At The Table With: Ty Schmidt, Creator of SchmidtyBakes

At The Table With: Ty Schmidt, Creator of SchmidtyBakes

We’re kicking off Pride Month with a spotlight on one of our most colorful creators—Ty Schmidt, founder of SchmidtyBakes! We talked about the importance of acceptance, the joy of sharing a meal and who he’d invite to a dinner party.

The Ultimate Guide to Cookware Materials

Aug 9, 2023

cookware materials guide

Cooking is an art form that relies not only on skill and creativity, but also on the tools we use in the kitchen. Among the essential tools for any home chef, cookware takes center stage.

From preparing a simple breakfast for your family on a Sunday morning to crafting restaurant-worthy dishes to impress your dinner club friends, the type of cookware you use can greatly impact the taste of dishes, texture of ingredients and your overall cooking experience.

But with an abundance of options available, it can be overwhelming to navigate the world of cookware. If you’re looking to start (or add to) your own cookware collection, it’s important to understand the unique properties, advantages and disadvantages of each type of material, as each brings its own set of characteristics and strengths. The material of your cookware also influences factors such as heat distribution, durability, nonstick properties and even the level of maintenance that’s needed to keep the cookware in tip-top shape.

In this guide, we’ll explore the pros and cons—as well as cleaning and care instructions—of four of the most popular options: stainless steel, nonstick, ceramic nonstick and cast iron. By understanding the distinctions between these materials, you’ll be able to select the best cookware material for your cooking style, preferences and culinary needs.

 

Hungry for more? With a patented laser-clad titanium nonstick interior that’s durable against scratches and chips and oven-safe up to 600°F, Viking’s new PerformanceTi cookware collection is a must have for any kitchen. 

Shop The New Viking PerformanceTi Cookware Collection

guide to different cookware materials

Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel cookware has become a staple in kitchens around the world due to its durability, versatility and timeless appeal. This material is an alloy made of iron, carbon and other metals, with a layer of chromium that provides corrosion resistance. This composition gives it a sturdy and robust structure that can withstand high temperatures and heavy use. Stainless steel cookware often features an aluminum or copper core sandwiched between layers of stainless steel to enhance heat distribution.

 

What are the pros and cons of stainless steel cookware?

Pros

  • Durability: Stainless steel cookware is highly durable and can withstand heavy use, making it long-lasting and resistant to dents and scratches.
  • Corrosion resistance: Stainless steel is resistant to rust, stains and corrosion, ensuring that your cookware maintains its appearance and performance over time.
  • Versatility: Stainless steel cookware is compatible with various cooking methods, including stovetop, oven and induction cooking. It can handle high heat without warping or deforming.
  • Heat distribution: Stainless steel cookware with an aluminum or copper core offers excellent heat conductivity, ensuring even heat distribution across the cooking surface. This helps to prevent hot spots and allows for precise cooking control.
  • Nonreactive properties: Stainless steel is a nonreactive material, meaning it does not leach harmful chemicals or flavors into food, making it a safe choice for cooking and food preparation. This also makes it ideal for cooking acidic foods like tomatoes or citrus, allowing for precise control and cooking techniques without the risk of undesirable flavor changes.
  • Aesthetic appeal: Looks aren’t usually the highest priority when it comes to cookware, but they are important! One of the main benefits of stainless steel is its timeless look—simultaneously sleek, classic and modern-looking, complementing a variety of kitchen styles.

Cons

  • Poor heat retention: Stainless steel doesn’t retain heat as well as some other materials (like cast iron). This means that it may take longer to heat up and cool down, requiring adjustments to cooking techniques and heat settings.
  • Food sticking: Stainless steel cookware is not naturally nonstick, so certain foods may stick to the surface—especially when cooking without sufficient oil or fats. That said, proper preheating and cooking techniques can help reduce sticking.
  • Uneven heat distribution: Stainless steel cookware that’s made without an aluminum or copper core may have uneven heat distribution, leading to hot spots or uneven cooking results. Choosing cookware with a multi-layer construction can help mitigate this issue.
  • Price: Stainless steel cookware tends to be more expensive compared to other materials like aluminum or nonstick coatings. However, it is a long-term investment due to its durability and longevity.
  • Requires learning curve: Cooking with stainless steel cookware may take some time to master, especially for those used to nonstick surfaces. Adjusting heat levels, using proper oil or fat amounts, and practicing proper cooking techniques are important for optimal results.
  • Maintenance: While stainless steel is relatively easy to clean, it can show fingerprints, water spots or discoloration if not properly cared for. Regular cleaning and maintenance are necessary to maintain its shine and appearance.

 

How to clean and care for stainless steel cookware

To clean and care for stainless steel cookware, start by handwashing it with mild dish soap, warm water and a non-abrasive sponge or cloth. Avoid abrasive cleaners, steel wool or harsh scrubbing brushes that can scratch the surface.

For tough stains or discoloration, create a paste using baking soda and water or use a non-abrasive cleaning agent, like Bar Keepers Friend. To prevent dried food from creating a cleaning nightmare, you can also add a bit of vinegar to your hot pan after cooking and bring it to a boil—stuck-on bits should easily come off by scraping with a wooden spoon.

cookware materials guide<br />

Nonstick Cookware

Nonstick cookware has revolutionized the way we cook, providing convenience, easy food release and hassle-free cleanup. Designed with a special coating that prevents food from sticking to the surface, nonstick cookware has become a popular choice for both professional chefs and home cooks alike, well-loved for being one of the best cookware materials for everyday use.

Nonstick cookware typically consists of a metal base, oftentimes aluminum, but can also be made of stainless steel or even copper. It’s then coated with a nonstick material, which creates a smooth, low-friction surface that reduces the chances of food sticking during cooking.

 

What are the pros and cons of nonstick cookware?

Pros

  • Easy food release: Nonstick cookware provides effortless food release, preventing ingredients from sticking to the surface. This makes it ideal for cooking delicate foods like eggs, pancakes and fish.
  • Reduced oil usage: The nonstick coating allows for cooking with minimal amounts of oil or fats. This promotes healthier cooking by reducing added fats and calories in your dishes.
  • Easy cleanup: Nonstick surfaces are easy to clean, as food particles are less likely to stick. A quick rinse with soapy water is usually sufficient to restore the cookware’s cleanliness.

Cons:

  • Nonstick coating wear: The nonstick coating on cookware can wear off over time, especially with frequent use and abrasive cleaning methods. This can affect its nonstick properties and require replacement or recoating. Nonstick cookware also requires gentle handling to maintain the integrity of the nonstick coating (metal utensils are off limits here—only silicone or wooden utensils are recommended).
  • Limited heat resistance: Nonstick cookware has temperature limitations. It should not be exposed to extremely high heat, as it can damage the nonstick coating, potentially releasing harmful fumes.
  • Durability: Nonstick cookware may require more frequent replacement compared to other types of cookware due to the eventual wear and loss of nonstick properties.
  • Limited browning and searing: Nonstick surfaces do not promote browning and searing as effectively as other materials like stainless steel or cast iron. Achieving a deep, caramelized crust may be more challenging.

 

How to clean and care for nonstick cookware

Nonstick cookware is the easiest material to clean—warm soapy water and a non-abrasive brush are typically all that’s needed. For stubborn food particles, soak the cookware in warm, soapy water before scrubbing. Rinse thoroughly with clean water and ensure the cookware is completely dry before storing. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners, as they can harm the nonstick coating.

cookware materials guide

Ceramic Nonstick Cookware

Ceramic nonstick cookware has emerged as a popular choice for those seeking a healthier cooking experience without compromising on convenience. This type of cookware features a ceramic-based coating on the cooking surface, providing a smooth and nonstick finish. Ceramic nonstick cookware typically consists of a metal base, such as aluminum or stainless steel, coated with a layer of ceramic. The ceramic coating is typically derived from inorganic materials like silica or sand.

 

What are the pros and cons of ceramic nonstick cookware?

Pros:

  • Healthier cooking: Ceramic nonstick cookware is often promoted as a healthier option because it does not contain polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)—a potentially harmful chemical that used to be prevalent in some nonstick cookware brands. Ceramic offers a naturally nonstick surface without the risk of releasing chemicals or fumes when heated.
  • Easy food release: The ceramic coating provides excellent food release properties, making it easier to cook delicate items like eggs, pancakes and fish without them sticking to the surface. This allows for easy flipping, sliding and removing of food.
  • Easy cleanup: The nonstick properties of ceramic coatings make cleanup a breeze. Food residue can be easily wiped away with a soft sponge or cloth, and many ceramic nonstick pans are dishwasher safe.

Cons:

  • Durability: While ceramic nonstick cookware is generally durable, the ceramic coating may not be as robust as traditional nonstick coatings. It can be more prone to scratching, chipping or wearing off over time, especially when exposed to high heat or abrasive cleaning tools.
  • Heat sensitivity: Ceramic nonstick coatings may have temperature limitations. Exposing the cookware to excessive heat can lead to discoloration, degradation or even potential damage to the ceramic coating.
  • Careful handling required: Ceramic nonstick cookware requires gentle handling to prevent scratching or chipping of the ceramic coating. Metal utensils, harsh scrubbing brushes or abrasive cleaners should be avoided.
  • Limited browning and searing: Like nonstick cookware, ceramic nonstick surfaces are not as effective at promoting browning and searing as materials like stainless steel or cast iron.

 

How to clean and care for ceramic nonstick cookware

Similar to nonstick cookware, cleaning ceramic nonstick material is relatively simple. Warm water, soap and a nonabrasive brush or sponge are typically all you’ll need. For stubborn stains or food residue, soak the cookware in warm soapy water before gently scrubbing. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely to prevent water spots or mineral deposits. To maintain the longevity of the ceramic nonstick coating, store the cookware in a dry and well-ventilated area, avoiding stacking or nesting with other cookware.

cookware materials guide

Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron is made by pouring molten iron into a mold, resulting in a durable and heat-retaining cooking surface. It is known for its thick, heavy construction, which helps distribute heat evenly and retain it for extended periods.

 

What are the pros and cons of cast iron cookware?

Pros:

  • Excellent heat retention: Cast iron excels at retaining heat, making it ideal for tasks that require even and prolonged heat distribution. It ensures consistent cooking temperatures and keeps food warm for serving.
  • Versatility: Cast iron cookware can be used on a variety of cooking surfaces, including stovetops, ovens, grills and even open campfires. It is suitable for various cooking techniques, such as frying, baking, roasting and sautéing.
  • Durability: Cast iron cookware is incredibly durable and can last for generations with proper care. It can withstand high temperatures with heavy usage and is resistant to warping.
  • Nonstick properties: With proper seasoning, a natural nonstick patina forms on the surface of cast iron cookware. This coating reduces sticking and allows for easy release, making it suitable for cooking a wide range of ingredients.

Cons:

  • Seasoning and maintenance: Cast iron cookware requires seasoning—a process of applying and heating oil—to create a protective layer on the cooking surface. Regular maintenance involves cleaning, drying and applying a thin layer of oil after each use to prevent rust and maintain the seasoning.
  • Weight: Cast iron cookware is notably heavy compared to other materials. This weight can pose challenges for some individuals, especially when lifting or maneuvering the cookware.
  • Reactivity: Cast iron can react with acidic or alkaline foods, potentially affecting the taste or appearance of certain ingredients. It is recommended to avoid cooking highly acidic foods for extended periods in cast iron or to use enameled cast iron for those recipes.

 

How to clean and care for cast iron cookware

Cast iron is probably the most involved of the cookware materials when it comes to cleaning—which is something to consider as you determine the best cookware option for your needs.

To care for cast iron cookware, you’ll want to clean cast iron with just water and use salt as an abrasive to help clean off any stubborn food bits. For tougher stains or food residues, clean cast iron with mild dish soap and warm water—but note you may need to reseason your cookware to ensure the pan retains its nonstick qualities. Avoid using harsh detergents or abrasive scrubbers that can remove the seasoning.

After washing, it’s also important to dry the cookware completely to prevent rust. Place it on a stovetop over low heat or in an oven for a few minutes to ensure all moisture is evaporated. After drying, apply a thin layer of oil to the cooking surface to maintain the seasoning and prevent rust. Use a cloth or paper towel to distribute the oil evenly.

How to pick the best cookware material for your needs

Choosing the best cookware for your needs involves several factors. Here are a few things to consider to help you make an informed decision:

  1. Assess your cooking style and habits: Consider your typical cooking methods, the types of dishes you prepare, and your overall cooking style. Are you an avid home cook who enjoys a wide range of culinary techniques, or do you focus on specific types of cuisine? Understanding your cooking needs will guide you in selecting the right cookware.
  2. Determine your priorities: Identify the features and qualities that matter most to you. Is it heat conductivity, durability, nonstick properties or ease of maintenance? Prioritize these aspects based on your preferences and cooking needs.
  3. Consider your stovetop and cooking surfaces: Think about the type of stovetop or cooking surface you have, as some materials may not be compatible with certain heat sources. For example, not all cookware works on induction cooktops (we’re looking at you, aluminum). Ensure compatibility with your specific cooking setup.
  4. Consider multiple options: You don’t have to buy a full set of one material. Based on your research, priorities, budget and the information gathered, choose the cookware that aligns best with your needs, and consider purchasing individual pieces that fulfill your most essential cooking requirements.

 

Hungry for more? With a patented laser-clad titanium nonstick interior that’s durable against scratches and chips and oven-safe up to 600°F, Viking’s new PerformanceTi cookware collection is a must have for any kitchen. 

Shop The New Viking PerformanceTi Collection

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