Cookware Buying Guide

Cookware Buying Guide

Investing in the right cookware for your kitchen is an important choice, and with so many factors to consider, that choice can be a little daunting.

Some pre-determined factors will narrow the choices available to you, such as the type of hob in your kitchen and the budget you have to spend, but for everything else this cookware buying guide will help you in your choice by explaining the different types of cookware available; the materials they are made from; what materials are suitable for all the different heat sources plus tips on cleaning and storage that will help to prolong the life of the product.



Types of Cookware

The first consideration when looking to purchase new cookware is your intended use. Different types of cookware fulfill different roles in the kitchen, and so it is important that you get the cookware items which will achieve the task you have in mind. Here is a breakdown of the most common types of cookware, and their intended useage.

Cookware Sets

Cookware sets are a combination set of multiple pieces of cookware. This can range from anything from a set of saucepans or frying pans of different sizes to a mix of different types of cookware. Most commonly, a cookware set will contain a set of saucepans, a milk pan and a frying pan, although the size of the set and its contents will vary.

The purpose of a good cookware set is to provide you with all the cookware equipment you will need for most common cooking purposes, from boiling pasta or rice, to making sauces and frying meat and vegetables. A cookware set can be an affordable way to get a matching set of pans and revamp your entire cookware collection in one go.

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Saucepans

With less variations than a frypan, saucepans are the real workhorses in the kitchen and have many uses from boiling vegetables, cooking pasta and rice to making sauces.

As with the frypan always measure the diameter across inside of the rim of the pan, not the base. Generally used in lower temperature cooking, using water rather than oil or fat.

They can be supplied with a variety of lids, generally glass or stainless steel; can be made from a variety of materials; stainless steel, aluminium (not common any more), hard anodised, glass, cast iron; and with a variety of coatings, non-stick, ceramic, enamel or none at all.

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Frying Pans

A frying pan is a frying pan, right? Also advertised as frys or skillets, there are a number of variations all of which cater for specific tasks. They are generally a shallower pan, used for higher temperature cooking (usually in oil or fat, rather than water).

Most of these are available in a range of sizes, materials and price brackets. Pans are measured across the inside of the rim, not the base.

A fry pan or skillet will generally have slanted sides and a wide, flat cooking surface, ideal for quick frying. They commonly have a heavy base for distribution of heat, and many are supplied with a non-stick coating, which is good for convenience and easy cleaning, but will degrade over time with constant use at high heat.

An omelette pan is a small shallow frying pan, ideal for turning out the perfect omelette, smaller quantities, 1 or 2 fried eggs etc.

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Milk Pans

This pan will be fairly small with high sides. They generally do not come supplied with lids, and can have a pouring lip for accurately pouring hot liquids like milk and sauces. They are often supplied with a non-stick coating. There are variations now available called milk/sauce jugs, which are deeper still, and can be used like a jug, but with a saucepan base; ideal for gravies and sauces.

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Saute Pans

The saute pan is similar to a chef’s pan, but with a larger, flat cooking surface and shallower, straight sides. It is ideal for searing off meat before adding a sauce for a slow simmer.

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Griddle & Grill Pans

A solid pan with ridges and channels to drain off excess fat and oil, and to suspend the food above the oil. Ideal for cooking fish and searing meat, giving you attractive char marks on your food.

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Woks, Stir Fry & Chefs Pans

Traditional woks are thin walled with a bowl shaped, designed for very fast, high heat cooking in a small amount of oil. They are made from carbon steel, with no non-stick coating, and are not washed up in water, but cleaned with some paper towel or similar to leave them with a film of oil, which over time turns the pan black and naturally non-stick. As this is not to everyone’s taste, they are now also supplied with non-stick coatings for ease of use and ease of cleaning. These thin woks do not work on induction hobs, so there are woks now made with thicker sides and base to work on induction. Also called stir-fry pans.

A Chef's pan is a deep, round sided pan usually with a lid and can sometimes have two grab handles or one long handle. Similar in shape to a wok or stir-fry, these are a hybrid saucepan/wok, and are designed as an all-round pan for kitchen use. Deeper than a fry, but shallower than a wok, it has a larger cooking surface than a wok making it ideal for general frying, and has curved sides for stir-frying.

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Casseroles & Stockpots

A stockpot is a large tall pan with high sides and double handles for comfortable lifting. The pan will include a lid and will be suitable for bulky ingredients for slow cooking. Can be used on the hob and in the oven.

A casserole is basically a shallower stockpot. A round or oval type pan, with a domed lid for catching steam. Again used for long cooking and with double handles for easy use. Can be transferred to the oven.

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Pressure Cookers

A pressure cooker is a large straight-edged pan with a heavy, locking lid. Cooking food under pressure is much quicker than ordinary cooking. As the pressure rises, it effectively forces the heat and steam through the food, cooking it evenly without it drying out. It is also healthier as vitamins and nutrients stay sealed into vegetables, rather than being poured away with the water. Meat will also be more succulent and tender. Once thought of as old-fashioned, the pressure cooker is currently going through a bit of a renaissance thanks to advances in modern technology. Traditionally made of aluminium, most models are now stainless steel

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Hob Types

Now that we have decided on the item of cookware that we need, the second thing to consider is the type of hob that you have. Not all cookware will be suitable for every hob type, so make sure you check both your hob and the cookware to make sure they will be compatible.

Gas Hobs

Gas hobs are easy to use and great for accurately controlling cooking temperatures with almost instantaneous results. All types of pans can be used on a gas hob, however when cooking make sure the flame does not reach further than the edge of the pan as this will discolour and damage your cookware.


Induction Hobs

The most energy efficient of hobs, an induction hob uses a magnetic field to create an induction current to turn the cookware into the heat source. They are safe to use as there are no naked flames or exposed heat sources, easy to clean as spills won’t burn onto the hob and are nearly twice as fast as conventional hob. The only drawback is that only pans with a ferrous (magnetic) base will work on them. See our blog Are My Saucepans Suitable For Induction Hobs? for more information. The good news is most modern cookware is now manufactured to be induction compatible. It’s also worth pointing out that ranges titled ‘Induction’ do work on other hob types, it’s just the manufacturer getting the point over that they are induction compatible!


Ceramic

A ceramic hob is a solid glass surface with Halogen bulbs under the surface that radiate heat through the surface. Stainless steel, cast iron, enamelled cast iron and hard anodised pans are all suitable for using on this type of hob. Enamel and stoneware can be used but can be a little bit abrasive on this type of surface, so use with care. All pans used must have a clean base as this can also scratch the surface. It’s not advisable to use exposed copper or aluminium on this type of hob as it may leave a few bits of residue from material particles on the surface which over time build up and become difficult to remove without damaging the hob.


Range

Cast iron, enamelled cast iron, stainless steel, copper, hard anodised and stoneware are all suitable for the use on an Aga or Range style hob. The solid plate is best suited to a thick base and boasts an even heat distribution.


Cookware Materials

Now that our cookware type is selected and we know what type of hob we have, we can think about our preferences for cookware material. Here is a breakdown of the more common cookware materials.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is one of the most popular materials for many types of cookware. The finish of Stainless is resistant to rust and scratching, and maintains its appearance over time, making Stainless Steel very durable. The best stainless steel for cookware is 18/10 (18% Chromium, 10% Nickel), which offers the optimum balance of performance, shine and durability. Some cheaper pans use 18/8, which is perfectly serviceable, but will not retain its appearance as well. Stainless Steel has poor heat conductivity, so most pans have an ‘encapsulated’ base, with a core of either copper or aluminium, to ensure fast, even heat distribution across the base of the pan. The types with aluminium tend to be less expensive than the copper but copper has better heat conductivity. There also some laminated versions available, with the aluminium core forming the sides as well as the base of the pans. This means maximum and even heat distribution across the entire pan, reducing cold spots and cooking times.


Hard Anodised

Hard anodised pans are aluminium pans which, during manufacturing, have had a process that changes the natural surface into Hard Anodised. This creates a very durable surface which is resistant to abrasive cleaning utensils. Although heavier than other materials, hard anodised cookware is great for even heat distribution and therefore cooks food uniformly. This type of cookware will last for a long time and are not easily damaged.


Cast Iron

Cast iron is a popular choice because of its versatility and durability. Although it is deemed difficult to maintain, if you season your cookware correctly before first use and clean with care, this type of cookware is great to use. Good for long lasting heat distribution and can be used on a variety of cooking sources. Especially good for recipes that need to move from the hob to the oven, and ideal for induction hob use.


Enamel Cast Iron

Enamel cast iron has all the benefits of the cast iron but with the durability of an enamel coating which eliminates the need to season the cookware. As well as the additional benefits of the coating, the enamel also makes the cookware more appealing and can be bought in a range of colours.


Glass

Glass cookware items are very resilient and versatile for cooking most dishes. Glass conducts heat very well so ideal for roasting and browning. Glass is also very hardy when it comes to cleaning as it can be soaked for hours without damaging the surface.


Ceramic

Like enamel cookware, the ceramic cookware items can be purchased by colour to suit your collection. Ceramic cookware generates heat slower than other bakeware so ideal for recipes that need slow or long cooking times. The added benefit with Ceramic cookware is that the dish can be presented straight from the oven to the table due to the colours available.


Features

The next thing to think about is the specific features that you want from your cookware. Does it need to be non-stick and dishwasher safe? Find out more below about the most common cookware features.

Non Stick

Non stick cookware is often a preferred option as it can help when it comes to cleaning, as there is no burnt on food to contend with. As a result, many cookware types have a non stick option. Non stick tends to be required more for cookware where food will be cooked at high heat and in direct contact with the cookware item. Frying pans and saute pans therefore commonly have non stick coatings. If you're looking for a saucepan that will be used for boiling pasta, rice, or vegetables then you're less likely to require non stick.


Dishwasher Safe

Since 1995, the percentage of UK households who have a dishwasher has risen from 18% to over 49%. There is no doubt that an increasing amount of us like the convenience of our dish washing being done for us. So of course for many of us, selecting cookware items which can be placed in the dishwasher is a high priority. A large number of cookware manufacturers understand this desire and so lots of cookware is now suitable to be placed in the dishwasher. However, it is important to note that many care and use guides will still recommend hand washing to keep your cookware in perfect condition for longer.


Oven Safe

Another great way to save on washing up is to use fewer pans. When recipes require food to be cooked first on the hob and then in the oven it can save a lot of hassle if you can simply use the same piece of cookware. Lots of pots and pans can now be used in the oven, so check that they are suitable before purchasing. Where cookware is oven safe, you will want to check out the top temperature that they can be used for.


Lid Included

Not every piece of cookware comes with a lid, and you may not require one. A lid is useful when you are trying to keep heat and/or moisture in the pan, such as when boiling pasta or steaming vegetables. Keeping the lid on lets you get to boiling point quicker, saving time and energy. Although saucepans will often be sold with a lid included, many other items like milkpans, frying pans and woks will not. If a lid is an important feature for you, check that one is included.


Guarantee

The length of guarantee on cookware items can vary considerably. On some products the guarantee may only be a year or two, whereas on others it could be a 25 year or even a lifetime guarantee. You may also need to check as sometimes the guarantee varies between the cookware item and its non stick coating. A longer guarantee can be an indicator of quality, as the manufacturer is confident that their product will be long lasting and, if anything goes wrong before the guarantee period expires, they will put things right.


Care & Use

Once you've got your new cookware, you will want to read through the care and use instructions to make sure you are looking after them properly. Here are some general tips on taking care of your cookware.

Usage

When using pots and pans on the hob it is best to try and match the size of the pan to the hob. Heat should be applied directly to the base of the pan and not the sides or handle, so turn the heat down if there are flames licking up the sides! Many pans are also not recommended for use on very high heats. Instead, they are designed to be used on a low to medium temperature - check the care and use instructions for your cookware for more information.


Cleaning

Cookware items will come with manufacturers' advice for care and cleaning and following these guidelines will extend the life of your well invested cookware. Stainless steel, cast iron, hard anodised and enamel all need to be cleaned gently in warm soapy water with a gentle cleaning utensil. For stubborn marks or spoils do not use wire wool as this will only damage the cooking surface. Do not leave items soaking for hours as this will gradually corrode your cookware, except glass and ceramic. Most cookware items are dishwasher safe, however prolonged use will reduce the life of your cookware, so it is often recommended to handwash them whenever possible and time allows.


Storage

Pots and pans are generally designed to stack inside one another. Take care not to dent or scratch them when storing. Invest in a set of pan protectors to place between pots and pans (or use a couple of layers of kitchen paper). Try not to over stack cookware, but if you have to then make sure the heaviest items are at the bottom. Pans can be hung from racks too (either from the ceiling or the wall). There are also pot stands for cupboards or free-standing and hanging racks available which are easy to install.


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