As cooking tools become more advanced and more options are made available to consumers, more decisions need to be made when it comes to buying cookware. With so many selections to choose from, completing your cookware set can become quite a headache if you don’t know what you need or what you want.

With so many brands, makes, and sizes to consider, shopping for cookware can become a confusing process, so we turned to the experts, Sur La Table, to help us assess our options, in the store and at home. As vice president of merchandising at Sur La Table, Jacob Maurer knows a thing or two about the cookware industry, and he not only helped us come up with a buying strategy, but also helped us understand the different kinds of tools to consider and shared a few insider tips that will help make anyone a pro when it comes to their cookware.

Things to Consider

Look. Your cookware is an accent to your kitchen, and is often the room's focal point, depending on how often you cook. The look and design of your cookware is something to consider when you’re deciding which type to buy. While copper looks beautiful in a French countryside-themed kitchen, it might look out of place if you’re cooking in a more modern space.

Price. Cookware is one of the few things you don’t want to take a financial shortcut on, says Maurer. In other words, you pay for what you get, so go with the best you can afford. He also recommends buying in sets when you can, as it will be cheaper than buying pieces individually.

Maintenance. Polishing and seasoning are necessary when cleaning certain types of cookware, so consider how much time and effort you want to put into taking care of your set.

Heat Conductivity. Different types of cookware material conduct heat differently, so you’ll want to consider what strength you’re looking for based on what level of cooking you are at. For novice cooks, says Maurer, a low conductivity is safest because it will prevent cooks from burning their food easily, whereas professionals are probably looking for something strong so they can cook faster.

The Different Types to Consider and Their Pro's and Con's

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Stainless Steel
Pro: Stainless steel is a very popular style because it’s easy to care for and pretty durable. Along with being a no-fuss type of cookware, it’s relatively inexpensive, so it is great for stocking a college kitchen or starter home.
Con: As we mentioned earlier, cookware comes at a cost, so with the low price of stainless steel comes a low level of heat conductivity. The best way to work around this is to find stainless steel cookware that has a layer of another good heat-conducting material built in.

Pro: Along with being one of the most beautiful types of cookware, copper is one of the best conductors of heat available, so it guarantees fast and even cooking every time.
Con: Because it is such a great heat conductor, it’s also one of the more expensive types of cookware out there, and requires a little more upkeep, such as polishing, to maintain that glistening shine. Copper is also highly reactive, so it is not the best type of cookware when you’re cooking with acidic foods.

Pro: Aluminum is the second-best heat conductor next to copper, and is also fairly inexpensive.
Con: While inexpensive, it’s not great on its own because it is extremely porous and reacts badly with acid, says Maurer. You’ll usually find aluminum cookware that has been anodized, or wrapped in another metal, which can make it more expensive. Because aluminum is often found wrapped in another material, it can wear and tear easily and will have to be replaced more than other lines of cookware.

Cast Iron
Pro: Cast iron is also another relatively inexpensive line of cookware, and is also known for being incredibly durable. As one of the oldest types of cookware, it’s been known to be passed down from generation to generation in some families, so you can be sure you’ll get your money’s worth.
Con: Cast iron is considered one of the high-maintenance types of cookware because it requires seasoning from time to time to prevent it from rusting. Because it is so durable, its weight makes it often inconvenient for different types of cooking. Maurer suggests investing in just one cast-iron skillet, which will serve most purposes you’d want cast iron for anyway.

Maurer’s Best Tips

Now that you know what kind of cookware you want to buy, there are some things to consider once you take your cookware line home. Here are some of Maurer’s best tips for handling your cookware at home:

Storage: There’s no right or wrong way to store cookware, says Maurer, but he suggests keeping it organized, with sauté pans together and saucepots together. He also warns against stacking any nonstick cookware you purchase, because the special material that makes it nonstick can scratch off. Lastly, store your cookware based on how often you use it. For example, keep everyday sauce pots and skillets nearby and store things like lobster pots and paella pans a little farther out of reach.

Cleaning: Cleaning can be as simple as soap and water, but don’t wait till after dinner to get started. Maurer suggests filling your pans with hot water and soap before sitting down for your meal so that they get a good soak before you have to clean them.

Nonstick Cookware: If you go with aluminum cookware and opt for Calphalon, which is nonstick, be wary of using too much soap or aerosol sprays like Pam, because it can damage the nonstick material.

Secret Cleaning Tip: Maurer recommends investing in a cleaning solution called Bar Keeper’s Best Friend, which works on any kind of metal and will give your cookware a bright, shiny, and just-purchased look.

Know When to Say Goodbye: If you’ve invested in cookware that has lining, such as stainless steel or aluminum, there can often be wear and tear, so know when to throw it out. If you see metal or black shavings floating around in your food, or the inner lining of the cookware is peeling, the pan has probably come to the end of its term and needs to be replaced.

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