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The world of cookware and bakeware is full of variety, not only in the types of pots and pans available, but in the materials from which they are made. From saucepans to muffin tins and everything in between, these vessels require a range of materials to get the best results for different techniques.
But, to the average home cook, the array of choices can be a bit befuddling. Why bake with ceramic, sear steak on cast iron or make candy in a copper pot? Well, it turns out there are actually a lot of reasons. Read on to find out how and why we use these common cookware and bakeware materials:
Used For: Saucepans, skillets, pie pans, cake pans, loaf pans and more
Notes: There are a few different types of aluminum used in cookware: bare, nonstick and anodized. Bare aluminum is just solid aluminum, while a nonstick pan features a coating that makes it easier to use and clean. Anodized aluminum pans are bare aluminum that has been treated so the material oxidizes in such a way as to make it harder and more durable.
Pros: Aluminum pans are affordable and lightweight options that are easy to use and clean.
Cons: Unfortunately, aluminum pans aren’t particularly durable and will wear down more quickly than other cookware types.
Used For: Heavy-duty skillets, stock pots and casserole dishes
Notes: There are a couple options for cast-iron pots and pans: bare cast iron or enameled cast iron. Bare cast iron is incredibly versatile and nearly indestructible, but requires special treatment to maintain a good cooking surface. An enamel coating eliminates the need for special treatment, and makes the pot or pan much easier to clean.
Pros: Cast iron is heavy, durable and functional, and is also a great conductor that gets very hot and stays hot.
Cons: If you opt for a bare cast-iron pan, you’ll need to season it with oil to achieve a nonstick surface, and use a specific water-free cleaning method to maintain it. High-quality cast-iron pots and pans can also be a bit pricy.
Used For: Bakeware such as casserole dishes, ramekins and pie pans
Notes: Ceramic bakeware comes in a few types, but the most common are stoneware and porcelain. Both of these offer nonporous surfaces that are smooth and stain-resistant, but they differ in color and durability; porcelain is both more even in color and a bit more delicate, while stoneware is sturdier and has a more earthy tone.
Pros: Ceramic bakeware conducts heat evenly, which means you can get a very consistent bake every time. These pans will also stay warm for some time, keeping food from cooling.
Cons: Both porcelain and stoneware baking dishes are a little more fragile than metal options. They may be easily scratched, can be chipped and will break if dropped.
Used For: Stock pots, saucepans and baking molds
Notes: Copper cookware is a classic and beautiful option that is the top choice of foodies and professional pastry chefs alike.
Pros: Of all the metals used for cookware, copper is the best at transferring heat, which means it offers fast and even heating and cools down quickly. Because the material is so responsive to heat adjustments, copper cookware allows you to make very precise adjustments to temperature as needed.
Cons: Bare copper is reactive with acidic foods, so many copper pots feature a tin or stainless steel lining on the interior so they don’t alter food’s color or flavor. Copper vessels are also one of the more expensive cookware options.
Used For: Baking dishes and casserole pans
Notes: Glass bakeware is made from heat-tempered glass that safely weathers the extreme changes in temperature it will encounter in an oven.
Pros: The nonporous material retains heat well and offers a smooth and stain-resistant surface that’s relatively easy to clean.
Cons: Glass baking dishes are on the heavier side and are somewhat fragile, as they can break if dropped.
Used For: Baking molds and pans
Notes: Silicone is a relative newcomer to the world of bakeware, and the first material that is both flexible and heat-safe.
Pros: Silicone bakeware offers the advantage of high heat tolerance combined with flexibility and nonstick properties that make it easy to smoothly remove baked goods without damaging them.
Cons: The flexibility that makes silicone pans so versatile also makes them a bit harder to handle when they’re filled with batter or baked goods. Silicone also doesn’t conduct heat in the same way that metal does, so with some recipes you may not get the same browning or crisping that you would with a metal pan.
Used For: Stockpots, saucepans, skillets, woks and more
Notes: There are two common types of steel used for cookware and bakeware: stainless steel and carbon steel. Carbon steel is a standard steel-carbon alloy, while stainless steel features the addition of at least 10.5% chromium. Stainless steel pans are generally bare metal, but carbon steel pans can feature enamel or nonstick coatings.
Pros: That small percentage of chromium does big things for stainless steel cookware, as it does not rust, stain or corrode like carbon steel might; however, carbon steel is often more affordable and will last a long time with proper care.
Cons: Carbon steel needs to be carefully maintained and dried well to prevent rust and corrosion.