A good cookware set can be the difference between making a killer meal and having it fall flat. A stainless steel skillet should be your kitchen workhorse, while that nonstick pan is essential for making perfect eggs. And a cast-iron skillet is so useful; I’m definitely taking it to the desert island with me! (Master cast iron cooking with our guide.) But what is the best cookware, and when should you use it?
Stainless steel pans are classic, and they last forever. They’re super durable, lightweight, and some brands are even magnetic (making them compatible for induction cooking methods). Unlike copper or aluminum, they don’t react with any foods, so stainless steel is my go-to for cooking anything and everything.
When to use it: Boiling pasta, browning butter, or making pan sauces—it’s perfect. I often use my stainless steel skillet interchangeably with my seasoned cast-iron skillet when searing meats and vegetables.
Teflon and other nonstick coatings have chemicals like PTFE and PFOA that have raised health concerns. They’ve given nonstick cookware a bad rap over the years, but nonstick pans have gotten safer as technology has improved. A good nonstick pan is definitely a kitchen essential, because its slippery surface doesn’t require any oil at all. Your food won’t stick (which makes it super easy to clean, too).
When to use it: Nonstick is my first choice for making eggs, whether fried, scrambled or over easy. I also like a nonstick pan for making pancakes or crepes, and if I’m trying to cook low-fat or nonfat without oil, I choose the nonstick without a doubt.
Newer to the nonstick cookware scene is ceramic coating. It’s a more environmentally friendly option, and it’s free of worrisome chemicals. But ceramic cookware isn’t built for prolonged exposure to high heat, so just make sure you only use your ceramic pans for low-heat cooking.
When to use it: Use it anytime you would use a nonstick pan if you’re worried about chemical coatings.
Uncoated Cast Iron
Uncoated cast iron is that classic black, heavy cast iron that your grandmother used. When seasoned (Learn how to season a cast iron skillet), it makes a great alternative to nonstick cookware. I wouldn’t cook eggs in it, but I use cast iron to cook just about every other substance that I don’t want to stick. Cast iron rivals my stainless steel skillet for the most-used cookware in my house.
When to use it: Use it for almost anything! I always choose cast iron for cornbread and breakfast hash. It’s also great for any dishes that start on the stovetop and finish in the oven. Worried about cleaning cast-iron pans? Here’s how to properly clean a cast iron skillet.
Enameled Cast Iron
This type of coated cast-iron cookware was made famous by the beautiful colors of Le Creuset and Staub. They don’t have to be seasoned like uncoated cast iron, which makes them a bit easier to clean.
When to use it: Braising, stewing, or making soups and stocks—porcelain enameled cookware will do it all, and look good doing it. I also love my enameled Dutch oven for deep frying.
Glass is nonreactive, which means food won’t pick up off flavors from a glass baking dish. It also retains heat better than metal bakeware, which is great if you want your casserole to stay warm at the table. Never heat glass on the stovetop or under the broiler, or it can shatter.
When to use it: Glass is perfect for casseroles, roasted meats or lasagna. In general, I only use it for baked goods that have wet ingredients, like apple cobbler.
Metal heats up quickly and is a better conductor of heat than glass. This means your food will have a more browned color and crispy edges. Keep in mind that aluminum reacts with acidic foods, so stick to glass when baking with tomatoes or citrus.
When to use it: I usually choose metal for baked goods (like pies, cookies or breads). I also use it for anything I want to have a little extra browned quality, like meatloaf.