Cookware Guide: Best Materials for Your Catering Business’ Kitchen
How to ensure your cookware isn’t sabotaging your dish
It is often said that a dish is only as good as the ingredients you put in it, this we know. But the quality of some ingredients can be dictated by what you choose to put your dish in. Even high quality produce and spices can have their flavours drastically altered, and even tainted with toxic chemicals, when they are cooked in the wrong material equipment.
Whatever the stage of your food business, from startup to established, the equipment you cook with should be just a larger part of your cuisine considerations as your technical ability and ingredients. At Dephna, we leave our rental commercial kitchens free from equipment so that you can bring in and build your own collection of kitchenware to suit your menu requirements.
We are happy to put you in touch with suppliers and help you identify the kitchen equipment which will serve you and your clients best. But before you start investing in high range kitchenware, it is important to familiarise yourself with the most common material options, and understand how their properties and behaviour (the way they react with food, heat and regular use) can affect your meals.
What materials would a chef use in their kitchen?
Ostensibly, the qualities chefs look for in quality kitchenware are simple: to withstand and conduct heat well, whilst not contaminating the food’s flavour or appearance. However, no single material can naturally perform both of these tasks, so finding the right cookware can quickly become complicated and expensive.
As we will go on to explain, some of the most problematic materials are aluminum, copper and, to a lesser degree, stainless steel.
Aluminum cookware has been the subject of many studies and investigations. It is highly reactive, and therefore is deemed a high risk cooking material. From baking foil to kitchen pots, the metal leaches aluminum into food during the cooking process and into food being stored in aluminum containers. As aluminum can be harmful to human health in certain qualities, affecting our brains and bones, many professionals chefs warn against using aluminum to cook or store food.
The most reactive ingredients are acidic. Tomatoes and citrus fruits cause greater aluminum leaching and create a stronger metallic flavour, a process which is intensified further by adding spices.
In order to combat these issues, some aluminum products have been coated with a protective non-porous, non-reactive oxide layer. These are a much safer option, especially if your business requires affordable cookware to prepare meals with reactive ingredients. However, this protective layer does eventually wear away with use, reintroducing contamination risks.
Copper cookware is made popular by its aesthetic appeal and superior heat conductivity. For businesses who prepare food in front of customers or cameras, copper pots and pans have an enduring appeal.
However, a pure copper pot or pan is not appropriate for everyday use. As with aluminium, copper is highly reactive and any surfaces which are going to have prolonged contact with food must be treated to prevent contamination. This is done by lining copper equipment with tin or stainless steel, which will also improve the durability of the product. These alloy products are among the most desirable cookery sets and, though more expensive, are usually worth the investment.
Stainless steel cookware only becomes a health risk when it has been damaged through harsh treatment with abrasive cooking or cleaning utensils. Worn pots and pans become mildly reactive and can start to leach nickel and chromium into food. However, thanks to its affordability and durability, stainless steel remains one of the most common forms of cookware. If well maintained a stainless steel cookery equipment remains an excellent choice for almost all catering businesses.
Choose to cook with the best equipment
The essential cooking equipment for any kitchen will evolve over time, as new pieces will be introduced as venues, menus and demand all change. However, there are some exceptionally well regarded pieces which, if they are not within your startup business budget just yet, should be on aspirational essentials list for any chef.
Cast iron cookware has a huge number of winning features, from its naturally non-stick surface to its impressive durability. A well maintained piece of cast iron equipment can last many generations and will actually improve with age, as the gentle wearing of an iron surface increases its non-stick quality.
One of irons most distinctive features is its weight. Cookware made from iron is heavy, so whilst it cannot be maneuvered as easily as lighter weight metal, it is able to retain heat for a much longer time. Buzzfeed’s food channel recently released a short video guide to cleaning and maintaining a cast iron skillet, for a business weighing up this material as an option, it is well worth a watch.
It is also worth mentioning that cast iron is mildly reactive to acidic foods, but the iron it leaches far from harmful and can actually be a valuable contribution to individuals who are vulnerable to iron deficiency, such as women and vegetarians.
Enamel cookware is a more budget friendly, lightweight alternative to cast iron equipment. Like iron, it is very durable and has a naturally non-stick surface. However, it is not so invincible or age-defying. Enamel can chip and rust with regular use, and the non-stick surface is likely to wear away over time.
Visually appealing, excellent conductors of heat and easy to maintain, these cookery pieces are still a welcome addition to any commercial kitchen. The most desirable sets are enameled cast iron Dutch oven pots, which are more durable and versatile than other enamel cookery.
It may be several years before you build and refine a collection of high quality cookware, but moving your business into a commercial kitchen is an excellent point to begin planning. Researching a wide range material properties and reading professional online reviews will also be crucial to making an informed decision, and maximising your chances of tasting success.