The best material is multi-layered, combining different metals each of which has particular advantages. These pans may be among the most expensive options, but well-made pots can last forever. I like to use the most common multi-layered combination, stainless steel with an inner layer of copper, copper and silver alloy, or aluminium. Of these, aluminium is by far the most common and the most cost-effective. All-Clad has a few options: the Copper Core collection, or the multi-layered collection made from stainless steel and aluminium. Scanpan also has aluminium, stainless or titanium pans with a lifetime non-stick ceramic surface which is chemical free. I love my Scanpan non-stick pans but I feel they are slightly heavier.
These pans are made from multiple layers of different types of metal: copper, aluminium, stainless steel, and titanium. The metals are layered so as to derive the benefits from each metal while minimizing the drawbacks of using a single material. By far the most common design is stainless steel with an inner layer of aluminium. The stainless steel is on the outside of the pan because it reacts very little with food and air, but it is a relatively poor conductor of heat. The inner layer of aluminium – an excellent conductor but also highly reactive – compensates for the poor conductivity of the stainless steel. Some less expensive pans incorporate a multi-layered disc just on the bottom of the pan. This lowers the cost while giving some of the benefits of layering.
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Stainless steel is durable, strong, and easy to care for but does not conduct heat well.
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Buy pans coated in vitrified enamel. These are less expensive than enamelled cast iron but cannot be used in the oven.
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This material is excellent for several reasons. It is cheap, it conducts heat evenly and retains it well, and it acquires a stick-resistant coating with long use. Because cast iron absorbs flavour with use, the pan develops its own flavour (not a flavour specific to the food cooked in the pan) which it lends to the food. Families will pass down cast iron pans through generations so that younger generations benefit from the flavour the pan has acquired with time. However, it requires more care and is quite heavy. Buy pans that can go from the stove top (hob) to the oven for dishes such as frittatas. These pans tend to be fairly thick.
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Enamelled cast iron
Enamelled cast iron is easy to care for as it does not rust or pit, does not need to be seasoned, and can be washed with soap. The stick-resistant properties of the cast iron are lost, but for braising dishes this aspect is not of major importance.
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Best for: Any pan. Beating egg whites.
Copper is beautiful and conducts heat better than any other cookware metal. But it is expensive and heavy. It dents easily, is difficult to care for, doesn’t work on induction burners, and reacts with food. Though traditionally loved by professional chefs, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. And the cost can be prohibitive.
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Aluminium is inexpensive and lightweight. It conducts heat well but in its uncoated form is difficult to care for, wears quickly, and reacts with food. The exception is anodized aluminium, chemically treated in a way that removes the drawbacks of plain aluminium.
For more detail on aluminium pots and pans click here.
Titanium is an extremely durable material which requires little care and conducts heat well. But it is expensive.
For more detail on titanium pots and pans click here.