If your current pots and pans are beginning to fall apart, have lost their coating, or are causing you any type of frustration, it's time to replace them. Take the time to research what you really want from your cookware - and remember that to have good pots and pans you don't necessarily have to spend a fortune.
Features to ConsiderWhen shopping, pay attention to heat conductivity; the more your cookware conducts heat, the more evenly your food will cook. Pots and pans with good conductivity also reacts more promptly when you turn the heat source down or up.
Reactivity is a problem with some aluminum pans; the aluminum ruins the taste of certain foods, like tomatoes. If you really must have aluminum pans (which I don't recommend), be sure they are anodized - coated with a special substance to prevent reactivity.
Durability must also be considered. Buy the best cookware you can afford (again remembering that the most expensive isn't always the best). Stainless steel is considered the longest lasting cookware available.
You'll also want to make sure the cookware is easy care. Who wants to polish their pans every night? Or hand wash them? Make sure your cookware can go in the dishwasher and will remain relatively attractive without special care.
Types of Cookware
Aluminum conducts heat very well and is often included in cookware made of other materials. However, aluminum by itself (unless treated with anodization) scratches easily and reacts with acidic foods.
Cast iron pots and pans are highly durable and retain heat well. However, they must be seasoned (which requires cleaning the pan or pot, heating the cookware and melting a fat in it, allowing it to cool, and wiping away excess fat before storing).
Copper is a favorite among pros, since it's a great heat conductor. However, it's pricey, reacts with acidic foods, and requires polishing. Still, copper is often found as part of cookware that's primarily made from another material.
Stainless steel is durable, easy care, doesn’t react, and is scratch resistant. However, it’s not a great conductor of heat.
Clad pots and pans are layered with at least two different materials. For example, a popular choice is stainless steel cookware with a layer of copper in its base.
Coating SurfacesNonstick cookware has a coating that allows you to use fewer fats; it's also excellent for preventing eggs from sticking to the cookware. However, since directly applied aerosol cooking sprays leave a residue behind on nonstick, if you use such a spray, use it directly on the food - not the cookware.
Stick resistant cookware is a good choice for deglazing and searing. Seasoned cast iron and stainless steel pans are also stick resistant when a little oil and a medium temperatures is used.
Infused surfaces literally infuse polymer into metal so they sear and deglaze much like stainless steel.
Some cookware has a porcelain enamel coating to make it easier to clean. This surface is a good choice for stock pots, roasters, and Dutch ovens.
Other ConsiderationsRiveted handles are the most durable. Screwed on handles usually require periodic tightening.
Finally, while it is cheaper to buy a cookware set, consider that you may like one type of pot or pan for a certain technique or food, and another type of cookware for another food or technique. Therefore, it may make more sense to either buy individual pieces, or buy a set and supplement it as necessary. For example, I love my stainless steel (lined with copper) pans, but I keep a few cast irons pans on hand for certain types of dishes, in addition to one nonstick pan for cooking eggs.