Cookware is an incredibly important piece of a functional cook line, but there are a number of subtleties that differentiate one piece of cookware from another. What may seem like small details from the outside, however, will actually significantly affect the performance and functionality. For this reason, it is important to know what you are getting into when beginning to shop for cookware. Bear the following tips in mind when stocking up your restaurant on the pots and pans you need.
1. Know The Materials: Cookware is available constructed from a number of various materials, each of which has its own unique properties.
- Aluminum – One of the most common varieties of commercial cookware, aluminum cookware is a great conductor of heat, and relatively inexpensive. Anodized aluminum pans (not standard aluminum pans) have a naturally non-reactive outer layer, and are great for cooking all sorts of food. Aluminum is such a good conductor it is often used as the core of many pans constructed from other metals, however it cannot be used with induction cooking equipment.
- Carbon Steel – Carbon steel cookware is often hand crafted, and must be seasoned prior to use. It does not heat as evenly as many other varieties of cookware, however it can be preferable in instances that this uneven cooking is desired (such as wok cooking). Carbon steel can be used with induction cooking equipment.
- Stainless Steel – Stainless steel cookware is very durable, corrosion resistant and non-reactive. Stainless steel is not the best conductor of heat, and often times, manufacturers will add a core of copper or aluminum to aid in the transfer of heat from burners. Stainless steel induction cookware, however, will not have this core.
- Cast Iron – Cast iron cookware retains heat incredibly well, and like carbon steel, must be seasoned before cooking. It is very heavy duty, and heats evenly once at temperature, although it takes an extended time to heat up. Cast iron cookware is not dishwasher safe, reacts with acidic foods, and rusts easily, so it should not be used in instances where versatile cookware is necessary.
- Copper – Copper is one of the best heat conductors, however it is a very reactive metal. The interior of most copper cookware is coated with tin to provide a non-reactive surface for cooking, and occasionally will require “re-tinning” to extend the life of the cookware. Copper cookware is relatively expensive, and is not necessarily the first choice of high volume commercial operations.
- Non-Stick – Aluminum and steel cookware can often be purchased with an available non-stick Teflon or ceramic coating. These pieces of cookware were developed to reduce the use of oils and fats, while simultaneously preventing food from cooking onto the metal. Non-stick cookware is a viable option for commercial kitchens, however it must be NSF approved for use.
- Enamel Coated – There are a number manufacturers that produce heavy duty enamel coated cookware. Traditionally, enamel coated pieces are made of cast iron or carbon steel, and the enamel coating is used as a way to extend the life of these easily corroded metals. Often times these types of cookware are items that are used both as cookware and bakeware (such as Dutch ovens).
- Glass, Ceramic, etc. – There are various pieces of cookware that are created from glass, ceramic, or even things like clay. The fragility of these items often keeps them out of commercial kitchens, though there are some instances in ethnic restaurants that will feature them for specific dishes.
2. Know What You Need: Every kitchen has a wealth of various cookware needs for BOH operations. Before shopping for cookware, take a hard look at every menu item and potential menu item that may be prepared in your kitchen. Not every kitchen will need the same pieces of cookware to operate. High volume catering operations, for instance, will have different cookware needs than an operation such as an Asian eatery that cooks primarily with a wok. Know the specific pieces you are going to need to cook, and try to ballpark the number of each piece your business will need during rush periods.
3. Know What Size Will Suit: Every piece of cookware comes in a number of different sizes. Sauté pans, stock pots, braising pans, saucepans etc. have a wide array of available capacities and diameters, and these different configurations are meant for different uses. Different sized pieces of cookware are intended for not only different volumes, but different purposes as well. Selecting properly sized cookware is essential to not only reduce energy costs, but also to prevent improper heating (and waste) of food product.
4. Get A Handle On It: Pieces of cookware are affixed with any number of different handles, and though many are intended to do the same thing (stay cool during cooking), they do so in different ways. Typically, the variety of handle chosen is a matter of preference. Each cookware manufacturer will offer a number of handle options for their varying product lines; some with a rubber handles and others that are just metal. Often times higher end cookware will rivet the handles in place more securely, so be weary of how tightly handles are attached when purchasing economy models.
5. Don’t Forget The Lid!: More often than not, lids are not included when purchasing commercial cooking equipment. In many commercial operations lids are not necessary, as most cooking is done on the line and doesn’t require slow cooking. Business owners should be aware of the specific pieces they will be using to slow cook (such as stock pots, or saucepans) and be sure to buy lids for these pieces of cookware when shopping.