July 18, 2008

Choose Cookware Based on Your Needs


Dear Action Line: My husband is a fine cook and I want to get him a "restaurant quality" set of cookware for his birthday. What type of cookware is best-suited to someone who can cook most American foods? -- Fed Good, Tulsa.

Choosing cookware: Mark Jala, founder of the consumer information service Your Cookware Helper, member of the Lakeside Analytics Inc. family (tulsaworld.com/cookwarehelper), knows cookware, how to pick it and buy it. Review and choose materials that best suit your husband's cooking style and range, and visit the cookware brand's page to consider brands with product lines featuring that cookware material. The site discusses the merits of 14 brands, from All-Clad to Viking, etc.

Stainless steel: This "low-stick" material is more durable than coated cookware and longer lasting. It holds its nice, polished appearance with little care and is easy to clean and dishwasher safe. It doesn't distribute heat well without copper or aluminum layers. Copper is nine times better at conducting heat than steel, and aluminum is five times better. Manufacturers clad stainless steel with copper or aluminum for better heat properties. Copper cladding is more expensive than aluminum.

Anodized aluminum: This is the most common cookware material and relatively inexpensive. Aluminum distributes heat well, reducing hot spots and is one-third the weight of steel but twice as strong. Even without a nonstick surface, it is considered "low stick." Some come in nonstick. It is best hand-washed. Its dark-gray color makes it hard to visually inspect cooking foods. Most are not dishwasher safe.

Cast iron: This is extremely durable and lasts for generations. It is known for precise heat distribution and is naturally nonstick. Keep it properly "seasoned" and its surface improves over time. An enameled surface offers color variety, but it is heavy and requires hand-washing and drying. Non-enameled products are subject to rusting if not cared for.

Nonstick: This is easy to clean and requires less fat or liquids to cook with. It is great for quick-cooking, but high heat, metal utensils and harsh cleaning pads will ruin it. Dishwashers harm its non-stick coating. Cheap sets flake or wear off into your food with unknown health effects. Quality depends on the material under the nonstick coating.

Copper: This is absolute best for heat distribution, whether on the outside or clad inside, but is absolutely the most expensive. It needs hand-washing. Copper is toxic if its internal layer becomes exposed, and it requires polishing to keep its luster.

Glass, ceramic or stoneware: This is attractive, versatile, dishwasher-safe and "low stick." It is versatile, as it can be taken from refrigerator or freezer to the stovetop or oven. It retains heat well and is considered a healthy cookware material but is subject to thermal shock and can break or even explode if placed on a live burner.

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Originally published by PHIL MULKINS World Action Line Editor.

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