No matter the stove, here’s how to make sure your cooking experience is spot-on.
If you are on the hunt for cookware, there are many—and I mean many—choices. You can buy a ceramic or non-stick frypan. You can go old-school and get yourself a cast iron or stainless steel skillet. Or you can do as celebrity chefs do, and bring back home a carbon steel or copper pan.
Decisions, decisions… With so many choices, it’s no wonder that, when we walk into the home goods store and navigate to the cookware aisle, many of us just end up standing there staring at the labels, feeling all confused and frankly frustrated.
Matters are complicated further by the fact that brands and the marketers who work for them are quick to point out how much better their sets and vessels are compared to those of their competitors. And yet, they seldom give practical advice for selecting the right kind of pans and pots for your type of stove.
While there’s nothing fatal about cookware that isn’t compatible with your range—you can always return it—no one will compensate you for the lost time and, if you bought them online, the sunk costs to send them back.
Well, gas stoves are simple: The flame of the burner will heat up any cooking vessel, regardless of the metal and the coating. But what about electric stoves? Do all pans and pots work with them?
There are three types of electric stoves: coil-top, smooth-top (radiant), and induction. The long answer short is that the kind of cookware that works with yours depends on what type it is and how it transfers heat to your food.
Generally, all pans and pots work on coil-top or smooth-top radiant electric stoves. Induction stoves, on the other hand, are only compatible with ferromagnetic cooking vessels.
This is good news if you own a coil or radiant stove. It also means you should pay attention to the type of cookware you’re buying in case you cook on induction. But we will get to that shortly.
What Type of Pans and Pots Should I Buy?
Ceramic and non-stick pans keep foods from sticking to the surface, but they don’t last forever.
Cast iron and carbon steel skillets last forever, but come with complicated use and care rituals because they need to be seasoned and shouldn’t be used for the preparation of acidic foods.
Stainless steel gives you the optimal balance between ease of use and durability. But foods, especially tender and delicate foods like eggs and fish fillets, tend to stick to the bottom, especially if you don’t use enough cooking oil.
So it comes down to choice and trade-offs.
Ceramic or Non-Stick for Hassle-Free Cooking
If you’re looking for a no-fuss cooking experience, opt for ceramic or non-stick frying pans and pots. These cooking vessels are usually made of aluminum, an affordable, highly conductive metal that allows for quick and even heating.
Thanks to the coating, ceramic or non-stick, even the stickiest foods glide across the bottom and sides of the pan. Preparing omelets, pancakes, and fish fillets becomes child’s play—and is no longer a hit or a miss.
Although convenient, these types of pans and pots don’t last forever:
The slickness of ceramic skillets wears off after 50-60 uses. You can keep using them from that moment on, but the frying surface will on longer be non-stick (and you will have to cook with plenty of oil).
Non-stick pans last anywhere between 1-2 and 3-4 years, depending on how often you cook with them and how well you care for them. Eventually, the non-stick coating gets scratched and starts to peel off. When this happens, you have to throw the pan away and buy a new one.
Cast Iron or Carbon Steel for Lifelong Use
If you’re in the market for a cooking vessel that will last a lifetime, consider a cast iron or carbon steel skillet. As the name suggests, these skillets are made of sturdy and durable iron and steel. They have no coating and, with tender loving care, can turn into family heirlooms that get handed down for generations.
Cast iron and carbon steel have very similar properties: They are thick, heavy metals with a porous surface that retain heat and distribute it well. This is what makes these skillets perfect for high-heat cooking methods such as searing and sautéing.
While ideal for steaks, pork chops, burger patties, and pretty much anything that can be fried in oil (think fries, latkes, cutlets, and mozz sticks), they are not suitable for acidic foods; the acids react with the metal surface and cause it to leach, giving the food a metallic taste.
In addition, cast iron and carbon steel require seasoning and can scratch smooth-top cooking surfaces. That’s why many homeowners avoid these metals, opting instead for ceramic, non-stick, or stainless steel.
Stainless Steel for Easy Cleanup
There’s a reason why restaurateurs and chefs swear by stainless steel cookware: it can cook any type of food, alkaline or acidic, and can be loaded in the dishwasher for easy cleanup.
Although stainless steel isn’t a good conductor of heat, cookware manufacturers have found a way of compensating for its weaknesses by bonding the bottom of their pans and pots to discs made out of a more conductive metal (such as aluminum or copper).
This means that modern stainless steel pans and pots heat up relatively quickly and evenly enough. You can use metal utensils in them without worrying about scratching the coating—you’re cooking on bare metal, so there is no coating to scratch—and they will withstand a rough cook who lets liquids boil dry in their pans and doesn’t read the instructions for use and care.
The biggest disadvantage of stainless steel is that tender, delicate foods, be it eggs, pancakes, or fish fillets, often stick irreversibly to the cooking surface. You can counteract this by using plenty of cooking oil.
What Type of Pans and Pots Work With Induction?
While coil-top cooktops transfer heat to your pans and pots through heating coils and smooth-top cooktops through ceramic plates, induction cooktops don’t give off heat at all. Instead, they create an electromagnetic field that causes the iron ions in your cookware to vibrate so strongly, it heats from within.
For the same reasons, induction cooktops only work with cooking vessels made out of metals containing enough iron (the term for this is “ferromagnetic”). These metals are generally cast iron, carbon steel, and stainless steel.
If you own an induction stove, always make sure that the cookware you buy is labeled as “induction-friendly” or “induction-compatible.” Otherwise, it will not pick up the electromagnetic charge and it won’t heat up at all.