What Makes a Great Cooking Pan?

When it comes to buying cookware, we find that people struggle to understand what it is they’re actually looking for.

Cookware manufacturers will tell you that their pans are non-stick, non-toxic, long-lasting, heat resistant; the list goes on. But what does all this mean and is any of it necessary or are these just words used to sell products?

If you’re in the market for some new cookware like a pan then don’t be fooled by all that glitters. We’ve put together this guide on cooking pans so that choosing your next piece will be effortless.

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Pan Materials

One of the most important things to consider when buying a cooking pan is the material it is made from. Some materials are considered unsafe and we’ll go into this in more detail later on but for now, let’s look at some of the best options for cooking pan materials.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is one of the best materials if you’re looking for a pan that’s going to retain heat like a boss. It does take slightly longer to heat up initially but cast iron cookware ensures even cooking and are ideal for dishes that need to be cooked slowly. Even once you turn off the heat, the heat retention of these pans will continue cooking your food.

Cast iron pans are usually used on range cookers but the great thing is that they can be used on any type of hob including an induction hob. That said, they are very heavy so some people find this a little too much hard work.

One of the main problems with cast iron is that it tends to rust without proper care. For this reason, most cast iron pans will be coated to protect against this but it is possible to buy uncoated ones. Just keep in mind that you cannot put these in the dishwasher. Moreover, if you choose an uncoated cast iron pan, you will need to season it which will build up a protective patina.

A lot of people are put off buying cast iron because they’re worried about the seasoning process but it’s not as difficult as you might think. Here are some quick steps on seasoning a cast iron pan.

● Take your pan and give it a good coating of oil all over the surface. You’ll need to use something like lard, vegetable oil or canola oil as these have a higher smoke point.

● Make sure you protect the bottom of your oven by covering it with some foil as this will collect any oil that drips down.

● Heat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

● Once the oven reaches the desired temperature, put your cast iron pan inside but make sure it’s turned upside down as this will stop the oil from pooling in the middle.

● Allow the pan to sit in the hot oven for 60 minutes.

● You may take the pan out and notice that the patina hasn’t properly developed in which case you’ll need to repeat the process.

Stainless Steel

The great thing about stainless steel is that this is an incredibly long-lasting material and when you invest in good stainless steel pans, they’ll last a lifetime. However, this comes at a cost and these pans are among some of the most expensive.

If you use a dishwasher then stainless steel might be a material you’d like to consider since it’s dishwasher safe. Sometimes, a stainless steel pan can develop a rainbow effect because of the minerals in the water but you can buy stainless steel cleaner to get rid of this.

While this material is very durable, there are some downsides. For starters, stainless steel is one of the worst offenders for food sticking to the bottom of the pan and therefore not ideal for a frying pan. Moreover, you can’t cook your food as evenly because this material is prone to hot spots. That said, if you cook on a lower heat, you’ll probably have fewer problems in this department with stainless steel cookware.


Enameled cast iron has become more and more popular in recent years and one of the main reasons for this is that it boasts excellent heat retention. Much like regular cast iron, however, it does take slightly longer to heat up but that’s not a deal breaker.

A lot of people go for enameled cast iron cookware because of how little maintenance is involved. Where regular cast iron needs to be seasoned and comes with a risk of rust, the enameled version is a lot easier to take care of. Plus, it lasts such a long time that it could end up being a family heirloom!

Of course, there are downsides to this type of cooking pan and one of the main is that there is a risk of the enamel cracking if you drop or mishandle the pan. If you’ve chosen an enamel pan in a lighter colour then any signs of wear will be very apparent.

You also have to consider that this type of cooking pan is usually a lot more expensive than others and just like cast iron, it’s much heavier and difficult to handle.


There’s a reason that stone cookware has been about for so long. They are ideal for cooking in the oven and are pretty durable. Of course, if you drop them then the risk of damage is high but as long as you don’t manhandle them, they’ll stand up to high heat and regular use without any problems.

A lot of people also like this type of cooking pan as it got a rustic feel to it. Most pans made from stone or clay are designed to be used in the oven for things like casseroles and you cannot use them on the hob. So, if you’re looking for a stovetop pan, this probably won’t be the best option for you.

You’ll find that stone and clay oven pans hold heat very well and they’ll cook your food evenly, just like cast iron. However, unlike cast iron, stoneware won’t burn your food.

As well as oven pans and dishes, it’s common to see things like pizza stones which have become something of a trend in the modern kitchen. In the same way that you would season cast iron, it’s also recommended to season a stone pot or pan. However, one of the main benefits of cast iron is that these pans are a lot less weighty.

Now, we mentioned that stone pots and pans are durable and this is true. But they are prone to cracking and this usually happens when they experience thermal shock. It is therefore incredibly important not to move the pan from hot to cold very suddenly.

Finally, we’d encourage you to look at the way your stone pan was made because some cheaper products may contain lead. This was more common years ago and something that’s not seen as often today but there are still pans like this out there. If you choose a lead-free stone pan then these are considered among the safest for cooking.

Non-Stick - The Toxic Pans to Avoid

In the modern kitchen, we want cookware that’s convenient and hassle-free. The problem with some materials is that food will easily stick to the base of the pan; stainless steel, we’re looking at you!

For this reason, a lot of manufacturers will add a non-stick coating to prevent food from adhering to the pan. But there are some coatings on nonstick pans that are not considered safe and there has been a lot of research into this with the health risks outweighing the benefit of your food not sticking.

Teflon is one of the most well-known types of a non-stick pan and the material used here is called PTFE. We are not going to sit here and deny the fact that PTFE works amazingly at preventing food from sticking but some risks come with it.

The main risk is that this coating can start to break down when it is overheated. When this happens, harmful gases are released and these can end up in your food. It’s recommended that you never use this type of pan over 260 degrees celsius although there will be more precise guidelines from the manufacturer for each pan.

Some cooking pans use a chemical known as PFOA which may cause health problems. According to the CDC, the real risks of the body absorbing PFOAs is yet unknown but in lab tests, studies show that there could be a risk to your liver and reproductive health. While further research is needed, it seems that manufacturers are taking these concerns seriously and, as of 2015, agreements have been made to start phasing out the use of PFOAs in cookware.


We’ve already touched on Teflon which is one of the most popular non-stick materials used in cooking pans. However, the coating can chip and then the small particles are transferred into your food. There’s also the risk of the cookware getting too hot and releasing harmful gases which have been shown to kill birds.


We love the appearance of copper cooking pots, especially in a cottage kitchen or a rustic home. What’s more, this material is incredibly conductive so you get extremely even heating which is one of the main reasons that professional chefs opt for them.

However, there are risks associated with using copper pans and it’s certainly something to consider. When the pan is heated up, it will start to let go of very small particles should the metal be scratched. The result? These end up in your food.

Now you might think that these trace amounts of copper aren’t going to do much harm and you’re right, in very small amounts, they probably won’t. The human body actually needs a very small amount of copper but when you have too much, it can affect the function of your liver. Moreover, research has shown that too much copper can wreak havoc on your reproductive system and your connective tissues.

The good news is that most copper cookware is coated so the risk of the material flaking into your food is lowered. However, over time, that coating will come off and that’s a sign that you need to replace your cooking pan.


We would never advocate the use of aluminium pans since this is a neurotoxin that can cause problems with the brain, liver and bones. Now, in very small amounts, the human body is able to process aluminium and it won’t do too much harm. However, if you’re using your aluminium pan to cook most of your meals then it does become an issue.

When you use metal utensils with aluminium pans, these can scratch the surface, causing the metal to leach into the food. Moreover, if you’re heating foods that contain acid, this can only make the problem worse. A lot of foods contain acids such as tomatoes, spices, citruses and even milk (lactic acid).

There are anodised aluminium pans that are considered to be safer. But they can still become a problem over time. This method of protecting the material involved dousing the metal in acid and exposing it to electricity. This creates a protective layer but as you use the pan, this layer will eventually wear off and there’s no way of telling when that has happened.

Other Things to Consider When Buying a Cooking Pan

While the pan material is probably the most important thing you’ll want to think about, there are some other considerations that we would urge you not to ignore.

What Foods Do You Intend to Cook?

When you’re buying a new cooking pan, you’ll want to buy something that’s going to be suitable for the type of food you wish to cook. If you’re always cooking meats then a cast iron skillet is a brilliant choice as this will evenly brown your food.

However, if you’re looking for something to fry up a delicious breakfast then a non-stick pan would be better. Of course, you’ll want to avoid certain non-stick pans and go for something more natural and nontoxic like enamel.

Stainless steel isn’t the best when it comes to being non-stick but it is ideal as an all round pan for things like meat, fish or anything else that requires searing.

Now, if you’re going to be cooking things like pasta, soup and stews then a stock pot would be the best way to go. A wok is ideal for fast cooking, stir-fries and high-heat dishes.

But it isn’t only the style of pan you’ll want to think about, we’d also urge you to look at the size. The great thing about being a modern consumer is the sheer variety available on the market. There are some super-sized frying pans that are ideal for Saturday morning family breakfasts. On the other hand, if you’re just cooking for yourself, you could get away with something much smaller that won’t take as long to heat up.

Is the Pan Dishwasher-Safe?

Making sure that your pans stay hygienic is super important and having a dishwasher takes a lot of the work out of keeping your kitchenware clean. However, not all pans are suitable for cleaning in the dishwasher and it’s really important not to put them in if the manufacturer tells you not to.

For starters, it’ll ruin your pan and secondly, if the pan comes with a warranty, you’ll likely void this by not following the instructions.

If the pan has wooden handles or attachments then it probably won’t be dishwasher safe. However, things like stainless steel or plastic are perfectly fine to pop in this appliance.

That said, even if a pan is considered dishwasher safe, it might be worth washing it by hand anyway. Putting things through the dishwasher exposes them to harsh cleaning methods and high temperatures and even the most robust pans will eventually start to deteriorate.

Consider Your Cooker Top

Not all pans will be suitable for all stovetops. For example, if you have a smooth top range then you will need to make sure that you only use pans with a flat bottom. This isn’t as important when using a gas range but we’d still try to choose something flat as you’ll get better contact with the burner.

For those with an induction hob, you must make sure that you choose magnetic cookware that is compatible with this.

Heat-Resistant Handles

The last thing you want is to pick up your pan only to be burned by a heated handle. Most pans come with heat-resistant handles that allow you to pick them up comfortably. However, this isn’t a feature that’s seen across the board so we would encourage you to check this before you buy anything.


Q: What are the benefits of using a copper cooking pan?
A: Copper pans are incredibly conductive, which means that they offer extremely even heating. This is one of the main reasons that professional chefs opt for them. They also look great and add a rustic feel to any kitchen.

Q: Are aluminium pans safe to use?
A: No, aluminium pans are not safe to use. Aluminium is a neurotoxin that can cause problems with the brain, liver, and bones. When you use metal utensils with aluminium pans, they can scratch the surface, causing the metal to leach into the food. Moreover, if you’re heating foods that contain acid, this can only make the problem worse.

Q: Can you put all types of cooking pans in the dishwasher?
A: No, not all types of cooking pans are suitable for cleaning in the dishwasher. Wooden-handled or attached pans are usually not dishwasher safe, while things like stainless steel or plastic are perfectly fine to put in the dishwasher. Even if a pan is considered dishwasher safe, it might be worth washing it by hand anyway to avoid exposing it to harsh cleaning methods and high temperatures.

Q: How do I choose the right size of cooking pan?
A: When choosing a cooking pan, it's important to consider the size of the pan in relation to what you'll be cooking. If you're cooking for a family or a large group, a bigger pan is ideal. On the other hand, if you're just cooking for yourself, a smaller pan will suffice.

Q: What are some of the best materials for cooking pans?
A: Cast iron, stainless steel, enamel, and stoneware are all great materials for cooking pans.

Q: Is cast iron cookware suitable for all types of hobs?
A: Yes, cast iron cookware can be used on any type of hob, including induction hobs.

Q: Are stainless steel pans dishwasher safe?
A: Yes, stainless steel pans are generally dishwasher safe.

Q: What are the risks associated with using non-stick pans?
A: Some non-stick coatings contain chemicals that can be harmful if ingested, and the coating can break down and release harmful gases if overheated.

Q: Can copper pans be a health risk?
A: Copper pans can release small particles into your food if the metal is scratched, which can be harmful if ingested in large amounts.

Q: What should I consider when buying a cooking pan?
A: You should consider the type of food you'll be cooking, whether the pan is dishwasher-safe, the compatibility with your cooker top, and whether the pan has heat-resistant handles.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right cooking pan can make a world of difference to your cooking experience in terms of how easy it is, whether food sticks to the pan and even safety.

The best cooking pan for you depends on what material it is made from as well as things like how easy it is to maintain, whether it can be put in the dishwasher and whether it has a non-stick coating. It’s important to weigh up how you’ll use the pan and choose something that’ll fit right into your kitchen.

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