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Q&A -- Understanding Stovetop Cookware (2009-)


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You can easily search this topic for all posts about All-Clad: click here to see the search results.

I'm not going to bother restating my views on All-Clad, but suffice it to say that while I think it is perfectly good cookware, I think it is egregiously overpriced, and I think it is almost always possible to get equivalent performance for less money or better performance for similar money.

I also think, as a general matter, that it is a very bad idea to purchase an entire kitchen's worth of cookware all at once -- especially all in one brand/design. Different brands and cookware designs are better for different cooking tasks. And you inevitably end up with a number of expensive pieces you don't use nearly as much as you thought you would.

But, as I have written many times: While this thread is not about ratifying the cookware choices of people who have largely made up their minds, the most important thing is that you are happy with your cookware. So buy what you want and don't look back. There are certainly plenty of people out there who have big collections of All-Clad Stainless and are happy as clams.

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Thanks Slkinsey,

I agree with you that you need different tools for different purposes. That's why I have Le Cruset Dutch oven and Casserol, three different sized copper pans from Mauviel, a Paulie Sauce Pot, and an unseasoned cast iron skillet (to sear my meat or for "blackened" dishes). I also buy cheapo non stick skillets every year or so and have griddles and other goodies to make life interesting.

I'm shipping to Japan, so I need to buy all at once to maximize on shipping.

I've chosen the two sauce pots because they come with an insert that turns them into steamers or double boilers. I've needed a saute pan for ages and I found a good deal on the fry pans. That's why I've made my selection. It seems that I'll get a free dutch oven with this purchase, so not sure what to do with it. Sell it on ebay?

btw, I did look over the all-clad posts from the search you gave me and it confirmed that the MC2 does tarnish, so I'm going with the stainless.

Any words of wisdom or warning out there before I finalize the purchase this weekend?

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Hi again,

I was getting ready to make my purchase (I plan to place an order on Sunday) and I got a coupon code from one online retailer for Mauvile that would bring their five piece stainless set to just about the same price as the same set of All-Clad stainless. I have a set of Mauvile sugar saucepans -- which I love, so I'm thinking this might be a good buy.

Does anyone have any thoughts on the quality difference between Mauvile and All-Clad stainless? I've found lots of articles on comparisons between the copper lines but not on stainless.

Cheers,

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Mauviel is a much older manufacturer that has been supplying high end restaurants with cookware for 170 years. If you can get them at a similar price, I would choose Mauviel in a second. Mauviel also uses (because they developed most of it!) the classical cookware geometry for their pieces, whereas All-Clad often goes their own way on geometry -- sometimes for reasons I can't understand.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Regarding induction heating, and the requirement for magnetic steel cookware; there are industrial induction furnaces that will melt any conductive material (metal, not silicon carbide or graphite), magnetic or not. The presence of a magnetic metal makes the coupling stronger, which makes it more efficient and the circuitry less expensive, plus the circuitry can easily detect the presence/absence of a magnetic pan, to safely shut down the power when a pan is not present - consider the safety hazard if a stove that could drive non magnetic pans were accidentally turned on while you were cleaning the top while wearing a ring. The magnetic requirement also will limit the maximum temperature of cookware to below the Curie temperature, the point where the material loses its magnetic properties. If you put an empty pan on an induction stove on high, it can't melt - when the pan reaches the Curie point, the top shuts off; even if that shutoff mechanism failed, the reduced efficiency would limit the power to the pan, so you won't get molten metal running off the stove onto the floor. An induction stove could be designed to use its circuitry like a computerized metal detector; with (expensive, industrial strength) variable frequency drive, it could detect, tell the composition of, and heat any metal pot. Making it smart enough to warm a Le Crueset Dutch oven fast enough to be practical, but not set a thin aluminum pie plate on fire would be a little tricky, and corporate liability attorneys hate tricky.

BTW, this is a great thread - 7 years, and full of useful information. My thanks to everyone who has contributed.

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  • 5 months later...

Hi,

First off I would like to thank you for writing such an informative piece with a large amount of discussion following it. I had a few questions though.

You say that a thick aluminum base on a SS piece of cookware distributes heat efficiently through the bottom of the pot. I was wondering if that diffusion permeates into the sides of the pot. The best example I have is making tomato based pasta sauces. I have heard many conflicting stories about the use of aluminum pots and tomatoes even though a lot of restaurants use aluminum pots to make pasta sauces and transfer them into another container upon completion. It is my understanding that aluminum would react and create a metallic taste as well as damage the pot. So then this leads to SS cookware with a thick aluminum base but if the sides of the cookware do not benefit from the better heat transfer that the base receives from the aluminum does that mean that the bottom is hotter than the sides? This would mean that the sauce is cooked to various degrees depending on the distance from the bottom of the pot making for uneven cooking.

The other question I had was that in Modernist Cuisine, (I know I'm lucky because my copy came in before expected), the authors inform the reader of a trick, vol 1 p.266, saying that by placing a 1-3cm solid aluminum block on the burner that the heat will be spread more across the skillet more evenly than the best copper pan is able to do. I know that this depends on if you have had a chance to look at the book but I was wondering if the same thing could be applied to an electric coil cook-top, the example in the book uses gas.

I was also wondering then if this trick would eliminate the need for a full aluminum disc bottom on stainless steel cookware. Would it allow thin or less than 7mm disc bottom SS cookware to have the heat properties of copper especially in pots on the sides that are not in contact with the aluminum? Would the aluminum increase the responsiveness of changes in heat on an electric coil cook-top?

I know this is quite a big post but is the sum of a lot thinking and searching for answers.

Thanks

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"So then this leads to SS cookware with a thick aluminum base but if the sides of the cookware do not benefit from the better heat transfer that the base receives from the aluminum does that mean that the bottom is hotter than the sides?"

Yes the bottom is hotter than the sides(sort of - see * below), but the effect that this has depends on what's being cooked, and how. If you're searing a steak, or sauteeing onions, they're only in contact with the bottom anyway. If you are simmering a sauce(liquid), the convection currents, and steam bubbles, will carry the heat to other parts of the food pretty efficiently. A really thick stew wouldn't reheat as efficiently or evenly in a pot with only a bottom Al or Cu disk, but the additional stirring required probably wouldn't be noticed.

* If you took 2 identical aluminum laminated SS pots, and removed the aluminum from the bottom of one, just leaving the thin SS layer behind, the SS only pot would actually get hotter in spots, and heat very unevenly, because the aluminum slows the conduction some, but spreads the heat laterally. An equivalent all SS pot would have a thicker bottom, necessary for mechanical stability, and would conduct heat more slowly, and spread it less evenly. Bear in mind the difference in energy, and temperature; if you're boiling water in a copper pot, and a thick stainless pot, same size and same burner, the copper will be transferring energy faster, but the temperature in both will be 100 deg C. More energy transferred by the copper would reduce a sauce faster, but the temperatures would stay the same(ignoring the small effect on boiling of the increasing concentration of solutes).

"Would the aluminum increase the responsiveness of changes in heat on an electric coil cook-top?"

No. Aluminum is less conductive than copper, so a thicker piece is required to get the same eveness of heat spreading. Aluminum also has high heat capacity per pound, and using a thick piece will require time to heat and cool. However, by using a separate disk of aluminum, you can preheat it to the required temperature, then control the responsiveness by moving a (thin, lightweight) pot onto the disk(to heat quickly and evenly), then removing it from the source to cool quickly when finished.

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You say that a thick aluminum base on a SS piece of cookware distributes heat efficiently through the bottom of the pot. I was wondering if that diffusion permeates into the sides of the pot.

All-Clad stainless is made with three "plys" or layers. Stainless on the outside and inside with aluminum sandwiched between them - and this goes up the sides. You can find out more by going here and click on "technical details" which has a graphic showing construction.

I've been using All-Clad and Le Creuset for years and am happy with both.

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Thanks for the quick response.

I ended up buying a piece by eurodib from their homichef line. On the site it says that the bottom is 4mm thick of aluminum but in the store on the demo cutaway model the bottom is at least a full cm. The odd thing is that when I inquired from the distributor about the maximum heat that the pan is able to withstand in the oven no one was able to give me an answer. This leads me to my following question.

How accurate is oven ratings on cookware? Lines like vollrath say that their products can handle continual use at 450F while other more expensive cookware like Cuisinox elite says it can only withstand 400F. Then you have some companies like eurodib and josef strauss by orly global,that are sold at restaurant supply stores, that do not say anything and in the case of the latter say oven safe but do not give a temperature.

What has been your experience with cook-top to oven cookware? Is there a general consensus that all good cookware is able to handle a certain heat? Or are certain types, Clad , SS with aluminum bottom,etc., able to withstand more than others?

Thanks again.

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On the site it says that the bottom is 4mm thick of aluminum but in the store on the demo cutaway model the bottom is at least a full cm.

Hi,

The difference may be the date of manufacturer or your measuring methods.

  • Eurofib stockpots had much thicker bottoms when they were made in Turkey. They transferred production from Turkey to a much lighter construction some years ago.
    Manufacturers are now wrapping their disc bottoms up the outside edges. This results in a disc that is much thinner across the bottom of the pan.

I hope this helps,

Tim

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Sorry for the late replies. Some thoughts in response to the following:

You say that a thick aluminum base on a SS piece of cookware distributes heat efficiently through the bottom of the pot. I was wondering if that diffusion permeates into the sides of the pot.

No, not really. But it's worthy of note that it's not always important to bring heat into the sides of the pot. In fact, usually it isn't.

. . . So then this leads to SS cookware with a thick aluminum base but if the sides of the cookware do not benefit from the better heat transfer that the base receives from the aluminum does that mean that the bottom is hotter than the sides? This would mean that the sauce is cooked to various degrees depending on the distance from the bottom of the pot making for uneven cooking.

Yes, the bottom would be hotter than the sides. But that would be the case anyway. Even with stainless lined heavy copper, the bottom is hotter than the sides. Regardless, when you have most of the heat coming from the bottom of the pot, and perhaps a lesser amount of heat coming from the sides of the pot, you are going to have "uneven cooking" with some parts of the tomato sauce (or whatever) getting more heat than other parts. Your solution with respect to stovetop cooking is a famous technique that has stood the test of time, known as stirring.

The other question I had was that in Modernist Cuisine, (I know I'm lucky because my copy came in before expected), the authors inform the reader of a trick, vol 1 p.266, saying that by placing a 1-3cm solid aluminum block on the burner that the heat will be spread more across the skillet more evenly than the best copper pan is able to do.

This is absolutely correct, with a few caveats. The most important one is that your pan has to be absolutely flat to have 100% contact with the aluminum block. This is because the intervening aluminum block creates a situation in which all meaningful conduction of thermal energy comes from physical contact between the aluminum block and the bottom of the pan. So, if your pan (and the aluminum block, for that matter) is not 100% flat and touching the aluminum across 100% of its surface, the two surfaces will only touch in a few places and that is where most of the meaningful transfer of thermal energy will happen. If you have perfectly flat pans, this is a pretty great technique to use (and one that I use when I need perfectly even heat for long simmering, gentle heating, etc.). You're essentially making a small "French top" for your burner.

That said, pans that stay perfectly flat on the bottom tend already to be relatively expensive, and often already have a thermal layer (a thermal layer provides added structural stability against warping, etc.). It could be possible to get a cheap stainless pan that is flat on the bottom, and to use that pan very gently and always on the aluminum block so that it always stays flat. But it strikes me as a bit of a waste to have a pan that you can never crank up to blazing hot temperature, chuck in some cold protein and not worry that you're going to warp the bottom.

Would the aluminum increase the responsiveness of changes in heat on an electric coil cook-top?

No. What limits the responsiveness of an electric coil cooktop is the electric coil. When you have a gas burner and you turn it down from full on to barely on, you are making an immediate change in the heat source. Now it is up to the pan to respond to that change in the heat source. When you have an electric coil burner and you turn it down from full on to barely on, it takes some amount of time for the burner itself to cool down to the new heat setting. The most responsive pan in the world can only cool down as fast as the heat source cools down, which compared to the gas burner just isn't very fast. This is one reason why it doesn't make much sense to me to shop for "responsiveness" if you have an electric coil cooktop.

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Sorry for the late replies. Some thoughts in response to the following:

. . . So then this leads to SS cookware with a thick aluminum base but if the sides of the cookware do not benefit from the better heat transfer that the base receives from the aluminum does that mean that the bottom is hotter than the sides?

Yes, the bottom would be hotter than the sides. But that would be the case anyway.

Hi,

Actually, heat differences between the bottom and the sides are dependent on the type of stovetop, the size of the burner/pot and the type of pot. In explanation:

  • Gas stovetop with disc bottom pot: If the flame or heat crawls up the sides around the disc (flame larger than the pot disc), the lower sides may be much hotter than the bottom. Years ago, I witnessed tomato sauce in a 5 quart Deymeyere saucepot on a Wolf gas burner of the proper size; yes their was a thick ring of burned sauce just above the disc.
    Electric stovetop with disc bottom pot: In this case heat does not crawl up the sides and the sides of the pot will be much cooler than the bottom. Unfortunately, those slices of meat in your skillet extending above the disc will not cook or sear like the meat above the disc. This is the place for a fully cladded pan.

Tim

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  • 1 month later...

Hi,

Thanks for this great resource.

I searched this thread for any discussion of thermal properties of stoneware/ceramics, but couldn't find it. In fact, I couldn't find it ANYWHERE. Do you have any information about this that you could share? Specifically I'm curious about how a stovetop safe ceramic pot like Emile Henry Flame Top series would compare to enameled cast iron for browning, braising, roasting in a dutch oven or casserole.

Josh

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  • 1 month later...

I have been reading and re-reading this thread for months now trying to determine the best cookware for induction and have not been able to find the answer.

It seems to me there are three properties that cooking vessels need to have to make them "good":

1. the ability to heat up quickly and evenly

2. the ability to hold that heat when cold food is added to the pan

3. the ability to loose heat when the heat source is lowered

@slkinsey and others have repeatedly mentioned carbon steel and Mauviel Induc'Inox as the ideal but if neither stainless nor carbon steel has a high degree of thermal conductivity, how will it be "good" at point number three, loosing heat quickly?

Won't both of them function very much like cast iron once they are up to temp?

Or, does steel loose its heat as quickly as it gains it when that heat is generated by a magnetic field?

Assuming that all induction-compatible cookware heats evenly (can I assume that?), if I have determined that the most important characteristic -- for me -- is responsiveness, and I don't care about the ability to heat quickly or to retain heat, which would be best:

Induc'Inox

Here are some other questions (in blue) regarding induction:

Induction works in a fundamentally different way from regular heat. Thermal conductivity is not nearly as much of an issue with induction. So, ... if we have a carbon steel frypan ... on an induction burner the heat will be perfectly even...because the whole surface of the pan is being acted upon by the magnetic field, and therefore the whole surface of the pan will heat up evenly.

Can any induction-compatible pan be expected to heat evenly, assuming the pan is not warped?

In addition, heat capacity is less important for cookware used on induction as well. If the magnetic field is keeping the surface of the pan at 250 degrees and you throw in a bunch of chicken, you're not going to get the kind of temperature drop you would get with a gas burner because the magnetic field will continue to affect the metal to the same extent regardless.

I'm having a lot of trouble understanding this... When the cold chicken hits the pan, the hob will sense a drop in temp and increase 'heat' to compensate? Or will the pan just not be affected by the cold chicken (and how can that be)?

This all suggests that there is a rather more limited need for thermal material (usually aluminum) to spread the heat around and provide heat capacity -- which is the exact opposite of what we would like to have when we use a standard conductive heat source.

The reality for induction users, however, is that many of the things which distinguish better cookware with respect to standard conductive heat sources do not apply where induction is concerned. As I mentioned above, one would expect a carbon steel pan to outperform a clad aluminum pan on induction.

Would induction-optimized cookware not have the same need for a thick or multi-ply base to prevent warping?

Thanks in advance, I'm so confused....

Barb

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  • 3 years later...

I noticed a technical error with the article. It uses the material properties of iron, but cookware is not made out of pure iron, it's way too soft. Grey cast iron is what's most commonly used in cookware. It's thermal conductivity and diffusivity are similar to carbon steel.

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Hard to believe that this article is over a decade old!  It's certainly due an update if I can ever get around to it.

 

What's your source for the type of iron alloy typically used in cast iron cookware, and what are its materials properties?

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Hard to believe that this article is over a decade old!  It's certainly due an update if I can ever get around to it.

 

What's your source for the type of iron alloy typically used in cast iron cookware, and what are its materials properties?

 

Wikipedia mentions it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_iron. I initially read it in a text book several years ago, but I couldn't tell you which. If you watch Lodge's How It's Made video, they mention carbon and silicon being added so they are definitely using an alloy, most likely a grey cast iron based on the ingredients. 

 

Some thermal properties are here http://www.substech.com/dokuwiki/doku.php?id=grey_cast_iron_astm_40. The thermal diffusivity should be about .151*10^-4 m^2/s based on those numbers. If you asked Lodge, they might give you their own numbers, since I doubt they use that exact alloy. Should be very similar though.

 

Cast iron should still edge out carbon steel imo, so it doesn't change any of the discussion too much. The difference is minimal though, so a cook that likes carbon steel for reasons other than pure cooking performance won't be giving too much up so long as they chose a sufficiently thick pan.

Edited by Brian Goodwin (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Well I'm stumped on this one, tbought I'd throw it out there. The Vollrath Centurion and Intrigue lines see very very similar and I can't figure out why the Centurion line costs twice as much. Both are stainless steel disk bottomed pans with 1/4" aluminum disks, and are clearly the best bang for your buck even at the centurion prices. Check out these two options and tell me whatof the differences in design are so extreme so as to justify the price difference.

http://vollrath.com/Centurion-Fry-Pans-with-Natural-Finish-3409.htm

http://vollrath.com/Intrigue-Stainless-Steel-Fry-Pans-with-Natural-Finish-47751.htm

To answer any peripheral questions, this is for an electric coil stove so I'm limited by the 7.5" diameter of the element. I've checked with Vollrath directly and the bases are both about that diameter. I plan to use it as my sauté pan, mostly because I suck at flipping food when then sides are vertical.

Edited by Zachary Sokoloff (log)
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one is polished, has riveted handles, a magic stay kool handle.  not a lot of other specifics on those pages - but thickness of the stainless would be another point - seeing as it weighs mystically about 2 lbs more.....

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one is polished, has riveted handles, a magic stay kool handle.  not a lot of other specifics on those pages - but thickness of the stainless would be another point - seeing as it weighs mystically about 2 lbs more.....

Both have a 0.25 inch aluminum base. As far as thermal diffusivity goes they're the same. All the other differences are minor (not insignigicant) but don't explain the price difference. Unless all that extra steel is simply the reason.

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