Over the last year, I've received several requests to write an article on cookware. This is a huge subject, and I've been struggling to figure out a way to present the information accurately and concisely. I decided to divide the information up into separate articles and focus this one on some common materials used in the construction of cookware. I also had to decide how much science and math to include. After some thought on the subject, since this site is called "Cooking For Engineers" and not "Cooking for Physicists", I've decided to include enough information that my readers will grasp the concepts without actually doing any derivations (perhaps this could be a future article). Also, since this article is a bit long and relatively complicated, if I've made any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct them as soon as possible.
The selection of pots and pans can be a complicated affair. The shape of the cooking surface and handle(s), materials used in its construction, the intended purpose of the utensil's design, and its flexibility of use in the kitchen all are important factors in choosing cookware. Understanding the materials used is a good first step in understanding how cookware works and what factors may be important to your cooking style.
The purpose of cookware is to impart energy to ingredients. In America, the energy comes mainly in two forms: burning natural gas or propane gas and electrical resistivity. In both methods, the source of the heat is not uniformly spread over the pan. In a gas stove, the gas come out at regular intervals and forms a ring of individual flames. The heating elements of an electric range are designed to cover as much area as possible, but still have patterns (usually spirals) where there is no heat. Because the heat is not applied evenly, the cook must be aware of this and either compensate with cooking technique or through cookware. ...