Carry a magnifying glass to read manufacturer’s names and metal content which may or may not be on all used and vintage cookware. You probably have no recourse for returns or refunds in flea markets, thrift shops, estate sales or charity bazaars. Selections may be limited, prices erratic, and other information, a ‘guesstimate’ of the seller…..but just maybe, you’ll find a treasure.
How old is the cookware? Be guarded about used cookware, especially if you don’t know the former owner. If you find scratched non-stick linings, warping, dented edges so lids don’t fit properly, loose handles and chipped enamel—–pass.
But, if you find a wonderful but ‘beat-up’ copper pot or kettle and fill it with flowers in your fireplace—or use it as a wine or beer cooler, none of the above matters. But if you want to use the same copper kettle for cooking, all of this matters, very much!
Did you get an honest answer about the age of the cookware?
With the exception of 1950’s-60’s stainless steel pans with a thin cladding of copper on the bottom (that does not diffuse heat very well), age of used cookware is hard to judge. Component materials and condition of the cookware is more significant.
Can you identify the metal or metals used to make the cookware?
It’s difficult to verify the metal or alloy of some older cookware. If you can’t identify the metal, be wary of using it for food. If the brand name is known, contact the manufacturer — if they’re still in business.
How long does cookware last?
Good cookware can survive several generations. Inferior cookware won’t last one generation.
Country of origin:
Many nations have long produced quality cookware to showcase native dishes, e.g. fondue pots from Switzerland, paella pans from Spain and stir-fry pots from Pacific Rim nations. As a retail buyer, a lot of the cookware I carried was imported. If cookware made in developed countries is in good condition, it’s probably okay for cooking.
Handles, lids & edges:
Dented edges keep lids from fitting tightly; steam must be kept inside the pan in order to develop succulent juices. Handles must be firmly riveted through the pan, and must not wiggle. Interior rivets must be smooth so food can’t cling, making the pan difficult to wash.
CAVEAT EMPTOR: Sellers of used goods love to ‘make up’ stories about products.
SELECT CLASSIFICATIONS OF COOKWARE YOU NEED:
SELECT THE BEST FABRICATION FOR EACH
1. IDENTIFY RAW MATERIALS: Copper, aluminum, stainless steel, tin, cast iron, stoneware, porcelain, terra cotta and borosilicate cook and bakeware each have benefits and drawbacks such as reactions to foods and/or stove-top or oven heat. Some of these materials are more reactive than others. Pan weight contributes to success; expert chefs recommend pans as heavy as you can handle.
Sandwiched plies of metal and heavy gauge metals have the added benefit of not warping. Decide which materials are best for the foods you cook and select the pots, pans, casseroles and other functional shapes and sizes you need.
2. PRODUCTION METHODS: Globally, cookware is mass-produced and with little exception, production is both labor and capital intensive. Production photographs not only illustrate how diverse shapes are formed; they support the necessary labor and capital manufacturing costs borne by the retail prices of good quality cook wares.
Carefully examine each product: e.g. lids must fit tightly, handles must be securely riveted, the weight or multi-ply construction must be sufficiently heavy so the pan will not warp.
3. FINALLY: Consider each of the following technical elements to assess if standards of production quality are well executed.
MATERIALS: metal, clay, glass:
Just because cookware looks good when new—doesn’t mean it is good. Be sure the generic name of each metal or clay or glass content is properly labeled. Benefits and drawbacks are discussed in my previous cookware post: THE RAW MATERIALS OF COOKWARE.
Avoid manufacturer’s ‘set-enticements’ to save money because cookware sets usually do not result in the best pan for each cooking task. You may end up with shapes and sizes you don’t need.
Handles must feel balanced and be securely bolted or riveted through the wall of the pan. Look inside to determine if the rivets are well soldered and smooth to avoid clinging food. Handles made of a different metal than the pan slow down the transfer of heat and provide a natural heat breaker although pot holders may still be necessary.
Handle lengths vary with the size and function of the pan but must be easy for you to maneuver. Some handles are made of materials that can be placed in the oven. Wood or plastic handles provide heat-breaking properties but cannot be placed in the oven.
Lids must fit tightly to allow succulent juices to constantly rise to the lid and drain back over the food to maximize flavor. Be sure you can lift the lid handle easily to direct it away to avoid steam. Some cookware brands have tempered glass lids; using them is like looking through the glass window of an oven.
Sizes and Shapes:
Pans sizes and shapes vary greatly. Buy what you need, considering the foods and recipes you most often prepare —as well as the number of people for whom you usually cook.
There is a relationship of metal gauge-to-weight-to-performance. Expert chefs recommend using pans as heavy as you can comfortably handle. Pans must be balanced so they won’t tip.
Light weight pans (a thin gauge or single ply of aluminum or stainless steel) easily warp or bulge in the center, leaving liquids or oil around the edge. Sandwiched plies of metal or heavy gauge metals usually do not warp.
I selected hand-hammered copper pans for my mother
but they were too heavy for her to lift, so I bought lighter,
but sufficiently heavy gauge, copper pans with tin linings.
They perform very well and still look wonderful, but I prefer
copper lined with nickel or stainless steel —to avoid having
to reline the tin.
Good copper pans are quite expensive. Rather than compromise by buying light-weight copper,it’s better to choose 3 or 4 ply heavy aluminum pans with stainless interiors.
Care and cleaning of cookware:
Cleaning is easier if pots and pans are made of a metal that distributes heat well. This lessens sticking.
Some pans (as cast iron) require seasoning before use.
Follow each manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning. Each metal may require different care.
For all cookware, avoid abrasive cleaners.
GOOD QUALITY IS SO MUCH MORE THAN
BRAND, STYLE AND PRICE.
Just because new cookware LOOKS good, doesn’t mean it IS good.
A proven recipe made with first-rate ingredients can fail — if cooked in an inferior pan.
It’s important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of cookware fabrications as well as the value of essential production techniques that convey the inherent complexity of quality mass-production. Discover potential uses for a variety of pot sizes and shapes, then buy what YOU need.
Plan what you can spend before going to a retail store. Use the Internet to view what your local retail stores carry by brand and fabrication.
This will prepare you for similar products with inexplicable price differences, multiple brands of duplicate wares each extolling superiority, inadequate labeling, misinformation from untrained salespersons and brand-biased advertising.
Do higher prices guarantee good cookware quality?
No. Higher prices may be attributable to:
Country of origin.
Availability and cost of raw materials.
Skilled labor vs. non-skilled labor. Design costs. Excessive mark-ups. Promotional costs.
Mass-produced cookware of any material requires technical craftsmanship resulting in a broad range of quality and price depending upon the variables we’ve discussed in previous posts.
e.g. Iron is plentiful and inexpensive.
Casting methods for iron do not require capital intensive technology making cast-iron cookware affordable as well as excellent for cooking many foods.
Choose easy to wash materials that are good conductors of heat so foods cook uniformly. Innovations in alloys and finishes of materials do not alter the cooking principles of the materials listed. Your answers to the following questions should guide your cookware purchases.
What foods do YOU like to cook?
Specific pots for specific dishes exist in every national cuisine. If couscous is a favorite food, by all means, invest in a couscousiere.
Of course you need basic sauce pans, sauté pans, casseroles and a stock pot. Base the sizes upon your cooking needs, dinner for two, eight or more?
In addition to the basics, there are griddles, terrines, tagines, soufflé dishes, marmites, gratin pans and pans for paella, et cetera. Classifications seem endless.
Do you like to serve oven-to-table foods?
Heavy porcelain or enameled cast-iron oven-to-table casseroles are a well-used and well-loved investment.
Have you assessed your storage space?
Cooking inserts for stock pots turn them into perfect pots for cooking corn on the cob and pasta and they save space.
How important is ‘ease’ of maintenance to you?
If you don’t want to polish copper, pans of sandwiched layers of aluminum lined with stainless steel are excellent and require little care.
INFORMATION IS POWER.
After we were made aware of the benefits of organic food, U.S. sales of organic food were $ 1 billion in 1990 and $34 billion in 2014. Consumers will become architects of change when they are able to judge the quality of cookware themselves.
I have no commercial ties and neither promote nor negate brand names.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
MY NEXT POST: HOW TO JUDGE THE QUALITY OF COOKWARE
“It ain’t easy bein’ green”
…unless your name is Kermit !
Hundreds of brands, shapes, sizes, prices and qualities of non-stick cookware are promoted by signs claiming to be ‘GREEN’-—
the most overworked, misused appellation of the 21st Century.
Motivated by concern for our environment? Hah! ‘GREEN’ is for 1.45 billionU.S. $$$$ for retail sales of ‘release cookware’ (estimated for 2014)generated by non-stick coatings of unlabeled chemicals.
Be WARY, VERY WARY— of ALL NON-STICK COOKWARE IF: METAL UTENSILS CANNOT BE USED. YOU CAN NOT COOK AT TEMPERATURES ABOVE 400°. NAMES OF COATING CHEMICALS ARE NOT LABELED.
When American consumers were made aware of the benefits of organic food,
sales of organic foods grew from $1 billion in 1990 t0 $43.3 billion in 2015; proving consumers are willing to pay for good health.
Current statistics reveal that 90% of today’s cookware sales are for ‘non-stick’ products–(cookware with a ‘release surface’). Of course we prefer easy maintenance and elimination of cooking fat–but why aren’t the chemicals of the release surface listed on labels and packaging?
Do you buy organic foods; then cook them on a bed of chemicals? If you use metal utensils, you might be scraping chemicals into your food!
Many people put processed foods back on the supermarket shelf after reading transparent food labels—but names of chemicals that make-up the non-stick surface are not listed anywhere on the product or packaging. ??? Are U.S.gov agencies unaware that labeling transparency is as important for cookware as for food?
Many stores sell only non-stick cookware! Obviously, PROFIT supersedes health risk.
PTFE NON-STICK COOKING SURFACE
In 1938, PTFE, a polymerized perfluoroethylene was discovered in New Jersey. PTFE was first used for industrial and military application, followed by textile and medical application. In 1954, the wife of a French engineer urged him to make a pan coated with this slippery resin and release surface cookware was created. The FDA approved PTFE for food processing equipment in 1960. Cookware made with PTFE has been made and marketed for consumers under many different brand names since 1961.
For fifty years —we were told these coated wares were safe!
Years later, when it became public that PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) the synthetic chemical compound used to adhere the PTFE to metal cookware was “likely to be carcinogenic”, theEPA launched a stewardship program to eliminate PFOA from content by 2015.
PTFE : Polytetraflourethylene is a coating of a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluorethylene currently applied to a metal substrate by many brand-name manufacturers of non-stick cookware.
Release coating formulas—and number of layers and thickness of the metal substrate of the cookware are not on labels or packaging of any of the hundreds of PTFE cookware products I’ve examined. Also, there are variations in the cost, durability and safety of many brands.
If you insist upon using PTFE coated cookware: follow these guidelines perfectly.
PTFE coated pans should not be preheated. Cook only with low and medium heat. PTFE coating breaks down at 500 degrees and release toxic fumes. PTFE coated pans should not be stacked on top of each other. PTFE coating requires wood-silicone and plastic utensils for stirring and removing. Metal utensils must not be used.
‘CERAMIC’ NON-STICK COOKING SURFACE:
Challenged by need, early man successfully cooked in vessels made of clay. Some of my favorite cookware is porcelain, so I was thrilled in 2007 when in-store and advertising promotions introduced ‘ceramic-coated’ cookware as ‘green’. Could this cookware possibly save our environment?
WAS I WRONG!
I examined hundreds of cookware products labeled ‘ceramic-coated’.
I FOUND NO PERCEPTIBLE SURFACES OF EARTHLY CLAY!
Not a single cookware product of the hundreds I examined —‘each claiming to be ceramic non-stick’— had labeling transparency!
Manufacturers who employ this release surface boast that it’s PTFE / PFOA free and ‘green’ but NEVER explain that the coating is made of chemicals; NOT CLAY!
In a graduate ceramic couse, I learned : ‘CERAMIC’ means ‘cooked clay’.
It is a fact:
Aluminum melts at 1,220 degrees Fahrenheit……but earthly clay
requires 2,000 to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures to become hard and durable.
If earthly clay were applied to an aluminum substrate, (aluminum conducts heat almost as well as copper) —the temperature required to harden the earthly clay,
would melt the aluminum substrate.
My Ceramic Glossary defines CERAMIC-COATING as “an inorganic esentially non-metallic coating on metal”. ‘Earthly clay” is not part of the definition.
This led to sol-gel (a wet-chemical method of producing solid materials from small particles) which involves an organometallic compound hydrolyzed to produce “sol”, a colloidal suspension of a solid in a liquid. The “gel” is an integrated network in the colloidal suspension processed to dry as a hard film. ”Sol-gel technology allows better mixing of ceramic components at the molecular level, and hence yields more homogeneous ceramics, because the ions are mixed while in solution. Typically, this is a metal alkoxide as tetramethoxysilane in an alcohol solvent.”
This description never explains the ‘ceramic components’
—and never mentions the word ‘CLAY’; but it makes me aware of the CHEMICAL nature of ‘ceramic-coatings’.
Marketing chemical coatings as ‘ceramic’ may satisfy a technical definition.
For me, it’s ‘fool-the-eye’ marketing!
How deceptive and hypocritical for suppliers, manufacturers and retailers to capitalize on an abstruse meaning of a commonword
—for a common product– commonlythought to be safe.
Further research reveals man-made ‘ceramic’ films or coatings are not all the same. Differences are found in their chemical formula, quality of the mixing and number of layers applied to the metal substrate and the shelf life of each coating may vary.
Even if ‘ceramic-coatings’ are free of PFOA and PTFE…and even if a non-stick colloidal suspension included even a ‘pinch of earthly clay’ mixed with chemicals, no chemicals were listed. In fact, no ingredients (including clay) were listed, on labels of any brand of ‘ceramic-coated’ cookware products I examined—although the word ‘ceramic’ was prominent on all products.
If non-stick coatings are as safe as each brand manufacturer claims,
why aren’t the chemicals used to make the coatings listed?
Doesn’t this make you suspicious of the quality!
Do you buy organic fruits and vegetables
and scrutinize labels before putting edible products in your cart, and then purchase cookware having no label transparency?
If labels or packaging of non-stick cookware reveal little or nothing about the metal substrate and especially the chemical make-up of the release surface and how the coating is adhered to the substrate: CHOOSE DIFFERENT COOKWARE.
Decades of marketing experience convinced me: what manufacturers do not tell us, is something manufacturers are afraid we find out!
Dear friends, • Fresh, healthy food should NOT be cooked on a bed of chemicals. • Easy clean-up and fewer calories from fat are not worth a health risk! • Excellent ∗cookware is available without release surfaces. • Good quality cookware will outlast any stove on which it’s used.
∗ refer to the post: THE RAW MATERIALS OF COOKWARE
DO NOT BUY ANY COOKWARE THAT DOES NOT PROVIDE: • NAME and GAUGE of the metal substrate. • NAMES of CHEMICALS that make-up a release surface. • NAMES OF CHEMICALS used to adhere release coatings to the substrate. ….AND SHOULD YOU EVER FIND ANY, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
MY NEXT POST : CONSIDERATIONS BEFORE SHOPPING FOR COOKWARE
PRECISE measurements, PRECISE mixing, PRECISE temperatures, PRECISE ingredients and the pan = SUCCESS.
BAKING SHEETS AND PANS:
Pans for baking cookies should be sturdy and non-buckling. Preferred are:
dark rolled steel, black-finished steel, tinned steel and heavy gauge aluminum.
If bakeware is pre-darkened for better heat-absorption, read instructions carefully because some baking materials absorb heat so well, a reduced temperature may be recommended and cooking times vary.
Non-stick surfaces are available but their safety is questionable.
Many pastry chefs prefer well-greased smooth surfaces or parchment paper and the same metals are preferred for baking cake and breads.
Borosilicate glass and stoneware loaf pans are also excellent. Be sure to read the instructions because these may require a 25º lower temperature to avoid darkened crusts. Heavy porcelain or stoneware pie plates are considered very good by many pastry experts because they retain heat, are attractive for serving and easy to clean.
Pan placement in the oven must consider circulation of air. Pans transfer dry heat to batter from all sides. This is why pans must not touch each other. At least one inch should be between pans as well as between pans and oven walls. Never place one pan on a rack directly above another which results in reflected and uneven heat.
Tube pans are for batters that require heat in the center of the batter. The tube provides additional surface for an airy batter to cling as it rises.
After primitive man discovered heat could separate metal from ore, he learned to melt metal and then cast the hot, liquid metal in molds to create three dimensional shapes.
Globally, casting remains a basic method of shaping metal.
Telling FIT students that casting is similar to
making a jello-mold or ‘Creepy Crawlers’,
they understood immediately.
Casting quality cooking pots necessitates avoiding and eliminating impurities in the hot metal and grinding away and polishing surface pitting. Iron cookware is usually cast and some aluminum and copper cookware is cast.
A current line of highly polished aluminum cookware is marketed as ‘sand-cast’, an ancient technique that adds character to the metal finish. Metal handles and knobs are often cast of different metal than the pots—to perform as heat breakers.
The most common technology for producing aluminum and stainless steel pots and pans is called drawing ( also stamping). The equipment to create three-dimensional shapes is highly capital intensive and involves making heavy, positive and negative steel dies.
At one of the factories I visited, pre-cut flat shapes of metal are pressed with great pressure between positive and negative dies (inside and outside shapes) that stretch the metal to assume the shape and depth of the dies. Complex shapes as domed lids, spouts and lids with deep sides usually require more than one set of dies and stamping procedures.
Metal is brittle so it must be annealed before drawing. Annealing means heating metal to ‘relax’ it—to avoid splitting.
The heavier and thicker the gauge of metal,
the heavier and more costly are the required dies and stamping machinery.
Despite the cost, production is fast; uniformity is perfect.
At a renowned Italian factory where cook and serveware for hotels and restaurants as well as international retail markets is designed and made, master chefs collaborated with factory metal experts to produce excellent cookware for the gourmet market.
The master chefs offered “knowledge of the different ways
food passes from raw to the cooked state in order to achieve
gastronomic and nutritional correctness”.
The result is a complete cookware collection of copper, aluminum, stainless steel and iron. Each metal —assigned to shapes appropriate for its designated cooking function.
Copper sauce pans are lined with stainless steel and some add a thin layer of aluminum as a bonding agent. Frying and sauté pans are black iron and a black iron casserole is enameled. Continuity of handle and lid designs unifies the collection. This atypical approach to cookware reminds me of Julia Child’s kitchen peg board of diverse pots and pans—currently on display at the Smithsonian.
A very large inventory of flat copper, aluminum, stainless steel and iron is organized by gauge and awaits transformation into diverse shapes of cook and serve-wares. Metal rods become handles as well as seals for joined edges of metal. Sheet stock is rapidly cut into disks by steel die while rolls of lighter gauged metal pass under a die that moves up and down chopping and spewing circular discs of steel in one direction while passing cut scrap in the other. All scrap is recovered and reprocessed in the metal foundry.
Skilled craftsmen solder spouts, make and affix handles and a myriad of other skills and techniques proving quality cookware production is capital and labor intensive. Costly technology for some products enables speed of production: an example of ‘economies of scale’ that make products more affordable.
Finished wares are taken to the finishing department
where small items are tumbled with pellets of
polishing agents to reduce possibility of sharp edges.
Larger cookware shapes are polished, one piece at a time, using various fabrications and polishing agents. Copper pans are polished as at home —with elbow grease! Each piece of cookware is washed, dried, inspected and boxed for international markets —where they’re destined to become hard-working heirlooms.
After witnessing nuances of quality production in several renowned factories and researching opinions of international master chefs, I’m convinced:
Good quality pots and pans are timeless investments.
They not only cook and serve well,
they’ll outlast the gas and electric stoves that provide their ‘heat’.
Determine your cookware material for heat diffusion properties.
Make sure the interior surface of each product is non-reactive to food.
And you’re ready to choose cookware to serve your needs.
WITH ENDLESS BRANDS, SHAPES, SIZES & PRICES: WHAT SHOULD YOU BUY?
What are the right tools? For each of us, they may differ.
Cookbook author Dione Lucas wrote: “Every piece of equipment that finds its way into your kitchen should pass one test: DOES IT HELP YOU DO GOOD WORK?”
Probably the most ancient cooking utensil, stock pots are made for boiling, simmering, steaming and blanching. They’re tall and relatively narrow to reduce evaporation. The cooking demand of a stock pot is only to reach a boiling point. Although stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat, its suitable for a stock pot, usually made in 8 to 22 quart capacities.
Covered casseroles are usually round or oval and come in many sizes. Very large versions are also called dutch ovens. The absence of long handles suggests oven cooking although recipes for many casserole dishes specify ‘starting’ on top of the stove. Well-fitting lids provide self-basting condensation. Heavy weight ceramic wares, copper, iron, aluminum or enamel on cast iron casseroles can be used for oven-to-table cookery.
Round or elongated for a roast, metal casseroles with two handles and a lid are perfect for braising or browning meat on top of the stove. With the addition of vegetables and stock, wine or gravy, an entrée is ready for gentle, long cooking in the oven or top of the stove. Heat is transmitted to the entire interior of the covered pot.
Ceramic casseroles (heavy terra-cotta, stoneware and porcelain) are excellent for oven cooking but cannot be used for stove-top cooking. Master chefs explain that ceramic casseroles with unglazed exteriors better absorb heat.
Sauce pans should be a heavy with excellent heat distribution for making sauces, boiling, steaming, braising or stewing foods. Sizes range from 1 to 5 quart capacity. Faster cooling is important for sauces, and for this, copper performs exceptionally well.
Sides of a sautéuse pan slope to a small diameter bottom, beneficial for foods that require frequent stirring because of unstable or delicate consistency such as butter, cream or egg sauces. Sloped sides expose a maximum amount of sauce to the air for reduction and facilitate the movement of a whisk. The metal should be a heavy gauge and one that holds heat uniformly.
Skillets are for frying, sautéing, browning, searing, braising, etc. They’re low and wide to encourage evaporation and in theory, any size or shape skillet can be used for frying or sautéing. It’s recommended handles be equal in length to the diameter of the pan for easy maneuvering.
Frying is cooking in oil/fat—but not deep-fat. The oil/fat is heated before food is added in order to cook quickly and evenly, produce a crisp outside and seal natural moisture to prevent food from absorbing fat. Oil/fat must not reach the smoking point that creates a substance having harmful effect on the stomach. Frying pans are shallow with curved or flared sides for turning eggs and crepes.
Skillets for specific foods include: Crepe skillets— must distribute and retain heat. They should be heavy yet light enough to flip. Omelet skillets –must be heavy to respond to and diffuse high heat evenly. Shallow, sloping sides aid in rolling-over omelets.
Sautéing involves shaking the pan to keep food mingling with oil/fat for browning, then usually covered to complete the cooking. Sauté pans have straight sides to contain food while the pan is kept in motion across the burner.
Frying and sauté pans must have flat bottoms of sufficient weight to prevent warping which causes fats and liquids to settle around edges of the pan. The metal of both should be a heavy-gauge that transmits heat evenly and steadily. Iron, copper and aluminum are good. Iron prevents abrupt temperature changes inside the pan but can discolor some foods. To prevent this, some iron skillets are lined with enamel.
A flambé pan is placed over a burner (a wick fueled by alcohol) intended for preparing foods at the dining table. This is a fast way of cooking so the pan must adjust quickly to a wide range of flame.
Fish fillets, medallions of meat and sweet and savory crepes are typical flambéed foods.
High or low sides?
Roasting means cooking with dry heat—yet there’s professional controversy whether a roasting pan should have high or low sides. Meat thermometers are recommended because each requires different cooking times. Roasting pans should have a rack to keep roasts elevated and may or may not have a cover. Handles must have a good grip and be securely riveted.
James Beard preferred a roaster with low sides. He placed meat on a rack to keep it out of the fat and allow air to circulate around the roast.
Complimented on her pot roast, my Mother replied, “It’s the pan”, a high-sided, heavy aluminum roasting pan, covered to create steam and a moist and tender roast.
Fish poachers are elongated covered pans with a rack that can be adjusted to different heights for boiling, simmering, steaming and braising fish. They’re also good for foods of unusual size.
Multi-task inserts are currently marketed by many manufacturers to extend stock pots and sauce pans into service as pasta cooker/strainers, steamers, hot oil fry baskets, etc. They’re practical, save space and ultimately, save money.
Classifications for pot & pans seem endless. Bain-marie, paella, griddles, wok, gratin, terrines, couscousiere, soufflés, marmites are but a few. If specific names of pans for your favorite foods are not listed, information about fabrication still applies.
Some cooking methods require moisture or fat. Some require dry heat. Some pot shapes encourage evaporation. Some discourage evaporation. Some metals heat slowly, and cool slowly. Some heat fast and cool fast. Some distribute heat better than others.
International dining, celebrity TV chefs, recreating meals at home, metallurgy technology and brand-marketing continue to expand cookware products exponentially. Because new cookware looks good doesn’t mean it is good.
Every brand extols a bias of superiority as they promote matched sets of ‘pots & pans’ which may not result in the best material or shape pan for each cooking task. ‘Set’ price incentives most probably includes sizes you don’t need nor want.
What shape pan to use? Will it conduct and hold heat? Will the metal have a chemical reaction to food? These can be as important as the ingredients.
Q. Should you buy a complete set of matching cookware to save money or buy the best pots for the foods you cook, as Julia Child, even though they don’t match?
A. Begin by choosing the best raw material for each of your cooking needs.
IRON: Iron, the Third Metal Age, is second to aluminum as a common element found in ores. Iron was used by prehistoric man for weapons and later, to make both utilitarian and ornamental objects. Iron is soft, ductile and malleable and the basic component of steel. Cast iron is an alloy of iron; carbon is added as a hardener.
Benefits: Absorbs heat evenly, excellent conductor of heat—released slowly, durable. Drawbacks: Rusts, stains, pits and is usually heavy, sometimes too heavy.
Cast iron cookware (shaped by casting) releases some iron into food—considered desirable as a dietary nutrient that produces red blood cells. Iron regulates heat and prevents abrupt temperature changes inside the pan. These pots are excellent for foods cooked slowly over even heat.
Iron pans must be seasoned before use (some are pre-seasoned by the manufacturer) and must be dried thoroughly after washing to prevent rust. Iron casseroles and dutch ovens can be used to cook inexpensive cuts of meat slowly, making them excellent for stews, succulent pot-roasts, etc.
Enamel-on-cast-iron cookware is expensive but it has heat distribution advantages of iron and hygienic advantages that eliminate problems of rust, stains and pitting and enamel finishes are attractive for oven-to-table serving.
COPPER: As the First Metal Age, copper is one of the earliest metals man employed for both ornamental and functional use. Copper is malleable, ductile, resistant to corrosion and second only to silver as a conductor of heat and electricity. A superb conductor of heat, copper is called “the jewel of the kitchen”.
Benefits: A superb conductor of heat, copper is sensitive to temperature changes, heats quickly,evenly and cools quickly when removed from heat. Drawbacks: Quality copper pans are expensive and must be lined to avoid toxic reaction with foods— although unlined copper is used for candy and egg whites. If you don’t want to polish pots and pans, copper is not for you.
Heavy gauge copper pans are preferred by chefs who demand superior heat control and are willing to pay for it. Hammered copper is exceptionally strong. Because copper is toxic in contact with many foods, it has been traditionally lined with tin for purity—but because tin is soft and eventually requires relining, better quality copper pans are now lined with stainless steel or nickel. Iron or brass handles often perform as heat breakers on copper cookware.
TIN: Used since ancient times, tin was alloyed with copper to make bronze and tin is the major metal in pewter. Tin is corrosion resistant, ductile and exceptionally malleable. But tin is soft, scratches easily and has a melting temperature of 450º, making tin a poor choice for cookware—with the exception of saucepans and fish poachers used for foods cooked at lower temperatures.
Benefits: Tin is pure. It holds no taste and does not interact with foods. Drawbacks: Tin is soft, not strong and has a melting temperature of 450º.
Tin’s purity and lack of interaction with color, taste and flavor make it a superb housing for food. (I have a tin canister set.) Exceptions to the drawbacks of tin are saucepans and fish poachers used for foods cooked at low temperatures. Tin was the lining of choice for copper pans but because tin eventually requires re-lining, the lining of choice has become stainless steel.
ALUMINUM: Aluminum, the most abundant of metals, was not isolated until the 19th Century. It is second in usage to iron/steel. Aluminum is lightweight, easy to shape, and an excellent conductor of heat.
Aluminum is harder and stronger when alloyed with magnesium, manganese, nickel, chrome, zinc, iron or copper. Producers of aluminum cookware use these alloyed variations to create finishes that cannot chip, crack, peel or rust.
Anodizing is an electro-chemical finish integrated with underlying aluminum for total bonding, which means the surface is extremely hard, durable, corrosion resistant and long-lasting. Anodized aluminum is chemically stable, non-toxic and will not decompose. Finishes of anodized aluminum cookware may be polished, brushed and ‘blackened’.
Benefits: Excellent conductor of heat—but less than copper. Affordable. Drawbacks: Can pit and interact and discolor acidic foods as fruits and tomatoes, alkaline ones like milk and sulfur rich foods as eggs.
Aluminum cookware is usually lined with stainless steel to provide non-reactive surface for all foods. Prices depend upon the thickness and weight of the gauge of the metal. The smaller the gauge number, the thicker and heavier the pan. 1 or 2 ply aluminum cookware is commonly used as a light weight substrate for release surfaces.
If pans are lightweight, warping is inevitable and if release-coated aluminum pans reach very high temperatures, non-stick surfaces can deteriorate. Multi-layers (2 to 5 plies) of sandwiched aluminum, provide heat diffusion and good weight to negate warping.
STEEL: Steel is 85% iron alloyed with other elements. High carbon steel is 12% carbon and similar but harder than cast iron making it good for wok cooking but, like iron, can rust. Nickel steel and aluminum steel are lightweight steels commonly used for baking. They provide better rust resistance.
STAINLESS STEEL: Stainless steel is stain less—not stain proof. An alloy of iron, chrome and nickel, stainless steel was developed in England in 1913. Different formulas have varying tensile strength. 18/8 and 18/10 means iron is alloyed with 18 parts chrome and 8 or 10 parts nickel. 18/10 is superior.
Stainless steel is an excellent contact surface for food because it is non-reactive. In fact, stainless steel is the least reactive of any cookware metal, making it a superior lining for aluminum or copper cookware which diffuse heat very well.
Benefits: Non-reactive, hygienic, easy to clean, great tensile strength, non-porous and durable. Drawbacks: Very poor heat diffusion, uneven cooking, discolors from overheating.
Because of its strength and durability, stainless steel is often used as both an interior and exterior surface in multi-ply cookware having an inner core of aluminum or copper to provide uniform heat distribution throughout the entire pan.
This is called sandwich construction because 2 to 5 flat single layers or plies of a metal or a mix of metals as steel, aluminum and/or copper are fused by electricity and pressure into a solid sheet before a pan is shaped and provides the desired heft which is not likely to warp.
Cladding means that a layer or coating of aluminum or copper has been applied by electrolysis to the bottom of the pan. Some stainless steel pans are ‘cladded’ with copper or aluminum but the cladded layer is usually too thin to provide a diffusion benefit and the temperature of the pan wall is inconsistent.
PORCELAIN ENAMEL ON METAL: A vitreous, ceramic-glass coating fused to steel or iron with intense heat.
Benefits: The enamel is non-porous, imparts no taste to food and is oven-to-table presentable. Usually colorful. Drawbacks: These can be an investment purchase—especially enamel on cast iron. Large sizes are heavy and enamel can chip.
Cooking performance: Enamel on steel: cooking properties of steel–meaning poor heat diffusion.
Enamel on cast-iron: cooking properties of iron—meaning superior heat diffusion.
CERAMIC: Ceramic cookware can be porcelain, stoneware and terra-cotta.
Benefits: From bean pots to casseroles to roasters, ceramic cookware is nonreactive and won’t change the taste and color of food. It diffuses and retains heat well. Labels should specify if they are ‘oven-to-table’. Drawbacks: Meats must be browned first in a metal pan on top of the stove and transferred to a ceramic dish for continued cooking in the oven. Ceramics are breakable.
GLASS: Borosilicate and tempered glass. In1915, Corning introduced a clear, low-thermal-expansion borosilicate glass for laboratory glass and kitchenware; trademarkedPYREX;(each letter is uppercase).
Tempered glass is glass changed by thermal or chemical processes to resist breakage. Many metal pans currently marketed have tempered glass lids, (an advantage of visually checking the cooking progress). Glass doesn’t leach harmful ingredients or chemicals into food.
Benefits: Borosilicate glass products are suitable for oven and microwave cooking and some may even be used for stove-top cooking. (Prior to the 1940’s, Pyrex was borosilicate glass; but no longer….see above). Read all labels before using glass cookware. Drawbacks: Glass is not freezer-to-oven and can shatter.
MICROWAVE CONTAINERS: No metal product or product with metal ornamentation should be placed in a microwave oven. Microwaves cannot enter through metal; they’re reflected back into the magnetron causing damage.
Safe microwave containers include glass, Pyrex, porcelain, paper and plastic. These must not have metal findings and ornamentation…. including metallic glazes. Because some clays have high iron content, it’s important to verify which ceramic dishes are safe for use in a microwave.
Read how cookware originated and is artisan and mass-produced today, from raw materials to finished products. I’m privileged to share criteria of quality for these everyday products entrusted to me by international experts at renowned factories where I became an EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY!
Brand names change, styles change and prices change, TIMELESSCRITERIA OF QUALITY FOR EVERYDAY HOME PRODUCTS
DO NOT CHANGE.
Man learned to control and use fire over four hundred thousand years ago! History and Science museum vignettes feature primitive peoples cooking fish and wild life over an open fire and near-by, heating clay pots of grain. Millenniums later, we still cook this way, but most of us use matches.
Eventually, fire was contained indoors in tiles and brick and foods were cooked at the hearth. Stoves appeared in the 17th Century and a patent was issued for a ‘cast-iron-even-heating-range’ with a flue in 1802. These were only for warming and baking; pots of food were still cooked in the fireplace. Stove-top cooking began when coal burning stoves were developed mid-nineteenth century. Gas cooking was developed in 1802 but thirty years passed before gas stoves were safe. Electric stoves appeared in 1890.
And the POTS:
Chronological Ages of man’s development are: COPPER 5,000 B.C. BRONZE 3,000 B.C. ( an alloy of copper/ tin ) IRON 1,000 B.C.
Archeologists labeled these ages because of surviving decorative artifacts crafted by metalsmiths using fire for extracting metals from ore, fire for developing alloys and fire for creating shapes. Historians know that metal weapons and utilitarian objects followed but an accurate time-line for cooking wares has not been established.
The first cooking pots were made of clay and many cultures still cook in clay pots. Sometime after the Bronze and Iron Ages, bronze and iron cooking pots were made by blacksmiths—similar to the early clay pots and to the pots we use today. It’s recorded that a copper sauce pan was used in the 14th Century.
As metallurgists developed and perfected alloys and shaping methods, great cuisines developed in many cultures, especially the Chinese, Italian and French. From these cultures, specific pots were shaped to cook specific dishes. Blacksmiths were the first in America to create and sell cooking pots in all shapes and sizes. An iron cooking pot was introduced in 1644 in Massachusetts where one of Paul Revere’s ventures was a copper rolling mill.
The Industrial Revolution spawned a Middle Class who filled their homes with amenities as pots and pans made of cast iron and later, aluminum; typically sold by peddlers from horse drawn carts. Copper pots were in the homes of the wealthy. Stainless steel, an alloy of iron-chrome-nickel, was developed in 1913 and by the 1930’s was used for cookware experiments. Steel, harder than previous alloys, required modification of machinery and new technology.
After World War II, stainless steel became the dominating metal used for mass-produced pots and pans. Because steel is a poor conductor of heat, a heat diffusing cladding of aluminum or copper (too thin to be beneficial) was added to the bottom of each pan. Brand manufacturers marketed complete sets of these shiny wares and promoted benefits of easy cleaning, durability and hygiene. These styles were repeated for decades with little change.
When my mother replaced our dull aluminum pots and pans with the ubiquitous stainless steel pans with copper-clad bottoms, polishing copper became a daily routine.
I wondered why there were scorch spots inside the shiny pans when I heated milk—even though the milk wasn’t hot enough to melt the cocoa.I didn’t understand heat diffusion, but these‘not-very-good’ pans looked pretty, especially after polishing.
GASTRONOMY MEETS TECHNOLOGY:
The 1960’s chronicled dramatic lifestyle changes in America. Lack of domestic help, television and international travel awakened our interest in cooking and dining and aligned all elements for the triumph of Julia Child’s public television cooking show.
Julia Child didn’t originate French Cooking: she made it accessible to millions who watched with delight as she taught us about ingredients and cooking techniques. With new vocabulary and great authority, we ordered and critiqued ‘her’ foods in restaurants. Following is my favorite quote from Ms. Child:
“Theoretically a good cook should be able to perform under
any circumstances, but cooking is much easier, pleasanter and more efficient if you have the right tools” . Julia Child
After each of her shows, desire to emulate her recipes created instant demand in our Gift Gallery for the specific implements used by Ms. Child. Because selections of French cookware from New York importers were limited, authentic cookware— indigenous to each country— became a major quest for my next European buying trip. Experts in every artisan studio, atelier and mass-production factory demonstrated: quality is a synthesis of raw materials and production methods.
Searching for the ‘right tools’ in Paris, I selected soufflé dishes in countless colors, patterns and sizes; all round, straight-sided and porcelain. Cravings for cheese soufflé drew me to the dining room of the Plaza Atheneé where visions of a tall, puffy savory were interrupted by the presentation of a rectangular, slope-sided, silver loaf pan…filled with my tall, puffy, savory!
Maitre d’:“Is zere something wrong, Mademoiselle?”
Me :“I thought soufflé was made in a round, straight-sided porcelain dish?“
Maitre d’:“Ah, Mademoiselle, ze secret of ze soufflé is ze temperature
of ze oven—-and—EXPERIANCE”.
Introduced to porcelain as cookware in Paris showrooms, I chose fruit and flower designs for porcelain saucepans and other utilitarian wares hoping they would call attention to all of our new cookware. Within days of putting them on display, all were sold: many customers already knew the delight of cooking in porcelain pots and were surprised to find this classic French cookware in Buffalo.
Our French commissionaire also brought me to the historic meat packing district in Paris—and home to restaurant supply houses furnishing implements for French chefs. Ogling cavernous metal pots, I asked who needed such pans? Jean Pierre asked “Have you never heard of rub-a dub-dub?” He grinned and added that when he was in the army, many-a-day he could have filled them with potatoes.
From France and Italy I ordered copper egg-beating bowls, sauce pans, roasting pans, gratin and flambé pans, and after enjoying beef fondue in Zurich, ordered authentic copper fondue pots in Switzerland. Charmed by presentations of products in the Food Halls and Cookware Departments of Harrods in London, I realized their displays didn’t look commercial!
I bought an antique hanging balance scale for the Gift Gallery to showcase French whisks and other small essentials. Customers squealed as they pinched rolls on our table settings: they were fresh! Newspaper publicity generated traffic and sales of our international cookware began to escalate. Similar stories must have unfolded in every retail store in the developed world as gastronomy and technology began to converge.
Young or old, male or female shoppers in today’s cookware departments are overwhelmed by similar products with inexplicable price differences, multiple brands of duplicate products (each extolling superiority), no label transparency and misinformation from untrained salespersons. WOW!
Consumers know what styles they like;
they just don’t know how to differentiate product quality.
Some consumers buy expensive products; assuming they’re best. Some consumers buy ‘bargains’; assuming they’re a good deal. Some consumers buy brands favored by parents; ………….assuming the brand is still good. BUT: GOOD QUALITY CANNOT BE ASSUMED!
Timeless, unbiased, generic principles of quality from international experts convinced me: no one can judge the quality of cookware without knowing and understanding the materials and production methods used to make it.
The breadth and complexity of raw materials and production methods used today is extensive; not all have merit. However, when new: all cookware looks good!
I give you the lowdown on the cooking performance of each fabrication and potential uses for pot sizes and shapes to help you buy only what you need. One ‘size’ doesn’t fit all! Everyone who needs new pots and pans and everyone who regrets past purchases of pots and pans can benefit from this information.
Julia Child chose diverse brands and shapes of diverse metals because she demanded performance for each food. Her pegboard of cookware is on permanent display at the Smithsonian.
Today, cookware marketing is a biased-brand-name game.
Brand names are meant to build confidence and consumer loyalty, earned by product performance : not expensive public relations and promotion. Some brand-name cookware manufacturers do maintain a standard of excellence but many coast on a good reputation —no longer deserved. What manufacturer admits their products are less-than-good?
We must stop being programmed by ‘brand-marketing spin’and we must demand labeling transparency for all cookware in order to consciously assess raw materials and production methods used to make each cookware product.