Cookware Material Guide: Finding the Right Pots and Pans for You

Cookware Material Guide: Finding the Right Pots and Pans for You

Learning to cook starts with having tools that work for you.

Author: Patty Lee  |  April 16, 2024  |  Time to read: 11 min

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“What is the best cookware material?” is a question we get asked all the time. It’s completely understandable. We love helping home cooks — whether that’s through our cookware and appliances or with recipes and stories.

The answer? When it comes to cookware, there’s no single best material. Finding the right pots and pans, like learning to cook, isn’t a one-size-fits-all journey. What works for your best friend, your brother, or even your partner may not be the option for you. They may sing the praises of lightweight, quick-heating aluminum or find the process of slow cooking cast iron calming. You may prefer the high-heat performance and durability of stainless steel or the ultra-slippery performance and easy maintenance that comes with ceramic nonstick.

Finding the best cookware for you starts with learning the good, the bad, the let’s-give-it-a-try of each material. This guide, which takes you through the most popular material types and factors to consider, is a helpful starting point.

Cast Iron

If there’s one cookware material that’s most closely associated with tradition, it’s cast iron. Because of its naturally durable material, cast iron has the potential to last for generations. And some have! We’ve all heard the stories of lovingly cared-for skillets that get passed down — but it takes time and effort to maintain cast iron for that long.

As its name suggests, cast iron cookware is made by pouring molten iron into molds. The resulting skillets are thick and heavy, able to reach super high temperatures for crisping up chicken thighs or caramelizing a tarte tatin. And don’t forget Dutch ovens (like the Cast Iron Perfect Pot) — the heavy-duty pots excel when it comes to baking bread and braising fall-off-the-bone short ribs. Cast iron is so great at simmering and slow cooking because it retains heat exceptionally well.

Cast iron is available in two forms: its natural raw cast iron state, which requires seasoning (applying heat and oil to build a naturally nonstick patina over time), or coated with enamel to form a smooth, non-reactive surface. The Cast Iron Always Pan is enameled to bring you the best of both worlds. You won’t have to worry about rusting, a common cast iron concern, but do need to hand wash with care. Enameled cast iron also comes in a wide range of gorgeous colors. Whichever you choose, with the right maintenance, there’s potential for cast iron to become a family heirloom.

Carbon Steel

A hybrid of cast iron and stainless steel, carbon steel possesses qualities from both materials. It’s an alloy, or blend of metals, mainly composed of iron with a hint of carbon. This unique composition — much like a finishing squeeze of lemon juice — makes all the difference in significantly lightening the material. It can handle the same high temperatures as cast iron, but at a weight that’s far easier to maneuver. (Carbon steel is a popular wok material for this very reason.)

Since it can withstand high heat, carbon steel cookware can go straight from stovetop to oven or your grill. With proper seasoning and care, it’ll develop a nonstick patina over time, but you’ll also have to avoid acidic foods with this material. Like regular raw state cast iron, carbon steel only comes in one color and requires hand washing, plus thorough drying after each use to prevent rust from forming.

Carbon steel pans are made by stamping together sheets of metal, which gives it a shape closer to that of stainless steel pans. This not only creates a smoother polished surface, but also sloped sides that are great for sautéing and stir frying. Its thinner build also makes carbon steel more responsive to changes in cooking temperature — though not extreme ones. To avoid warping, never toss a hot carbon steel pan in cold water.

Ceramic Nonstick

As the cookware material that launched our home cooking journey, ceramic nonstick has played a big role in building our confidence in the kitchen. Its slick, non-reactive surface makes tasks that require easy release, like frying eggs and searing fish, a breeze. Little oil is needed and clean-up is easy, too — a bit of soap and water will typically do the trick.

Ceramic nonstick is a coating that’s applied over another material, such as aluminum, which brings its own features to the table (for example, light, easy-to-handle weight and high conductivity). Made with 100% post-consumer recycled aluminum, the Always Pan’s ceramic nonstick coating is mainly comprised of sand derivative and water and free of potential toxins such as PFAS, lead, and cadmium. It’s super slippery and compatible on all types of cooktops (including induction), though no matter which you use, avoid extremely high heat. The dishwasher is also off limits.

Traditional PFAS Nonstick

Nonstick is a relative newcomer to the cookware scene, having made its debut in the United States in the 1960s. It promised ease and unparalleled convenience with a nonstick coating called Teflon™ that’d eventually become a household name (scientifically, it’s known as polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE). Studies would later find that Teflon — part of the PFAS family of forever chemicals — is potentially harmful to the environment and our bodies.

Nonstick pans can be made from any metal, though aluminum — both anodized and non-anodized — is the most common one. A nonstick, moisture-repellent coating goes on top, allowing eggs, pancakes, and other tricky, sticky foods to effortlessly slide off, even when there’s very little oil. Today, the coating can still be PTFE or toxin-free ceramic, but not PFOA, which has been banned in the U.S.

The same slippery surface that saves us precious clean-up time also limits the amount of browning and char we can achieve. Nonstick pans made with PTFE should not be used on high heat since that damages the coating and releases harmful substances if they’re present. Non-metal utensils are also recommended to preserve the surface. If there’s one term to keep in mind with nonstick cookware, it’s definitely gentle.

More About PFAS


There’s more to copper than its romantic color and pretty patina. Copper is a historic cookware material that’s been used all over the world, from India (kadai) to Mexico (cazo). The precious metal has long been prized for its exceptional heat conductivity and exquisite craftsmanship — even modern-day copper cookware is often still hand hammered.

But you’re not likely to see copper pots and pans in many home kitchens today (or even many professional ones). That’s because copper, by nature of its material, is relatively high maintenance. It tarnishes easily and needs regular polishing to maintain its lustrous appearance. Most copper cookware also requires lining — and sometimes, re-lining — with tin or stainless steel since the standalone material is highly reactive.

Those who appreciate copper’s responsiveness (how quickly it can adjust to temperature changes), however, understand that the extra care can be worth it. Bakers are especially big fans of copper since it can maintain the steady, gentle heat that’s ideal for tempering chocolate, cooking custards, and other delicate dessert techniques.


When it comes to efficiency and affordability, aluminum will often spring to mind. The metal is known for its exceptional heat conductivity, which results in nice, even cooking (meaning your entire pan of sliced eggplant will get good browning). Aluminum also responds quickly to temperature changes, a useful feature for those you-almost-burned-it moments.

But aluminum by itself tends to wear down quickly — the same quality that makes it lightweight also makes it prone to warping — so it’s often strengthened through a process called anodization or used as one of many layers in nonstick and stainless steel pots and pans.

Two other key characteristics of aluminum to be mindful of: Avoid acidic ingredients since it’s a reactive material (or else you’ll end up with tinny-tasting food) and use on any cooktop other than induction. So if you’ve been meaning to make chicken piccata on your induction burner, you may want to reach for a different pan.

Stainless Steel

Durability, versatility, and polished good looks are just some of the qualities that set stainless steel apart from other types of cookware material. It’s not made from a single metal, but several metals that all contribute different features. Like many family recipes, the ratios will vary, but it’s mainly iron (for hardness), with smaller amounts of chromium (for shininess) and nickel (for corrosion resistance).

Most stainless steel cookware is made with multiple layers (known in cookware terms as “ply”) that are cladded, or bonded, together. Aluminum is most commonly used as a core material due to its high, even conductivity. When combined with stainless steel’s other properties, including its non-reactive nature and durability, they form cookware ideal for high-heat cooking. It’s why restaurant kitchens have stacks of stainless steel pots and pans. Need to sear or sauté or simmer a wine sauce? You’ll reap the tastiest rewards with stainless steel.

Those delicious results usually come with a learning curve. Stainless steel isn’t naturally nonstick and requires proper preheating, plenty of oil, and a touch of patience. Cleaning is less convenient, too — you’ll need to put in a good scrubbing to remove stuck-on food and preserve stainless steel’s shiny finish.


We’re constantly seeking to level up our home cooking game. Part of that involves dabbling with new techniques and ingredients; the other requires testing out new cookware. Which brings us to titanium, the newest material to undergo the Our Place transformation. When combined with other metals, titanium becomes cookware that’s virtually indestructible. The pans are strong without being overly heavy. They tolerate high heat and don’t react with acidic foods. Most importantly, they’re corrosion-resistant and easy to maintain.

The Always Pan® Pro is a fully-clad pan constructed from three unique layers: high-shine stainless steel exterior, an ultra-conductive aluminum core, and an ultra-durable titanium interior. Fully clad means the entire pan is made from these bonded layers (versus clad cookware, which refers to just the bottom). There’s no need to be precious with this pan. Turn up the heat, scrape up fond with a metal spatula, and pop it in the dishwasher when you’re all done. Titanium cookware is also suitable for a wide range of cooking methods, from your everyday stovetop meals to celebration-worthy oven roasts to campfire s’mores.

Titanium is not innately nonstick, but Our Place’s first-of-its-kind NoCo™ technology brings the ease of nonstick to this category. Featuring a microscopic texture that’s pressed into the ultra-hardened titanium layer, the pan’s interior pattern is completely unique. This patent-pending construction mimics the water-repelling lotus effect to create a surface that’s naturally hydrophobic without any additional coatings. With the Always Pan® Pro, you’ll be able to sear without sticking and clean without caring (in the very best way).

See the Always Pan® Pro In Action

How to Pick the Best Cookware Material For You

The best material for cookware is not just about functionality — it's about finding the perfect balance of performance, safety, and durability to elevate your cooking experience, while keeping other personal factors like budget and time in mind. Here are some considerations to think about when looking for cookware that best suits your needs.

Cooking Style
The way you cook and what you cook will directly influence which cookware material can best turn your plans into reality. Are stir fries and seared proteins a regular part of your weeknight rotation? Or are you all about braises, stews, and other slow-simmered comfort food? Pick the material that can handle the heat, go in the oven, or whatever else you need to keep you and your loved ones happy and well-fed.

Cookware is available in a wide range of prices, from ever-affordable aluminum to the sticker shock that comes with a single copper saucepan. Depending on what your budget is at the moment, certain materials may be out of reach — or you may want to stretch your dollars by investing in more versatile, multifunctional pieces.

Each type of cookware material requires care and cleaning that directly impacts their longevity and performance. Choose a material that matches the effort and time you’re able to commit to maintenance. That may mean easy-cleaning nonstick if you’re currently in an especially busy season of life and cast iron or stainless steel later on when you enter your project era.

Patty Lee

Patty Lee is a writer and editor based in New York City. Her writing has appeared in The Kitchn, Martha Stewart Living, Food Network, and many other food and lifestyle publications. A native New Yorker who grew up in Brooklyn's Chinatown, her perfect weekend breakfast is a combination of bagels and dim sum.