s great news. Being able to move the same pan from the stove directly to the oven has obvious benefits.
The thing is though, not all sets can withstand the same high temperatures. Check the box carefully, and make sure the maximum operating temperature is going to work for what you have in mind!
Don’t discount the usefulness of a glass lid on your cookware items either.
If you’re cooking something that should remain covered, it’s very useful to be able to take a peek at how things are going, and without letting any steam out.
Certain cookware sets are pre-treated with a special non-stick surface. This makes each item easier to clean, and means you can cook with very little oil as well.
If you buy a non-stick set avoid using any metal utensils on the pots and pans, otherwise you risk scratching the surface.
Instead, opt for silicon or wood utensils that are designed to be used at high temperatures.
Don’t stack your non-stick items directly on top of one another either! Again, you risk damaging that all-important surface coating.