The Best Material for Cookware: Your Definitive Guide

The Best Material for Cookware: Your Definitive Guide

When One-Type-Doesn’t-Fit-All, Here’s How You Can Discover The Best Material For Cookware

Basing your decision to buy cookware made from the best material is much like dating. One person’s cup of tea may not be yours, and vice versa. Just like how that professional chef’s favourite cookware material is carbon steel, but your homecook bestie raves about their non-stick pan.

One thing’s for sure - everyone wants the best they can have.

And that’s where it gets tricky, because that’s when you’ll ask; “what’s the best material for cookware”?

Like the title states, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. What will help is to first know what materials are out there, then narrowing down to the materials that have been tried and tested time and again with positive consistent results.

The next step involves pairing the results to your lifestyle and your personal approach to the kitchen.

We’ve done the first part for you by compiling the 7 best materials for cookware into one comprehensive guide that tells you what that particular material is, what are its pros and cons, and how it’s best utilised in the kitchen.

So let’s get started and uncover the best material for cookware in your kitchen and home!

7 Best Materials For Cookware: A Comprehensive Guide

Stainless steel casserole. Photo by Castorly Stock.

1. Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel is consistently regarded as one of the best and safest cookware materials out there. It’s a type of metal that’s forged by adding chromium and nickel to steel, which gives it its “stainless” moniker. 

With several types of chromium to nickel ratio out there, the one you’ll want to look out for is 18/10 stainless steel which means 18% chromium and 10% nickel - the best type of stainless steel out there. Best because it typically features the highest resistance against corrosion, the strongest durability against dents, while showcasing a visually shiny appearance from the nickel in its construction.

Bottom clad stainless steel pot. Photo by Klaus Nielsen.

But there’s a catch. There are three different types of stainless steel cookware, but only one holds the mantle of “best cookware material”.

These are separated into three main types: 

  • Single-ply stainless steel: Cookware made up of only one layer of stainless steel.

  • Bottom-clad stainless steel: Stainless steel cookware crafted with an aluminium or copper base layer.

  • All-clad stainless steel or multi-ply stainless steel: Cookware that’s constructed with up to 5 different layers of stainless steel which includes a copper or aluminium core.

If you guessed that all-clad stainless steel is the winner - you’re right!

Stainless steel on its own has pretty impressive qualities such as its non-reactivity and strong resistance to corrosion and stains, and a certain degree of durability. But even with that, its terrible heat conductivity and uneven heat distribution makes it fall short.

That’s where the added layers of multi-ply stainless steel come in to fill the gaps. Multi-ply stainless steel cookware features a design that takes advantage of copper or aluminium’s excellent heat conductivity while having the added benefit of stainless steel’s existing qualities, making stainless steel pans and pots true powerhouses in any kitchen that could last up to a lifetime with proper care.

Stainless Steel Cookware Pros:

  • Excellent heat retention.

  • Resistant to rust, corrosion, and dents.

  • Non-reactive so you can safely cook acidic sauces and foods in it without flavours leeching.

  • Classic, elegant appearance that fits beautifully in any traditional and modern kitchen setting.

  • Versatile because of its compatibility with various cooking techniques like searing, sautéing, boiling, grilling, simmering, and more.

  • Bottom-clad and multi-ply stainless steel can be used on induction cooktops.

  • Dishwasher safe, allowing for almost little to no clean up time.

Stainless Steel Cookware Cons:

  • Slower heat distribution compared to pure aluminium cookware and pure copper cookware because of stainless steel presence.

  • Highly prone to food sticking without adequate oil use.

  • High quality stainless steel cookware is incredibly expensive.

Best Forms Of Stainless Steel Cookware:

Frying pan, sauté pan, stockpot, and saucepan.

Cosmic Cookware's ceramic non-stick cookware comes in stunning designs and colours.

2. Ceramic Cookware

Ceramic cookware falls under the “non-stick cookware” category alongside Teflon nonstick cookware. But between the two, ceramic non-stick cookware is a clear winner based on the material used in its construction.

The non-stick surface of ceramic nonstick cookware is derived from silica, which is an organic material found in the form of silica sand or quartz sand that undergoes multiple rounds of purification and processing to create the smooth and durable surface of nonstick cookware. This is then followed by a layer of aluminium or copper, granting it excellent heat conductivity and distribution on top of its superior non-stick feature.

It’s a healthier alternative to Teflon nonstick pans because of how it’s naturally free of PTFE and PFOA, two chemical compounds that have been linked to a number of health conditions.

Aside from its PTFE and PFOA-free nature, it’s also widely favoured for its ease of use and health-conscious properties. You’ll need little to no oil or fat when it comes to cooking on ceramic cookware thanks to its easy food release, which means healthier cooking and almost no hassle when it comes to cleaning up.

Ceramic cookware’s other fan-favourite characteristic is how it comes in an array of beautiful colours and designs. So if themed kitchen aesthetics are your thing, you’ll definitely love what ceramic cookware has to offer.

Ceramic Cookware Pros:

  • Excellent nonstick properties allow healthier cooking with minimal to no oil, and making it great for cooking delicate ingredients like fish and eggs.

  • Will not rust or corrode unless the ceramic surface is damaged.

  • One of the easiest types of cookware material to clean.

  • PFOA and PTFE-free for non-toxic cooking on non-stick.

  • Non-reactive nature makes it suitable for cooking acidic foods without fear of metallic flavours leeching.

  • Excellent heat conductivity and heat distribution thanks to copper or aluminium core.

  • Can be used on induction cooktops thanks to induction-compatible copper or aluminium core.

  • Comes in various beautiful colours and designs, making it suitable for any kitchen theme.

Ceramic Cookware Cons:

  • Ceramic coated cookware is prone to scratches and cracks without proper handling, which prevents you from using metal utensils on it and calls for careful storage with a paper towel or liner between cookware.

  • Recommended to hand wash only. But it’s not so much of a hassle because of its excellent non-stick properties.

  • Not suitable for high-heat cooking above 230°C like roasting, grilling, and searing.

  • Needs to be seasoned once in a while to maintain the longevity of the non-stick.

Best Forms Of Ceramic Cookware:

Frying pan, sauté pan, casserole, stockpot and saucepan.

Cast iron Dutch oven on an induction cooktop. Photo by Alfonso Escu.

3. Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron is often touted as the darling material of the cookware industry, and with good reason. It’s withstood centuries and generations as one of the best cookware materials thanks to its near indestructible nature and excellent heat retention.

That said, it’s worth noting that cast iron is a poor conductor of heat, making it slow when it comes to heating up and distributing heat across the board. Funnily enough, this very same nature is what makes it second to none when you need it to retain heat.

Cast iron is also known as one of, if not the most durable material out there as it’s naturally resistant against warps, dents, and chips. Which is why most cast iron cookware pieces get handed over to the next generation as heirloom pieces. 

When it comes to durability, the only areas where it falls short are how it’s not resistant against rust unlike cast iron that is enamelled, stainless steel, and ceramic cookware, and how it’s one of the heaviest types of cookware material out there.

It’s also not inherently non-stick unless you regularly “season” it. This involves heating the cast iron cookware over low heat for approximately 30 to 60 seconds, then applying a teaspoon of oil across its surface with a paper towel. Regular seasoning allows cast iron to develop a natural non-stick layer, while preventing it from ever rusting.

Having said that, while cast iron is one of the best cookware materials out there, it’s definitely not ideal for general homecooks who may typically favour something low maintenance like ceramic nonstick cookware.

Cast Iron Cookware Pros:

  • Exceptional heat retention, making it great for slow cooking.

  • Near indestructible durability that resists warps, dents, and chips.

  • Develops non-stick properties when regularly seasoned.

  • A naturally non-toxic cookware material.

  • Suitable for use outdoors and induction cooktops.

  • Makes an incredible heirloom piece that retains its functionality when well cared for.

Cast Iron Cookware Cons:

  • Poor heat conductivity, especially when it’s a thick cast iron cookware.

  • Slow and uneven heat distribution.

  • Requires regular seasoning and maintenance, making it not suitable for someone who prefers something with lower maintenance.

  • Hefty weight makes it unsuitable for users who struggle with lifting heavy goods, especially when dealing with the singular handle of a cast iron pan.

  • Susceptible to rust if not maintained properly and dried immediately after washing.

  • Not dishwasher safe as the dishwasher’s chemical will corrode cast iron.

  • Rustic, traditional appearance may not be attractive to those who prefer something colourful.

Best Forms Of Cast Iron Cookware:

Skillet, griddle, Dutch oven, grill pan, and wok.

Enamelled cast iron French ovens in various colours. Photo by Cooker King.

4. Enamelled Cast Iron Cookware

Enameled cast iron is cast iron coated with enamel. It’s essentially cast iron cookware without most of the shortcomings it faces thanks to the enamel coating, making it one of the best cookware materials.

The enamel coating makes it non-reactive and that much easier to maintain than bare cast iron, and takes away the porous nature of bare cast iron. This gives it a certain level of non-stick properties, but do note that it is still not enough to completely eliminate the need for oil or fat to prevent food from sticking.

Unlike bare cast iron which is prone to rust and needs seasoning, enameled cast iron doesn’t. That’s because the enamel serves as a protective layer against the natural elements that cause cast iron to rust, preventing it from happening. The only way for it to rust, is if the enamel surface is damaged, be it cracks, or chips.

Enamelled Cast Iron Cookware Pros:

  • Exceptional heat retention.

  • Slow, but even heat distribution.

  • Naturally non-toxic.

  • Enamel’s smooth surface makes it non-stick to a certain extent.

  • No seasoning required.

  • Can be used on induction cooktops.

  • Makes a beautiful heirloom piece that retains its functionality when well cared for.

  • Enameled cast iron comes in an array of beautiful colours and designs.

Enamelled Cast Iron Cookware Cons:

  • Poor and slow heat conductivity because of its cast iron base.

  • Not suitable for use with metal utensils.

  • Enamel layer is fragile and prone to scratches, chips, and cracks. Must be handled gently and with care.

  • Hefty weight makes it unsuitable for users who struggle with lifting heavy goods.

  • Susceptible to rust if the enamel layer is chipped or cracked.

  • Tends to come with a price tag that is as heavy as its construction.

Best Forms Of Enamelled Cast Iron Cookware:

Dutch oven, casserole, skillet, and roasting pan.

Vintage copper baking pans hanging in the kitchen. Photo by Ron Lach.

5. Copper Cookware

Copper cookware is one of the culinary world’s top contenders when it comes to appearances and functionality. It features a rich, warm, and inviting reddish-gold colour that not only catches the eye, but adds a beautiful touch of elegance to any kitchen. No wonder it’s status as a precious metal stays even in the world of cookware!

Aside from its appearance, copper is an excellent conductor of heat. It heats up quickly, distributes heat evenly, and cools just as quickly. So seasoned homecooks and professional chefs who enjoy cooking adventures in testing out recipes that require precise temperature control will truly find joy in cooking with copper cookware.

Similar to stainless steel cookware, there are two notable types of copper cookware:

  • Pure copper cookware: Copper cookware with no additional metal layers.

  • Lined copper cookware: Copper cookware constructed with a layer of stainless steel or aluminium on its cooking surface.

The one of higher quality is a stainless steel-lined copper cookware, not the aluminium one. That’s because stainless steel-lined copper cookware is a naturally non-reactive metal that effectively eliminates the reactive nature of copper.

Despite its beauty, copper is rather high maintenance as it requires regular polishing to keep its appearance free from blemishes and patina, the green-tint that naturally develops on copper over time. Patina is not toxic, but the downside to it is that it takes away the beautiful rich hue of copper.

Copper Cookware Pros:

  • Exceptional heat conductivity.

  • Fast, even, and precise heat distribution, which eliminates hotspots.

  • Lighter than stainless steel and cast iron cookware.

  • Perfectly safe for oven use.

  • One of the most beautiful cookware materials available.

Copper Cookware Cons:

  • Terrible heat retention.

  • Copper is a soft metal, making it prone to scratches and dents.

  • Not naturally non-stick, so adequate oil is required to prevent food from sticking.

  • Unlined copper is reactive, making it potentially toxic.

  • Regular polishing is required to prevent patina from developing on its surface, making it rather high maintenance.

  • Known to be one of the most expensive types of cookware material because copper is a precious metal.

  • Not suitable for induction cooking.

  • Not dishwasher-friendly.

Best Forms Of Copper Cookware:

Sauté pan, saucepan, and stockpot.

Carbon steel wok. Photo by Clem Onojeghuo.

6. Carbon Steel Cookware

Carbon steel offers similar benefits to cast iron, with the advantage of being much lighter and more responsive to heat changes much like aluminium.

You’ll mostly find carbon steel used in the construction of specialty pans like paella pans and crepe pans because of its generally inexpensive nature, strong durability, and ability to achieve and withstand higher heat compared to other cookware materials.

It’s not naturally non-stick but it will develop a naturally non-stick surface when seasoned properly and regularly. Its heaviness allows it to hold heat well, making it great for recipes that call for consistent heat like crepe-making (where you’ll need to make more than one layer of crepe), and paella dishes.

This same property also makes it an affordable cookware material when it comes to searing steaks, fish, and quick stir-frys.

Aside from seasoning it regularly to have it develop a non-stick cooking surface, it’s also highly recommended to season it to prevent it from rusting as it is prone to such.

In essence, carbon steel bears the advantages of cast iron and aluminium, while also holding certain disadvantages of both cookware materials.

Carbon Steel Cookware Pros:

  • Steady and even heat distribution, which eliminates hotspots.

  • Lighter than stainless steel and cast iron cookware.

  • More responsive than cast iron cookware.

  • Almost as durable as cast iron.

Carbon Steel Cookware Cons:

  • Slow heat conductivity.

  • Requires regular seasoning and maintenance to prevent it from rusting.

  • Not naturally non-stick unless seasoned regularly

  • Reactive to acidic ingredients.

  • Not dishwasher-friendly.

Best Forms Of Carbon Steel Cookware:

Wok, frying pan, and specialty pans like the crepe pan and paella pan.

Hard anodized aluminum frying pan. Photo by Cooker King.

7. Hard Anodised Aluminium Cookware

Aluminium is an inexpensive cookware material that is lightweight and highly responsive when it comes to heat conductivity. But aluminum cookware has a fundamental flaw with how it’s highly reactive to acidic foods, where it will impart a metallic taste and develop a dull tint when exposed to acidic ingredients, making it potentially toxic.

To address this particular fundamental shortcoming, manufacturers developed a process called “anodisation” which significantly hardens and darkens aluminium’s surface to a very dark, grey-ish colour. In some cases, manufacturers also making it a point to include nonstick coatings even though anodisation grants aluminium a certain degree of non-stick properties. This could either be a layer of Teflon nonstick coating or the more organic ceramic nonstick coating.

Anodisation also allows aluminium to retain its naturally lightweight construction and fantastic heat conductivity. All while eliminating its initially naturally reactive properties. This particular process also makes it more resistant to scratches, but you’ll still want to keep your hard anodized aluminum frying pans away from metal utensils as it is not scratch-proof.

Hard Anodised Aluminium Cookware Pros:

  • Lightweight, allowing for easier maneuverability.

  • Excellent heat conductivity.

  • Fast and even heat distribution.

  • Resistant to scratches, but not scratch-proof.

  • Non-reactive while the anodised surface is intact.

  • Dishwasher-friendly.

  • Can be used on induction cooktops.

Hard Anodised Aluminium Cookware Cons:

  • Sometimes negligible degree of non-stick, so you’ll still need to use adequate oil to prevent food from sticking.

  • Limited to certain cookware designs, not commonly found in the form of stockpots or casseroles.

  • Potentially toxic if the anodised surface is compromised.

  • Anodised aluminium is more expensive than pure aluminium.

  • Not dishwasher-friendly.

Best Forms Of Hard Anodised Aluminium Cookware:

Frying pan, grill pan, and saucepans.

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