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Stainless Steel vs Nonstick Cookware: Which is Best?

Whether you’re buying cookware for the first time, or planning a major upgrade to your kitchen equipment, it’s worth investing in pots and pans that will stand the test of time and provide superior performance. Two of the main contenders are nonstick and stainless steel: which material is the best for the home cook?

 

stainless steel vs non stick pan

What is a nonstick pan?

Nonstick pans have been around since the 1960s. Today, they are usually made from aluminum with a coating of a nonstick material. The slick surface prevents food from sticking to the pan and makes it easier to clean up. 

 10 Inch Stainless Steel Fry Pan

What is a stainless steel pan?

Most stainless steel cookware is composed of three layers. A middle layer of aluminum is surrounded on the outside and inside with stainless steel. The aluminum core provides excellent heat conduction while the stainless steel surface is a non-reactive, non-toxic surface safe for cooking any food.

 

Versatility

Most cooks, if they have a nonstick pan, use it for cooking foods such as eggs and pancakes, as those foods may stick to a surface that hasn’t been properly prepared. However, there are some real drawbacks to nonstick cookware when it comes to their versatility in the kitchen. They can’t be used with high heat, as that can damage the coating and release harmful chemicals into the air or the food. This limits their use on the stovetop, and usually makes it impossible to put them in the oven. Acidic foods such as tomatoes can also eat away at the nonstick coating, leaching chemicals into the food.

You can use a wider range of cooking temperatures with a stainless steel pan as opposed to a nonstick one. This makes stainless steel the best choice for searing meat or moving from stovetop to oven. The versatility of stainless steel makes it a better choice for the home kitchen.

 

Cleaning

Since nonstick pans will rarely have food stuck to them, all you may need to do is give it a wipe with a paper towel after cooking. If you do have to give it a more thorough cleaning, you have to be careful to avoid abrasive cleansers that will scratch the surface, as they will damage the nonstick coating, making the pan useless for its intended purpose. It is also not recommended to put nonstick cookware into the dishwasher, as the high temperatures and dishwashing cycle can damage the finish.

Stainless steel may be more likely to end up with stuck-on food after use, but it’s usually not too much trouble to get it clean. Once the pan has cooled, you can soak it in soapy water to soften things up to make it easier to clean. You can also put stainless steel cookware in the dishwasher, as there’s no finish to be damaged. In fact, running stainless steel through the dishwasher can help keep it shining! 

 

Safety

The safety of nonstick cookware has improved since its early days, but there are still potential issues connected to its use. While an intact nonstick coating may be safe, if a pan is exposed to high temperatures or acidic foods, or if it gets scratched or chipped, chemicals may be released. Most nonstick coatings contain Per- and polyfluorinated compounds (PFAS), and those that don’t usually don’t reveal what “forever chemicals" are used to create their nonstick surface, so it’s impossible to judge their safety. 

However, stainless steel is a non-reactive surface, with no coating to be abraded or compromised. This means that it can be used under any conditions without worrying about contamination of your food.

 

Longevity

Even the best quality nonstick cookware, treated with the utmost care, will become worn over time through normal use. You can expect to have to replace a nonstick pan within two or three years. Once your eggs start sticking, it’s time to get a new one. After all, the big attraction of nonstick pans is that they are, in fact, nonstick! And in addition to things sticking as the surface degrades, chemicals may also leach into your food, creating a safety risk.

 

Stainless steel cookware, on the other hand, can last for decades without any diminishment in performance. A quality set of surgical grade stainless steel pots and pans will last you a lifetime. You never have to worry about chemicals leaching into your food, because there is no coating that can wear down and release harmful substances. 


These points are important to keep in mind when weighing the costs of stainless steel vs nonstick cookware. While quality stainless steel is going to cost more up front, it’s a one-time investment. Having to purchase the newest nonstick pan every few years will end up costing you more in the long run.

 

How to make a stainless steel pan non-stick: 2 techniques!

The reason for using nonstick cookware is, of course, its ability to cook foods such as eggs without them sticking to the pan. However, you can create a nonstick cooking surface on your stainless steel pan in a couple of different ways. Thus, you can get the convenience of nonstick cooking with the safety of stainless steel.

 

First Method: Initial Seasoning Before Use

This method is similar to that of seasoning a cast iron pan. Make sure you have an oil with a high smoking point, such as avocado or coconut oil, ready to use. Start by heating the empty pan over medium or medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Then, pour in enough oil to cover the bottom to an eighth of an inch deep. Keep heating the pan until you start to see some smoke rising from the surface of the oil. This should take 5 minutes or so. Remove the pan from the stove and let it cool completely, and then wipe out the oil, leaving a thin film covering the surface.

This is just a temporary nonstick surface, but as long as you can just wipe it clean after use, you don’t need to re-season it. When you do have to wash it with soap and water, you will need to go through the seasoning process again.

 

Second Method: Preheating When You Cook

Let the pan heat up for a little bit before you put your eggs in and they won't stick! For this method, simply heat your empty stainless steel pan over medium-high heat until a drop of water turns into tiny balls bouncing across the surface. If the water splatters and evaporates, it's not ready. Wait until the water dances across the surface. Then, add your cooking oil or butter, and turn the heat down to medium. Your eggs will slide off easily!


The Verdict

Many cooks turn to nonstick cookware out of a belief that it’s the only way to ensure that foods won’t stick to the pan. However, the nonstick coatings have risks of their own, while stainless steel pans, when prepared properly, can perform just as well without the safety issues connected with coated cookware. Let’s review the advantages of stainless steel:

  • Versatility: Stainless steel cookware can go seamlessly from the cooktop to the oven
  • Cleaning: Stainless steel can be put into the dishwasher, and can take more vigorous cleaning methods than the fragile coating of a nonstick pan
  • Longevity: While nonstick pans need to be replaced every few years, quality stainless steel cookware will last a lifetime
  • Safety: Nonstick pans are coated with “forever chemicals”, while stainless steel pans are non-reactive and non-toxic, guaranteeing you non contaminated food

2 comments

360 Cookware

Yes! All our Cookware and Bakeware use Surgical Stainless Steel.

Linda

Are all of 360 Pots and pans ALL made with Surgical Steel?

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