Cookware -> Aluminum

What the Pros Prefer: The Ins and Outs of Buying Cookware

By: Mike C

2006, All Rights Reserved

It can be more complicated than selecting which toothpaste to use. There is a seemingly never-ending list of cookware types to choose from - all exclaiming that they are the newest and the best. While each type has its benefits, most home chefs and culinary school students don't have the money to buy multiple cookware sets. That's why choosing wisely and getting the best long-term value is so important.

Cooking school graduates and professional chefs all have their favorites for a variety of reasons. Let's look at the differences between the various metals and how they react to heat and food, and you'll quickly see which types and pieces would be wise additions to your collection.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is not known for reacting with acidic or alkaline foods, as aluminum cookware can do. In addition, it is virtually scratch resistant and does not dent or pit easily. The two biggest problems stainless steel faces are its inability to conduct heat evenly and its tendency to stick.

Because stainless steel conducts heat unevenly, it frequently produces hot spots. For instance, when sauting a pan of chicken breasts, one may burn while others cook more slowly. Another example is the "heat ring" that forms where the heating element circles touch the bottom of the pan. Sauces may tend to burn just where the formation of the heat ring occurs.

Aluminum

Aluminum - including infused anodized cookware - is a much-preferred cooking surface in culinary schools and professional kitchens. With more even heat conductivity, aluminum is an excellent choice for cooking and baking. Available in lightweight and medium-weight styles, aluminum is susceptible to darkening and pitting when used extensively.

However, it's aluminum's reaction to alkaline and acidic foods that is its biggest drawback. It can turn eggs and other foods dark which does not change the flavor, but it is unattractive when making your presentation. Most aluminum cookware is a combination of aluminum and other metals or finishes. Infused anodized is one variety that helps overcome the challenges faced when cooking with aluminum.

With heavy-gage anodized aluminum, the discoloration problem is virtually a nonissue, and scratching and pitting are far less likely to occur. While uncoated aluminum sticks badly, anodized aluminum allows food to release without sticking.

Copper

With similar qualities to aluminum, copper is the preferred cookware for many cooking school instructors and professional chefs due to its exceptional ability to conduct heat. Lightweight and easy to use, copper does require some TLC to maintain. Hand washing is highly recommended. Copper needs to be dried immediately and will require polishing from time to time. Because it is very expensive, copper is generally not recommended as a mainstay in home kitchens.

Cast Iron

The master at heat conductivity, cast iron is one of the original metals for making cookware. While it does require seasoning, cast iron eventually becomes virtually nonstick. Available with untreated or enamel-coated surfaces, cast iron is a favorite of professionals in limited use. Its weight is its biggest drawback.

Consider what a professional chef goes through in a night. Miami has some of the most popular and busiest restaurants in the world. Can you imagine a chef flipping vegetables all night in a cast-iron pan in a busy restaurant in Miami? Culinary school students would also quickly become extremely tired during class if they used cast iron during every cooking application.

If your goal is to become a professional chef, you may wish to invest in a few copper pots or pans. For home use, however, many pros recommend that select pieces (generally a Dutch oven or skillet) be purchased in enamel-coated cast iron and others be purchased in anodized or coated nonstick, medium-weight aluminum. This gives a well-rounded collection that should serve any cook well.

Mike Churchill provides online marketing support Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Miami. Cooking school applications are currently being accepted. If you love cooking & are in Miami, culinary school could be your next step. Visit us at www.miamiculinary.com.

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