If it’s time to add to or upgrade your cookware, or maybe start on your Christmas wish list, how do you choose the type of cookware that best suits your needs?

Professional and home chefs can get pretty passionate about their cookware choices. A busy mom likely prefers the easy clean-up of a nonstick pan, but a purist might only cook with stainless steel. We’ll take a look at some of the pros and cons of cookware types and their best uses in your kitchen. Then you can decide for yourself!

Nonstick cookware

Some foods tend to stick when you cook them or are ruined if they do. If you love to make crepes, you’ll need a medium-diameter, shallow skillet. And unless you have all the skills and tools of a Sunday brunch chef, you better make it a nonstick one.

If the nonstick cookware is good quality, it should last for some time and is partially nonreactive, meaning it won’t pit or discolor when you add acidic ingredients, such as canned tomatoes. Nonstick pans are usually lightweight and terrific for cooking with little to no fat. Having said that, check the materials that come with the cookware. Some get all gummed up if you use cooking sprays in them. Buy a low-quality brand and you might find that the nonstick finish flakes off.  Common higher quality brands are Circulon, Anolon, and Calphalon.

If safety is a concern, be sure to read reviews and look for pans made of an aluminum of copper core with stainless steel outer layers.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel pans are so shiny and pretty, at least if you can keep them clean! They’re nonreactive, so you can cook anything in them. That shiny surface allows you to see food better than in a dark nonstick or cast iron pot or skillet. To be sure that the stainless steel pan conducts heat evenly, look for a brand that has some aluminum or copper in its inner layer. The cookware already is heavy, and this makes it a little heavier, but it’s often the choice of chefs and home gourmet cooks. Check out this review of top brands for 2014.

Pros say that the secret to preventing sticking (aside from oil or other yummy cooking fat) is to make sure the pan is plenty hot before adding anything to it. And if you’re worried about having to use fats, try a spray or choose a healthier alternative such as olive oil. If you’re using a pan to boil or sauté, stainless steel is a great choice. You’ve got plenty of oil (or water) in the pan to prevent sticking and make clean-up easier. And stainless steel won’t rust.

Cast iron

Speaking of rust…  Cast iron deserves mention, though. If you care for it properly, it shouldn’t rust or stick too badly. And a cast iron skillet has no equal in heat conduction. Cast iron is the best pan out there for searing meat or blackening fish. And nothing beats cornbread baked in a cast iron pan.

Cast iron is bare bones, but inexpensive. It also is reactive, which makes it troublesome for cooking some foods. It’s harder to clean and requires seasoning before it stops sticking like glue. Proper washing, usually without soap, drying, seasoning with oil and storage can make it stick less and last forever.

Copper Cookware

It looks terrific hanging over the stove, especially in an old-fashioned, gourmet or Provence-style kitchen. And copper conducts heat evenly. The metal also responds quickly when you raise or lower the temperature. But copper is a reactive metal, which can cause both acidic and alkaline foods (such as berries or carrots) to take on a metallic taste. If the interior is coated, reactivity is less of an issue. If it’s not, use it for making candy. Apparently, copper keeps sugar from crystallizing.

One of the top brands of copper cookware is DeBuyer, which has been making the cookware in France since 1830.

Probably the best solution if you can swing the money and storage? If you’re busy, have a set of good quality nonstick cookware for everyday use, a stainless steel sauté pan and stock pot, a deep cast iron skillet with a lid for browning and occasional dishes that transfer from stovetop to oven, and a set of three copper pots for display and dessert (preferably fudge!).

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