In our previous post, we discussed the types of cookware that are vital for a well-stocked commercial kitchen. These include high-quality fry pans, stock pots, sauce pans, skillets, and roasting pans. Other pieces of specialized cookware are nice to have on hand, as well – such as a wok and a paella pan – but we covered the basics to ensure that your kitchen gets off to a good start. In this article we’ll talk about the materials that commercial cookware is made of, including the diverse types of handles, which can make a huge difference in your cookware arsenal.
Cast Iron Cookware
For the professional chef, working with a well-seasoned cast iron skillet is a dream, as cast-iron cookware has the most versatile cooking capabilities. When it comes to cast iron, the pros outweigh the cons, and cookware made from cast iron can offer an overwhelmingly positive cooking experience for the professional chef.
Advantages of Cast Iron Cookware
One of the biggest advantages of cast iron cookware is that it costs less than aluminum or stainless steel cookware of a similar quality. A cast iron skillet or griddle, for instance, offers much more value than the same item made from other materials.
Even Heating Area
Cast iron cookware offers an even heating area for cooking – much more so than stainless steel and aluminum. This is particularly important and noticeable when cooking on a stove top (over a flame); there are also no “hot spots,” so foods cook better with less chance of scorching.
To work at its best, a cast iron skillet must be seasoned (and that is one of the disadvantages we’ll mention later). However, a well-seasoned cast iron skillet becomes naturally non-stick when properly seasoned, which is another advantage of this type of cookware over stainless steel and aluminum. Seasoned cast iron eliminates the need for using oil or other types of grease on the cooking surface to prevent sticking, making your foods lower in fat.
Disadvantages of Cast Iron
As mentioned, to work optimally, cast iron cookware must be seasoned periodically, which can be time consuming. Although the process is well worth your time, it’s a factor to take into consideration.
Heavy and Prone to Rust
Cast iron cookware is much heavier than other materials; a large skillet or Dutch oven can weigh as much as 15 pounds. On one hand, the heft of cast iron cookware contributes to its durability, but there’s no escaping the fact that you need to be in shape to work with this heavy material.
Rust is another issue that haunts cast iron cookware – but, again, only if it’s not seasoned correctly. If well-seasoned, the cookware won’t rust when exposed to moisture or, if it does, the rust can be removed easily.
Aluminum Commercial Cookware
Aluminum cookware is easy to obtain – there is a wide range of these types of pots and pans, perhaps more than any other material.
Advantages of Aluminum Cookware
Aluminum heats and cools quickly, making it particularly popular with cooks who need to work quickly. Thanks to its heat conductive properties, an aluminum pan will be ready to be used for cooking with within minutes. It is also comparatively less expensive than other types of cookware, which is important if you’re on a tight budget. Finally, aluminum is light in weight so even large aluminum pots and other commercial equipment are easy to manage and carry. Also, aluminum equipment is one of the most durable materials as long as it is well maintained.
Disadvantages of Aluminum Cookware
Aluminum is a very soft metal – certainly compared to cast iron and stainless steel – so it’s not that durable compared to cookware that is made of those materials. In addition, aluminum cookware tends to stain, especially if it is used to cook acidic foods (like those that contain vinegar). Finally, aluminum cookware can warp if it is placed under cold water while still hot. The staining may be considered an aesthetic issue and arguably not that important; the warping, however, is something to consider more seriously if you’re going to invest in aluminum cookware.
It’s also important to keep in mind that acid can degrade the aluminum, which can transfer to the food. It’s generally recommended to avoid using aluminum cookware for highly acidic or salty foods like tomato sauce, unless the cookware has been anodized (more on that later).
Copper Commercial Cookware
Copper cookware – brightly burnished, gleaming, and well maintained – is undeniably beautiful, and that’s one of its biggest advantages. However, there is more to copper than just meets the eye.
Advantages of Copper Cookware
Copper’s main advantage is its superior heat conductivity. “Hot spots” don’t exist and you can count on precise and consistent heat. In other words, as you change the temperature on your stove top, the temperature of the pot or pan changes almost immediately, allowing for evenly braised and browned foods.
Copper cookware is the ideal weight – more substantial than aluminum but much less cumbersome than cast iron.
Disadvantages of Cooking with Copper
Copper is highly reactive with foods, so most copper pans are lined with either tin or steel. Tin wears out easily, and needs to be replaced every few years, which is why you should consider purchasing copper pots lined with stainless steel. (To enjoy the benefits of copper conductivity without the high maintenance, some fine cookware sandwiches layers of copper between layers of aluminum and/or stainless steel. This construction transmits heat efficiently, while preventing the copper from reacting with your foods.)
Copper pots and pans must be polished frequently, even when not in use, to prevent the surface from corroding. Copper cannot be washed in the dishwasher and must be hand-dried thoroughly after washing to prevent spotting. Most importantly, perhaps, copper is among the most expensive types of cookware, a definite consideration for the commercial kitchen on a budget.
Stainless Steel Commercial Cookware
Stainless steel is widely considered the best type of commercial cookware. There are a few disadvantages, but these are generally overshadowed by the advantages.
Advantages of Stainless Steel Cookware
Durability and Appearance
Stainless steel is very tough. If used properly, stainless steel cookware won’t chip, dent, scratch, rust or stain – it’s virtually indestructible. It’s easy to clean – dishwasher safe – and can go from oven to fridge easily. Stainless steel looks great and it’s easy to maintain that shiny appearance. The mirrored finish needs only a gentle wipe to bring back its shiny impressive look.
Integrity of Flavor
Unlike with aluminum, stainless steel cookware won’t leach its metal into food, which means flavor is preserved.
Disadvantages of Stainless Steel
Poor Heat Transfer
This is obviously a huge disadvantage – stainless steel does not conduct heat well. So why is it still considered a viable option for commercial cookware? Because while cheaper stainless steel is inferior, higher-quality stainless steel cookware usually includes an aluminum or copper base to improve heat transfer and to ensure that food is cooked evenly.
You Get What You Pay For
Inexpensive stainless steel is not worth the price; when you pay more for stainless steel cookware it performs better and gives you more for your money. Once you invest in a high-quality set of stainless cookware, it can last a lifetime. Many professional chefs swear by stainless steel’s durability and consider it a one-time purchase that’s worth the investment.
Although stainless is fairly easy to clean, it should be washed – and dried – after every use to avoid stains. Stuck on food will generally come off with a little soaking and elbow grease.
A Word About Anodized Commercial Cookware
Some cookware is anodized to avoid corrosion. The term anodized means that a material, such as the aluminum in cookware, undergoes an electrolytic process; the aluminum is immersed in a chemical bath and an electrical current is applied to it, producing oxide from the resulting rust on the aluminum. This layer of oxide hardens the aluminum and makes it resistant to corrosion.
Hard anodization is an extension of the process using higher voltage and lower temperature, which results in an even harder and more durable cookware coating. Hard anodized aluminum cookware, for instance, gives it durability and a nonstick finish that makes it almost unbeatable in terms of ease of use and cleaning.
Nonstick vs Anodized
A nonstick pan is a pan that has been coated with a nonstick substance. With proper care, nonstick pans save a lot of trouble in the kitchen. Unfortunately, nonstick pans are less than suitable for the rigors of metal utensils and the high temperatures commonly found in any commercial kitchen. The coating can scratch or chip easily if used with metal utensils, rendering the cookware useless and even dangerous. In addition, high stovetop temperatures in professional kitchens can actually cause nonstick surfaces like Teflon to liquefy and give off toxic fumes.
A hard anodized aluminum pan is much more durable than a regular nonstick pan. Hard anodized aluminum is lightweight, heats up quickly and evenly, is sturdy like stainless steel and can handle high temperatures. Most importantly metal utensils can be used on anodized cookware without the danger of scratching, cracking or chipping.
How to Measure Cookware Thickness
Beyond material, it is always important to consider the thickness of the cookware you’re investing in. The thickness of cookware is usually measured in either gauge or millimeters. When reading gauge, it is important to remember that the higher the gauge, the thinner the metal. Most commercial cookware falls somewhere between a thick 10 gauge construction and a thinner 22 gauge construction. When measuring in millimeters, keep in mind that 1 mm is equal to 1/1000″, and the higher the mm, the thicker the metal.
Pros and Cons of Thick Metal
Commercial cookware constructed of thicker metal will be sturdier, i.e., more resistant to warping and denting. It will provide even heating for more uniform searing and braising. On the other hand, because of the thickness it will be heavier and take longer to heat up. And, it will be more expensive.
Commercial cookware comes with different types of handles, usually riveted or welded. Screwed-on handles exist, but they are more prone to breakage and loosening, and therefore less appropriate for a commercial kitchen. Each type of handle – like the material the cookware is made of – has its pros and cons.
Rivets are small pieces of metal that are crushed into position between two harder pieces of metal and that hold the two pieces of metal together. Rivets are usually made of aluminum or steel and are extremely sturdy. On the plus side, rivets never need to be tightened; on the other hand, a riveted handle is harder to clean than other types of handles. With riveted handles, on fry pans in particular, high temperatures can burn grime onto or near the rivet heads, so it can be hard to get the grime off completely. A regular-size kitchen sponge might not be able to get close enough to clean the area where the rivet meets the wall of the pan.
Welded handles are created when two pieces of metal are heated at very high temperatures and welded (fused) together. A welded handled presents a uniform construction and is thus easier to clean than cookware with riveted handles, as all spots are accessible.
While rivets can loosen over time, there is usually a warning before the rivets break completely. On the other hand, welds can break suddenly. However, if the pan is constructed of higher grade steel, sudden breakage is unlikely to occur. Ideally the handle should be welded in a few places, as the welds reinforce each other and substitute for each other in the event that one or more of the welds loosens. You may find that some higher quality, heavy-duty commercial stock pots have six or more welds per handle!
Some types of cookware are not suitable for welded handles. For instance, it’s difficult to weld handles onto aluminum and copper cookware, because they have lower softening and melting points than stainless steel; therefore, this type of cookware almost always comes with riveted handles.
Stocking a commercial kitchen with top-of-the-line cookware is a process that involves research, comparisons, pricing and, perhaps, trial and error. The latter can be expensive, so it pays to read up on the subject as presented here and in our previous post to learn what commercial cookware is best for your purposes, your kitchen, and your business.