What is the Best Cookware for You? Stainless Steel vs Non-Stick vs Cast Iron

So, you want to fill your kitchen with the tantalizing aroma of sautéed onions or a pork chop sizzling in your skillet. Delightful and tasty is how you want your loved ones to remember your kitchen. A good place to start is selecting the right cookware. Today, we are looking at three types: cast iron, non-stick and stainless steel. I chatted with my local sales representative of a major kitchen store and he begins by asking his customers the following three questions:

  • What type of cook are you?
  • How much do you want to invest in your cookware set?
  • How much time do you spend in the kitchen each day?

Regardless of your choice of cookware, it is important to understand that the way you cook and clean are an important part of owning cookware.

Stainless Steel Cookware

If you cook like my mother, stainless steel pots and pans that are long-lasting and clean up nicely is your choice. She bought a set of Saladmaster cookware forty-five years ago and made twelve monthly payments. She still uses them every day. These pots and pans work well on the stove top and in the oven. Stainless steel also comes with a copper and aluminum core to improve heat transfer.  Another important advantage of stainless steel is its excellent ability to brown meats, sauté vegetables, and braise your favorite dishes. It does not react with foods. The stainless steel pans heat evenly and create a crispy crust when used in baking. Stainless steel is the choice of many professional chefs and I think it’s the best cookware for glass top stoves.

The All-Clad 401488R stainless steel cookware set is a great selection. It is a 10-piece professional grade set that includes two fry pans, two-quart pots, sauté pan, stockpot and lids. The highly polished surface and starburst finish will sparkle in any kitchen. The Cuisinart CTP-11AN is also a good option for the casual chef. It is moderately priced with an attractive copper exterior. Cleaning stainless steel cookware requires effort but is well worth the time.  For daily cleaning use hot soapy water and a non-abrasive scrub brush.

For cleaning the tougher burned on bits of food and stains you may encounter, there are a variety of home remedies or products on the market.

Bring hot soapy water to boil to loosen bits of food stuck inside the stainless steel pan and scrape with a wooden spoon or stiff brush. If you notice white spots and it happens a lot in stainless steel cookware, try one part vinegar and three parts water to wash them away. Baking soda soaked inside and outside the pan followed by rubbing with a cloth or non-abrasive brush removes discolored spots caused by high heat. Be sure to rinse well and dry with a towel for the brightest shine. If you have a copper bottom that is tarnished, try rubbing with lemon and salt. Rinse and repeat until all the buildup has been removed. It is possible to keep your pots and pans looking great for years to come.

Stainless Steel Cookware Pros & Cons

Pros: durable, non-reactive, attractive, good heat transfer, high heat cooking

Cons: high cost, more difficult to learn how to use, harder to clean, need oil

Non-Stick Cookware

For the cook that prepares meals on the run and is looking for a modest price, non-stick cookware is a great choice. Simply Calphalon is a cookware set that features a hard-anodized aluminum construction.  The interior surface is double coated and provides excellent conductivity and even heating. It is best for cooking with low and medium heat.  Avoid overheating or cooking with high temperatures as they cause fumes when heated above 500°F. Non-stick is perfect for cooking delicate foods such as fish, eggs and pancakes.  Try cooking with little or no oil for a lower calorie diet and extending the life of your pan. It is possible for oils to leave a gummy residue on the pan surface, especially if not cleaned thoroughly. Be sure to use utensils that do not gouge the surface. Cleaning is easy.  Use hot soapy water to wash your non-stick cookware. It is important to remove all oils and residues from the pan to maintain the finish of the pan. You may choose to put your non-stick pan in the dishwasher but the high temperature and detergent will deteriorate the non-stick surface over time. Replace damaged pans.  Frying pans are perhaps the most replaced pan in the kitchen. I replace mine every few years.

Non-Stick Cookware Pros & Cons

Pros: low cost, easy clean up, low-medium heat cooking

Cons: coating can be scratched, high heat causes fumes

Cast Iron Cookware

I recommend all cooks stock at least one cast iron skillet. This is a great multi-purpose piece that is great for frying and searing on the stove top and works well in the oven. If properly maintained and seasoned it will last for many years. A tip my granny gave me for making perfect cornbread was to pre-heat the skillet in the oven with a little oil before pouring in the batter. Heat distribution is even and makes a nice crunchy crust. Iron cast is reactive and will impart iron in the food. Cooking acidic foods in an unseasoned skillet may result in a slightly metallic taste. Roasting meat and stewing vegetables are perfect for enameled iron cast pots. Always use plain hot water and a stiff brush to clean your cast iron cookware. Always dry your cast iron cookware to prevent rusting.  A seasoned cast iron cookware is smooth and naturally non-stick. Instructions will come with a new cookware set and it is critical to follow them before the first use.  If the surface of the skillet becomes dull or rusted it is time to re-season. Begin by cleaning the cookware then lightly rub vegetable oil on the inside and outside. Place it face down in your oven and bake one hour at 350°F. Let the oven cool before removing. Rinse off and dry completely.  For an extremely rusted pan, sandblasting the pan and re-seasoning it will make it like new again.

Cast Iron Cookware Pros & Cons

Pros: low cost, durable, reactive, good heat transfer, high heat cooking

Cons: heavy, seasoning required, not practical to use as full set

Enamel Cast Iron Cookware

Cooks who can afford the enamel cast iron cookware are sure to make wonderful dishes. The cast iron is coated in porcelain enamel. It is durable, however, has a small risk for the enamel to chip and crack if dropped. Le Creuset offers a cherry red 20-piece cookware set that I’ve had my eye on. It includes a skillet, saucepan, stoneware dish, Dutch oven, stock pot, and mini round stoneware cocottes. It would look awesome on my new glass top stove. It has all the benefits of cast iron but easier to clean and is non-reactive.  Enameled cast iron is good for searing, browning, and frying. There are many shapes, sizes and beautiful colors to choose from. Use hot soapy water to clean. For tough spots use boiling water and baking soda with a scrub brush.

Enamel Cast Iron Cookware Pros & Cons

Pros: easy clean up, non-reactive, very attractive, good heat transfer, high heat cooking

Cons: high cost, may chip or crack

Knowing what kind of cook you are will help you select the best type of cookware whether it is stainless steel, non-stick, or cast iron. Stainless steel with a copper or aluminum core provides excellent cookware and is a life-long investment. There is a learning curve to master the perfect dish and cleaning will require an effort. Non-stick is great option for the cook looking for affordable cookware and easy cleanup. Cast iron has a natural non-stick surface and like stainless steel can last a very long time when properly maintained. Enamel coated cast iron provides a high cost and high quality cooking option. The pieces are beautiful and easily transition from your kitchen to the dining room table while keeping your dishes toasty warm.

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