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Pots & Pans

Pots and pans hold food, generally for cooking on a range. Sometimes pots and pans are used in an oven or microwave.

Dark gummy burned-on oil can be removed with acetone, widely available from hardware stores and in diluted form as nail polish remover.

Common materials

  • stainless steel
    Stainless steel is good enough for most uses, although it is not as conductive as aluminum or copper. Thin-bottomed pans, often with an insignificant layer of copper, can cause uneven heating, so a layer of aluminum is often "sandwiched" in the base of the pan. Even though stainless steel is not considered non-stick, food does not stick very strongly unless the surfaces are rough. Stainless steel is popular for saucepans and stock pots. Stainless steel tends to be inexpensive and lightweight.
  • anodized aluminum
    Anodization is an electro-chemical process that molecularly alters the surface of aluminum cookware making it stick and scratch-resistant and easy to clean. A final stage in the anodization process seals the aluminum, preventing any leaching into food. Unlike uncoated aluminum, this cookware does not react to acidic foods, and is much more durable. Unlike stainless steel, no "sandwiching" or "clading" is needed for even heating. Anodized aluminum cookware is not dishwasher safe.
  • cast iron
    Cast iron is denser than other pan materials, making the pans unparalleled at retaining and evenly distributing heat, but also somewhat heavy. Therefore these pans are excellent for applications such as searing. The pan retains its heat as the meat is added in a way that other pans can't. They can also be put under a very hot broiler or into a barbecue or campfire--something that would completely destroy a nonstick pan. Cast iron pans can be used for other kinds of cooking as well, although their heaviness makes them somewhat awkward for making, say, crepes, or any other kind of cooking where the pan needs to be moved around a lot during cooking. Cast iron is also less conductive than other materials such as aluminum and copper. This results in the aforementioned excellent heat retention, but also means that cast iron cookware takes longer to heat up and cool down. Contrary to popular belief, acidic foods can be cooked in cast iron, provided they are removed from the pan as soon as cooking is complete. Cast iron needs to be seasoned to provide a more-or-less non-stick surface. This process involves heating oil so that it polymerizes and binds to the pan. This creates a non-stick surface chemically similar to a plastic coating. Some people see this need for seasoning as a drawback; however, because the seasoning can be removed (with iron wool, even!) and reapplied as needed, cast iron pans can be maintained in excellent condition far beyond the life of a typical nonstick pan. Properly cared for, a cast iron pan can last for generations. Thus they are an excellent value: extremely durable, costing less than all but the cheapest nonstick pans, while outperforming all but the most expensive cookware. The main drawback is that they will rust if washed in a dishwasher or left soaking in water. Also, they should not be washed with soap, as this will remove the seasoning. They can be effectively cleaned with a stiff brush, or by rubbing with a paper towel, vegetable oil, and kosher salt.
  • enameled cast iron
    Enameled cast iron cookware--typically, casseroles or dutch ovens--enables cooks to take advantage of the heat retention of cast iron while also providing a non-stick, non-rusting, non-reactive, light-colored surface (the light-colored surface makes it easier to monitor how foods are browning.) The main drawback of enameled cast iron is expense. An enameled cast iron dutch oven typically costs more than $200, while an unenameled dutch oven of the same size might be had for $40.
  • carbon steel
    Like cast iron, carbon steel needs to be seasoned and is vulnerable to acid foods. Like stainless steel, carbon steel is lightweight and inexpensive. Carbon steel can be slightly better than stainless steel on an induction-based cooktop. Carbon steel is very popular for woks, particularly the large round-bottomed ones.
  • aluminum
    Aluminum is lightweight and inexpensive. It conducts heat well, especially if it is thick. This allows for even heating and fast response to desired temperature changes. Aluminum usually has a non-stick surface inside it. With or without a non-stick surface, aluminum is vulnerable to scratches. A connection between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease is a concern for many, although a scientific link between the two are inconclusive at best. Uncoated aluminum is vulnerable to damage from acid foods like tomatoes. Low-grade aluminum is easy to dent. Aluminum is popular for frying pans.
  • copper
    True copper pots are rare and expensive. They must be coated on the inside with tin, because copper compounds can be harmful. Copper is most often seen as a thick disk laminated to the bottom of good-quality stainless steel pots, and as an insignificant plating on the outside of cheap pots. Copper conducts heat very well, allowing for even heating and fast response to desired temperature changes.
  • glass
    Glass allows food to be observed while the lid is on. Glass is heavy, because it must be thick enough to prevent shattering. To avoid cracks, avoid sudden large temperature changes. (do not drop a very hot glass pot into cold water) While not considered non-stick, food does not stick strongly to glass unless baked-on. Glass can be used in a microwave oven.

Combinations

Multi-ply pans are made from two or more the above materials. Oftentimes, oxidation-prone copper or delicate aluminum are "clad" in stainless steel or some other sturdier material, combining the best features of the many materials and blunting the disadvantages.

Shapes, sizes, etc.

 
 
 
 
 
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