I’m considering purchasing a durable cookware set and want the benefits of non-stick cooking but don’t want to use teflon. Some options I’ve looked at are anodized aluminum versus stainless steel or copper bottoms. Any suggestions?
Anodized aluminum layer is microthin and will eventually wear through, as will teflon. Well seasoned cast iron works really well, as does a seasoned steel wok. (Manufacturers explain how to season your pans and how to maintain them. It’s not hard.) But cast iron is heavy. The copper bottom on most pans is largely cosmetic, so it doesn’t help with heat distribution or non-stick anything.
What matters is construction and design, not brand or marketing hype. Aluminum distributes heat very well, is cheap and lightweight. Sides of this pan also aluminum, meaning excess heat can escape up the sides. Anytime good heat conductor goes up sides of pan, it makes the cookware MUCH MORE FORGIVING, which means you can multitask with kids and a phone call and still not burn your food, probably.
Heat distribution matters most for saucepans, next for skillets and saute pans, least for pots that you only boil water, pasta, or soup in. And not at all for things like colanders, that you don’t actually cook in.
I like All-Clad type construction better because it has aluminum GOING UP THE SIDES OF THE PAN, HENCE MORE FORGIVING but the aluminum layer is sandwiched between layers of 18/10 stainless steel. Easier to see food color and doneness, no possibility of scratching through to aluminum in 20 years. Not non-stick, but easy to clean up after.
Don’t buy overpriced All-Clad brand though. Similar construction available from Kitchen Aid 5 ply and Cuisinart Multi-Clad (I think) for less money. It’s important that the word "clad" be used to describe the cookware—means inner aluminum layer goes up the sides. It may be called Tri-ply or 5-ply. There should be a cross-section picture somewhere to brag how the aluminum goes up the side of the pan. No picture probably means it DOESN’T go up the sides of the pan. And sometimes there’s a picture that clearly shows it doesn’t go up the sides. It should be “18/10” stainless steel, which means it has the proper amount of chromium and nickel in the steel.
Beware of pans that only have an aluminum or copper disk in the bottom of the pan. Far less forgiving and more likely to burn your food when you are multitasking. You should not be able to see the line of a disk on the pan.