Choosing the Best Pots and Pans for Cooking
The best pots and pans become the backbone of a kitchen. The culinary market continues to grow offering a wide variety of cooking implements intended to make your job easier and more efficient.
With all those options, theres a great deal to consider when choosing pots and pans for your kitchen, like whether you want ones that are dishwasher safe, or if you have a certain brand you prefer.
Bear in mind that good cookware is an investment. Consider what you can comfortably afford to spend then research pots and pans that fit your budget. Buy once; buy right.
Types of Pans
You can buy pans singly or as sets. Cookware sets often save money but you dont have a choice as to whats included. That means either getting a starter set to which you add what you need, or buying pieces separately to build a custom mix.
As the name implies these are square or rectangular pans suited for baking items like cakes, fish, and casserole. Some baking pans have handles, while loaf style pans often do not.
Brazing pans are oval or round with a handle on each side and a domed cover. They are fairly lightweight often made in stainless with a copper or aluminum core.
These pans work equally well on the stove top or oven and heat up very evenly. Look for one with a tight fitting lid and enough depth for your family needs.
Brazing pans can act in place of a casserole pan if you dont have one.
Like a brasier, casserole dishes are either oval or round. You can get them as small as two quart capacity up to 12 quarts. Casserole pans come in various media including earthenware and glass. Most casserole dishes are made for oven use as a all-in-one meal pan.
Chefs pans have one long handle and one looped handle. The bottom has a smaller diameter than the top, on which a tight fitted lid goes. The base of a chefs pan is thick so it adjusts to temperature changes evenly and quickly. The size ranges from 2-6 quarts. Because of the design you can use this pan equally well for frying sauté, and even making sauces.
Double boilers are two pans in one. A smaller pot sits on top of a larger one securely, the bottom holding water and the top filled with delicate sauces or candy mixes. This design provides gentler heating, particularly for items that separate if you cook directly over the heat.
Dutch ovens have sides ranging in depth from 2-5, and a total capacity of between 2-6 quarts. These are oval or round and have a snug fitting dome lid. Typically made out of cast iron, stainless steel or anodized aluminum, use your Dutch oven for brazing, making soup, or pot roasting. These are a common part of camping kits.
Fondu pots have a small portable heat source like a candle or oil that burns under the pot keeping dipping sauces warm. Alternatively the pot may contain oil for cooking an appetizer fresh at the table.
This bakeware gives food a crispy brown crust. To achieve this its designed as an oval with shallow sides. The most common materials for the Gratinee include stoneware and cast iron. By moving the gratinee to the broiler you can get a golden top too! Try it the next time you make home made macaroni and cheese.
Griddles have long handles attached to a flat pan, usually made with cast iron or a non-stick material. A good griddle has a small rise around the edge that catches oil and keeps liquid components like batter from pouring off the sides. Griddles come in one-burner and two burner sizes suitable for making hamburgers, grilling vegetables, and preparing pancakes or eggs.
Grill pans have ridges in the bottom that mimic a gas or charcoal grill surface. These look similar to a frying pan, but the ridges keep your food from steaming while it cooks. The best material for a grill pan is cast iron due to the evenness of heating.
Also sometimes called oven pans, roasting pans come in various sizes so they can hold whole pieces of poultry or other meat products. Roasting pans may be rectangular or oval, have a domed top, and may have a rack inside that keeps the meat up out of the juices for even browning. Without the cover, roasting pans make serviceable casserole dishes.
Sauce pans are characterized as having flat bottoms and high, straight sides, ideal for heating soup, mixing sauces, and warming food. Some saucier pans may have a slight flair to the side offering a wider top than bottom. Copper and stainless steel make excellent sauce pans, the average size for which is 1 pint - 4 quarts.
Sautee pans are round with fitted lids and curved handles on each side. The main function for the sauté pan is braising foods.
Also called a frying pan, this flat-bottomed implement has short, sloping sides for easy access. Copper, stainless and anodized aluminum are the main materials used for making thse. They come in a wide variety of sizes typically ranging from 6 14 with a depth under 3. Note that omelet pans, crepe pans and pancake pans are all a form of skillet.
Stockpots have deep, straight sides with handles at the top. True to its name, a stockpots design makes it ideal for soup, stock, and stew. The best constructed stock pots have heavy bottoms that deter burning. They come in various capacities ranging from 6 20 quarts.
Woks have become more commonplace with the growing trend toward global and fusion foods. These are bowl-shaped so they can go directly over a flame. Most have one long handle but others come with short handles on the sides. Diameters range from 12-16 with a depth of 4 or so. Woks are commonly used for stir fry but you can also sauté and deep fry in them.
Pot and Pan Materials
Just knowing how best to use different types of cookware doesnt answer the whole equation of what makes the best pots and pans. The next question is what is the base media for the equipment?
Aluminum pans are very light and relatively strong. It conducts heat nicely, particularly for frying or sauté and washes up with soap and water. Aluminum represents an affordable choice, but shouldnt be used to cook acidic foods.
Aluminum pots come in three different styles cast, rolled and anodized.
Cast aluminum heats quickly but isnt as durable.
Rolled aluminum is light weight but doesnt distribute heat well at all.
Anodized aluminum resists abrasions and comes in a variety of colors.
Cast Iron Cookware
Cast iron pots offer a moderate price and heavy duty construction. Iron heats up slowly but retains that temperature very well. Its an excellent media for slow cooking, either in the oven or on the stovetop.
To keep the iron from rusting pots should be properly seasoned and dried thoroughly after every use. If you have an induction stove, iron is a great option.
Clay pans come in three possible forms stoneware, porcelain and earthenware.
Porcelain works well for glass top stoves and microwave ovens. This type of pan has a non-stick surface and many are dishwater safe.
Stoneware is fired, and functions in both microwave ovens and in a conventional stove. Avoid putting stoneware in the dishwasher.
Finally Earthenware is porous, making it weaker than porcelain or stoneware, and can be used in your oven or microwave.
Copper cookware is costly but its also very beautiful. From a chefs vantage point copper responds to heat uniformly, lessening the chances of sticking or burning. You dont need a lot of fire power to heat up a copper pan it conducts twice as well as aluminum.
Most copper pans have interior liners made out of another metal like stainless steel or tin.Glass Cookware
Glass cookware work well in the microwave and are dishwasher save. You can not use them directly over electric elements, however, as they can shatter. Hot spots develop when used on the stovetop, so consider using glass only as oven ware.
Non stick surfaces are great for clean up and when you want to use less oil in cooking. However you should avoid using any sharp utensils or scratchy cleaning tools that could damage the surface. Most non-stick pans have shorter lifespans than other materials due to this weakness.
A highly versatile media, steel maintains its finish and has great strength. I wont corrode and stands up to a lot of wear and tare. If the pans have aluminum or copper bottoms theyll conduct heat efficiently. Look for pans that have 18/10 grading and solid handles.
Knowledge makes you a much more adept shopper. There are a few other tips, though, to finding the best pots and pans for your home.
First is making a list of what youre missing, or perhaps those items for which you wish but havent gotten yet.
Second is checking online and in the newspaper for sales. The price on the very same pan differs greatly from outlet to outlet. The more you save, the more pieces you can get!
Watch for pans that have reasonable warrantees, and those produced by manufacturers who have been around for a while.
You want a company who will still be in business to honor those warrantees. Last but not least, but the best pots and pans you can with your current budget.
It may take a little longer to fill out your collection but the time is worth it.
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