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Q: What is the difference between a reactive and a nonreactive pan?

--Lana Swaggerty, Juneau, AK

A reactive pan is one that contains metals that might interact with certain foods. Aluminum, cast iron, and unlined copper are all examples of reactive metals. Pans made of these materials conduct heat very well and are ideal for cooking rice, melting sugar, and pan-browning meat. But you should avoid cooking acidic foods such as tomato sauce in pans like these, as the metal can alter the color and flavor of the dish.

Stainless steel and tin (including tin-lined copper) are examples of nonreactive metals. You can use these pans for all kinds of foods, though you may not get the heat conductivity of copper or cast iron.

There is really no single metal that is perfect for all foods, so it's best to buy different pieces to suit different needs (cast iron for skillets, copper for saute pans, etc.) rather than a cookware set if you can avoid it. If you do buy a cookware set, your best all-around option is stainless steel-lined aluminum.

Comments (4)

Anonymous
June 3, 2020
Actually cast iron is relatively a poor heat conductor, but is known for its heat retention. And while stainless steel cookware is true a poor heat conductor, almost all stainless steel cookware has either aluminium or copper core allowing it to be a better heat conductor than cast iron any day. Just wanted to clarify this for the readers.
Anonymous
January 5, 2019
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Anonymous
August 10, 2018
Unlined copper should not be used for cooking. Copper by itself is a poison. Small amounts of copper to leach into the food you are cooking. That's why copper pots and pans are traditionally lined with tin, or nowadays with stainless steel. Unlined copper bowls can be used for beating egg whites. Other than that, it's best to leave it alone.
Anonymous
September 17, 2017
While I used think there were some metals that are reactive and some other that are not, I was wrong and came to realize this after doing the 'Baking soda test for cookware toxicity' with all my metal cookware (aluminium, stainless steel, titanium, copper etc.,). All metals are reactive and leach into food. These metal ions are harmful in the body and cause various illnesses. In all my testing the safest cookware I found was MEC's pure-clay pots. These are not made from metals or ceramics (ceramic is reactive too and has toxic ingredients). They're made from primary clay. I've been using these pots ever since and am so happy I discovered them.