Metal transfers heat quickly and evenly from the heat source to the food; this, and its durability, make it an efficient and popular cookware material.
Range-top ware includes items used on top of the stove that come in direct contact with heat. Food is cooked by conduction-transfer of heat through pan to food. Basic to this category are:
Saucepans – have one long handle, come with or without lids in 5/8-qt. to 4-qt. sizes.
Sauce pots – have two side handles, 2-qt. to 20-qt. sizes.
Skillets – also called frying pans. Have one long handle, broad bottoms, shallow sidewalls. Come 6″ to 12″ diameters, round or square, regular or saute (with curved flaring sides) shapes, with or without lids.
Dutch ovens – like sauce pots only made of heavier gauge metal: May be used on burner or in oven for slow cooking or braising meats.
Kettles – 8-qt. to 16-qt. covered utensils with bail handle.
Griddles – have one long handle, two side handles or bail handle, wide bottoms, shallow sidewalls: are round, square or oblong.
Tea kettles – have curved or bail handles, 6-cup to 5 qt. capacity. Conventional or whistling. “Whistlers” have flip-up spout covers and trigger handles.
Aside from copper, aluminum is the best heat conductor used for cookware. It has even heat distribution and no “hot spots” where food will stick and burn.
Aluminum heats rapidly and evenly, and cools almost as quickly when removed from stove burner, so it will not keep foods warm for serving unless extremely thick. It is also relatively lightweight.
Aluminum pans are not all alike; their method of manufacture and gauge (or thickness) make the difference. The two most common manufacturing methods are stamping and casting.
Stamping involves placing flat sheets or round blanks of aluminum, rolled to specified thickness, in a press that forms the utensil. After finish is applied, handles are attached.
In the casting process, molten aluminum alloy is poured into molds. When the metal has cooled, the pan is removed from mold.
Medium and light gauge utensils are stamped, while heavier and more expensive ones are either stamped or cast. Both are one piece with no seams or hard-to-clean corners.
Pans used for top-of-range cooking are at least 18 gauge. The heavier the pan, the more durable it is and the more it costs. A top quality pan could be about 5 to 7 gauge. Thinner metal (22 gauge) offers more chances for food to scorch and it may dent or warp.
What is Gauge? Gauge is the thickness of metal used in cookware. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the metal. For example, 10 gauge is thicker than 16 gauge. A rule of thumb to apply to cookware is that 10 to 18 gauge metal is suitable for range-top use; 20 and 22 gauge is too thin for use over direct heat and may result in burned food or a warped pan. Baking pans may be thinner gauge, but must be sturdy enough to maintain shape under normal usage.
Aluminum range-top pans have satin-finished bottoms (to speed heat conduction) and sides that are polished, chrome plated, anodized or covered with porcelain or ceramic.
Aluminum bakeware with a dull or anodized finish absorbs heat quickly, while highly polished bakeware reflects heat.
The outside walls of cake pans and cookie sheets usually have shiny finish to bake light golden cakes or to keep cookies from browning too much on the bottom.
Best metal pie pans have satin or anodized finish to absorb oven heat which is conducted quickly and evenly to the pie. Nine inch is most common, but other sizes are available.
Muffin pans, also used for cupcakes, are sold in 6 and 12 cup sizes. Mini-size muffin pans are also available.
Covered roasters are for fowl or less-tender cuts of meat-those that require both heat and moisture to become tender. Shallow, rectangular, open roasting pans are designed for tender meat cuts.
Cooking tools made of wood, plastic or smooth-edged metal are recommended for use with aluminum. Sharp-edged tools such as knives, mashers and beaters may scratch it.
Stainless Steel Pans
Stainless steel pans are smooth, hard, warp- and scratch-resistant, non-porous and exceptionally durable. Adding chromium and nickel to steel alloys makes the utensil stainless by forming an invisible film that protects the surface from rust, corrosion, pitting, cracking, chipping and tarnishing. The chromium renews the film if anything mars it.
Stainless steel bakeware is usually solid stainless steel, while range-top utensils combine stainless steel with other metals.
The reason for this is that stainless steel does not conduct heat as rapidly or as evenly as aluminum. To improve heat conduction, it is combined with aluminum, copper or carbon steel.
Different manufacturing methods produce “ply pans” in several combinations of metals that are bonded together before the utensil is formed. These include:
Single-ply pans – Entire pan consists of only one material.
Two-ply pans – Very uncommon- stainless-steel interior with another metal on the outside. Very occasionally this is reversed.
Three-ply pans – Also called “tri-ply”- stainless steel on the top and bottom with another metal (typically aluminum) as the core.
Bottom-clad pans – Solid stainless or three-ply with another metal applied to the bottom of the pan after it is formed.
Five-ply pans – Stainless steel on both the top and bottom surfaces with three layers of conductive metal (typically aluminum) forming the core.
Like aluminum, stainless steel can have a highly polished or satin finish, and for the same reasons. Again, heavier gauge denotes quality.
Cast-iron ware is one of man’s oldest forms of cookware. Today’s cast-iron implements are alloys that permit thinner (and lighter-weight) pans with greater strength.
Most common items of cast iron are chicken fryers, skillets, roasters, dutch ovens, broilers and grills, as well as specialty items like muffin or corn stick pans.
Cast iron heats more slowly than other metals, but distributes heat evenly and maintains a steady surface temperature desirable for browning, pan broiling, slow stewing or baking. Cast-iron skillets have become more popular with the recent cooking trend toward blackened meats and Cajun recipes.
Cast iron requires different care from other cookware metals (see chart below on cleaning metals and finishes). The addition of nonstick interior coating and porcelainized exterior finishes makes cast iron easier to care for. However, interior coatings rob cast iron of its browning ability, often regarded as its most desirable characteristic.
Copper is the best conductor of heat among cookware metals; it not only distributes heat evenly, but holds heat to keep foods warm. It is, however, heavy and expensive, and it dents and tarnishes easily.
Copper cooking surfaces must be lined with a coating such as stainless steel or a nonstick coating; otherwise they may produce toxic salts when exposed to some foods.
Also, cooked foods left in contact with uncoated copper may become discolored. The discoloration isn’t appealing, but is harmless in most cases.
Copper is used mostly in combination with other metals, such as stainless steel (see section on stainless steel).
Enamelware is slightly different from porcelainized cookware in that it is coated complete-inside and out-with porcelain enamel.
The coating can be applied to steel, stainless steel and cast iron. The porcelain is applied after utensil is formed to create a smooth non-porous surface. In normal use, these pans are not affected by aging, heat, humidity or food acids, and therefore can be used for cooking, baking, roasting, serving and storing.
Less-expensive enamelware may chip or scratch easily, but better quality utensils have heavier coatings and are more chip-resistant.
Aside from natural metal exteriors, the emphasis on colorful kitchens has created a big market for colored cookware and that means special exterior finishes. Porcelain and ceramic coatings are most often used, since they offer solid colors and designs on an easily cleaned surface. Some pans and skillets are painted.
Porcelain is a form of durable glass bonded to metal at a high temperature.
Porcelain enamel cookware should not be used over a high heat for a prolonged time; extreme high temperatures may cause the porcelain to melt.
Better grades of porcelainized cookware are seamless. Price differences can be traced to thickness of metal, number of coats of porcelain, design and color, and accessories such as non-broilover covers and heat-resistant plastic handles.
Ceramic are clay-based and applied to metal in much the same way as porcelain.
Either coating can be applied to steel, aluminum, stainless steel or cast iron after the pan has been formed. Both offer a hard, lustrous finish that normally will not scratch, rust, fade or peel. However, it may chip or crack if the pan is dropped.
Other finishes for metal cookware include:
Anodized – layer of aluminum oxide electrochemically applied to sheet aluminum; is stain resistant. Color finish can be applied by soaking in color bath.
Brite – polished and buffed finish.
Enamel – (acrylic, alkyd, epoxy, polyurethane)-organic material baked onto interior or exterior of aluminum or stainless steel. In variety of colors.
Plated – layer of chrome, copper or brass plated onto aluminum or stainless steel.
Satin – dull finish; speeds heat absorption. Applied by brushing.
Silkscreen – porcelain or acrylic paste forced through design on screen and baked on exterior surface.
Sunray – interior finish. Applied by rotating pan over light abrasive, like sandpaper.
Synthetic finishes may fade from prolonged subjection to high heat or after repeated washing with dishwasher detergent. An anodized finish can be permanently damaged by soaking in strong detergent or washing in a dishwasher.