Cooking pots and pans are not all created equal. No, I don’t mean they come in different size and shapes, although that is true. I mean that the kind of material a pot is made from will greatly affect its performance in cooking. For making pots and pans, some materials are better than others. However, different metals can have different advantages and disadvantages. The most widely recommended brand of cookware is All-Clad cookware. But All-Clad, a brand of cookware, is just the leader in a class of cookware that best balances those pros and cons. Simply speaking, All-Clad cookware is made of aluminum and stainless steel, but there is a bit more to it.
Aluminum for Cookware
Aluminum is a great material for cooking in some ways, but it has drawbacks that make using aluminum alone a poor choice. Aluminum has great heat conduction and distribution, second only to copper, which may not really be worth the expense. Actually, silver would be even better but I think you know why we don’t use that. Aluminum heats up evenly without hot spots while having good heat retention. As well, while many cooks rave about cast iron, including cast iron’s touted nutritional benefits, they ignore the fact that cast iron takes forever to cool down once its hot, making it great for searing meats or any high heat cooking but not ideal for delicate cooking, aluminum retains heat quite well without being a heat miser that refuses to ever let go before your food is burned. The light weight of aluminum means pots and pans made from it can be heavy duty without being heavy.
But aluminum is a fairly soft metal so pots and pans made from it can be easily damaged. As well, aluminum tends to react chemically with many foods, especially those with high acid content. It can discolor your light-colored foods, thus ruining a nice sauce, and may tend to impart a metallic taste. A tomato sauce cooking in an aluminum pot may turn brown! As well, aluminum corrodes and tarnishes with long use.
Stainless Steel for Cookware
Although it’s a great metal for bowls, stainless steel is not a very good metal for cookware. It does not conduct heat well or evenly. Sure, if all you’re looking to do is boil water to make pasta or to make stock, then a big stainless steel stock pot should suffice. But for the most part, a stainless steel pan is a no-go. When a pure stainless steel pan is heated up the heat does not disperse throughout the bottom of the pan quickly or evenly. This results in areas of very high temperature called hot-spots and areas of low temperatures. This will cause foods to scorch or to stick. However, stainless steel is very durable, does not react with acids or discolor foods, and resists corrosion and, of course, stains.
Pure stainless steel is perfectly suitable for any pots used primarily for boiling or simmering or for any pans meant to be used for slow-cooking or baking, such as roaster pans. It’s also fine for warming pans or hotel pans. But if they are meant to be used for direct heat cooking, it needs to be a very heavy gauge. Stainless steel bowls are also great choices, even when you want to use them over a water bath for making sauces or custards.
All-Clad Pans – The Best of Both Worlds
All-Clad pans and other clad pans use both aluminum and stainless steel together to take advantage of the properties of each. They are made from a thick layer of aluminum sandwiched between two thin layers of stainless steel, bonded together using high pressure. Some clad pans only have aluminum on the inside. There are similar pans which are coated with a thin layer of copper. Clad pans give you the advantages of aluminum, above, together with the non-reactivity, durability, and corrosion resistance of stainless steel. The aluminum distributes the heat evenly while the food comes into contact with the non-reactive stainless steel. This combination makes clad cookware a great overall choice for home cooks and pro chefs alike. While a good set of clad cookware can be more expensive than some other cookware, it is not as expensive as copper and much easier to care for. One ALL Clad pan can essentially be the last such pan you buy, with proper care. They also can be used on induction stove-tops.
Although the All-Clad brand of clad cookware is the most well-known and popular brand, it is also quite expensive compared to some other choices. An alternative is the Cuisinart line of Multiclad Cookware. A 12-piece set can be bought for around $225 whereas a 7-piece set of All-Clad will cost around $500. However, keep in mind that it doesn’t matter how good the materials are if they are too thin. Cheaper cookware uses thinner gauges of metal, resulting in poorer performance. The Cusinart pans, as do others, come with glass rather than metal lids. A good choice for a less expensive set, then, is the Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad 8-Piece Cookware Set, which comes with stainless steel lids.
Make sure any clad cookware you purchase includes riveted metal handles so that it can also be used in the oven. Do not use the lids in the oven, however. They can develop permanent staining.