There's a wealth of options when it comes to cooking pans for thermal hobs. Some options, like cast iron have been around for centuries whilst others are relatively 'new kids on the block', such as ceramic. Some were once en vogue but are now hard to find, like aluminium.
Non-stick pans - should you use them?
One of the most common types, particularly for frying pans, are 'non stick pans' which incorporate a lining which helps prevent food sticking; these will ordinarily be bonded to a lightweight metal like aluminium. However, there are concerns that the coatings could release toxic fumes at high temperatures.
Non-stick pans can in theory be washed in the dishwasher, but this is likely to reduce the effectiveness of the coating over time. Hand wash with hot water, washing up liquid or Liquid Soap. Air or towel dry. Only ever use wooden or plastic utensils with non stick pans - never use metal.
So what are the alternatives and how should you clean them?
The Groovy Green Livin Blog outlines the options and makes recommendations. The full post is here, but to save you time and to give cleaning guidance, here's our summary and advice:
Aluminium and Anodised Aluminium - have health concerns. Can't be cleaned with Soda Crystals.
Cast Iron - Very durable (but heavy) with even heat distribution. Best when slow cooking on a low heat. Most allow the cook to sear or fry a food, before transferring straight to an oven to slow cook.
Seasoning and non-stick qualities build up over time if washed in hot water only. Not dishwasher safe. Do not use washing up liquid. If the pan has been allowed to go rusty or if there's some food that's hard to remove, add some salt, rub with a cloth then rinse with hot water.
After washing, dry and then wipe surface with a paper towel and cooking oil.
If food burns and sticks, soak in Soda Crystals and hot water for an hour before washing and rinsing in hot water. Once all food residue is removed, dry and re-season; wipe oil over the surface and heat on the hob or in the oven for at least 15 mins.
Glass and stoneware - Durable but heavy. Usually used for baking or oven cooking, rather than frying. Don't offer much non-stick. Usually dishwasher safe or wash with washing up liquid, Soda Crystals or Liquid Soda Crystals. If food burns, soak in Soda Crystals for an hour or overnight and clean.
Ceramic - Possibly the closest alternative to non stick. Lightweight and easy to clean. Although usually dishwasher safe, hand washing should ensure longer durability. It's best to wait for the pan to cool first. You should be able to wipe any residue out with a paper towel and simply rinse it in hot water.
Stainless Steel - Versatile, lightweight but with no non-stick characteristics. Can be washed by hand with washing up liquid or in the dishwasher, but if food has burnt on (which is likely), then soaking in Soda Crystals is the best option.
As a rule of thumb, the more you spend on a pan, the better cooking results you will get and the longer it will last. Although cast iron tends to be a little pricier, it's generally indestructible and gets better with age if properly cared for. No wonder it's loved by top chefs. It's ideal for frying steaks and fish.
However, if you're looking to fry something like a stir-fry, curry or chilli, then ceramic frying pans are ideal if you remember to stir the contents regularly.
Stainless steel pans are great for soups, vegetables, beans etc. Keep on a low heat and stir regularly. Just keep Soda Crystals in stock for the occasional, but inevitable 'accident'.