Let’s talk about how to choose cookware. It’s also important to understand why cookware has confusing terms and varying price points. Know what to shop for so you can cut through the marketing smoke and mirrors.
So, when choosing cookware, first consider weight and conductivity. You want heavy cookware because it holds heat better. I know that heavy cookware seems counterproductive becausec it’s more difficult to hold and to carry, but the tool should do the work for you and in cookware, weight has an important function: A thick pan holds heat to maintain steady cooking temperatures. When you add food to a hot pan, it cools down the pan. But you want a hot pan for cooking, so having a pan that maintains steady temperatures makes cooking quicker and more efficient. That leads me to the next consideration: conductivity.
Quite a scientific term, yes. I won’t get into any scientific details, only functional results. It stands to reason, though, that when dealing with heat, it makes sense that you’d want the heat used the best way possible. Your cooking tool should properly channel heat to your food and the nature of its conductivity does just that.
Good conductivity allows for three very important things:
1. quick and efficient heat transfer,
2. even temperature throughout the surface your food sits on,
3. quick responses to temperature changes.
The first reason you want good conductivity is for quick and efficient heat transfer. This is because you don’t want to sit around for a while, waiting for it to heat up. That’s a waste of time. You want something that heats quickly so you can get going!
The second reason for good conductivity is for an even temperature throughout the surface your food sits on. For instance, let’s say you’ve got a filet of fish in a skillet. One end looks like it’s cooked well and should leave the pan but the other end is still kinda raw. Your option is to tear the fish apart and hopefully onlly remove the cooked pieces, leaving the raw pieces in the pan. Or, you leave it all in the pan, ultimately burning one end while getting the other end to catch up. If this happens, it’s most likely because the pan is not evenly distributing heat from the burner so one end of the pan is hotter than the other end. Quality construction prevents this from happening and prevents you from eating half burnt half raw food. If you have a burner that doesn’t distribute heat evenly, like an electric stovetop and you can see that the coils aren’t an even red when the burner is on, cookware made of materials with high conductivity will offset the burner’s lack of distribution.
The third reason good conductivity is important is the quick response to temperature changes. As you cook, you’ll notice you need to turn the heat up or down and you need a pan that quickly notices the change in heat and reacts accordingly.
All these reasons point to making cooking foolproof - which we want because it makes you more successful at cooking. And then you’ll do it more and get better, and so on and so forth.
As you shop, you’ll probably get confused with all the brands and product lines within a brand. The manufacturing process is a deep and confusing topic, and I’ll keep this brief so you have a solid idea of what to look for. You’ve got impact-bonded and triply or 5-ply.
Impact-bonded features a layer of aluminum, just on the bottom, like a disk, to transfer the heat to the rest of the pot or pan. There are downsides to this manufacturing approach - one being, the heat is only good on the bottom of the vessel, not the sides and two, over time, this extra disk on the bottom can separate from the pan. Impact-bonded cookware is very cheap, so while it’s an attractive price point, it’s horrible to cook in.
Triply or 5-ply construction means the entire product is layered three or five times with a combination of stainless steel, aluminum, and sometimes copper. For instance, I have a copper core skillet that’s layered with stainless steel on the bottom, then aluminum, then copper, then aluminum again, topped with another layer of stainless steel. These layers aren’t just on the bottom of the skillet, where the pan touches the heat, but all the way up the walls of the skillet, so the heat is even all over the skillet.
I recommend triply or 5-ply (there’s 7-ply, too, but seriously it’s not that much of a difference in performance) and when possible, I recommend All-Clad. It is known for lasting forever, and has the love of professional chefs all over the world. It works on all types of stove tops - electric, gas, and induction. Other brands supply their own triply or 5-ply versions. I see Calphalon getting lots of good reviews, but it only works on gas and electric stove tops, not induction. But it’s at a great price! I still recommend All-Clad when you can.
In case you’re wondering what induction is, it’s heat created by an electromagnetic field. So an induction stovetop looks like a glass top, and it only works when there’s induction-compatible cookware on the cooktop.
To avoid impact-bonded cookware, look specifically for the triply or 5-ply references to make sure that’s what you’re getting. Impact-bonded comes in many names like multi-clad. Confusing, eh? My guess is, they want it to be. When in doubt, ask for help in the store or contact the manufacturer directly. Seeing a diagram of where and how the materials are placed is always more helpful than unfamiliar terms the marketing department may throw out.