At the very basic level, cooking is all about transferring heat from a source to a product. There are a variety of means to which this is done – braising, boiling, etc, etc – but before that aspect even occurs, the heat usually has to travel through a pot or pan.
Due to this, the quality of the pot or pan in use is one of the foundations from which cooking starts. Bad pots and pans can develop hot spots, scorch areas and clean poorly. Good pots and pans not only distribute heat evenly, they will become a tool which becomes predictable. The kitchen, which can be considered nothing more than a scaled down scientific laboratory, thrives when tools are predictable and easily controlled. In my opinion, after a good set of knives, a good collection of pots and pans will change the way a person cooks.
It should surprise no one that the metal of the pot or pan plays into the variable of cooking. Each metal used has its pros and cons, and each can be utilized for specific situations.
Pros: A lightweight metal that is a good conductor of heat.
Cons: Aluminum is a soft metal and easily banged around. Some of the cheaper pots and pans will also have a thinner bottom. A thin bottom runs the risk of cooking unevenly.
Also, aluminum makes for a poor storage device as the acids within some foods will react with the metal.
Pros: A really good heat conductor.
Cons: A really expensive metal. It also tarnishes quite easily. It also reacts chemically with many foods, and must be lined with another metal.
Pros: Does not react chemically to many other foods and thus makes a good storage container.
Cons:Stainless Steel is a really poor conductor of heat and disperses applied heat unevenly.
Pros: Distributes heat VERY well.
Cons: Should be handled with care as it can break if dropped. It also rusts fairly easily and should be seasoned often to prevent such oxidation.
Teflon or Silverstone:
Pros: Allow cooks to cook with little or no fat or oil.
Cons:Easily scratched by metal utensils.
Glass and porcelain dishes are best used as storage and/or bakeware and should be avoided for stove top use.
There are several brands of pots and pans which use combinations of the aforementioned metals. For example, a stainless steel pan may have a copper bottom, or a copper pan may have an aluminum coating on the bottom.
Calphalon is a brand that is made from anodized aluminum. This type of metal is a hardened version of aluminum and does not corrode as quickly as a strictly aluminum pan. Calphalon is technically not a ‘non-stick’ pan.