Q. Is there a difference between copper pots and pans and the regular stainless steel variety?
A. When it comes to cookware and bakeware, there are two main types of materials to consider. Nonreactive metals such as stainless steel have no negative reaction to the foods cooked in them, while reactive metals such as aluminum, copper, and cast iron react to certain types of foods, especially those that are acidic. These foods may become discolored or taste metallic when cooked in pots made of such materials.
Most home cooks use stainless steel cookware due to its availability and reasonable price. Stainless steel has many advantages: Besides being nonreactive, it doesn't corrode, is easy to clean, and doesn't scratch or dent easily. One major downside, however, is that it doesn't conduct heat well.
Copper, although more expensive than stainless steel, is preferred by many culinary professionals for its sturdiness and excellent heat conductivity. Because of its reactive nature -- which can result in toxic reactions with acidic ingredients -- copper is often lined with tin or stainless steel. Copper's disadvantages include a surface that is not nonstick, must be polished, and needs to be relined about every 10 years.
An option that offers the best of both materials is clad metal stainless cookware, which has a core of aluminum or copper placed between two thin sheets of stainless steel.
Q. I am getting married next year and would like to register for pots and pans, but I don't know what I'll need. What pots and pans should no cook do without?
A. The answer to this can vary according to whom you ask and how you cook, but most sources agree that a couple of skillets, two saucepans, a Dutch oven, and a soup pot -- all with lids -- will see you through about any culinary exercise.
We would recommend at least two skillets: one 10- or 12-inch skillet (with lid) plus a small omelet pan. Because eggs tend to stick to the cooking surface, we'd recommend a nonstick omelet pan.
However, whether the larger skillet should be a nonstick variety depends on how much you prize easy cleanup. Some cooks report that some nonstick pans don't brown food as well as regular pans; as a result, you don't get the tasty browned bits that make for flavorful gravies and sauces.
Plus, most nonstick pans must be treated with more care. You shouldn't use metal utensils with them because the metal tends to scratch the nonstick surface, leaving it nonstick no longer.
On the other hand, cast iron skillets, long hailed for their even heat conduction, also require special care; they must be seasoned before using, then washed, dried, and oiled after every use.
For saucepans, select heavy 2- and 3-quart sizes. Again, nonstick is up to you, but make sure they are as heavy as you can comfortably handle. The heavier the pan, the more evenly it will conduct heat.
A Dutch oven is a large pot or kettle with a tight-fitting lid, used to braise meats or simmer stews and other dishes that need long simmer time. These can and should be very heavy. Enamel-covered cast iron varieties are a good investment; they'll hold in heat and cook evenly, and you'll be able to hand them down to your grandchildren. Buy one at least large enough to hold a whole chicken, or a large pot roast or lamb shank.
Soup pots are taller than Dutch ovens and come in many sizes. Heavy aluminum or stainless steel are preferred, but the size should reflect what seems reasonable for your use.