Uncovering Pots and Pans

Nothing takes a beating back of house like cookware. It’s exposed to high temperatures, banged around, scrubbed hard and (all too often) dropped. That’s why it’s important to select cookware that not only performs well but is also durable.

Raw materials

Most cookware is made from aluminum or stainless steel, with copper, cast iron and steel part of the mix, too. Copper is generally recognized to provide the best heat conduction, but due to its high cost and reactivity with certain foods, it’s rarely seen in foodservice unless it’s lined with stainless steel or another metal. Aluminum cookware conducts heat nearly as well and is much more economical. Stainless steel, while durable, doesn’t conduct heat as well as aluminum. When buying stainless steel cookware, look for heavy bottoms that will help conduct the heat more evenly. Cast iron, an excellent conductor, is prone to rust and is heavy. Steel cookware is a relatively poor conductor. It’s used
primarily for sauté pans because it handles quick changes in temperature well.

Construction zone

“The thicker the better” is the phrase to remember. Thin metals can buckle under repeated use and are more prone to denting. But thickness comes with a drawback: extra weight. Some manufacturers are now producing pans made of multiple materials—such as a stainless steel body with a copper bottom—for durability and performance without as much weight.

Check to see how the handle is attached to the pot or pan. The rivets holding the handles should be strong and secure—not only for proper performance but to keep out bacteria and food particles. Some cookware, such as Vollrath’s Ever-Smooth and Carlisle’s Versata select lines, is designed with no rivets on the pan interior.  

Non-sticky situations

Some chefs find nonstick pans essential for omelet prep and lower-fat cooking. However, they should not be used at temperatures of 500°F or higher. Additionally, the non-
stick coating has to be cleaned with non-abrasive, nonscratch products. If the coating chips or flakes, discard the pan. The safety of PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical used in the manufacture of some nonstick surfaces, is debatable. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says proper use of these nonstick pans does not pose a risk.

Bells and whistles

For operations with buffet service, Spring USA’s new Bella line doubles as display ware. This nonstick aluminum cookware has a colored, ceramic-reinforced exterior so it can go from stove to serving area. New this year, the Mauviel M’cook line from France features slightly raised handles to make them cooler to handle. Vollrath’s Centurion cookware has an aluminum bottom sandwiched with a layer of stainless steel to resist denting and scratching. And even the covers count when it comes to cookware: Carlisle’s new line of Dome Fry Pan Covers fit snugly on pans, creating a self-basting effect on the food.