What type of cookware is best? There’s a wide variety to choose from and it can be overwhelming to find the right one for you. Here’s a look at ceramic vs aluminum vs stainless steel vs cast iron vs copper and other types of cookware.
Below I look at the advantages and disadvantages of different cookware categories to help you compare and choose the one/s right for your cooking styles.
You might think in terms of dutch oven type of cookware regarding pure ceramic, but not only are there cooking pots but also skillets available in this range.
This type of cookware has a number of advantages:
- Easy to clean.
- Good heat retention, making it perfect as a serving container at the table.
- Has no harmful PTFE, PFOAs, or heavy metals.
- Ceramic won’t taint the flavor of your food (as you find with metal cookware).
- It’s a green alternative as it is considered non-toxic and more eco-friendly than most other cookware materials.
- Ceramic doesn’t react with acids from tomatoes, citrus, and other acidic foods.
Downsides: Heat distribution is good but pre-heating may take longer than what you’re accustomed to. You can’t use pure ceramic cookware on an induction cooktop as it has no metal to spark the magnetic heat source.
They need care in that they don’t bounce when dropped — Ceramic cookware are fragile in this respect.
The ceramic nonstick type are aluminum pans with ceramic coatings. Advantages: These are great for preparing low fat meals and delicate foods, and there’s far less fuss when it comes to clean up.
They are an alternative to the regular nonstick pans and come in a variety of colors. And, with ceramic-coated cookware, you don’t have to worry about the harmful fumes that are linked to regular nonstick.
Downsides: Not for use on high heat, unless the manufacturer states otherwise. Not for use with metal utensils or abrasive scrubbers — these will wear the surface and thus compromise the performance of the ceramic coatings. My how to care, use and store cookware with non-stick coating covers all the care factors.
Regular non-stick pans
Most regular non-stick cookware are designed with a Teflon non-stick surface over an aluminum base. Advantages: Super easy to clean. Lightweight. Low fat cooking.
It’s good that toxic chemicals such as PFOA are no longer used in nonstick cookware today. DuPont claims that this harmful chemical has not been used in their nonstick coatings for cookware since January 1, 2012. You will probably find most brands rate their cookware as ‘PFOA-free’.
Downsides: Conventional kitchen use is not concerning but avoid overheating this cookware as it does contain PFTE. The health concern with PFTE is that at very high temperatures there is a risk of toxic fumes, which are associated with what’s called ‘Teflon flu’ — more info on this in my article on Teflon v ceramic non-stick cookware.
The advantages of aluminum cookware include: it is lightweight, offers rapid heating and heat distribution, and is cheap.
Downsides: The base may warp more easily than others (try not to add cold water to a heated pan). Aluminum cookware is especially reactive to acidic food, with an older aluminum pot leaching aluminum more so than newer ones.
I outline the safety concern in my article about the material of your cookware choices. This is something to consider if you are into cooking tomato soups, or similar with acidic foods.
I think of tough when I think of this cookware. Its quality exceeds that of the aluminum cookware above. You’ll find the design coated with a hard gray finish.
The advantages include a cooking surface that’s resistant to scratches and sticking. Some consider it a worthy alternative to the nonstick surface of cookware mentioned above for food release.
A downside: The drab color and finish and prone to permanent stains.
Cast iron cookware
The advantages of cast iron cookware: It’s versatile, will last you a life time, and will handle the most extreme temperature used in cooking or baking. It’s also cheap. Whether it’s a cast iron dutch oven, griddle, or skillet, this type of cookware is solid and rugged.
It’s good for heat retention and keeping the food warm for a tad longer than others when you leave seconds in the pan. Cast iron cookware can be a great option for low-fat cooking if it is seasoned well — see my article on seasoning cast iron.
Downsides: Cast iron is heavy and using cast iron on glass cooktops requires care. And, they can seem to take the longest of times to heat, but they heat evenly and once heated they will hold that heat for longer.
The thing with cast iron is that it can rust if not properly treated. Such rusty pans are restorable. There’s no need to throw them out. If cooking with tomatoes, the iron will react with the acid and leach from the vessel to taint your food.
You can avoid this by following my simple tips on caring for cast iron. Cast iron is known for mystery black specks — see my article on why and how to avoid the black residue from cast iron pans.
Enameled cast iron
Compared to regular cast iron, enameled cast iron adds brightness and style with its alluring colors and does not need seasoning — big advantages for some.
Downsides: More expensive than unfinished cast iron, but still reasonable. Also, the enamel surface can chip or dull and stain with use over time — I wrote about how you can remedy this with enameled cast iron cookware.
Another minus is that it won’t have the nonstick or searing qualities you can get from a seasoned bare cast iron skillet or griddle.
Enameled cast iron is used in Dutch ovens. This type of cookware has many advantages. Thermal retention for nutritious slow-cooked meals is one.
For more reasons to consider enameled cast iron, see my article comparing enameled Dutch ovens to ceramic clay types.
Stainless steel cookware
Multi-ply stainless steel cookware is popular. These will a copper or aluminum core in the base to allow the cookware to heat rapidly and evenly. Look for quality food-grade stainless steel.
Advantages: A good set of stainless steel pans may last you a lifetime. Consider this when comparing stainless steel to nonstick cookware. They are also easy to maintain and any discolorations or staining can be easily removed.
Downsides: Low-quality stainless steel cookware can react with certain foods to leach metals, particularly chromium and nickel, but also iron, molybdenum, titanium, copper, and vanadium, and so taint the food being cooked.
Chromium and nickel are two non-essential heavy metals. For how they combine in food grade stainless steel, see my article on Made In stainless steel cookware.
As I explain in my article that dives deeper into ceramic vs stainless steel, you won’t have this concern with pure ceramic cookware… being metal-free there’s no chance of metallic tainting.
Copper in cookware
If copper kitchen decor appeals to you, then the beauty of copper cookware is an option you might appreciate. An added advantage is that copper conducts heat really well — so no hot spots.
Also, it heats and cools rapidly. Some designs have a copper outer layer and a cooking surface of nonstick ceramic material. The beauty of this ceramic layer is that it is non-reactive.
Downsides: It needs polishing to maintain its beauty. Also, copper reacts with acid. With acidic types of foods, it’s safer to use cookware that has a non-reactive cooking surface in contact with the food or else your risk copper tainting your food. (Copper is one of our essential heavy metals, but poses health concerns when accumulated at high levels.)
You can get past this concern by investing in copper-cladded versions that provide you with that look and performance without copper contacting the food, as I explain in my article that expands on the ceramic vs copper cookware.
Clad cookware is typically an aluminum or copper core with stainless steel cladding — see above.
In the non-metal category, I’ve already mentioned ceramic. The non-metal category is found among the best bakeware. There is also glass (Pyrex) and glass ceramic (Corningware).
The biggest advantage of these: They are made of non-reactive material meaning they don’t react with acid to leach heavy metals or toxins when cooking.
Downsides: They can chip and crack if they get knocked, dropped, or suffer thermal shock.
Bottom line on the cookware types
Each has their advantages and disadvantages. Apart from people’s cooking styles, other factors to weigh up when choosing that piece of cookware include: Do you care if food sticks? How well is it as a conductor of heat and is it even? Is it durable enough? Does it fit your budget? And then: does it suit your decor – does it appeal to you?