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Metal transfers heat quickly and evenly from the heat source to the food; this, and its durability, make it an efficient and popular cookware material.

Metal cookware sales will also get a boost from the popularization of induction cooktops. In induction cooking, heat is transferred through magnetic attraction. So the cookware used must be made of a magnetic material, such as cast iron. To test pans, use a common kitchen magnet.


Aside from copper, aluminum is the best heat conductor used for cookware. It has even heat distribution and no "hot spots" where food will stick and burn.

Aluminum heats rapidly and evenly, and cools almost as quickly when removed from stove burner, so it will not keep foods warm for serving unless extremely thick. It is also relatively lightweight.

Aluminum pans are not all alike; their method of manufacture and gauge (or thickness) make the difference. The two most common manufacturing methods are stamping and casting.

Stamping involves placing flat sheets or round blanks of aluminum, rolled to specified thickness, in a press that forms the utensil. After finish is applied, handles are attached.

In the casting process, molten aluminum alloy is poured into molds. When the metal has cooled, the pan is removed from mold.

Medium and light gauge utensils are stamped, while heavier and more expensive ones are either stamped or cast. Both are one piece with no seams or hard-to-clean corners.

Pans used for top-of-range cooking are at least 18 gauge. The heavier the pan, the more durable it is and the more it costs. A top quality pan could be about 5 to 7 gauge. Thinner metal (22 gauge) offers more chances for food to scorch and it may dent or warp.

What is Gauge?
Gauge is the thickness of metal used in cookware. The lower the gauge number, the thicker the metal. For example, 10 gauge is thicker than 16 gauge.
A rule of thumb to apply to cookware is that 10 to 18 gauge metal is suitable for range-top use; 20 and 22 gauge is too thin for use over direct heat and may result in burned food or a warped pan. Baking pans may be thinner gauge, but must be sturdy enough to maintain shape under normal usage.

Aluminum range-top pans have satin-finished bottoms (to speed heat conduction) and sides that are polished, chrome plated, anodized or covered with porcelain or ceramic.

Aluminum bakeware with a dull or anodized finish absorbs heat quickly, while highly polished bakeware reflects heat.

The outside walls of cake pans and cookie sheets usually have shiny finish to bake light golden cakes or to keep cookies from browning too much on the bottom.

Best metal pie pans have satin or anodized finish to absorb oven heat which is conducted quickly and evenly to the pie. Nine inch is most common, but other sizes are available.

Muffin pans, also used for cupcakes, are sold in 6 and 12 cup sizes. Mini-size muffin pans are also available.

Covered roasters are for fowl or less-tender cuts of meat-those that require both heat and moisture to become tender. Shallow, rectangular, open roasting pans are designed for tender meat cuts.

Cooking tools made of wood, plastic or smooth-edged metal are recommended for use with aluminum. Sharp-edged tools such as knives, mashers and beaters may scratch it.


Stainless steel pans are smooth, hard, warp- and scratch-resistant, non-porous and exceptionally durable. Adding chromium and nickel to steel alloys makes the utensil stainless by forming an invisible film that protects the surface from rust, corrosion, pitting, cracking, chipping and tarnishing. The chromium renews the film if anything mars it.

Stainless steel bakeware is usually solid stainless steel, while range-top utensils combine stainless steel with other metals.

The reason for this is that stainless steel does not conduct heat as rapidly or as evenly as aluminum. To improve heat conduction, it is combined with aluminum, copper or carbon steel.

Different manufacturing methods produce "ply pans" in several combinations of metals that are bonded together before the utensil is formed. These include:

Two-ply pans - stainless-steel interior with another metal on the outside. Occasionally this is reversed.

Three-ply pans - stainless steel on the inside and outside with another metal as the core.

Bottom-clad pans - solid stainless or three-ply with another metal applied to the bottom of the pan after it is formed.

Five-ply/bottom-clad utensils - made by three-ply process with two clad layers on the bottom.

Five-ply pans - stainless steel on both the inside and outside surfaces with three layers of aluminum forming the core.

Like aluminum, stainless steel can have a highly polished or satin finish, and for the same reasons. Again, heavier gauge denotes quality.


Cast-iron ware is one of man's oldest forms of cookware. Today's cast-iron implements are alloys that permit thinner (and lighter-weight) pans with greater strength.

Most common items of cast iron are chicken fryers, skillets, roasters, Dutch ovens, broilers and grills, as well as specialty items like muffin or corn stick pans.

Cast iron heats more slowly than other metals, but distributes heat evenly and maintains a steady surface temperature desirable for browning, pan broiling, slow stewing or baking. Cast-iron skillets have become more popular with the recent cooking trend toward blackened meats and Cajun recipes.

Cast iron requires different care from other cookware metals (see chart below on cleaning metals and finishes). The addition of nonstick interior coating and porcelainized exterior finishes makes cast iron easier to care for. However, interior coatings rob cast iron of its browning ability, often regarded as its most desirable characteristic.


Copper is the best conductor of heat among cookware metals; it not only distributes heat evenly, but holds heat to keep foods warm. It is, however, heavy and expensive, and it dents and tarnishes easily.

Copper cooking surfaces must be lined with a coating such as stainless steel or a nonstick coating; otherwise they may produce toxic salts when exposed to some foods.

Also, cooked foods left in contact with uncoated copper may become discolored. The discoloration isn't appealing, but is harmless in most cases.

Copper is used mostly in combination with other metals, such as stainless steel (see section on stainless steel).


Tin, like cast iron, is one of the older metals used in cookware. Although it may be subject to warping and denting, pure tin will not rust and this characteristic makes it an ideal plating for steel utensils. However, tin ware will rust if the tin plate is cut and the steel exposed. It is manufactured into durable, lightweight and inexpensive baking pans.

Much tin ware now has an embossed, silver-like finish which reduces sticking and permits retention of grease in the batter.


Chromium-plated steel utensils are stamped from cold rolled steel, polished and then plated with copper, nickel and chromium. These pans offer a shiny, hard chrome surface that is dent and warp resistant and maintains its non-tarnishing surface with ordinary dishwashing.

They are also available with nonstick interiors.


Aside from natural metal exteriors, the emphasis on colorful kitchens has created a big market for colored cookware and that means special exterior finishes. Porcelain and ceramic coatings are most often used, since they offer solid colors and designs on an easily cleaned surface. Some pans and skillets are painted.

Porcelain is a form of durable glass bonded to metal at a high temperature.

Porcelain enamel cookware should not be used over a high heat for a prolonged time; extreme high temperatures may cause the porcelain to melt.

Better grades of porcelainized cookware are seamless. Price differences can be traced to thickness of metal, number of coats of porcelain, design and color, and accessories such as non-broilover covers and heat-resistant plastic handles.

Ceramic are clay-based and applied to metal in much the same way as porcelain.

Either coating can be applied to steel, aluminum, stainless steel or cast iron after the pan has been formed. Both offer a hard, lustrous finish that normally will not scratch, rust, fade or peel. However, it may chip or crack if the pan is dropped.

Other finishes for metal cookware include:

Anodized - layer of aluminum oxide electrochemically applied to sheet aluminum; is stain resistant. Color finish can be applied by soaking in color bath.

Brite - polished and buffed finish.

Enamel - (acrylic, alkyd, epoxy, polyurethane)-organic material baked onto interior or exterior of aluminum or stainless steel. In variety of colors.

Plated - layer of chrome, copper or brass plated onto aluminum or stainless steel.

Satin - dull finish; speeds heat absorption. Applied by brushing.

Silkscreen - porcelain or acrylic paste forced through design on screen and baked on exterior surface.

Sunray - interior finish. Applied by rotating pan over light abrasive, like sandpaper.

Synthetic finishes may fade from prolonged subjection to high heat or after repeated washing with dishwasher detergent. An anodized finish can be permanently damaged by soaking in strong detergent or washing in a dishwasher.


Enamelware is slightly different from porcelainized cookware in that it is coated complete-inside and out-with porcelain enamel.

The coating can be applied to steel, stainless steel and cast iron. The porcelain is applied after utensil is formed to create a smooth non-porous surface. In normal use, these pans are not affected by aging, heat, humidity or food acids, and therefore can be used for cooking, baking, roasting, serving and storing.

Less-expensive enamelware may chip or scratch easily, but better quality utensils have heavier coatings and are more chip-resistant.

How to Figure Size, Capacity of Metal Cookware
 Top-of-Range WareOvenware
Capacity of saucepans/saucepotsFullest liquid measure at overflow or liquid capacity expressed in quartsLiquid measure at overflow full; for casseroles, expressed in quarts
Capacity of frying utensilsTop outside dimensions- bottom outside dimension may also be statedNot applicable
MarkingsMarked permanently on utensil or on removable labelMarked permanently on utensil or on removable label
Order of dimensionsNot applicableRound utensils-diameter by depth; rectangular utensils -length by width by depth
Tolerance of normal margin of error1/4" total dimension size; 5% total liquid volume1/4" total dimension size; 5% total liquid volume
Source: Cookware Manufacturers Associations

What is Ovenware?
Oven ware includes baking pans, roasters and other pans used in the oven. Food is baked or roasted by absorbing heat from the surrounding air. Combines with conduction where food touches its container. Basic to this category are:
Cake pans-round, square or oblong with slightly tapered sides. May have loose bottom for layer cakes or movable cutter bar to help remove cake. Angel food or bundt pans are circular, have high, tapered sides and tubular stem. Loose-bottom pans may have groove to catch overflow of batter.
Pie pans-round pans with flared sides. May have rim to catch excess juice.
Cookie sheets-flat, rectangular pan with one, two or three open sides.
Bread or loaf pans-narrow, deep rectangular pans with flared sides.
Muffin pans-also used for cupcakes. Oblong or rectangular tray-like pan with 6 or 12 individual cups.
Roasting pans-open or covered, round, rectangular or oval, some with lifting rack. Sizes range from 12" to 18". Generally, 12 to 16-lb. fowl, 18-lb. roast or 16 to 20-lb. ham requires 16" roaster; 16 to 22-lb. fowl, 25-lb. ham requires 18" roaster. "Roasting pan" is open; "roaster" is covered pan.
Broiling pans-large flat pans. Perforated top lets fat from meat drip into tray below.
The American National Standards Institute has established size measurements for layer cake, loaf cake, tubed cake pans, pie pans, muffin pans and roasting pans. Most manufacturers show sized or dimensions on the label or stamp or imprint them on the outside bottom of the pan.
There should be at least one inch of space between sides of bakeware and the sides of oven: ovenware should be sold according to inside measurements of the customer's oven.

How to Clean and Care for Metals and Finishes
Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and caring for metals and finishes. Generally it's best to wait for pans to cool before washing or rinsing them, as they may warp if submerged in cold water while still hot.
Aluminum-should be washed in warm soapy water. Hand rather than machine washing is recommended. The extremely hot water in automatic dishwashers, combined with minerals in water and detergents, may discolor aluminum, especially colored anodized finishes. Remove stains with a non-abrasive cleaner.Copper-to remove discoloration use commercial cleaner or a mixture of flour, salt, lemon juice and ammonia applied before regular washing.
Stainless steel-should be washed in hot, soapy water or a warm ammonia and water solution, thoroughly rinsed and immediately dried to avoid water spots. Use mild, stainless steel cleaners or light scouring with a plastic or stainless steel scouring pad to remove most stains; don't use steel wool, chlorine bleach or alcohol.Chrome-wash with warm water and soap or detergent. Do not use abrasive cleaners.
Cast-iron-is usually pre-seasoned (coated with unsalted fat and heated to prevent rusting), unless porcelain coated. It should be washed in warm sudsy water and frequently treated by coating the cast iron interior surface with unsalted shortening, left until its next use, then wiped out. To re-season, scour the pan completely, rinse and dry; then coat the inside with unsalted fat and leave in moderate oven for two hours. Remove and wipe off excess grease.Plastic laminates-wash with detergent and water or a mild cleaner. Although strong and heat-resistant countertop coverings, they should not be used as cutting boards, trivets or hot pads, as they can be cut and burned.
Acrylic enamel-use soap or detergent in warm water for cleaning. This exterior finish can be marked or damaged by ammonia, alcohol or bleach.Baked enamel-somewhat chip-resistant, it is used on cabinets and appliances. Use soap or detergent in warm water or household cleaner. Do not use abrasives, alcohol or chlorine bleach.
Porcelain enamel-commonly used on bathtubs, sinks, appliances and cookware. Use soap or detergent in warm water-mild cleaner if necessary. A sharp blow with a hard object may chip porcelain enamel. 

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Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

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