Stainless steel is a non-reactive metal which makes it great for cooking any ingredient. Although, stainless steel is a great general use material, you have to be careful when choosing what type of stainless steel pots and pans to purchase.Stainless steel on its own will provide an uneven distribution of heat. Look for stainless steel pots and pans with an aluminum or copper core, this will allow the heat to be distributed more evenly, as well as allow for a higher heat temperature while cooking. Stainless steel on its own, is very sensitive to over heating, once you burn a stainless steel pan, it is very difficult to remove and will cause you problems afterward. In general, stainless steel is great for low-temperature cooking, like for eggs or fish and for boiling water or soup. Stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core is more versatile and can be used for higher heat cooking like searing, sauteing and stir-frying, but sticking is often a problem, clean up can be difficult, and they can often get pricey.
Tip: Always pre-heat your pan before cooking in it, placing a cold item in a cold pan will cause sticking.
All-Clad Copper Core Stainless Steel Set
Retails for approximately $1,200
This is what they use most often in restaurants. Aluminum is the cheapest material pots and pans you can purchase and distributes and retains heat beautifully. Aluminum is not as sensitive as stainless steel and can handle very high heat cooking without burning. There are a few downfalls though. One, after frequent use aluminum tends to pit, but because they are cheaper than other materials, they are easily replaceable. Also, aluminum is a reactive metal so many ingredients, especially acidic ones, like tomatoes will pick up a metallic taste when cooked with it. There is also the risk of Alzheimer's. Nothing has been proven that using aluminum pots and pans increases your risk of Alzheimer's, but some people like to be cautious and stay away.
Cast iron is great for high heat cooking. Although it is reactive like aluminum, and shouldn't be used to make a tomato sauce, frying and searing comes out beautifully when using a cast iron pan. Cast iron will retain an intense amount of heat, and you basically never have to worry about it burning. A cast iron pan should not be heavily washed, it is best when just rubbed down with a soft cloth, and hot water. A cast iron pan works best after years of being used, and it has a nice layer of grease on it. A few cons are that, cast iron tends to be very heavy, it takes longer than other materials to heat up, and it must be very carefully cared for.
Teflon and Other Non-Stick
These are my least favorite types of pots and pans, but they do serve their own purpose. Non-stick pans with a coating, like Teflon should never be used for high heat cooking. The coating with eventually burn off and go into your food. You also have to be very careful with what utensils you use and how you clean it, for the same reason. I do find that these pans are great for making eggs. Eggs should be cooked at a low temperature anyway, and in other pans can get sticky and very messy. Used with plastic or silicone utensils to cook eggs is about the only thing I recommend these pots and pans for.
This is a relatively new technology used for pots and pans. Aluminum is put through an anodization process, that infuses the interior and exterior of the pan with an advanced release polymer. This makes the pan, non-stick without a coating, and retains and distributes heat wonderfully. This material can be used for any type of cooking, can be used with any type of utensils, and clean up is super easy. I personally own an infused anodized set of pots and pans and have nothing negative to say about them. For general home use pots and pans, I highly recommend infused anodized. The one downside, is that they can get pricey, but they have a lifetime guarantee, and I feel are worth the extra money.
Calphalon Infused Anodized Set
Retails for approximately $500