Each metal has advantages -- here’s the rundown.Stainless Steel
Pros: Durable, easy to clean, attractive. Good for boiling foods like seafood and pasta.
Cons: Conducts heat poorly. Instead pick cladded stainless steel -- a core of either aluminum, copper, or a combination of the two, sheathed in stainless. A copper or aluminum disk on the bottom is a cheaper alternative.
Care: Dishwasher safe.
Options: Sets (7 to 10 pieces): Farberware, from $70; Cuisinart, from $260; All-Clad, from $300.Copper
Pros: Heats up and cools down rapidly; cooks evenly. Ideal for delicate sauces.
Cons: Expensive, heavy, and high maintenance.
Care: Hand wash; the exterior must be polished regularly to retain its coppery glow.
Options: Bourgeat saucepan, $130. Look for stainless steel interiors, which will last longer than tin.Aluminum
Pros: Heats up and cools down fast; cooks evenly. Works well in nonstick pans.
Cons: Reacts with foods high in acids (tomatoes), sulfur (eggs, onions), and alkaline (cabbage), causing discoloration of food and cookware. Dents, scratches, and warps easily. Anodized aluminum -- treated with an electrically charged solution -- won’t warp, dent or scratch, or react with foods.
Care: Hand wash.
Options: Calphalon set, from $200 (10 pieces); Lincoln Wearever 9-quart stock pot, $56.Cast Iron
Pros: Heats evenly and holds it extremely well. Great for grilling, searing, frying, and making stews. Inexpensive.
Cons: Slow to heat and cool down; heavy. Can rust and pit.
Care: Hand wash. To prevent rust, “season” new cookware: Coat with canola or peanut oil and heat; “reseason” once a year.
Options: Lodge frying pan, griddle, Dutch oven, from $9 to $47.Enameled Cast Iron
Pros: Heats evenly and holds heat; excellent for stews and slow-cooked meats; moves handily from oven or range to table. Attractive glass-like enamel coating fused to cast-iron surface comes in many colors.
Cons: Expensive; heavy; can chip.
Care: Hand wash.
Options: Le Creuset Dutch ovens, from $70, frying pans, from $50, baking dishes, from $120.