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Thursday, March 06, 2014

How To Choose Your Cookware

There are some things you need to know before you look for cooking pots.

"Reactive" cookware is made from a material that reacts chemically with other foods. Cast iron, aluminum and copper. Copper is the best heat conductor and aluminum is the second best heat conductor. Cast iron is an excellent, durable heat conductor. But if you cook acidic foods in an aluminum pot, your food will taste metallic and can discolor some sauces. Aluminum is a very soft metal so even using a spoon or whisk to stir can cause the reaction. Aluminium exposure has been suggested as a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. Anodized aluminum has a hard, corrosion-resistant surface. Copper is the same way and is usually covered with tin or stainless steel on the inside (replacing the lining is called tinning) to keep food from reacting in your copper pot. Copper leaching into your food could cause copper toxicity. Copper is so good at conducting heat it is used as the core metal in the very best "clad" cookware.

"Nonreactive" cookware is made from clay, glass, enameled cast iron (as long as it's not chipped), or stainless steel. These are not good heat conductors but they also don't leach and react with food. Stainless steel is the most durable and good stainless steel pots will have a disk or two of copper and/or aluminum bonded to the bottom of the pot. Stainless steel pots often have an inner core of aluminum and/or copper (and the higher end pots have a copper-clad bottom). The reason this is done is because these two metals are very efficient heat conductors. Since the aluminum or copper is encapsulated in stainless steel neither of the reactive metals come in contact with the food.

Now aluminum pots are typically clad on both their inside and outside surfaces, providing a stainless cooking surface all around. Copper is typically clad on its interior surface only, leaving the more attractive copper exposed. Some people are afraid of a stainless steel pot leaching nickel, a potentially toxic metal but this is not a hazard unless your pots are scoured harshly with steel scouring pad.

High-quality copper cookware sets are the definition of functional art. They are excellent for cooking and look very chic in the kitchen. But they do lose that copper shine. If it bothers you to have dulled and patinaed copper pots, then you either spend your time polishing them or you get stainless clad copper and forget about it. Copper is harder to upkeep. Actually cooking with it is means your pot gets hot faster and the heat travels up the sides of the pot which means if you are boiling something, the liquid can dissipate faster (reduction is quicker) so you need to keep an eye out so it doesn't boil dry and burn.

Pure stainless steel is easy to clean and maintain, is durable but doesn't conduct heat very well. So many companies encapsulate an aluminum and/or copper disk in stainless for the bottom of the pot. A layer or disc of aluminum may be surrounded in another material, such as stainless steel. The aluminum core is sandwiched between other layers of steel. You want to look for 18/10 stainless steel which is the highest quality.

If it is three ply or multi-ply this means it has an aluminum and/or copper layer encapsulated in the middle, with an easy to clean interior cooking finish, and a durable exterior layer. You want to look for 18/10 stainless and feel the sides of the pot and make sure it's thick enough stainless to be durable. Some pots have the multiply bottom but thin sides.

All clad pots are designed with this encapsulated layer of aluminum or copper, not only in the base of the cookware, but extending all the way up the sides, for excellent heat retention and distribution.

Here are some diagrams that I found online to give you a visual picture of how stainless pots can be made. I'm not advocating any name brand. I'm sure they are all wonderful pots. I'm just trying to give the reader an idea of what is available out there. If you are looking for stainless pots, you can do a Google search and find what you like.

The encapsulated bottom.
 





All clad pots (this is a descriptive term but All Clad is also a name brand.)







Notice how this all clad frying pan is thicker looking.



Copper cookware without the tinning (do not cook food in a pot like this) and with the tinning (coated with tin or stainless steel inside).


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