Cookware for flat top range.
Just moved into a new house that has a electric flat top stove. I have basically lived with hand-me-down cookware and I am looking to get some new quality stuff. I cook for a family of 3 about 4or5 times a week for dinner.
I have never used a flat top stove. I have read and heard that it does not work well with certain cookware. I have heard or read about an equal amount of good/bad about using cast iron on flat top.
I would really like to have a few pieces of quality copper/copper cored cookware and maybe a cast iron skillet and griddle.
What should I avoid? Is using cast iron that big of a problem? Any recommendations for something specific?
Yes, use a totally flat bottomed pan. These days most quality pans will stay flat unless they are burned dry on the burner. You can use cast iron on a glass topped stove; just don't drop it! I even move the CI around on the cooktop between burners. I use several types of pots: cast iron, stainless, non-stick, carbon steel. Good stainless will be built very well. The bottoms will probably be encapsulated; turn the pots upside down to look. Don't bother with sets. Buy three pots you can use continually. Perhaps a good stainless saute pan, a medium saucepan, a skillet of your choice. You can add other pans as you decide what things you want.
I advise people on this board all the time to go handle pans wherever you can find them. Look at the lower end (Kohls, Target, etc.), the medium end (Bed Bath and Beyond) and higher end (Williams Sonoma). It helps to know what really good stuff feels like in your hand, even if you can't afford them. Handling the pots should tell you a lot about comfort and weight. Buy the best you can afford, but don't feel that you have to pay really big bucks to get good stuff.
I inherited a ceramic surface stove when we bought this house, and even surprised myself when we re-did the kitchen--that's the only thing I kept. (Would have preferred gas, but running in lines was mucho beyond my budget.) Anyway, I'll leave the technical explanations to those who know, like ChemicalKinetics, but I've found that any pan that's not perfectly flat doesn't work (i.e. brown/carmelize) as well. My cast iron works great--just am careful not to bang it too hard or scratch the surface.
<I have read and heard that it does not work well with certain cookware>
There are different kind of flat top ranges. I am assuming that you have a glass ceramic surface stove with an radiative element underneat. If yours is NOT, then forget about what I wrote.
<I have heard or read about an equal amount of good/bad about using cast iron on flat top>
I think cast iron cookware work just fine on these flat top setup. The real risk is that the cast iron (being rough) can scratch the flat surface. Cast iron cookware are actually good because they are hard, easily remind flat, and they absorb infrared radiation well.
Heat transfer of a radiant reflective metal is actually worse than others. So a cast iron cookware is likely to be more efficient than stainless steel surface or copper surface cookware. That being said, radiation is only one of energy transfer here, so your cookware will heat up regardless just not very efficient.
Copper core is fine because of the stainless steel. Copper cookware may bow over time which is not a problem at all for many other stoves (and you won't even notice it), but for a flat surface cooktop (like yours), you will notice the cookware may wobble a bit. It does not mean that you cannot continue to use them, just beware.
"Copper and aluminum perform well when used on low-to-medium heat. Remember that they are relatively soft metals, and the bottom of these pans may bow over time, especially if you are in the habit of using high heat. Excessive heat can transfer some of these metals as a permanent mark on your ceramic glass stovetop."
Copper cookware on gas stove has two advantages. First, it response to heat source quickly, and second, it delivers a relative even heating surface. On a radiative glass ceramic stove, the copper based cookware will still deliver a relative even heating surface, but it may not quickly response to the heat source.
If by any chance your flattop stove is induction, then copper and aluminum cookware won't work (copper core or aluminum core may because of the cladding material), but I think the chance that you have an induction cooktop is pretty low.
<Would I benefit more from SS vs copper vs Aluminum>
Most stainless steel cookware are cladded with aluminum or copper. Pure stainless steel cookware are rare. I think all three will work for your glass ceramic heat source. Aluminum is actually underrated just because it is very inexpensive (sometime people have the notion that cheap is equal to bad). From the thermal diffusivity point of view, aluminum comes very close to copper. We are talking about only 20% in difference, which is not noticeable in practical cooking.
Now, if we are talking about aluminum core (cladded) vs copper core (cladded), then whatever small heat response difference they had is completely gone due to the steel cladding.
< is copper the best overall regardless of heat source?>
There isn't a "best" material for cookware. All materials have different properties, and everyone have different priority for these properties. For example, cast iron is structurally hard, very study, easy to build a near nonstick seasoned surface, very inexpensive, but it is easy to rust (if not take care of), it does not produce the best even heating surface...etc. So if you want an even heating surface with good response to a gas stove, then obviously a copper pan is better than a cast iron pan. However, if you value the ability to use a near nonstick surface and at the same time able to cook at very high heat, then cast iron is better. Now, that is only talking about a gas stove.
For induction cooktop, both pure copper and pure aluminum cookware do not response well. In fact, they won't heat up at all. Thus, heat souses can change the equation. Now, there are some newer induction cooktops coming out and may become widespread in the future, but as of now, they are not. Even with the new heat induction cooktop design, pure copper and aluminum cookware unlikely to heat up faster than iron and steel cookware.
It is like cars. Is a sedan better than a SUV? The answer depends what you want.