Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cookware materials

I've decided to post a blog about cookware materials. Islena and I have gone through quite a few pots and pans, and every time we go to look for "good" ones to replace the ones that are falling apart, we get into the same dilemma. Are we buying more of the same low quality pots and pans?

Knowledge is half the battle my friends. Go Joe!

So here's... I can't paste from my word document. Foiled again by COBRA!

I got it! Enjoy!

Basic Materials

Cast iron:
The Good: Cast Iron sears meats very well. It maintains steady heat long after the heat source is gone. It is also a good heat conductor, disbursing heat well. It can be heated up as much as you want. It’s inexpensive. It is good for blackening food, stir-fry, braising, casseroles, browning meats, slow cooking, frying, and baking. The best types of pans to get in cast iron are skillets and dutch ovens.
The Bad: Cast iron heats up very slowly, and may need to be preheated for a couple of minutes before use. It needs to be seasoned, although many are sold pre-seasoned. It is slightly reactive, so it may get the taste of previous meals, and give a taste of iron to food. It rusts, gets pitted, and may shatter if it falls just right. Food sticks to it, and it is very heavy. Being seasoned reduces reactivity, food stickiness, rust, etc.
Coated with enamel. Maintains heat conduction and reduces disadvantages. Hard porcelain enamel coating provides a permanent finish and prevents reacting with foods. It may come in many colors. It doesn’t need to be seasoned. It can be cleaned however you want. It may lose the non-stick quality as compared to seasoning, and it may not brown as well. They can also be more expensive.
Carbon Steel. Isn’t really a type of cast iron, but it can be treated the same way. You will most likely encounter this material in a wok. It was traditionally used in Asia. A good carbon steel wok should be solidly built and quite cheap. Proper care will make it last a lifetime.

The Good:
Copper retains heat well, and will last for a lifetime. It is the best heat conductor of the common metals used for cooking. It’s good for delicate sauces and preferred by many professional chefs. It was traditionally used in continental cooking. Thicker is better, up to multiple millimeters of thickness, but it becomes very expensive.
The Bad: Copper cooking ware is the most expensive of all. Copper itself is highly reactive, so it is lined with tin, stainless steel, nickel, etc. Copper needs more maintenance, it is not dishwasher safe, it shouldn’t be air-dried (to prevent spotting), must be polished regularly, and the lacquer finish must be removed before its first use. Any lacquer stripper should work. Copper is poisonous. If acidic food touches copper or is heated touching copper, it will result in significant health issues. Very thin exterior layers are mostly for show and to charge more, and have no actual cooking value.
Tin lined copper. This is the traditional choice, but will wear over time and requires retinning. It is soft, and if the pan becomes too hot, it will melt. Finding a shop to retin may be difficult. Tin discolors over time.
Nickel lined copper. Much harder than tin, and will last a great deal longer before wearing away, but cannot be replaced.
Stainless steel lined copper. Generally more expensive, but never needs retinning.

Stainless steel:
The Good: Stainless steel is rust-free, easy to clean, durable, stable under very high temperatures, non-reactive, resistant to wear, and light weight. It won’t tarnish or get nasty over time. Metal utensils can be used with it.
The Bad: The bad thing about stainless steel is that it has poor heat conduction. It is medium priced. Pans that are stainless steel-only tend to be very cheap, thin, and they warp easily, meaning less contact with burners, and even more uneven heating of food.
Copper core. Copper sandwiched in stainless steel. May be very high quality. Very expensive.
Aluminum core. To increase stainless steel's heat conduction, aluminum is often sandwiched between an internal and external layer of stainless steel. In a high quality pan, this layer extends all the way up the sides, not just the bottom. Very good but expensive.
10/18. Represents high quality. 10% nickel for more shiny metal, 18% chromium to prevent corrosion.

The Good:
Aluminum is a good heat conductor, second only to copper. It is also inexpensive.
The Bad: It is reactive, interacting with food, and flavors some dishes. It is a soft metal that will deteriorate over time. It easily scratches. Some cheap aluminum pans warp quickly, are thin, and are prone to hot spots.
Anodized aluminum.
This means the Aluminum has been treated to prevent reactivity. The exterior is then called aluminum oxide. It is much less reactive. You still don’t want to make pickles in it or store tomato sauce overnight in it. It transfers heat well and doesn’t warp. It takes time to warm up, but it evenly disperses heat throughout the pan.

The Good: You can see the food inside the dish while it’s cooking without lifting the lid. It also retains heat fairly well.
The Bad: May be damage during extreme temperature changes. It may shatter if you put cold water in hot pan. Food tends to stick to it a lot. They shatter if dropped, and glass lids may warp, which makes it useless for any dish that requires good closure.
Pyrex. It’s more resistant to cracking than others of this type.

Teflon/Non-stick/new materials:
The Good: The good news is that, yes, it does make food stick less. If you’re doing a low-fat diet, you can use less oil than you otherwise would. They are also easier to clean than the metals.
The Bad: Non-stick materials don’t last very long. You have to use wooden/plastic utensils to avoid damaging the lining for most of them. Teflon, at least, breaks down at 500 degrees, and turns to a gas that kills birds. The non-stick will eventually fail, and when it does, you have to go out and buy another pan.
New Calphalon, Circulon, Scanpan. Some newer materials give a long guarantee on the non-stick and are ok for metal utensils.

Important Qualities/Definitions

Tinning: The process that grafts a thin layer of a metal, like stainless steel, onto copper. This keeps the copper from reacting with acids in food, and from getting into food generally. Tin will last around ten years before it needs to be replaced by a specialty shop.

Seasoning: The surface of a pan, inside and out, is treated with a layer of vegetable oil or shortening. The pan is covered in it, and then it is baked to seal the fat into the pan. This will stop reactivity and corrosion, and will give a non-stick surface. Seasoning breaks down over time and has to be repeated. Wash and dry the pan thoroughly, lightly rub shortening into the pans surface, and bake the pan in an oven at about 300 degrees for an hour to an hour and a half.

Conduction: Good heat conduction allows for even cooking. Poor heat conduction means different areas of a pan are at different temperatures. Think of a 10 foot by 10 foot thin sheet of metal with a heat source beneath it. A poor heat conductor will be very hot right above the heat, and cool very close by. A good heat conductor will be fairly hot right above the heat source, but will also be fairly hot in the surrounding areas.

Reactivity: Copper, aluminum, and to a lesser extent cast iron, are "reactive" metals. That means they will chemically combine with certain foods, usually acidic ones, and this will alter the flavor and color of the food you’re preparing. This may mean consuming high levels of the metal as well. For some reason, copper is great for mixing egg whites, but reactive in almost all other situations.

Recommendations before buying: Make sure the lid fits snugly. Is the handle oven safe? Will it stay cool on the stove? How is the handle connected to the pan? Screws may come loose. How does it balance with something heavy in it in terms of comfort, ease of handling, and balance? Does the pan fall over when it’s nearly empty because the handle is to heavy or long? Does it have/need handles on both sides?


L said...

Your blog is the most random thing I've ever read....I LOVE it!

Shannan said...

You are the great american hero.