You’re right, it can be very confusing!
Tri-ply: This basically means that the cookware body is made from layered or laminated metals. In the case of Tri-ply this means that the cookware is made from 3 layers of metal (usually stainless steel with an inner conductive core of either aluminium or copper followed by an external layer of stainless steel – kind of like a sandwich). Stainless steel on its own is not a very good conductor of heat so by combining it with a metal like aluminium or copper (which by the way conduct heat really well but are also quite soft metals and therefore likely to bend and dent) you get the best of both worlds. If you are buying tri-ply or duo-ply (2 layers) cookware then look for something that has an inner core that is at least 3mm thick otherwise you might get hot spots when you’re cooking.
Hot spots are caused when the material is not thick enough to disperse the heat evenly and may cause your food to burn at certain points in your pan.
In all cases you need a conductive layer – that’s the copper or aluminium bit that is at least 3 mm and preferably 5 mm thick.
In some cases you will find that tri-ply cookware is very over priced for the performance that it gives you. If you are just starting out then I don’t advise you use this type of cookware.
Cast cookware is simply a way of describing the process of making the cookware body. In other words the cookware has been cast into a mould to form the shape. In most cases cookware is either cast iron (which can be very heavy) or cast aluminium.
Aluminium on its own is not that great as it contains lead (poisonous in cooking) therefore look for a coated aluminium pan if this is the option you choose. Hard Anodized aluminium cookware will protect the surface of the aluminium from coming into contact with your food.
Stainless Steel with a copper or aluminium base. I’ve actually written a blog post about this on my own site
Copper is a better conductor of heat than aluminium BUT before you jump the gun and buy cooper it is not always your best option.
a) It is more expensive
b) It can be less stable
If you are a professional chef who really knows what they are doing then you might prefer the sensitivity of cooper – i.e you can control the heat with more precision. If like me, you simply enjoy cooking but aren’t that accurate when it comes to the science bit then aluminium might be a safer option as cooper can cause you to burn your food if you are not careful.
In both cases you want to make sure that you choose a pan that has a fully encapsulated base. In some cheaper cookware the manufacturers save on the cost of producing the pan by only part filling the base with the conductive material – make sure that the base has a full covering of either aluminium or copper – feel free to ask if you want more details.
If Health and Safety is your main concern then how you hold your pans is going to be really important. You need to find something with an ergonomic handle – preferably a stay cool handle that is not going to burn your hand in use. I am being biased with the following recommendation as it is a pan that I have designed however it is worth your while having a look: Google DOCTOR COOK cookware
The only other thing to really be aware of with regards to health and safety is the type of non-stick coating (if you choose this option) that you select. I recommend either a Teflon coating or the American brand Whitford both of whom are reputable manufactures making coatings specifically for the cookware industry – something like the Whitford Quantanium coating is a great one. Some of the non-branded coatings can be a risk as most of these are produced in the Far East and nobody is quite sure what is in them.
Hoping to have helped.
Enjoy cooking – it can be great fun xxx