When exploring your commercial cookware options from companies like Vollrath, one of the first decisions you need to make is what material you'd prefer to have. The most common materials are aluminum, stainless steel, cast iron, and copper. Which is best for your restaurant kitchen will depend on the types of dishes you serve, how busy your chefs are, and how much you can afford to spend. Here's a closer look at the merits and drawbacks of each of these common cookware materials.
Aluminum cookware is lightweight, which means that your chefs' arms won't tire from lifting it on and off the stove all day. It also heats up quickly, which can be a real asset if your menu contains a lot of skillet meals and sauteed dishes that are made to-order. You can get the meals out to customers a lot faster if the chefs don't have to wait five minutes for the pan to heat up before they start cooking.
The downfall to aluminum is that it reacts to some acidic ingredients, which can result in a bitter taste. If you use a lot of tomatoes and tomato sauces in your restaurant, then aluminum is a poor choice for your cookware since aluminum and tomatoes do not mix. Aluminum pans are also more prone to staining than some other materials, so your dishwashing crew may need to spend some extra time cleaning them to keep them looking their best.
Stainless steel pans cost more than aluminum ones, but they have the benefit of being non-reactive and longer-lasting than aluminum. A good set of steel pans will last your restaurant many, many years. Steel is great for browning, making it a good choice if your chefs sear a lot of meats on the stovetop. You can safely put your stainless steel pans in the dishwasher and place them in the oven or broiler to finish a dish, if needed.
In addition to the higher cost, stainless steel can sometimes be hard to clean. Your chefs will also have to use a good bit of oil or butter to keep the food from sticking, which will make low-fat cooking a challenge.
Enameled Cast Iron
Standard cast iron cookware is difficult to keep seasoned, so it is rarely used in restaurants. However, manufacturers do offer enameled cast iron -- which is iron that has been coated with a layer of porcelain enamel to keep food from sticking to it. Enameled cast iron retains heat very well, so it is an excellent choice if your chefs make a lot of braises or strews. It does not react with acidic ingredients and can be cleaned rather easily in the dishwasher.
The primary downside to enameled cast iron is its weight. It is significantly heavier than aluminum or steel, and even much heavier than copper. If you use this as your primary cookware, your chefs will soon tire of lifting and moving it. That's why many kitchens opt to keep a few enameled cast iron vessels around just for soups or stews -- but to do the rest of their cooking in a lighter material.
Copper is the most expensive cookware material on this list, but for the price you pay, you get a truly top-notch piece of cookware. Copper heats and retains heat more evenly than steel or copper, making for very even cooking. It can help the most delicate, high-end dishes turn out exceptionally well and is therefore a popular choice in most high-end, fine dining establishments. Copper is a reactive metal, but most high-end copper pans are lined with a thin layer of stainless steel so you can cook virtually anything inside of them.
In spite of their versatility and even cooking, copper pans are heavy. They can also dent easily if dropped, so your chefs need to be very careful with them. To prevent a green patina from developing, copper pans need to be carefully cleaned by hand.
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