Introduction to Cookware
Cookware refers to the specially designed cooking containers used on the stovetop or range. In general, it is distinguished from bakeware, which is containers used for baking, like cookie sheets and pie plates. But containers for foods that go in the oven, but do not have flour as an important ingredient, such as a roasting pan, Dutch oven, or grain dish, may be considered cookware, rather than bakeware. Also, cookware does not include the tools and utensils used in food preparation.
Pots and Pans
The two main types of cookware are pots and pans. The difference between them may not be clear at first. Both are round containers. Some pots and most pans have long handles. The key is the depth. Pots are deeper than pans, which tend to be rather shallow. Pots are also more likely to have lids.
• Pots—There are two main kinds of pots: saucepans and stock pots. Despite their name, saucepans are pots. They have straight sides, long handles, and lids are sized by quarts. They are good for boiling eggs, heating canned soup, and preparing hot breakfast cereals.
A stockpot is a large pot of more than 8 quarts (7.57 liters). Some pots of this type are sold with pasta and vegetable steamer inserts, allowing one to lift the food from the water and drain it in one step. Using just the stockpot, one can prepare soups, stews, chowders, and chilis.
A third type of pot, the Dutch oven or braiser, is a heavy duty pot designed to move from stove top to oven. Because of this flexibility, it is a good choice for dishes that involve browning on the stove top prior to oven time, like pot roast. It can also be used for stews that begin with browning, such as boeuf bourguignon.
• Pans—Sauté pans, alternatively called frying pans, fry pans, and skillets, are the most popular all-purpose pan. They come with straight or sloped sides and in a variety of sizes, measured by inches. The same pan can be used to cook hamburgers, make a cheese sauce, or fry sunny-side-up eggs.
There are several more specialized pans used on the stove top. A griddle is a specialized pan for cooking pancakes, toasted cheese sandwiches, and other items that need a large, flat surface. Griddles, unlike most pans, are often square or rectangular. Grill pans have ridges and are used to cook meat and vegetables while allowing the fat and juices to run off into small troughs.
The roasting pan, as mentioned above, is classified as cookware, but used in the oven for roasting. Some come with a roasting rack, or a rack can be purchased separately. The rack is equally good for holding a roast beef or a whole chicken.
There are several kinds of specialty cookware that are of interest to many.
• Wok—Originating in China, the wok is good for any quick cooking, not just cooking Chinese cuisine. Stir frying can involve any number of ingredients and flavors, and this container is a useful one for the purpose. For those who prefer traditional pots, some manufacturers make wok frying pans: the container has a wok-like shape, but the pan has a long handle and may feel more familiar.
• Double Boiler—known for its use in making custard and melting chocolate, a double boiler has a lower chamber in which water is heated to a boil, and an upper chamber that benefits from the gentle heat delivered from beneath. Some double boilers have an alternative vegetable steamer upper chamber, which makes them even more versatile.
• Tea Kettle—Not always included in cookware lists, but made to match the major manufacturer’s sets, the tea kettle prepares water not only for tea and cocoa, but for an ever-growing number of quick preparation snack foods, such as cups of noodles and similar items. Although specialized in function, it is one of the basic pieces of kitchen gear.
Written by Mary Elizabeth