The Beginner’s Guide to Cookware Materials


Cast iron. Stainless steel. Enamel. Aluminum.

Whether you’re purchasing for your commercial kitchen or just looking for new cookware pieces to have at home, the material of your cookware matters more than you might think. Cookware is made with a variety of materials, ranging from copper to aluminum, cast iron to stainless steel, and each type of material is suited to a certain cooking style. While each type of cookware has its pros and cons, it’s important to consider each category of material before making a buying decision.


Aluminum reacts badly with acidic foods like tomatoes, vinegar, and citrus. Cooking them in this cookware can change the flavor and appearance of the dish. However, this material is admired for its outstanding heat conductivity and is used on a massive scale all over the world. This cookware saves you time in the kitchen. Aluminum cookware is durable, lightweight, and easy to maintain, while also cheaper than other cookware alternatives. On the downside, its reactive nature to acidic foods means it can’t be used for every dish you prepare in the kitchen. Aluminum can be prone to warping when exposed to extreme heat or drastic temperature swings.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel cookware is extremely easy to clean, and its longevity is unrivaled. Unlike other cookware materials, it takes longer to distribute heat and hence cooks slowly. However, it offers advantages that make people want to use it more than any other material. Stainless steel is easy to maintain and is nonreactive with other foods. It’s compatible with induction cooktops and safe to use in the dishwasher, oven, and broiler. Because food can stick easily to stainless steel, cleaning can prove to be difficult at times. Compared to other cookware materials, stainless steel can be more expensive.


One of the most frequently used pieces of cookware, especially in residential kitchens, is the nonstick pots and pans. For foods that are sticky, like eggs, nonstick is an obvious choice. However, a good amount of nonstick cookware can prove to be harmful when chipped, leaving food exposed to chemicals when heated up. That chipping leads to a shorter lifespan than most other pieces of cookware. Typically good at medium to medium-high heat, it’s generally advised to avoid the highest heat settings with nonstick pans as the material can begin to break down.


Copper cookware is, without a doubt, the best heat conductor of all cookware materials. Copper, on the other hand, can react with certain foods and be harmful. As a result, copper pots and pans are typically coated with a different material, typically stainless steel. From high-heat searing and frying to softly simmering delicate sauces, copper shines with specific menu items and cooking styles. It also provides an attractive kitchen-to-table presentation. However, copper is expensive, can be dented rather easily, and must be cared for with seasoning, copper cleaner for the outside, and hand-washed.


Perhaps the most attractive type of material in the kitchen, ceramic cookware looks the part. It’s slow to heat, which does prevent over-browning. Ceramic cookware is nonstick, free of chemicals, and can handle all types of foods without the worry of reactivity. Like with anything ceramic, this cookware is delicate and prone to chipping.

Cast Iron

Because of its durability, cast iron is a time-honored material for pots and pans. Due to its lack of conductivity, iron is slow to heat and cool, making it a suitable choice for cooking things that require a longer cooking time. To prevent rust, natural cast iron must be “seasoned,” which results in a nonstick surface. Cast iron that has been enameled is naturally non-reactive and nonstick. Natural cast iron is generally inexpensive and extremely durable. Unless other types of cookware, cast iron won’t warp, chip, or dent. Enameled cast iron comes in a variety of vibrant glazes which add a splash of color to your kitchen. Some disadvantages to cast iron are that the material is difficult to handle, especially when hot, and it weighs far more than other materials. Constant seasoning and re-seasoning of cast iron is essential in order to keep the finish on the material and its nonstick property. Additionally, the cost of enameled cast iron is much higher than natural cast iron.

Bottom Line

When it comes to cookware surfaces, there are so many possibilities that it might be a little intimidating. What is the best material? Which one lasts the longest? Which is the most adaptable? They all have advantages and disadvantages, so it’s simply a matter of deciding which is best for your cooking style. Stop into the Alto-Hartley showroom to speak with one of experts who is ready to help you find the right piece of cookware to match your budget, menu, and cooking style!