Classically in Western cooking, the best pots were made out of a thick layer of copper for good conductivity and a thin layer of tin to prevent the copper from reacting with acidic foods. A copper pan provides the best conductivity, and therefore the most even heating, but tend to be heavy and expensive, and require occaisional retinning. Copper pans are best for high-heat, fast-cooking techniques such as sauteeing.
Cast iron also heats evenly, but requires seasoning (a thin layer of fat that builds up and prevents sticking) and so cannot be washed with soap. Enameled cast iron pans do not require seasoning. Spinach cooked on bare cast iron will turn black.
In the 20th century, aluminum and stainless steel have been used in the fabrication of pots and pans. Aluminum conducts heat well, and is very lightweight, but sticks badly. Stainless has less of a tendency to stick, but are bad conductors of heat. Neither material rusts or corode. Inexpensive pans made out of these materials tend to be flimsy and too thin to spread heat evenly on the cooking surface, resulting in hot spots where food burns and sticks. Aluminum also has an unfortunate tendency to react with certain foods. Stainless steel is completely non-reactive.
Hard-anodized aluminum was first introduced by Calphalon, which is claimed to be totally non-reactive. All Clad introduced a technique for fabricating pans made with multiple layers, stainless steel for the cooking surface, and aluminum (or copper) on the outside for conductivity. Both provide much of the functionality of tinned-copper pots for a fraction of the price.
Small, shallow pans are called saute pans or frypans and are generally measured by width. Frypans with a gentle, rolling slope are sometimes called omelette pans. Small pots with taller sides are called saucepans and are measured by volume (Usually 1-4 quarts). As saucepans get larger, they are called sauce-pots or soup pots (3-12 quarts). Saucepots with sloping sides are called Windsor pans, which provide quicker evaporation than straight sides. Large pots that are wide and shallow are called braisiers, ones that are taller than they are wide are called stockpots (12-36 quarts).
Modern cooking pans are frequently coated with a substance such as teflon in order to minimize the possibility of food sticking to the pan surface. This has advantages and disadvantages for flavor and ease of use. A small amount of sticking is needed to cause flavorful browning (called a glaze--adding liquid to lift the glaze from the pot is called deglazing), and nonstick pans cannot be used at high temperatures. On the other hand, they are easier to clean and do not result in burned food as often. When frying in pans without such a coating, it is usually necessary to use vegetable or animal fat to prevent sticking.
Nonstick coatings tend to degrade over time, and require vigilant care and attention. In order to preserve the nonstick functionality of a pan, never use metal implements in the pan while cooking, and never use harsh scouring pads or chemical abrasives.
A Griddle is a hot plate similar to an electric frying pan. It has multiples square mettle grooves enabeling the contents to have a defined pattern. Similar to a WaffleMaker.
See also pressure cooking.