The Ultimate Guide to Cookware Material Types

3 different pans

As a home cook, it can be difficult trying to make sense of all the different types of cookware available on the market today. This is especially true if you are just starting you cooking journey. Deciding which cookware material type to choose is an important decision which can be a bit overwhelming.

At least that’s how I felt when I just needed a new everyday frying pan and was presented with a seemingly endless array of options. If you can relate, you’ve come to the right place. This is the guide I wish I had when I was trying to navigate the surprisingly complex world of cookware. What follows is a brief explanation of the main types of cookware on the market today and some of their pros and cons.

If you are looking for a quick answer, I have bad news: there is no definitive BEST type of cookware on the market today.

There is, however, a best cookware for you. No matter what type of home cook you are, there is a cookware material that will be better suited to help you reach your goals than the rest. The purpose of this guide is to help you figure out just what that is, so let’s get started!

Popular Cookware Types:

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel cookware is one of the most durable types of cookware on the market today. Stainless steel cookware can be made from different types of metal cores, with a stainless-steel exterior. As stainless steel itself isn’t a great heat conductor, the interior of the pan is usually made from a better heat conducting metal such as aluminum. By having a solid stainless-steel exterior, there is no need to worry about being too gentle with this type of cookware.

There are many reasons that stainless steel cookware has been one of the most popular types of cookware for years. Stainless steel cookware can last for years to come if it’s taken care of properly. There is no need to worry about using metal utensils on stainless steel and they are also oven safe. Many acidic foods like tomatoes can harm certain types of cookware surfaces, but not stainless steel. With frequent high heat use, stainless steel pots and pans may become discolored over time. However with some common kitchen hacks you can get them looking as good as new.

o Pros

  • Durable and long lasting
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Oven safe
  • Can be used with metal utensils
  • May be dishwasher safe
  • Great value

o Cons

  • Can be difficult to clean
  • Discoloration can happen over time
  • Food can stick to surface quite easily, oil or butter usually preferred for cooking

Hard Anodized

Hard anodized cookware refers to aluminum cookware that has gone through the anodizing process. Anodizing is a treatment process that seals the aluminum. This prevents the possibility of any getting into the food while being cooked in this type of pan. Anodizing allows home cooks to harness the convenience and heat conducting power of aluminum without the drawbacks. The result is easy to use, nonstick cookware that won’t break the bank.

Since anodizing is a common process among cookware, there is a lot of variety within hard anodized cookware. While hard anodized may refer to then pot or pan base itself, some are coated with a more traditional non-stick coating. In other cases, the entire piece of cookware may be hard anodized aluminum without a separate non-stick coating. Because there are so many different forms of hard anodized cookware, it’s important to take a close look into the set or piece you are considering and make sure it’s right for you.

o Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Durable construction

o Cons

  • Hand washing preferred
  • Metal utensils may damage the surface
  • May not be completely nonstick

Copper

Copper cookware is one of the most distinctive looking cookware types on the market today thanks to its, well, copper construction. Copper cookware not only looks great in any kitchen, but is also great for easy cooking. This is all thanks to copper being one of the most efficient metals when it comes to heat conducting. There has been some controversy about whether copper is safe to cook with. If it is lined with a non-reactive metal, copper cookware is safe. Usually, you will find copper cookware lined with stainless steel, which is one of the most common types of cookware surfaces.

If you have shopped at all for copper cookware you have likely noticed one of the most distinctive factors of it: the price. That’s right, copper cookware is expensive. While most home cooks likely won’t see the need to invest in copper cookware, those who do will definitely be happy they did. The unique look along with the world class cooking ability of copper cookware will keep you coming back to your copper cookware for years to come.

o Pros

  • Very attractive looking cookware
  • Great heat conductor
  • Can be used with metal utensils

o Cons

  • Typically not nonstick
  • Dishwashers can cause the copper surface to dull

Ceramic

Ceramic cookware is one of the top up and coming cookware types. This is mostly due to its nonstick ability combined with lack of chemicals in the manufacturing process. Like many other cookware types, the base and core of ceramic cookware is usually made from metal. The surface is made from sand to give it its nonstick properties.

You can think of ceramic cookware as accessible nonstick cookware for the 21st century. Ceramic cookware’s nonstick is very easy to maintain and there aren’t concerns about its safety like more traditional nonstick cookware. You can find ceramic cookware at a variety of different price points, so they won’t be out of reach for most home cooks. They are a bit more fragile than some other types of cookware. Practically speaking this just means to wash them by hand if you can and only use wood, silicone, or hard plastic utensils on the surface.

o Pros

  • Nonstick
  • Natural construction materials

o Cons

  • Fragile cooking surface
  • Cannot be used with metal utensils

Stone

You may be sensing a trend here, but stone cookware is not made completely from stone. The base and core of stone cookware is made from more common metals such as steel or aluminum with a stone surface. The stone surface makes the cookware nonstick and gives it an appealing natural look.

Stone cookware is a great option for many looking for any multi-purpose cookware. The nonstick surface of stone cookware works relatively well, and some stone cookware can be put in the dishwasher. Like other nonstick cookware types, it’s best to stay away from metal utensils that can damage the nonstick surface.

o Pros

  • Nonstick
  • Can be dishwasher safe
  • Natural construction materials

o Cons

  • Stone coating can be chipped
  • Not compatible with glass stove tops
  • Cannot be used with metal utensils

Cast Iron

One of the most classic and durable cookware types, cast iron is sure to be familiar to many. With its solid construction, cast iron pans can last for decades if they are taken care of properly. Many fans of cast iron say their performance improves over time while some other cookware types can decline over time. However, with the durability and character of these pans, there are some drawbacks in terms of maintaining this type of cookware.

Cast iron cookware can be considered the “rough and rugged” genre of cookware. It will last for years if you take care of it, but isn’t the best for every job. Cast iron cookware takes some time to preheat and can have uneven heating. However, once it’s heated, cast iron cookware will retain heat for a long time. This makes cast iron skillets great for jobs like searing meats since they won’t lose their heat when met with cold food.

o Pros

  • One of the safest types of cookware
  • Affordable
  • Can be used with metal utensils

o Cons

  • Best if they carefully cleaned by hand after each use
  • Requires “seasoning”

Non-Stick

Non-stick cookware is one of the most convenient types of cookware thanks to its nonstick coating that gives it the name. Nonstick cookware is a great choice for beginner home cooks as it is easy to use and easy to care for, with a few caveats. The nonstick coating is usually made from a chemical spray that needs to be taken care of to make sure there are no chips in the coating.

Nonstick cookware is very easy to find and usually has accessible price points. It’s important to look into what is used to make the nonstick as some of the chemicals used historically have been shown to be toxic. The main things to look out for are PFOA and PTFE, which are used in Teflon.

o Pros

  • Great nonstick properties
  • Requires little to no oil for cooking
  • Easy to clean

o Cons

  • Cannot be used with metal utensils
  • Nonstick coating can be fragile

Carbon Steel

Want to cook like the pros? Having carbon steel in your kitchen is the quickest way to give your home kitchen a professional face lift. Carbon steel is the top cookware choice of many chefs due to how durable it is and its ability to sustain high heat. While your home kitchen may not be cranking out dishes all night long, home cooks can certainly benefit from using carbon steel cookware.

Carbon steel cookware is also extremely versatile. It can be used to sear meats, make fluffy omelets, and has no problem going into the oven. To keep carbon steel working its wonders for years to come, it needs to be cleaned carefully after use. While not as difficult to care for as cast iron, it’s important to dry carbon steel immediately after washing and season with a bit of oil on the surface of the pan.

o Pros

  • Durable and long lasting
  • Lightweight
  • Even heat distribution

o Cons

  • Requires “seasoning” like cast iron
  • Requires some extra care when cleaning

Glass

Glass cookware is certainly not as popular as some of the other options but is worth mentioning. Glass is more commonly used as bakeware, but there are still some more traditional glass pots and pans on the market today. One of our favorite properties of glass cookware is how great they can look used as a serving dish. If you want to be able to prepare a dish and serve right in the pot or pan while still having it look good, glass would be a great choice. As stylish as it may be, glass cookware may not be best for everyday cooking.

o Pros

  • Watch food as it cooks without removing the lid
  • Looks great
  • Dishwasher safe

o Cons

  • May not conduct heat evenly
  • Fragile

How to Pick the Best Cookware Material for You

Now that we have gone over an overview of the main cookware material types on the market today, now it’s time for the big question:

which one is right for you?

While I certainly can’t answer that question for you (I’m just an internet article!), there are a few simple questions you can ask yourself that should help you narrow down your options.

How much do you value convenience?

There are types of cookware that will be easier to use than others, especially if you are a beginner. Don’t want to worry about messy clean up? Nonstick or hard anodized would be worth taking a closer look at.

If you don’t want to have to worry about taking too much care of your cookware, options like cast iron or stainless steel may not be great for you. These 2 cookware types specifically require a bit more maintenance to keep them lasting for a long time.

Are you looking for an all-natural option?

While nonstick pans are convenient, many people shy away from them due to the chemical processes used to manufacture them. If you don’t want to worry as much about what your pans are made of, ceramic, stone, and cast iron would all check that box.

Do you want your cookware to last a lifetime?

If you are viewing this cookware as an investment and are willing to maintain your cookware with care, there may be some better options for you. Cast iron and carbon steel are known for their longevity if they are taken care of properly. If you want this to be the last cookware you ever buy, those materials would be up to the task.

Do you want your cookware to double as decoration?

Just as the materials of cookware differs, so do their visual appeal. Will you cookware be on display 24/7 or double as a serving dish? Copper and glass cookware would be the bold visual picks on this list.

How much cooking experience do you have?

If you are a newer home cook looking to buy cookware for first time, nonstick, hard anodized, and ceramic are all great entry level options. These cookware types will help you to get the job done while becoming a better cook. If you have been working around the kitchen for a few years now, stainless steel, carbon steel, copper, and cast iron may be better options for you.

With this overview of these popular cookware materials, you can now make a more informed buying decision. As you can probably tell, there is no perfect cookware option, but some will be better for you and your particular cooking needs. If you find you are drawn to a particular type of cookware, go for it! Before you purchase, make sure you know how to properly use and care for your cookware to ensure delicious meals and long-lasting cookware.

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Matt
Matt