Are you ready to stock up on new cookware but don’t know which material to buy?
There are so many types of cookware and, unless you’re a professional chef, it’s a challenge to make sense of it all.
In this comprehensive guide, I break down the 11 best cookware materials.
- The pros and cons of each cookware material
- How to match the cookware material to the cooking technique and recipe
- And which cookware materials are essential, and which are nice to have
Let’s get started!
Use the links below to navigate this article:
- Best Cookware Materials: Comparison Chart
- Cookware Materials: Video Summary
- Fully-Clad Stainless Steel
- Impact-Bonded Base Stainless Steel
- Cast Iron
- Enameled Cast Iron
- Carbon Steel
- Non-Stick (PTFE-Coated)
- Non-Stick (Ceramic-Coated)
- Pure Ceramic
- Hard-Anodized Aluminum
- Bottom Line: What Type of Cookware Is the Best?
Best Cookware Materials: Comparison Chart
If you only have a minute, check out the table below for a quick summary of the key differences between the best cookware materials. I’ll get into more detail throughout the guide.
Swipe to view the entire chart on mobile.
|Cookware Material||Pros||Cons||Best For…||Price|
|Fully-Clad Stainless Steel||Excellent heat conductivity, compatible with all cooktops, durable||Expensive, food sticks, difficult to clean||All-purpose cooking, searing, browning||$$$$|
|Impact-Bonded Base Stainless Steel||Budget-friendly, conducts heat quickly||Uneven heating, the disc may separate from the pan||All-purpose cooking, browning — not ideal for sauces||$$$|
|Cast Iron||Versatile, durable, heat retention, affordable||Heavy, needs seasoned, reactive to acidic foods||Roasting, sautéing, braising, frying and simmering (not acidic foods)||$$|
|Enameled Cast Iron||Minimizes sticking, retains heat well, non-reactive||Expensive, heats slowly||Braising, frying, sauces, slow-cooking||$$$$|
|Carbon Steel||Lightweight, versatile, durable, affordable, responsive to heat||Requires seasoning, may rust or discolor, reacts with acidic foods||All purpose, high-heat cooking||$$|
|Copper||Heats quickly and evenly, responsive to heat changes, beautiful||Expensive, requires polishing||Precision cooking (fish, sauces, caramels)||$$$$$|
|Non-Stick (PTFE-Coated)||Food doesn’t stick, easy to clean, affordable, versatile||Not durable, prone to warping, synthetic materials||Delicate foods (such as eggs, pancakes, fish). Cooking under 500°F||$$|
|Non-Stick (Ceramic-Coated)||Natural, food doesn’t stick, easy to clean||Not durable, surface scratches easily||Delicate foods (such as eggs, pancakes, fish)||$$|
|Pure Ceramic||Non-toxic, microwave safe||Fragile, heats slow, food sticks||Slow-cooked dishes, baking||$$$|
|Aluminum||Good conductivity, lightweight, affordable||Reacts to acidic foods, not durable, easily warps||Delicate foods (such as eggs, pancakes, fish)||$$|
|Hard-Anodized Aluminum||Hard-Anodized Aluminum||More expensive than regular aluminum, heavy||Delicate foods (such as eggs, pancakes, fish)||$$$|
Cookware Materials: Video Summary
Do you want to see all of these options in action? Watch me break down each cookware type in the video below.
You can also watch this video on YouTube.
Fully-Clad Stainless Steel
Fully-clad stainless steel cookware is made by bonding (or cladding) layers of metals together. The bonded layers extend throughout the pan, hence the name fully-clad.
This type of cookware is also referred to as multi-clad, clad, or bonded.
Typically, fully-clad stainless steel cookware has three layers (also referred to as tri-ply or 3-ply): a stainless steel cooking surface, aluminum core, and stainless steel exterior.
What’s the purpose of this layered construction?
Stainless steel, while durable, is a poor heat conductor. It needs to be combined with other highly conductive materials, such as aluminum or copper (both conduct heat quickly and evenly).
Some brands make cookware with five or even seven layers. While the interior and exterior are always stainless steel, the core materials vary. The number of layers and the type of core materials impact the performance.
For example, cookware with a copper core (like the All-Clad Copper Core collection) heats up and cools down faster than cookware with an aluminum core because copper has higher thermal conductivity.
- Versatile: Since stainless steel is non-reactive and ultra-durable, it’s great for searing, browning, frying, sauteing, and much more. It’s the ultimate all-purpose cookware because there are no ingredients or cooking techniques it can’t handle.
- Durable: Because of the steel exterior and thick bonded construction, fully-clad stainless steel is incredibly durable. It should last a lifetime and won’t rust, flake, chip, or warp (as long as you don’t subject it to drastic temperature changes).
- Distributes heat quickly and evenly: A major advantage of fully-clad stainless steel is that it distributes heat quickly and evenly throughout the whole pan, including the sides, which is great when cooking sauces: no cold spots or uneven sears.
- Responsive: Fully-clad stainless steel cookware is responsive, meaning it responds quickly to temperature changes. Keep in mind cookware with a copper core is more responsive than cookware with an aluminum core.
- Compatible: Stainless steel is compatible with all cooktops, including induction. It’s also usually tolerant of high heats, making it safe for the oven and broiler.
- Expensive: Fully-clad stainless steel is an investment. Although it’s pricey, it should last a lifetime.
- Food sticks: Because it’s not naturally non-stick, food will stick to stainless steel if you don’t preheat and grease the cookware properly.
- Difficult to clean: Stainless steel cookware can be difficult to clean, especially compared to non-stick. Stubborn bits of food, especially if left for a long time, can be tricky to remove.
- Requires skill: If you’re new to cooking, fully-clad stainless steel might not be for you. Cooking with stainless steel takes some culinary knowledge and technique.
Fully-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware Is Best For…
Fully-clad stainless steel cookware is incredibly versatile; you can use it for all types of recipes.
Although you may find it frustrating for foods like eggs and pancakes, even delicate foods can be cooked on fully-clad stainless steel with the right techniques.
This cookware is best for searing and browning meat. The combination of its highly conductive core and non-reactive surface makes fully-clad stainless steel cookware perfect for steak, chicken, and other meats. Since it can handle high temperatures, you can use it to brown on the stove and then finish in the oven.
The Best Fully-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware Brands
If you’re looking for fully-clad stainless steel cookware, here are the top brands I recommend (click the links to view details on Amazon):
To learn more, check out: The Definitive Guide to the Best Cookware Brands.
Impact-Bonded Base Stainless Steel
Impact-bonded base stainless steel is the same as fully-clad stainless steel with one major difference: the conductive core material is bonded to the pan’s base, not up the sides too.
In other words, the cooking surface and exterior are stainless steel, and aluminum or copper is bonded to the base.
In some cases, the conductive base materials are sandwiched between the stainless steel, and in other cases, the manufacturers bond a plate to the bottom.
The main advantage of impact-bonded stainless steel cookware is that it’s cheaper than fully-clad. The disadvantage is that it doesn’t conduct heat evenly because the cookware’s sides don’t contain an aluminum or copper layer.
- Budget-friendly: If you want stainless steel cookware, but can’t afford the fully-clad prices, impact-bonded base cookware is a more budget-friendly option.
- Even heating on the bottom: While you won’t get even heating on the sides, you will get consistent heating on the bottom. This cookware is suitable for sauteing and frying, rather than simmering sauces or boiling liquids.
- Variety of options: Dozens of cookware brands make impact-bonded stainless steel cookware, including Calphalon, Demeyere, Cuisinart, Anolon, and Farberware. Some offer pans with an aluminum base, and others offer copper. The point is, you have a ton of choices, and most are affordable.
- Lightweight: Since the conductive layers don’t extend up the sides of the pots and pans, this type of cookware tends to be lighter and easier to handle than fully-clad.
- Heat doesn’t distribute: Heat doesn’t distribute rapidly up the sides, so it will take longer to boil liquids and won’t simmer sauces as evenly.
- Not as durable: This type of cookware isn’t as durable as fully-clad stainless steel. While some brands may claim it’s built for lifetime use, fully-clad is a sturdier choice. Though rare, the disc, otherwise known as the impact-bonded base, may separate from the cookware over time.
- Food sticks: The surface is stainless steel, so food will stick if the cookware isn’t properly heated before adding fats, oils, and the food.
- Difficult to clean: When food sticks, the surface can be challenging to clean. If there are stubborn bits of food, it takes time and effort to remove.
Impact-Bonded Base Stainless Steel Is Best For…
Like fully-clad stainless steel cookware, impact-bonded cookware is an all-purpose workhorse. It’s especially good for browning, searing, and frying since the construction can handle high heats.
It’s not ideal for sauces or liquids since the sides won’t provide even heat — only the bottom. So you may find a bit of uneven heating if you are making a sauce, glaze, or soup.
The Best Impact-Bonded Base Stainless Steel Cookware Brands
If you’re looking for this cookware, the best brands are:
Cast iron cookware is heavy-duty, made from one single piece of metal, including the handle. The material is technically an alloy of approximately 98% iron and 2% carbon.
Most people don’t know this since cast iron cookware is so rugged, but the carbon content makes it less malleable and quite brittle. Therefore, to make it more durable, cast iron cookware is made with thick, heavy walls.
The thick walls not only increase cast iron cookware’s durability, but they allow it to absorb and retain heat exceptionally well.
- Versatile: Cast iron is the primary material of various cookware types, including skillets, frying pans, dutch ovens, waffle irons, flat-top grills, woks, and many more. It’s perfect for diverse recipes and cooking methods — it’s commonly used for searing and frying because it handles high heat so well.
- Durable: When properly cared for, cast iron cookware can last a lifetime. The cookware is strong and virtually indestructible thanks to its thick construction.
- Heat retention: Cast iron boasts incredible heat retention. Its thick walls absorb and retain heat well, so when you slap a cold piece of meat on it, the cooking surface stays hot, allowing you to create a crust and lock in the juices.
- Affordable: Cast iron is generally quite affordable. On the other hand, enameled cast iron is quite expensive (I’ll cover that in the next section). But standard cast iron is budget-friendly.
- Naturally non-stick: Once seasoned, cast iron is naturally non-stick. So if you want the benefits of non-stick cooking but trying to avoid synthetic chemicals in the kitchen, this is a good choice.
- Heavy: If you want something lightweight and easy to maneuver, I don’t recommend cast iron. On average, cast iron skillets weigh eight pounds, and that’s without food in them.
- Needs to be seasoned: To create the non-stick barrier between food and the cooking surface, you’ll need to regularly season your cast iron cookware. Seasoning involves rubbing it with fat or oil and baking it in the oven for a couple of hours.
- Reactive: Cast iron is reactive to acidic foods. Prolonged exposure to acidic foods can break down the seasoning layer, destroying its non-stick properties.
- Maintenance: Cast iron cookware isn’t the easiest to maintain. You need to clean it properly (no soap), season it regularly, and store it correctly to avoid rust.
- Heats slowly: Compared to other cookware, cast iron takes longer to heat thanks to its thick walls. However, once it is hot, it retains its heat well.
- Can scratch glass top stoves: Cast iron has a rough, bumpy exterior which can scratch electric or induction glass top stoves if you don’t handle it carefully.
Cast Iron Is Best For…
Cast iron is praised for its versatility. You can use it for roasting, sauteing, braising, frying, and simmering.
Like stainless steel, it can handle high temperatures. You can use it in the oven, under the broiler, and on the grill. Unlike stainless steel, it’s natural non-stick layer allows you to cook eggs and bake with ease.
It’s perfect for cooking steaks and burgers. Since it retains heat well, the meat doesn’t impact the cookware’s temperature, so you get a perfect crust every time.
While you can cook acidic foods with caution, it’s best to avoid prolonged exposure.
The Best Cast Iron Brands
So, you want to add cast iron to your kitchen. My favorite brands are:
Enameled Cast Iron
Want cast iron but don’t want to deal with the seasoning process and maintenance? Enameled cast iron is the answer.
This type of cookware is similar to cast iron, but it has an enameled coating to prevent rusting, eliminate the need for seasoning, and make it easier to clean.
- Less sticking: The enameled glaze prevents food from sticking to the surface. You don’t need to season enameled cast iron cookware as you do with bare cast iron.
- Retains heat well: Enameled cast iron is thick and heavy-duty, so it retains heat well, keeping the food hot while you finish preparing the rest of the meal.
- Non-reactive: The enameled coating prevents the metal from reacting with acidic foods, so go ahead and cook any ingredient you’d like in this cookware.
- Rust-resistant: Unlike bare cast iron, which will rust if soaked in water, enameled cast iron won’t rust. You can soak it in water to help loosen stubborn bits of food, and it won’t cause damage.
- Many options and colors: There are many enameled cast iron options on the market. Plus, they’re available in assorted colors, so you can choose one that suits your kitchen.
- Expensive: It’s expensive. Have you ever heard of Le Creuset, the pricey French cookware brand? Its specialty is enameled cast iron, and it’s not cheap.
- Takes a while to heat: Because of the thick construction, it takes a while for enameled cast iron to heat up and cool down. So, if you’re cooking a one-pot meal and need to adjust the heat often, you might want to pick another cookware type.
- Enamel can chip: You have to be careful when using certain utensils on the enamel because it can chip. Use nylon, wooden, or silicone utensils to prevent this.
- Food can stick: Although the enamel improves its non-stick properties, it’s not nearly as slick as a Teflon-coated pan.
Enameled Cast Iron Cookware Is Best For…
Enameled cast iron has many uses, but it’s especially popular as a Dutch oven, which is ideal for slow-cooking. You can use an enameled cast iron Dutch oven for braising, stews, chilis, and much more. Other types of enameled cast iron cookware are suitable for braising, baking and frying.
The Best Enameled Cookware Brands
When shopping for enameled cookware, I recommend checking out these brands:
Le Creuset is the gold-standard of enameled cast iron cookware. Though pricey, I highly recommend it.
Carbon steel, made from 99% iron and 1% carbon, is similar to cast iron but lighter, easier to maneuver, and thinner. You’ll find skillets, woks, pots, roasters, and pans made from carbon steel.
While it’s beloved by professionals due to its high heat tolerance, it’s gaining popularity among home cooks as well.
- Lightweight: Carbon steel is lightweight, especially compared to cast iron. That makes it easier to maneuver, especially when pouring sauce or transferring to the oven.
- Versatile: With carbon steel, you can make eggs, grill steaks, fry vegetables, roast chicken, and much more. It’s safe in the oven, under the broiler, on the grill and stove.
- Durable: Carbon steel is strong, so if you drop it on the floor or smack it against another pan, it’s unlikely to break or scratch. When the seasoned non-stick surface wears down, just re-season it, and it will be as good as new.
- Affordable: If you want a quality pan at a fraction of the cost compared to enameled cast iron, carbon steel is an excellent option.
- Responsive: When switching from high to low heat, it doesn’t take the surface long to respond since the walls are thinner than cast iron. This gives you precise control when cooking.
- Requires seasoning: Seasoning creates a natural non-stick coating, but it’s an extra step that some cooks won’t have the patience for (learn more in this guide to seasoning carbon steel).
- May rust or discolor: Carbon steel will rust if it’s not seasoned properly. It can also discolor, which causes it to look blotchy. It’s heavy-duty and rugged, but not the most aesthetically pleasing cookware.
- Difficult to clean: Carbon steel isn’t dishwasher safe, so cleanup requires some effort. Don’t use soap or scouring pads as this will wear down the seasoning.
- Reacts with acidic foods: Acidic foods such as tomatoes, wine, and lemon can strip the seasoning.
Carbon Steel Cookware Is Best For…
Carbon steel cookware is best for most recipes due to its versatility. It’s excellent for searing, browning, and broiling since it can handle extremely high temperatures. For instance, the Made In carbon steel can handle up to 1200°F.
However, don’t use it for acidic foods—tomatoes, lemon juice, and wine strip the seasoning. Instead, grab stainless steel or enameled cast iron for those ingredients.
The Best Carbon Steel Cookware Brands
Copper cookware can be intimidating. Not only is it the most expensive cookware, but it also heats up incredibly fast, requiring you to pay close attention while cooking.
What’s so special about copper cookware? Copper has high thermal conductivity, much higher than aluminum. But it also cools down quickly. Because of that, copper cookware requires a bit of skill.
While some brands use copper as the exterior, others use it as the core material for fully-clad stainless steel cookware.
Copper is rarely used for the cooking surface because it reacts with acidic foods. Instead, most copper cookware utilizes stainless steel or tin on the cooking surface.
- Heats quickly and evenly: Copper is one of the most conductive materials, so it heats quickly and evenly; no waiting around for the pan to get hot.
- Responsive to heat changes: Besides heating up quickly, copper also cools faster than most materials. Its superior responsiveness gives you the ultimate control.
- Aesthetic: If you want something strikingly beautiful for your kitchen, then copper is the way to go. It’s elegant, warm, and immediately adds some class to your kitchen.
- Rust Resistant: Copper cookware won’t rust, unlike some other cookware types.
- Quick to clean: Copper releases food quickly and easily. Simply wash with warm water and a soft cloth, and the food will slide right off.
- Expensive: Copper cookware is typically very expensive. Not only is the raw material more expensive than aluminum and steel, but many leading copper cookware brands manufacture their products in France.
- Needs maintenance: Copper is soft, so it can easily scratch or warp. It also tarnishes when exposed to moisture and needs to be polished regularly to maintain its beauty.
- Reacts with foods: If the surface is copper, it will react with acidic foods, leading to a metallic taste. This isn’t a problem in most cases since most brands utilize stainless steel for the surface.
Copper Cookware Is Best For…
Copper cookware is suitable for frying, sauteing, and simmering. You’ll find it’s especially useful for meals that benefit from precise temperature control, such as fish, sauces, caramels, and fruit flambe. However, you should avoid acidic foods if the cooking surface is copper.
Resource: Check out this guide to get an in-depth comparison of copper vs. stainless steel cookware.
The Best Copper Cookware Brands
If you’re in the market for copper cookware, I recommend these brands:
Learn more in this in-depth guide to the best copper cookware brands.
Non-stick cookware with PTFE (short for polytetrafluoroethylene) coating is made with synthetic materials to prevent food from sticking and make cleanup easy.
You may see the term PTFE listed in cookware’s specs, but most people refer to the coating as Teflon since that’s the most well-known maker of it.
The material used to make the base of PTFE-coated non-stick cookware varies by brand. The most common materials are aluminum, hard-anodized aluminum, and fully-clad stainless steel.
- Food doesn’t stick: The main reason this cookware is so loved is that food doesn’t stick. That makes it easy to cook a variety of recipes, as well as making cleaning a breeze.
- Easy to clean: You just need warm water, soap, and a soft cloth to thoroughly clean non-stick cookware. So if you want to spend less time on dishes, this is the right choice.
- Lightweight: Most non-stick cookware is lightweight and easy to maneuver.
- Versatile: Non-stick cookware is versatile. You can use it for lots of recipes, including eggs, crepes, and much more. It’s particularly useful for delicate ingredients.
- Affordable: This cookware is budget-friendly. If you use it properly, it could last up to five years.
- Durability: Although this cookware is durable, it’s not as long-lasting as cast iron or stainless steel. The maximum longevity is around three to five years, so you will have to replace it often. The surface can flake, scratch, and lose its non-stick properties.
- Warps: Non-stick cookware can warp if it’s heated too high. It can also warp if you run cold water over it while it’s still hot.
- Not natural: PTFE is a synthetic coating, so if you want something natural, I suggest looking elsewhere. While PTFE is safe, it can release gases if you heat it above 500°F, and breathing those gases can cause flu-like symptoms.
Non-Stick (PTFE-Coated) Cookware Is Best For…
PTFE-coated non-stick cookware is best for cooking delicate foods that could fall apart if they stick to the cooking surface, and for foods that don’t require high heat. It’s most suitable for vegetables, eggs, fish, sauces, pancakes and crepes, curries, stir fry, and much more. I don’t recommend it for searing or frying meat, broiling, or grilling as the high temperatures can ruin the non-stick coating.
The Best Non-Stick (PTFE-Coated) Cookware Brands
If you are looking for the best non-stick PTFE-coated cookware, I recommend checking out these brands:
Ceramic non-stick cookware has a cooking surface made of natural sand-derived silicon using a process called sol-gel. So it’s not technically made from ceramic, but it’s labeled as such because of its smooth glossy texture.
Like with PTFE-coated non-stick cookware, the base material varies, but it’s usually aluminum. It could also be steel or fully-clad stainless steel.
- Toxin-free: Ceramic-coated cookware is completely natural, so there are no risks of toxins, even if the cookware is overheated. The coating is derived from natural sand and doesn’t contain lead, cadmium, or other potentially dangerous chemicals or elements.
- Non-stick: Ceramic coated cookware is naturally non-stick, so it boasts excellent food release, and it’s easy to clean.
- Eco-friendly: Many brands claim to be eco-friendly, using 60% less CO2 than traditional non-stick cookware. There’s not much scientific evidence to back these claims, but this is a pro if you trust the brands.
- Affordable: Ceramic cookware is budget-friendly. Prices vary from brand to brand, but you’ll find quality ceramic-coated cookware at a fraction of the cost of stainless steel.
- Color options: Ceramic-coating cookware allows you to match your pots and pans to your kitchen décor. Unlike PTFE-coated cookware that’s typically dark gray, ceramic-coating cookware is available in many color options.
- Not durable: Ceramic cookware is the least durable of all the materials mentioned in this post. Although it’s affordable, you should only expect your ceramic cookware to last around one year before it loses its non-stick ability, cracks, chips, or before the paint discolors.
- Surface scratches easily: The cooking surface scratches easily, making it difficult to clean and causing food to stick. To avoid this, use wooden or nylon cooking utensils.
- Uneven heating: Ceramic cookware doesn’t heat as evenly as other cookware. The surface is made of tiny particles, and, at a microscopic level, food isn’t always in direct contact with the heat. This can lead to unevenly and inconsistent results.
Ceramic-Coated Cookware Is Best For…
Like PTFE coated non-stick cookware, ceramic cookware is best for delicate foods that tend to stick such as eggs, pancakes, stir fry, vegetables, and other delicate, flakey foods. It doesn’t react to acidic foods; you can use it for tomato, lemon, and wine sauces.
It’s not the best cookware for searing and browning meat, since it’s more effective at low and medium temperatures. Plus, searing requires adhesion between the meat and the cookware, and, with non-stick, the food tends to slide around too much.
The Best Ceramic-Coated Cookware Brands
If you want to try out ceramic-coated cookware, here are the brands I’d recommend:
Pure Ceramic cookware is different from ceramic-coated metal cookware — it’s entirely constructed of ceramic. This includes the body of the pot or pan, lid, and sometimes even the handles.
Ceramic is basically a type of clay, so when you cook with pure ceramic, you’re essentially cooking with baked clay.
The fact that ceramic is made from clay makes it eco-friendly. It’s not a mined material, like metal, but rather a natural resource.
- Non-reactive: Unlike cast iron or stainless steel, ceramic doesn’t react to acidic foods. You can simmer tomato sauce or lemony dishes without worry.
- Oven-Safe: Pure ceramic cookware is typically oven-safe up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit—that’s hotter than any home oven can get.
- Microwave-Safe: Ceramic cookware can go directly from the fridge to the oven or microwave without any concerns about thermal shock.
- Non-Toxic: One of the significant benefits of ceramic cookware is that it’s non-toxic. There are no metals or harmful chemicals to leach into your food.
- Fragile: Ceramic is prone to chipping and cracking if not handled with care. It can’t withstand the same level of abuse as cast iron or stainless steel.
- Heats Slow: Based on my testing, pure ceramic cookware heats significantly slower on the stove than stainless steel and aluminum cookware.
- Expensive: Ceramic cookware tends to be more expensive than its metal counterparts, especially for high-quality pieces.
- Not Non-Stick: Ceramic cookware isn’t naturally non-stick. While food won’t stick aggressively, it won’t slide off like it does on non-stick pans.
- Heavy: Like cast iron, ceramic is heavy. This can be a downside when you’re trying to flip or toss food.
- Requires Care: Pure ceramic cookware requires hand washing, and you’ll need to use non-metal utensils to avoid scratching it.
Pure Ceramic Cookware Is Best For…
Pure ceramic is a good option if you prioritize eco-friendly and non-toxic cookware.
It’s excellent for slow-cooked dishes, like soups, stews, and casseroles, because it retains heat so well. You can also use it for roasting or baking because it can withstand such high temperatures.
If you want to minimize the risk of your food reacting with your cookware, ceramic is a fantastic option. You can cook any type of food, including acidic dishes, without fear.
The Best Pure Ceramic Brands
Looking to add pure ceramic to your kitchen? I highly recommend checking out:
Most cookware utilizes aluminum in at least part of its production process. It’s often used as the core of stainless steel cookware and the base of non-stick cookware because it’s highly conductive.
Aluminum is not durable and reacts with acidic food, so most aluminum cookware is coated with non-stick material, or it’s been anodized (more on this in the next section).
- Conductive: Aluminum is a conductive metal, so it excels as a cookware core. It provides fast and even heating.
- Affordable: Aluminum cookware is often affordable. So if you’re new to cooking or on a tight budget, it’s an excellent place to start.
- Many options: As mentioned, aluminum is at the core of many cookware types. You can find it with stainless steel or the base for non-stick cooking surfaces.
- Reactive: Aluminum is reactive to acidic foods. While most aluminum cookware is treated with a non-stick or stainless steel interior, be cautious if yours isn’t.
- Lacks durability: Aluminum isn’t the most durable cookware; don’t expect it to last forever. If you want something longer-lasting, I recommend hard-anodized aluminum.
- Easily warps: Aluminum is prone to warping when subjected to high heat or drastic temperature changes. Hard-anodized aluminum is less likely to warp.
Aluminum Cookware Is Best For…
Since most aluminum cookware has a non-stick coating, it’s best for vegetables, stir fry, curries, eggs, pancakes, and more. It’s not recommended for searing or browning meat or other recipes that require high heat.
The Best Aluminum Cookware Brands
If you want to try out aluminum cookware for yourself, check out these brands:
Hard-anodized aluminum is aluminum that’s undergone an electrolytic process to create an oxidized layer on the surface.
This process, which Calphalon borrowed from the aerospace industry in the 1960s, hardens the aluminum, making it more durable, resistant to corrosion, and heat conductive than standard aluminum.
Like aluminum cookware, hard-anodized aluminum is often coated with non-stick material or used as the core material for fully-clad stainless steel pans.
While hard-anodized aluminum cookware is more expensive, it lasts longer and performs better than standard aluminum.
- Durable: Hard-anodized aluminum is sturdy, durable, and well-constructed. It’s long-lasting and warp resistant.
- Heat conductive: Hard-anodized aluminum has excellent heat conductivity. It heats quickly and evenly along the base and up the sides.
- Scratch-resistant: This is an excellent choice if you’re low on storage space and need to stack your cookware. It’s resistant to scratches and scuffs.
- Doesn’t leech metals: The surface, because it’s anodized and often coated with PTFE non-stick, is non-reactive, so you can cook all ingredients without the metals breaking off into your food.
- Costly: Hard-anodized aluminum cookware is cheaper than stainless steel, but usually more expensive than standard aluminum. Expect to pay at least $50 for a frying pan, but some brands charge much more.
- Heavy: This cookware is harder, denser, and heavier than standard aluminum.
- Quality varies across brands: There are many hard-anodized aluminum options on the market, and no two products are the same. Some have thick walls, making it more durable and slower to heat, while others have thin walls and heat up faster. Make sure to do your research before purchasing.
Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware Is Best For…
Most hard-anodized aluminum cookware is coated with a PTFE non-stick surface, making it a top choice for cooking eggs, pancakes, grilled cheese, and other recipes that tend to stick.
It’s thick, durable, and can handle higher heat than standard aluminum. So you can use it for searing if you don’t want to break out the stainless steel or cast iron.
Go ahead and test out most recipes in this cookware, but be careful with acidic foods if the surface isn’t coated with non-stick materials or stainless steel.
The Best Hard-Anodized Aluminum Brands
I recommend shopping from these brands if you’re in the market for hard-anodized aluminum:
Hard-anodized aluminum cookware varies significantly across brands, so stick to the ones mentioned here. Read the Definitive Guide to the Best Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware to learn about all my top picks.
Bottom Line: What Type of Cookware Is the Best?
Now that you know the pros and cons of the top 11 cookware materials, the question is:
Which type of cookware is the best?
As you probably guessed, there is no best cookware material; each serves a different purpose.
The best material for you depends on your existing collection and how you like to cook.
If you’re just getting started and are looking for the essentials, here’s what you need:
- At least one non-stick pan for eggs, pancakes, grilled sandwiches, fish, etc. I recommend something with a hard-anodized aluminum base and PTFE non-stick coating for ultimate durability. An excellent option is the Calphalon Contemporary collection, which you can learn about in my in-depth review or check out on Amazon.
- One stainless steel pan or skillet for searing, browning, and simmering sauces. And one stainless steel saucepan or stockpot for boiling and making sauces. If you have the budget for it, go for fully-clad. I recommend Made In and All-Clad. Both are expensive but worth it. All-Clad is available on Amazon and All-Clad.com, and Made In is available at MadeInCookware.com.
- Either a cast iron or carbon steel skillet for roasting, sautéing, braising, and frying. Both are versatile, but you only need one. Keep in mind that carbon steel is lighter, whereas cast iron is heavier but retains heat well. For carbon steel, check out Made In (see my review). For cast iron, go with Lodge (available on Amazon), one of the best brands that still makes its cookware in the USA.
- Enameled cast iron is nice to have in the kitchen, but it’s not necessary. If you have the budget, Le Creuset is the best (and totally worth it). You can check out Le Creuset’s enameled cast iron cookware on Amazon.
- If you are looking to buy your first entire set, go with stainless steel. It’s versatile and can be used with all culinary techniques and recipes.
- The Best Non-Stick Pan Materials (How to Choose)
- The 6 Best Frying Pan Materials (With Comparison Chart)
- Best Cookware for Electric Stoves: The Definitive Guide
- Stainless Steel vs. Non-Stick Cookware
- Aluminum vs. Stainless Steel Cookware: 11 Key Differences
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- Ceramic vs. Enameled Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- Ceramic Cookware Pros and Cons: 21 Things You Need to Know
- Pros and Cons of Hard-Anodized Cookware: 17 Things to Know
- Best Lightweight Cookware: Top Brands Reviewed
- Cast Iron vs. Enameled Cast Iron: 9 Differences You Need to Know
- Hard-Anodized vs. Ceramic Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- Stainless Steel vs. Hard-Anodized Aluminum: Which Cookware Is Better?
- Carbon Steel vs. Cast Iron Cookware: 10 Differences You Need to Know
- Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel Cookware
- Carbon Steel vs. Stainless Steel Pans
- 3-Ply vs. 5-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware (The Real Difference)
- Stainless Steel Cookware Pros and Cons: 19 Things to Know
- Why Does Food Stick to Stainless Steel Pans? (And How to Prevent It)
- Hard-Anodized vs. Non-Stick Cookware: What’s the Difference?
- The Definitive Guide to the Best Cookware Brands
- 10-Inch vs. 12-Inch Pan: Which Size Is Right for You?