About Pans: Part I–Aluminum, Anodized, and Coated

Iron Pan Thumbnail 100x100 GelWith all the different types of pans out there, how are you to know what pan is best for what situation?  What pan is going to give you the best color on my Salmon fillet?  Well I will explore the different materials and give you some examples of what instances are best suited to each pan, and where you should drop the big coin for those pans that are lifetime investments.

There are many different types of pan materials out there, so I need to break this down into manageable chunks, so we will cover Aluminum pans mostly in this post.  We will break this into three parts with the last part containing a chart to help you decide which pans to use.

Aluminum pans are the backbone of pans in pro kitchens.  Their light weight, ease of cleaning and quick conductivity are ideal for restaurants.  The pans are readily available, and they don’t tend to cost an arm and a leg.

Some things to be aware of are that the pans can warp over time, and aluminum doesn’t play well with highly acidic foods as it is what we call a reactive pan.  The pans themselves are solid, and transfer easily from stove to oven.  They clean easily with normal means and pads, and can handle abrasives pretty well.

The Aluminum pan is great for making pan sauces and some mile searing.  If you want a char, this pan is not for you, but for some nice color, these pans are just fine.

In the late nineties there was a new product on the market, made popular by Calphalon.  The pans were essentially Aluminum, but they were anodized.

Anodizing is an electrolytic passivation process used to increase the thickness of the natural oxide layer on the surface of metal parts. The process is called “anodizing” because the part to be treated forms the anode electrode of an electrical circuit. Anodizing increases corrosion resistance and wear resistance, and provides better adhesion for paint primers and glues than does bare metal.   (From Wikipedia)

The process puts a coating that is mostly non-stick and provides all the benefits of Aluminum.  The thing is, I haven’t had much luck with these pans, and lets just say that cleaning them is just not fun.  I have pretty much given up on them as a whole.  The pros are that they do have grean conduction, but the non-stick quality is dubious, in my opinion.  You can clean them with abrasives typically, but check the care sheets.  Kind of the best of both worlds when it comes to cooking.  Its enough to cook and do a mild sear.

Pans that are coated with Teflon, or one of the similar knock-offs are all pretty similar.  Where they differ is going to be in the pan that serves as the base.  Most of the time it is Aluminum, which is why it is here in this section.

Teflon pans are overall pretty consistent, and do offer what they promise.  With minimal fats one can sauté and cook, which will make your food generally lighter to start with.  There are a few things to know about Teflon pans though.  For one, never use any metal tools on them.  This will scratch the coating.  Then next is you should never crank the heat on full, as extreme heat will cause the coating to lose adhesion, in my experience.  Last, when the coating fails, be it from a scratch or just cracking, I say, get rid of it, you don’t want that flaking into your food.

There is a trade off to be had here though, Teflon is not the best choice for searing, or with dishes where you will be making a pan sauce.  All the things you need to make the color and to char the outside of food and held back by the Teflon.  If you want to make a sauce, those bits that are left in the pan, known as the fond, is not there when you go to deglaze.  Pan sauces in general are just not done right in these pans.  Frying an egg, great, Chicken Marsala, not so much.

That about covers the basics when it comes to Aluminum pans, but there are still a lot more to go, so tune in for the next installment!

About Pans: Part II–Cast Iron, Enamel Coated, And Copper

About Pans: Part III-It All Pans Out

Happy Picking!

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