Stainless Steel vs Cast Iron Cookware
Most amateur cooks fail to realize the influence of cookware on meal preparation.
Different types of cookware affect the end-result of your home-cooked meal in different ways.
But more importantly the different types of cookware can affect your health.
Yes, that’s right. The material your pots and pans are made up of do affect your health in one way or another.
To save you from that hassle, we’ve come up with the perfect kitchenware guide, featuring two of the best choices available: cast iron and stainless steel.
Most cookware used today in everyone’s homes is more likely than not harmful for you. What are our recommendations?
We are big proponents of stainless steel and cast iron cookware.
Have you heard otherwise?
Whatever you have heard, stainless steel and cast iron, two of the most durable kinds of cookware, the decision between the two options can often be a tough one.
Among most amateur cooks and even professional chefs, there are fans on either side.
Let’s closely compare the various features of stainless steel and cast iron cookware—from construction to clean up—to help you find the one you need in your kitchen. Let’s begin!
Differences between cast iron and stainless steel
Cast iron and stainless steel are both iron alloys, meaning that they are made up of different metals to form one combined metal.
Both of these cookware are distinguished by the amount of carbon each of them contains.
Stainless steel contains less than 2% carbon whereas cast iron is known to have 2-4% carbon.
When we compare the two most popular categories of cookware, we’ll talk about the differences in heat conductivity, durability, cooking performance, cleaning criteria along with which one’s better for you in terms of health. Let’s get straight into it.
1. Cast Iron Cookware
Manufactured in a relatively low-tech fashion, cast iron cookware has been lauded for its reasonable cost, exceptionally high capacity and its rugged exterior for thousands of years.
It’s one of the oldest cookware materials to exist and is traditionally made in one piece, without any seams or joints.
Even though it has the same density as stainless steel, it has a greater percentage of iron in its composition, around 85 to 90%.
Contrary to the popular belief, cast iron doesn’t distribute heat that evenly, due to its thickness.
This is the main reason why cast iron pans require preheating before you start to cook, because adding ingredients to a cold cast iron pot will cause sticking.
Heating it up may take some time, but once it reaches the right temperature, it allows the heat to stay within the pan.
Benefits of Cast Iron Cookware
This is the area where cast iron truly shines: heat retention.
After you’ve turned off the stove or taken the skillet out of the oven, the retained heat will allow the food to stay warm for quite longer than any other cookware material.
This is why cast iron pots are ideal for stove-to-oven recipes, family dinners, and simmering stews, roasting and baking.
Cast iron pans are often considered indestructible if used and stored correctly so they’re preferred by home cooks who often get tired of replacing pans every few years.
Aside from being sturdy, a cast iron pan is quite versatile. It can be used on the stovetop, in the oven and even on the grill.
You can even skip the baking trays and sheets and simply utilize a cast iron skillet for delicious vegan baked desserts and breakfasts.
The best brands of cast iron cookware available in the market include Lodge Cast Iron and Le Creuset.
Why is cast iron cookware bad?
In spite of their dependable nature and the fact that they usually give steady and reliable results, cast iron pans come with some major drawbacks.
A common complaint regarding cast iron cookware is its weight.
They are by far the heaviest cookware available, which explains why we don’t often see cooks lifting a cast iron skillet while tossing its contents.
Another downside of using cast iron is the fact that it is notoriously hard to take care of. Unlike any other cookware, you can’t just add it to the pile of dishes in the sink.
Instead, it requires cleaning by hand after each use, so you can’t wash cast iron in a dishwasher nor expose it to heavy abrasive washing liquids.
Cast iron is also prone to rust if left exposed and is easily reactive with acid.
So acids from tomatoes, lemons and citrus in general tend to react with the pan surface when cooked over longer periods of time.
For this reason, it’s advisable to avoid cooking acidic food using cast iron cookware as the reactivity may affect the taste and appearance of the final dish.
However, with vigilance and care, this can be prevented.
How to Treat Your Cast Iron Cookware
There are two traditional methods of preventing rusting and reactivity in cast iron cookware.
1. Seasoning: This involves applying a layer of cooking oil or any kind of edible fat to the cookware and heating it.
Upon heating, the liquid oil converts into a layer of solid shell.
This method shields the iron in the cookware from rust and acts as a barrier to reduce reactivity with acids.
Seasoning also aids in making cast iron more non-stick.
2. Enameling: This method of protecting cast iron involves coating it with glass-like enamel during manufacturing, which works better than seasoning.
However, it increases the weight and cost of a cast iron skillet.
In addition, the enamel coating isn’t too durable.
Therefore, as the pan gets knocked into things and becomes worn-out overtime, the coating eventually chips or cracks.
How to Clean Cast Iron Cookware
The maintenance required by cast iron doesn’t end here.
Such pots and pans when brand new need to be initially hand washed with warm water and soap.
After each use, cast iron pans require to be cleaned and seasoned.
First, remove any remnants of food using a paper towel and then rinse the pan under hot water.
While drying cast iron kitchenware, make sure you don’t air dry, as it can cause rusting.
Instead, dry the pot over low heat and when no more moisture is left, season the cast iron surface with a little bit of cooking oil and spread it using a paper towel over the entire surface until it’s completely absorbed.
Pros and Cons of Cast Iron Cookware
– Cost effective.
– Extremely versatile.
– Durable and sturdy.
– Great heat capacity and retention.
– No special utensils are required to cook in it. You can easily use a metal spatula without fearing a scratch on the pan.
– Naturally non-stick if seasoned properly.
– Hard to maintain: requires seasoning and takes effort to clean.
– Reactive with acidic foods.
– Can chip, rust and crack easily if not properly cared for.
2. Stainless Steel Cookware
Containing around 70 to 75% iron, stainless steel cookware is a staple in kitchens around the globe due to its sleek profile, classic shine and stellar heat conduction.
Unlike cast iron, it’s non-reactive and hence is preferred while preparing meals involving acidic ingredients.
Stainless steel pans can easily be used on an induction range and is resistant to rust and oxidation.
This is because it contains small quantities of chromium and nickel, stainless steel cookware is less prone to scratches, corrosion and denting.
What is All Clad Stainless Steel Cookware?
Adding to the list of its positive features, stainless steel is quite tough and durable as well.
However, when we talk about steel on its own, it’s actually a poor conductor of heat.
This explains why stainless steel cookware is manufactured with a core made up of better heat conductors such as aluminum or copper.
The layering of these materials is known as cladding, and that’s why stainless steel cookware is often referred to as multi-clad cookware in the market.
The steel provides a remarkably resistant exterior while the aluminum or copper core makes sure that heat is transferred efficiently and evenly.
Is Aluminum or Copper a Better Conductor of Heat?
Hence, overall the process of cladding helps overcome the shortcomings of two different metals used in the cookware—the reactivity of aluminum and poor heat conductivity of steel. Such an option is absent in the case of cast iron.
Since copper is a slightly better heat conductor than aluminum, copper-core steel pans react to temperature changes more quickly and are therefore a bit more expensive than aluminum-core cookware.
Maintenance of steel pans and pots, including cleaning and drying, is relatively easier and doesn’t require a lot.
The washing process involves your usual soap and water, and stainless steel cookware is dishwasher-safe too.
Also, its versatility is proven by the fact that you can use it on a stove-top, grill and in the oven.
The heat retention of a stainless steel pan mainly depends upon the composition.
Clad cookware involving alternating layers of steel and thermally conductive metals such as aluminum, doesn’t usually retain heat that well.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Cookware?
In addition, another downside of stainless steel pans is their ability to create sticky and burnt messes if used in an improper manner.
In such cases, it’s advisable to fill the cookware with water, boil for 15 minutes and once loosened, scrape the stuck-on spots with the help of a wooden spoon.
However, we have a great article on how to clean and cook with stainless steel cookware. CLICK HERE for more helpful stainless steel tips.
– Superior heat conduction of multi-clad cookware provides consistency and control
-Non-reactive, durable, resistant to scratches and rusting-Dishwasher-friendly
-Easy to maintain
-Uses less energy
-Food sticks easily
Why do chefs use stainless steel pans?
Even though both kinds have their own pros and cons, and home cooks often find themselves switching between cast iron and stainless steel, the advantages that come along with stainless steel cookware clearly surpass those of cast iron.
This is why many culinary chefs prefer using stainless steel opposed to cast iron cookware.
There are several reasons why stainless steel pans beat cast iron and are preferred by culinary professionals for years now.
Firstly, stainless steel heats up faster, is easier to clean and take care of.
Because of their non-reactive nature, stainless steel pans won’t impart any flavor to your food.
They’re light-weight and automatically easier to take in and out of the oven.
Unlike cast iron, stainless steel cookware is minimalistic, sleek and modern, which means it adds to the visual aesthetics of a kitchen as well.
They’re expensive, sure, but considering how long they last and the set of qualities they come with makes them worth every penny.
Is Cast iron safer than stainless steel
When evaluating how healthy it is to use a particular type of cookware, we need to consider whether the material carries hazardous risk and how likely it is for the material to leach into the food during cooking.
A major health concern associated with cast iron pans is that they may leach iron into the food.
The amount of iron leached can differ, depending on the usage of the pan and whether it’s well-seasoned or not.
As mentioned earlier, seasoning provides a protective coating and prevents the direct contact of iron with the contents of the pan.
Some people don’t consider this a problem, since iron is an essential mineral and isn’t directly toxic for the body.
Having said that, there’s an obviously healthier and safer way to incorporate iron as a nutrient into your diet than consuming leached iron from cast iron pans.
Moreover, it can even be life-threatening for individuals who may be at a risk of iron overload or any other health condition that worsens with higher iron levels in the bloodstream.
Thanks to the multi-laying process during its manufacture, stainless steel is more stable and comparatively less prone to leaching.
According to research, the health risk of using steel cookware is much lesser than the risk posed by leaching of copper from a pan made purely from copper metal.
Even though stainless cookware is safe to use, it’s important to note that such pots and pans when damaged due to exposure to abrasive material, such as steel wool, can have a much higher chance of leaching nickel into the food.
The leaching of nickle can be potentially toxic.
This type of leaching has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
So the key is to maintain your stainless steel kitchenware properly, since it’s the healthier choice as compared to cast iron.
What is the best grade of stainless steel cookware?
The grade of stainless steel refers to its temperature resistance, durability and quality. According to international standards, food grade stainless steel belongs to either 200, 300 or 400 series.
The most popular kind of stainless steel in cookware is the 300 series, most often labelled as 304, because it represents high-quality range with more resistant products.
In turn, the 304 uses 18/10 and 18/8 stainless series, the numbers indicating the percentage of chromium and nickel respectively.
The best stainless steel cookware has a grade of 18/10 or 18/8 because these are the ideal chromium to nickel ratios for maximum corrosion resistance.
Our Recommended Stainless Steel and Cast Iron Cookware Products
Soon we will have our list of recommended stainless steel and cast iron cookware for you to review. Until then, look for Stainless Steel 304 grade cookware and Enameled Cast Iron Cookware.
Hope this helps!
In the meantime, if you want to take a look at our other kitchen product reviews then take a peek at this page HERE.
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