Cookware is the general terms for pots, pans, baking dishes and serving dishes, it comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and performs many different cooking tasks.
Aluminium is the staple of most commercial kitchens where the kitchen is on a very tight budget. The advantage of aluminium is that it is cheap, does not corrode and is a superb conductor of heat. This makes aluminium a good pan for boiling and on cost grounds is suitable for very big pans such as stockpots. Big disadvantages are that it can react with acidic food and it cannot be used on induction hobs. In most of the kitchens I have ever worked I keep at least one large aluminium stock pot just to keep a sufficient supply of water simmering during preparation and service.
Cheap aluminium pans are made from a single sheet of metal, but the best professional aluminium pans have a thicker base to spread the heat more evenly. Medium duty aluminium pans with a base thick of 3mm to 4mm are suitable for most cooking ranges, (but with the more intense heat of a solid-top range I would recommend a heavy-duty pan with a base of 7mm.
Stainless steel has become the material of choice for pubs, hotels and restaurants because it is doesn’t tarnish, is easy to clean, hygienic, hard-wearing and is less prone to sticking than other metals. There is wide variation in stainless steel quality on the market and as with aluminium the base of the pan will be layered. This usually takes the form of a three layer sandwich with stainless steel on the bottom, aluminium in the middle to give good conductivity and stainless steel on top. Some top of the range pans will have up to seven sandwiched layers.
Cheap stainless steel pans are a false economy as the thin gauge of the metal on cheap stainless steel pans gives very poor heat distribution; they will tarnish easily and because the metal surface is poorly polished sticking can be a problem. On health and safety grounds cheap stainless steel pans can also be dangerous as the welding that holds the handle on could be very poor and snap without warning when full with hot liquid.
Most professional kitchens have a small selection of non-stick cookware. It is perfect for frying delicate fish such as sole and plaice, omelettes never stick and using non-stick frying pans can be part of a low-fat style of cooking. The cheapest non-stick is coated on aluminium, but because of the relative softness of aluminium, the non-stick layer will not last as long as it could when on steel. The main cause of damage to the non-stick coating apart from the obvious one of using metal utensils is getting the temperature too high. While normal frying is done at 200°C, flash frying over a fierce heat can send the base temperature way over 250°C causing splitting of the non-stick coating. For instance wok cooking works better with black iron woks rather than non-stick woks.
Copper pans were once the material of choice in the classic professional kitchen, their use is dwindling in the face of stainless steel. The traditional construction would be copper for heat conduction and lined with tin to protect the food from contamination from the copper. Their big drawback is that they are very expensive.
Stoneware – these colourful dishes are more often used for food presentation on a servery, the manufacturing process can see the clay baked at 1,300°C for up to 10 hours to achieve great toughness. This material will withstand a temperature range of –20°C to 250°C, making them suitable for oven to counter use. Most are dishwasher-friendly and all can be placed in a microwave oven, but definitely not on a hob as the sudden burst of heat will cause the ceramic to shatter. Many cooking pots are available with matching lids for closed-lid cooking in the oven and to help keep the food warm while on a service counter.
Pans and casserole dishes made from cast iron are noted for their strength, conductivity of heat and heat retention. Coated on the inside and out with an enamel paint which is baked onto the cast iron at high temperature they produce a smooth cooking surface and prevent rusting. The enamelled surface is not suitable for frying due a tendency for sticking. In addition to enamelled cast iron you can get enamelled stainless steel casseroles.
Whether you’re looking to buy your first or replace your existing cookware set, and want some better pans, here’s why need to use professional quality cookware.
Using better cookware will make cooking easier for you.
Using the right sort of cookware will help to make cooking more enjoyable, you’ll gain confidence be able to create the dishes you want to whilst ensuring that food tastes the way it should.
Low quality pans may limit your cooking and this is the time to buy some decent quality cookware. They might have seen better days, or have wobbly handles or lids that don’t fit anymore. By changing them for professional quality cookware, you know that you’ll have decent pans that will be up to the job, no matter what or how often you cook with them.
Modern professional pans are more efficient then previous styles of pans. They heat up quicker and use less energy and will save you cooking time.
Professional cookware is easy to clean and maintain. Anything that is designed for, and actually used in a commercial kitchen needs to be fit for purpose.
If you have the right sort of pans, then you’ll be tempted to cook from scratch more often, and be more adventurous. Perhaps there are recipes that you’d like to try, but don’t trust your pans, or perhaps your pans aren’t big enough.