In terms of cookware there are four big factors to consider: Its Durability, Conductivity, Reactivity, and Maintainability.
Put simply, the more durable it is, the more wear and tear it can take, and the longer it will last. Cast Iron is the most durable, and aluminum the least.
This refers to how well it distributes the heat when on the element. The more conductive it is the more evenly your food will cook. Stainless steel is the least conductive, and copper the most.
When food reacts with the metal, you have the risk of the metal leaching into your food. For some metals this can be toxic. Stainless steel is the least reactive, and aluminum the most.
Some types of cookware requires a lot of maintenance, while others virtually none. Cast-iron and Copper are very high maintenance, while stainless steel and aluminum have virtually none.
The most common cookware falls into 7 types: Nonstick, Aluminum, Hard Anodized Aluminum, Stainless Steel, Copper, Cast Iron, and Enameled Cast Iron.
Nonstick pans became popular because they allowed cooking without any fat added in to reduce sticking. Now it has been realized that in hotter temps, the Teflon reduces a gas that is harmful to inhale, and has even been found fatal to birds. Another downside is the Teflon scratches very easily.
Aluminum is a great conductor of heat, but it is not very durable. It dents and scratches very easily, and reacts to acidic foods, which can cause aluminum to leachninto your food. Because of these limitations it makes great bake ware, and you will also find it being used as a core for stainless steel cookware.
Hard Anodized Aluminum
Anodized aluminum cookware has gone through a special process that creates aluminum oxide on the surface of aluminum, making it non-porous, meaning non-stick, and non-reactive. Aluminum is a great conductor of heat, so this pan is a great choice if you need the benefit of non-stick without using Teflon.
Stainless steel is not a great conductor of heat. To get around this, many manufactures have created an aluminum or copper core in their stainless steel lines. Stainless steel is very durable, and does not react with acidic foods.
Pots with a copper core have the benefit of extremely even heat distribution. Most modern copper pots interiors are lined with stainless steel, making them durable and easy to clean, and eliminating the copper reacting with your food. Any exposed copper on the exterior will need to be polished regularly to keep it looking beautiful.
Cast-Iron and Enameled Cast-Iron
In terms of durability, things don’t get much more durable than cast-iron. Because of this, cast-iron can be used for a large number of applications, from a commercial kitchen to a campfire. The downside to cast-iron is it requires a lot of maintenance. Cast-iron must be seasoned properly or else it will rust and react with acidic foods, leaching iron into the food.
Enameled cast-iron is a good choice if you don’t want the fuss of seasoning it, but the enamel makes it even heaver than it already is. Also, overtime the enamel will likely crack, making it a bit less durable than its counter-part.