There are many choices when it comes to stovetop cooking pots and pans. Materials range from copper to aluminum to cast iron. Each material has unique qualities and reacts differently with the cooktop and the food. The type of cooktop in your kitchen must be compatible with the pot. The type and thickness of the material affects its conductivity or speed that heat is dispersed through the pan to the food.
Then consider the specific use for each pot. A skillet can be used with some steamers but is not suitable as a double boiler, for example. Let’s look at materials first.
Aluminum pans are good conductors of heat and are lightweight and easy to handle. Food should not be stored in aluminum because the chemical reaction will bring a change in colour and flavour. Many people also do not want to ingest aluminum due to health concerns.
Stainless steel pans are attractive but they are not good heat conductors and you will have hot spots resulting in uneven cooking.
Cast iron pans conduct heat well and hold heat for a long period of time. If the pan has not been pre-seasoned when purchasing then it must be done before using. If not seasoned properly the pan will dry out and food will stick during cooking and it will rust.
Non-stick coatings on pans are great for cooking low-fat meals because they do not require any added oils. Be careful not to use any metal utensils or rough sponges on non-stick pans because the coating scratches very easily. There are concerns with the type of materials used to make the surface non-stick and toxins released during cooking. This is the time to buy the latest type of pan and not use the older non-stick versions. Also, don’t crank up the heat. Do not use cooking sprays because they produce a sticky film on the surface. Lastly do not put them in the dishwasher. After the pan cools wash in warm soapy water. These tips will ensure safe and long use of your pan.
Most kitchens have simple saucepots for cooking potatoes and vegetables. A variety of sizes is a good idea. When cooking with a pot, match it to the size of the element or burner. You don’t want the heat source to be larger than the pot or the sides will be too hot and begin to burn the food inside. The heat source needs to be directly under the pot.
A stockpot is a deep pot with high, straight sides and two handles. It is best for making stocks or heating a large quantity of liquid. A saucepan is similar but shallower. The lower pot makes it easier to stir the food.
Sauté pans or frying pans are shallow pans with one long handle and either straight sides or sloped sides. The sloped sides make it easier to use a spatula and turn food over.
A seasoned cast iron skillet is a kitchen staple. Every kitchen should have one. They are very heavy and hold a nice even heat. They are great for frying. They also have some other uses, like baking cornbread or pineapple upside down cake. They can be used on the stovetop or in the oven.
Enamelled cast-iron pots are great in that they have the same properties as a cast iron skillet. They are quite heavy and deep, usually round or oval in shape and come with two handles and a lid. These pots, also called Dutch ovens, are great for cooking hearty meals like stews, roasts and ragus. They are also useful for braising and simmering. The enamelled finish helps with easy clean up.
Double boilers are for preparing foods that cannot be held over direct heat. A double boiler consist of a two parts, a bottom pot that holds water and an upper pot that rests inside, over the steam and away from direct heat. When the water in the bottom pot begins to simmer or boil, the steam rises and heats the upper pot. Double boilers are key in warming delicate foods like custards and melting chocolate. The upper pot can be metal or ceramic.
Roasting pans are deep rectangular pans used mostly for roasting meat and poultry. Most often they are used with a rack to hold the meat so the entire piece of meat develops a caramelized exterior. The drippings are used to make sauces and gravies.
If you have purchased a specialty cooking pot check the instructions for use. For example, I have a clay Moroccan tagine that is designed for stovetop cooking. It is only to be used on a gas cooktop.
And finally, consider your type of cooktop. Gas is loved by most avid cooks because of the faster response when adjusting the heat. There is no warming up or cooling down time required. I find that it acts like increased counter space because when it is off I don’t have to remove the pot to stop the cooking process as I would with an electric cooktop.
Conduction or flat top ranges require pots with very flat bottoms. The warranty is also voided if you place too much weight on them. An example is preserving by the hot water bath method. Canners filled with water are too heavy for the surface and may damage it.
In summary, consider your type of cooktop and the cooking job when choosing the pot or pan. Good choices will make nicely prepared food.