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Cheap vs Expensive Cookware, is there any difference? Lots of people ask, why they should pay 5-10 times as much as the cheaper alternative. The sad truth is that there really isn’t any reason. Most of the time, its mostly down to marketing and looks. What would surprise most people is that the majority of restaurant, uses the cheapest cookware available. The reason for this is two fold. One, they need to maintain a profit margin. Buying expensive cookware wont exactly save them money. The other reason is that they have a industrial stove range. That stove range will make the cheapest pan, perform like a thousand dollar one. But that is not to say that there is no gain in the expensive cookware. This article will go through what sets apart a high end cookware from a low end one.
What does a Cookware Do?
Obviously, they cook food. But why exactly do we need it? We need it to contain the food we are cooking. If we did not have the cookware, cooking food would not be easily manageable. The issue with the container, is that they often reduce the amount of heat that can be transferred. Not only that, if we have an uneven source of heat, heat spots will occur in the pot or pan. A good high end pan, will even out the heating issues.
If the metal is such a hindrance, why not cook with fire? We actually do, its called BBQ. That is the closest thing to direct heat cooking that we have. Some chef actually use a butane torch to sear their food. However, this type of cooking isn’t really practical nor is it convenient to do. Hence the need for pots and pans.
Cheap vs Expensive Cookware Metal
The ability to transfer heat efficiently is called thermal conductivity. Metallurgist and engineer have designed cookware based on the thermal conductivity of the metal. Unfortunately, usually the higher thermal conductive metal is quite expensive. Other type of metal like Aluminum is cheap but comes with draw backs as well. They react with acidic food and warp under high heat. They also lack the weight to maintain its heat.
Over the years, engineer have developed ways to get around these limitations. They including, lining it with stainless steel, putting on a tin lining, sandwiching different metal or even coating it with Teflon. It is the different combinations of these methods that can increase or decrease the cost of of a cookware. Below, you will find some common combinations of cookware that is used and its associated expense.
Copper is the most expensive metal out of the bunch. It conducts heat the best but it is also reactive. In order to get around this, the metal is coated with Tin or Stainless Steel. The cost of a copper cookware will depend on the thickness of the pans. Usually, it is recommended that you get a cookware that is at least 2 mm thick. Copper Cookware with a thickness of 1.5 mm or lower are usually the cheaper one. However, they are still more expensive than the other categories.
Aluminum is cheap and high on the thermal conductivity. The issue with Aluminum is that it reacts with acidic food and its light. To get the full performance out of the aluminum cookware, you would need to compensate by making it as thick as possible. In the past, manufacturers use to make very thick aluminum cookware. Today, you will be lucky to get past 3 mm.
Another way that manufacturer uses aluminum is by cladding the metal. They would clad the exterior and interior with stainless steel so that it doesnt react with acidic food. But this is only seen in higher end cookware.
The lower end version of these cookware, will only have cladding on the bottom. These type of cookware are known as disc bottom. They are cheaper to manufacturer, hence the cheaper cookware. They should generally be avoided due to possible scorching on the side. The rate of temperature will be different from the bottom to the side.
Stainless steel is great because it doesnt stain nor react with food. The problem with it is that it has horrible heat conductivity and its heavy. All around, if you only used stainless steel, you will be riddled with heat spots and performance issues. There are not a lot of high end cookware with just stainless steel.
Cast Iron would be the cheapest and one of worst performing of the bunch. This type of cookware has been around for centuries. It is riddled with heat spots and it takes forever to heat up. The redeeming factor is that it can hold a lot of heat. When you sear food, it will most likely stay hot. They tend to be on the cheaper side, brands like Lodge make great skillets for under 20 dollar. Overtime, they will develop a non stick ability. However, brands like Le Creuset seem to charge an arm and an leg for it. The reason is mainly due to vanity. It looks nice and they have a great marketing team, hence the exuberant price. But when you really get down to it, there is not much difference.
Non Stick Cookware
Non stick Cookware are usually just aluminum pans. They by all no means perform badly. In fact, I think they are one of the best value for your money. The only issue with them is that they do not store a lot of heat. There are brands like All Clad who make a high end version of these pans. They perform great but have a short shelf life. The durability of these cookware is tied with the teflon coating. Once that goes, so does the pan.
Cheap vs Expensive Cookware Thoughts
To summarize, the major difference between cheap vs expensive cookware is a combination of many factor. Unfortunately, most of the time it is due to branding and marketing. I have seen expensive cookware with horrible constructions and cheap cookware with fantastic construction. The vast majority of consumer are more focused on the appearance of a cookware than anything else. How the company market their cookware or the strength of their brand is what mainly sets the price. Most do not focus on performance. The only cookware that is consistently expensive is copper cookware, that is simply due to the cost of the metal. So if you really do want a high performing pot or pan, go copper.
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