The 10 Best Cookware Sets
10. Rachael Ray Anodized II
9. Calphalon Classic
8. Cuisinart MCP-12N
7. Circulon Symmetry
6. Duxtop Professional
5. Anolon Nouvelle
4. Lagostina Martellata
3. Copper Tri-Ply
2. T-fal Ultimate
1. All-Clad Stainless Steel
How Bonded Metal Changed the Cooking World
It all started with the Rolls Royce of cookware, All-Clad. To this day, it's still an aspirational brand. It's pricey, sure, but if you take good care of it, it will last a lifetime. Generally considered America's finest cookware, and used by chefs around the world, it's also the first company to make cookware from bonded metals.
Its inventor, John Ulam, was a brilliant metallurgist in mid-century Pennsylvania, and he had a company that made bonded metals for various applications other than cooking. The U.S. government even entrusted his company, Clad Metals, with making dimes, quarters, and half-dollars, and with their conversion from silver to the bonded layers of metals we see in today's coins.
Of his most commercially successful invention, Ulam writes in his patent: "We have discovered a method of cladding metals which overcomes the difficulties of prior art practices and makes it possible to provide close control over the physical properties of the metals in the ultimate composite clad metal and at the same time to control and provide a strong bond between the dissimilar metals forming the clad body." In other words, he discovered a way to clad stainless steel and aluminum together to exploit the best properties of each of the metals.
In yet another stroke of genius from a man who had many, Ulam realized that the properties of bonded metals could revolutionize cookware: Aluminum and copper react with food in a way that can change the way foods taste, and they conduct heat very well. Stainless steel does not react with food, but it does not conduct heat nearly as efficiently. With aluminum or copper sandwiched between two layers of stainless you got a pan that conducts heat without a chemical reaction to the food.
So, Ulam started a new company in 1967, All-Clad, making professional quality gourmet cookware with the sandwich metals. Originally, Ulam slogged it out at trade shows, hawking his cookware to professional chefs and restaurants. Then, one fateful day in 1973, a Bloomingdale's buyer was at one of these trade shows, and picked the brand up for the store's high-end housewares department.
A Guide to the Right Pots and Pans for You
It's a tough decision when you're talking about plunking down a pile of dough on a set of pots and pans. It's personal. If you cook a lot, it's even an intimate decision - one that you probably will have to live with for a long time. It's vital, then, that you understand the differences between the various cookware options and how they'll affect your food.
If you've been reading carefully, you already know that stainless is a poor heat conductor on its own. It will not give consistent heat distribution. Of course, that's why the better option is bonded metal, using stainless on the inside and outside, and aluminum or copper sandwiched in between. A minimum of three layers will give you the best heat distribution with no chemical reaction with food.
The true thoroughbred of the kitchen, copper cookware is gorgeous, and part of the appeal of copper cookware is, obviously, its great beauty. But if you're cooking acidic foods - foods with grains, sugar, dairy - they might pick up a metallic taste.
Aluminum conducts heat like a champ. It's lightweight and affordable, but unfortunately, it's highly reactive. If you cook with just aluminum, you risk discolored pots and food, as well as a metallic taste. Plus, the metal is soft, so it dings pretty easily. Anodized aluminum is harder, and preferable in cookware.
Nonstick cookware tends to be very non-reactive, and food slides right out of the pan. The surface will chip and scratch over time, however, no matter how careful you are. And PTFE, the most common nonstick material, contains PFCs, which scientists say might cause liver damage, cancer, developmental problems, and possibly early menopause.
We can't ignore cast iron in the cookware materials conversation, although a whole set of the stuff would be unwieldy and ultra-heavy, at best. Nonetheless, a home chef would have one or two of these hanging around the kitchen, no matter what the "set" is made of. Cast iron is relatively cheap, incredibly durable, and, if properly seasoned, nonstick. But, like its copper and aluminum cousins, cast iron is reactive with acidic food, though some companies get around this by using an enamel coating.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Pots and Pans
Let's fess up here: We all want that stainless steel kitchen. But only if it will gleam like new forever. Magically. Effortlessly. Without scrubbing and scratches. We don't want to invest without a guarantee that the pricey pots will sparkle and shine on demand.
Here's a little secret: It's not as hard to keep stainless steel looking good as some would like you to think. You just have to be attentive.
So, the more industrial end of the cleaning spectrum uses products like Bar Keeper's Friend, which uses oxalic acid as its main ingredient. (Sounds scary, but it comes from the flowering wood sorrel). Simply make a paste of the powder with a little water, rub it in the pot, let it sit. Or you can use it like a cleanser, and, with a sponge and a little elbow grease, scrub.
Natural options include boiling water in the pot or pan for about 20 minutes, adding salt once the water starts boiling. Allow it to set for four hours. Then scrub.
Or, use baking soda and vinegar, or even lemon juice, which you can mix with water and boil if you like, and let the chemical reaction do all the work for you.
Some people say boiling tomato juice will remove particularly bad stains. But why bother, what with the other less expensive options?