Look for durable materials and sturdy construction. Make sure that pans stand steady and have firmly attached handles and stay-cool knobs.
Aluminum is inexpensive and an excellent heat conductor. However, it discolors and must be scoured. Soaking or long exposure to alkaline foods causes pitting. If you choose aluminum, buy medium to heavy gauge; thin aluminum heats unevenly and gets battered quickly.
Nonstick linings, often used in aluminum ware, allow you to cook with little or no fat. They clean with a wipe of a sponge. Because they scratch easily, use wooden or plastic utensils to stir or turn food.
Stainless steel is relatively maintenance free but expensive. It conducts heat poorly, but a heat-conducting metal core in the bottom compensates for this. Prolonged contact with acid or salty foods can cause pitting in stainless steel. Excessive overheating (for example, burning food or allowing a kettle to boil dry) darkens it; such stains can’t be removed. To keep this metal sparkling, dry it with a towel and polish it occasionally with a stainless-steel cleaner or silver polish.
Cast iron heats slowly and evenly, holds heat well, and is inexpensive. Its main disadvantage is its weight.
Enamelware-enamel on metal is easy to clean and attractive enough to go from stove to table. Iron-based ware makes fine casseroles but lacks the porous surface needed for frying. Thinly coated enamelware chips easily and has hot spots.
Copper-beautiful, expensive, and a fine heat conductor-needs frequent cleaning to keep it shiny. And it must be relined when the tin lining wears thin or gets nicked. If you choose copper, buy heavy gauge; thin copper has hot spots.
Ovenproof glass is inexpensive and usually comes clean with just a sudsy rinse. Because it conducts heat slowly and evenly, it is fine for baking casseroles, pies, and puddings.
Freezer-to-oven ceramic is a durable white material for use on top of the stove and in the oven. It withstands sudden temperature change and can thus go directly from freezer to stove.
Plastic bakeware for microwave or conventional oven use can tolerate up to 400°F and also go into a freezer.