Quality Cookware for Professional Chefs and Chef Wannabees

Professional chefs have proven to themselves that quality cookware is a big factor in producing quality meals.

However, if you look in to many restaurant kitchen you will  mostly see less expensive aluminum and carbon steel cookware.  Restaurants used this less expensive cookware because is gets rough treatment and has to be replaced often.  Using expensive cookware would drive costs up too much.  Even in these settings, the chef will pull out quality cookware for special dishes, sauces or deserts because they know it just works better.

So it does not matter if you are just starting out in the kitchen or have many years experience you will produce better quality meals by using professional cookware.  The question then becomes what cookware to choose as there are a multitude of brands, makes and styles to choose from.

The best cookware for you is a matter of personal choice. The quality cookware selected by one person could easily be considered unusable by another. Our attempt here is to give you some mostly impartial advice on the different types of cookware.

The most popular choice is aluminum cookware which is also particularly popular for bake ware.  But aluminum comes in a wide variety of quality from the very cheapest sold in grocery stores and warehouse stores to high quality sold by some of the better retailers.  The better quality products are coated or anodized to provide protection. This protection is necessary as aluminum is subject to reacting with alkaline and acidic ingredients which results in metal leaching into the food.  The coating also protects the soft metal from scratches and dents.. Aluminum is one of the best conductors of heat so that it performs very well for those recipes that demand temperature control.  This also allows recipes to be completed and lower cooking temperatures. Using higher heat will have a tendency to cook things to quickly.

Copper, the best heat conductor, cookware is a strong preference for professional chefs for the simple reason of copper’s ability to conduct heat evenly. It is generally considered to be a good investment as it works both as versatile cookware and as gorgeous kitchen decoration. However, it is generally the most expensive cookware. On the downside, copper cookware suffers from similar problems to aluminum cookware in that it scratches easily and food tends to stick to the bottom and sides.  But where temperature control is important, it can not be beaten.

Traditional cast iron cookware is very resilient and can last a lifetime if looked after properly. New cast iron cookware needs to be seasoned (also known as cured) to make it effective. Seasoning is achieved buy rubbing fat (any type such as vegetable oil or animal fat) over the cookware. The cookware should be then left in a hot oven for at least an hour. The process should be repeated several times until the cast iron cookware becomes black. This makes the cookware nearly non stick. It is a bit more labour intensive at the beginning but the end result is that you have cookware that will last for years and years. One last thing to remember here is that when you clean the cookware you should not leave it to soak in water. This not only makes it susceptible to rust but it also tends to dissolve the fat coating on the cookware.

A recent trend is enamel coated cast iron which provides nearly all the benefits of traditional cast iron but does not require seasoning and is much easier to clean and maintain.  The better brands provide lifetime warranties similar to the traditional.  An advantage is the enamel coatings are available in a wide array of vibrant colors to match your kitchen décor.  Also, enamel cast iron is available in a wide array of shapes and sizes useful for stove top to over applications. One feature to watch for is that quality enamel cast iron has multiple coats of enamel which prevents chipping and discoloration.

Probably the  most popular material for professional chefs is stainless steel cookware. This is popular due to the fact that stainless steel cookware is resistant to scratches and dents. However, there are very wide ranges of quality in stainless steel cookware.  The better performing products use cladding (wrapping copper or aluminum with the stainless exterior) to achieve consistent heat distribution.  Cladding also varies in the number of layer.  The most popular it try-ply but there are some products with as many as five layers (stainless, aluminum, copper aluminum, stainless}.   Some brands use cladding only on the bottoms of the pots which leaves the sides of the pots relatively cooler.  This is useful in stock pots and other applications where long cooking times are involved.  Other wrap the clad material up to the edges of the pan which is good for sauces.  Stainless steel is becoming the work horse cookware in many kitchens because of its versatility because of this, it is important to select quality products that are durable, will perform well and look good.

Glass cookware remains a popular alternative as well. It can be very decorative and is generally a lot easier to clean than some metal cookware. Glass is not a good conductor of heat which make it useful for casseroles and baking where slow heat distribution is needed.  It can withstand variations in temperature and in most cases can be used on top or the stove. It is important that the correct methods of cleaning are used. These should be non-abrasive self polishing cleaners. Stubborn stains can be removed by leaving the cookware to soak in water.

The phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ applies to professional cookware as much as anywhere else. You should avoid buying cheap cookware.  It  will demonstrate that it is not durable and it will not perform as you would like. Get good quality. It will last a life time, provide great meals with less effort and will continue to look good in your kitchen.  Most  of the better products will have good warranties and will provide advice and tips on proper use as well as some recipes to try.   And be sure to compare prices of online stores to those in the good department stores.  You should discover some great bargains.

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