They say too many cooks spoil the broth. The wrong pots and pans do, too. That’s why when it comes to restaurant kitchen supplies, few decisions are as important as choosing the correct cookware for the job. Most pots and pans used in commercial kitchens are aluminum or stainless steel. Some chefs also use French steel and cast iron, but these items require special care that’s inefficient for most busy kitchens.
Whether purchasing equipment for restaurants, catering businesses or even their own home kitchens, chefs opt for commercial pots and pans over what you would typically find in a housewares store. Commercial-grade cookware is tested for durability and heat consistency, so cooks know the solid construction will be reliable and durable to meet their needs.
We asked chefs and a food safety expert to share the pros and cons of stainless steel and aluminum cookware to help you choose.
Aluminum heats and cools quickly, making it popular with short-order cooks who need to work super fast. “But the handles also get hot fast, so you have to be really careful,” says Kevin Callaghan, chef/owner of Acme Food & Beverage Co. in Carrboro, NC.
It’s comparatively less expensive, which appeals to restaurateurs on a budget.
“Aluminum is lighter weight, which is great when you’re moving pots and pans all day or night,” Callaghan adds.
Acid degrades the aluminum and it can leach into the food. “It’s generally recommended to avoid using aluminum cookware for highly acidic or salty foods like tomato sauce or sauerkraut unless the cookware has been anodized,” says Cheryl Luptowski, public information officer at NSF International, an Ann Arbor, MI public health and safety organization.
Chemical reactions “eventually etch and warp the pans and render them useless,” adds Scott Dolich, executive chef of The Bent Brick in Portland, OR. But because they’re inexpensive, aluminum pans can be easily and affordably replaced.
Stainless Steel Cookware
“Stainless pots and pans are better balanced because they’re heavier,” Callaghan says. “And the handles are usually stronger because the metal is harder.” But like aluminum, they also get hot, so handle with care.
Stainless steel cookware holds heat well, making it useful for dishes with long cook times.
The nonreactive surface means you can cook almost anything in it. “Most manufacturers recommend not allowing acidic or salty food to sit for long periods in stainless steel, as any undissolved salt could pit the surface,” Luptowski says.
Stainless steel is more expensive than aluminum, but it lasts longer, making it more cost effective.
“Thin-gauge pans will scorch product easily,” warns Dolich, who also owns Park Kitchen. Avoid this by choosing pans with equal thickness top and bottom.
Before You Buy
Luptowski suggests a quick check-in with your local health department, often a county or municipal agency, before purchasing any restaurant kitchen supplies. “Make sure that cookware has the appropriate certifications required,” she says. She recommends choosing pots and pans certified compliant with NSF/ANSI 2: Food Equipment standards.
It’s also important to size your pots and pans properly for the burners on your stove. “I wanted to use small sauce pans to heat up individual orders of sauce, and the pans were too small for the professional burners we were using,” Dolich says. “The only part of the pan that would get hot was the handle!”
Price and functionality are key considerations when choosing pots, pans and other cookware. Use this information to outfit your kitchen with the most cost-effective and functional items for your menu and your budget.