Stainless Steel vs. Nonstick Cookware: The Full Comparison

Have you ever had difficulties with food that sticks on your cookware? Or problems with cleaning your dishes?

Have you ever experienced funny smell while making a meal?

Tired of throwing away your damaged kitchen utensils?

The chances are you just didn't use the proper type of cookware.

One of the problems that many cooks encounter (both professional and recreational) is choosing the right type of cookware. For me, the biggest dilemma is whether I will use stainless steel cookware or nonstick cookware.

Both of them have their good and bad characteristics, and because of that, the choice is not always easy. While making the decision, you must take into consideration what type of food are you planning to prepare and which method of cooking will you use. For example, stainless steel is better for searing a steak, and nonstick cookware is better for making omelets.

Below I will I will give you my experience with both types of cookware, which can help you in making the best choice for preparing your meals in the best possible way.

Stainless Steel Cookware

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There are a few things to look for when buying stainless steel cookware: the metals in the steel, its weight, and its price.

Stainless steel cookware is usually made from a combination of more metals. They are mostly made of iron, carbon (e.g. carbon steel wok), and chromium along with small percentages of nickel, titanium, vanadium and copper.

They are made of multiple layers of steel and other metals, but only stainless steel comes in contact with the food. This makes stainless steel cookware more stable, and they are less likely to leach any toxic metals (like chromium or nickel) or other substances. An exception is damaged cookware – I advise avoiding damaged stainless steel because of the health risks.

When it comes to the weight of the cookware, the rule is simple: the heavier, the better. Weight and firmness of stainless steel cookware prevent hot spots, and as a result, the food is cooked more evenly.

Quality stainless steel cookware sets can be expensive. There are some low-cost and inexpensive ones, but if you are interested in making your food in the best possible way, I suggest you not to save money on your cookware.

There are a lot of relevant features of stainless steel on which you could pay attention while choosing the right one for your needs.

Stainless steel is made from very efficient heat conductors and therefore they have a good heat distribution, which leads to more even cooking. Also, stainless steel is very durable and can withstand high heats (it can even go in the oven).

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I usually use stainless steel pots and pans for browning meats (or any other food I want to give golden-brown color) - you can brown, crisp or sear meat in this cookware without any problems. When making food this way you probably want to add a certain amount of oil, lard or butter.

I like to use oil – precisely vegetable oil or coconut oil, sometimes even olive oil. I found that the best procedure is to put the oil on the cold pot or pan and then start to heat it up, and then start putting the necessary ingredients.

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Stainless pots are perfect for boiling – for soups, stews or bisques, for boiling pasta or potatoes or other vegetables. I’ve never made a vegetable stew in a stainless steel pot that wasn’t delicious!

Although stainless steel cookware is usually faster than nonstick cookware, it has its drawbacks. It is not very good for sauteing or gentle heating of food, and they have no nonstick elements so the cleanup can be tricky.


Nonstick Cookware (Usually called Teflon Cookware)

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Teflon is a brand name for a chemical compound called Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). Commercial use od Teflon started in the 1940s, and it is used to this day. Nowadays there are other materials used for making nonstick cookware such as anodized aluminum, ceramics, enameled cast iron, and silicone.

The main characteristic of nonstick cookware is the fact that it is coated with thin layer of Teflon or some other material I’ve brought up. That coating is responsible for the most important feature of this type of cookware – the food doesn't stick to it (just like the Red Copper Pan)!

That is the reason why thy are very easy to clean – you just need to wipe them with a paper towel. This is very convenient and can save a lot of time and energy.

Another good feature is that you don’t need much oil, butter or lard while making meals. Some people doesn't use them at all! This means that cooking with nonstick cookware can be much healthier than cooking with stainless steel cookware.

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Nonstick cookware is more resistant to acids from food – acids from wine, tomatoes and other types of fruits and vegetables.

Pans and pots with the nonstick coating are lightweight – usually much lighter than the ones made from stainless steel. There are some heavier nonstick pans and pots too, but they can be harder to handle.

Nonstick cookware is usually cheaper than stainless steel cookware, but there can be found expensive and durable nonstick pots and pans too.

Another advantage of this type of cookware is that there is no need to preheat them before adding ingredients.

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I generally use nonstick pans (like the Gotham Steel Pan) for food that stick, like eggs (omelets, poached eggs, eggs with bacon or ham) for grilled cheese, fish, and pancakes.

I also use them for sauteing mushrooms or meats. Just to add that my husband loves my lightly fried Pierogi filled with cheese and potato!

Image Credit: Flickr

You cannot crisp or make your meals golden or browned in a nonstick cookware. Is’s not perfect for deglazing too - I tend to make sauces in stainless steel cookware.

The biggest problem with nonstick cookware is its connection with health problems. Many people think that the biggest threat comes from damaged coating – scratched and chipped scraps can end up in your food!

That is possible – coating of this type of cookware is very delicate, it can be easily damaged. That is why you should only use wooden or silicone cooking utensils in nonstick pots or pans. Don’t use metal or plastic forks, spoons and spatulas – metal will damage the coating, plastic can melt!

And, of course, if the coating starts to peel off, your pan won’t be non-stick anymore.

This is a big drawback, but it’s not the biggest – the biggest problem is that Teflon gives off unhealthy fumes when it is heated too much!

So, if you don't want to be exposed to potentially toxic chemicals, you should never cook something in nonstick cookware on high temperature!

High temperature would, in this case, be everything over 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Just to add that I don't recommend putting nonstick cookware in the dishwasher because detergent and hot water can damage the coating.

Check out this cool video on how and when to use (and not use) nonstick cookware:

Direct Comparison

Feature

Stainless Steel Cookware

Nonstick Cookware

Cleaning

Cleaning can be a problem

Very easy to clean

Stickiness

Can be very sticky

Not sticky at all (if not damaged)

Durability

Very durable

Moderately durable – only if you are careful

Preheating

Should be preheated

Don't need to be preheated.

Greasing

Usually need some sort of oil, lard or butter

Don't need them, but you can add some if you want

Temperature resistance

Can withstand high temperature

Not made to withstand high temperature

Cleaning in the dishwasher

Dishwasher-safe

I don't recommend to be used in the dishwasher

Safety issues

No or few safety concerns

Potentially big safety concerns (if damaged or overheated)

Heat conductivity

Good heat conductor

Poor heat conductor


My Conclusion

My opinion is that both types of cookware have their purpose and both of them deserve to be a part of your personal collection of kitchen utilities. Some food is better prepared in one, some food is better prepared in the other type, methods of cooking are different for both types of cookware.

Stainless steel cookware is more durable and used more often but it needs to be preheated, and the food can easily stick to it. And, of course, cleaning stainless steel cookware can be a nightmare! Trust me, I've experienced it many times.

When it comes to making some delicate and sticky meal, you need to take your nonstick cookware and use its advantages. But, be careful, you don't want to use cookware with a damaged coating or to overheat it because that can be unhealthy!

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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