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Stainless Steel vs Non-Stick Cookware

Pans

So I’ve been reading a lot lately about how evil Teflon-lined cookware is – how it can emit toxic fumes, how the Teflon can flake off in your food, etc… So I decided to actually do some research on the risks of Teflon and what the best alternatives are.  I’ll summarize some of that research here, in case some of you are interested in eliminating non-stick cookware from your kitchen.

Now, I grew up with non-stick cookware, and let’s admit it – it’s convenient and easy to use.  But now that I’m a bit more experienced as a cook, I think I can make the switch to other kinds of cookware without disastrous results and without too much sacrifice in time and convenience.

Non-Stick Teflon-Coated Cookware

Advantages

  • Non stick
  • Cheap – a thin, cheaply made $30 pan from Walmart can perform tolerably well because the Teflon prevents burning and sticking
  • Easy to clean
  • Can use less oil

Disadvantages

  • Releases toxins when heated at high heat (this is why woks usually are not non-stick, because stir-frying usually requires high temperatures)
  • Short life-span (nonstick coating usually wears out in a year or two)
  • Scratches easily; you must use wooden or plastic implements
  • Nonstick coating can scratch off into food

I personally think that the concerns about the toxic Teflon coating are valid ones.  Even if my home stove can’t reach the “high” temperatures required to cause the coating to release toxic gas, I don’t really want to take the risk.  And the thought that I’m slowly eating the chemical coating as it scratches off in my food?  Umm…that’s pretty gross.

So I did some research into stainless steel cookware.

Stainless Steel Cookware

Advantages

  • No health risks
  • Durable; long life span
  • Can brown food better and creates the nice “fond” (browned bits) to make sauces and gravies
  • Usually oven-safe

Disadvantages

  • Costs more; a cheap, thin stainless steel pan will have hot spots and heat unevenly, so investing in a good-quality stainless steel pan is recommended
  • Must use more oil to prevent sticking
  • Requires more elbow grease to clean
  • Can discolor and lose its shine, requiring the use of a cleaning product like Barkeeper’s Friend to restore finish

At this stage in my life, I think I’m ready to put a little more work into my pots and pans for the sake of my family’s health.  And since nonstick pans are cheap, I can always keep one as a backup for “sticky” or delicate foods such as eggs or fish.

I’m also considering buying a cast-iron skillet.  Many cooks swear by it, and say that a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is as nonstick as a Teflon-coated skillet, with the added benefits of better heat distribution, great sear on meats, and amazing cornbread.

What kind of cookware do you use, and how do you like it?

18 comments to Stainless Steel vs Non-Stick Cookware

  • Excellent post! Brief and to the point. I mostly use my non stick pans just ’cause they are what I have. Once the Global Financial Crisis loosens it’s grip on us, I need to invest in some more stainless cookware. I am a huge advocate of clean eating. Ingesting bits of Teflon really don’t seem so savory! I am a big fan of your insightful posts! Thanks for a nudge in the right direction!

  • Camilla

    Thanks for your kind comment Marla! I too am trying to work towards clean and safe eating – I hope to get there soon!

  • Don

    I recommend that you try cast iron cookware. I have a skillet and a dutch oven and I can tell you they are very non-stick, and they cook very evenly. They really work. And NO TEFLON! Just a little extra work to keep them seasoned.

  • Camilla

    Thanks for your suggestion, Don. I am considering investing in some cast iron – when we move back to the States it will be among our first purchases!

  • Dylan

    I cook quite a bit, and I swear by my cast iron pans. I do own a large non-stick skillet, and I do like it as it’s very light and I can flick it to toss the food, which I definitely can’t do with my 12-inch cast iron skillet, which is a real bruiser. However, the cast iron one has GREAT heat distribution, and after I cooked bacon in it a few times, nothing really sticks to it. You do have to be careful not to wash it with soap, or you’ll have to re-season it.

  • Camilla

    Would you recommend the 10-inch or 12-inch cast iron skillet? I imagine the 12-inch might be more useful, but I’m kind of a small asian girl, so it might be too heavy for me.

  • Topper

    Le Creuset! My best investment! Check to see if you have an outlet near you. Big sale going on now.

  • Jesse

    I love to cook with cast iron, but I do not love the maintenance. I have three pans – 1 cast iron, 1 SS and 1 anodized aluminum nonstick. The anodized aluminum ones have a very different kind of coating, see:
    http://environment.about.com/od/healthenvironment/a/safecookware.htm
    http://www.only-cookware.com/what_is_anodized_cookware.html
    Cast iron never gets teflon-slick, but it is better than the SS.

  • stuart

    I use a combination of stainless steel (copper aluminum sandwich bottoms), cast iron, high carbon steel (wok and crepe pan) and even a little aluminum. NO NON-STICK. Cause it’s weird…and really, why buy a pan you’re afraid to use in some situations and have to buy a set of floppy plastic utensils for?

    Stainless – everything, really, since the copper+steel gives you the best control over temps at all times and at all stages. Takes a beating. Shop around, you can get an ok set for less than 100$, though you can also focus your money on a couple of saute/skillets, a couple of sauce pans, and then spend less on the stockpots, soup pots, and steamers.

    Cast iron/Carbon steel – when well seasoned, these really can be ALMOST as non-stick as the real thing – I do eggs all ways, crepes, pancakes, etc on a flat iron griddle or a carbon pan, no sticking. Potatoes/stirfries are great (very little sticking) in an iron skillet, as are fish, shellfish, etc. Remember that for some fish, a good sear is just as important as for meat and chicken, and a worry of nonstick is at high heat.

    The carbon woks are great, authentic and really quite cheap.
    People seem to forget about these – they’re a little messier to initially season, but really give you a nice surface afterward. Can also make paella well in them, and other 1-pot meals.

    Besides the weight, there are 2 main issues with cast iron, one of which hasnt been mentioned yet: (1) once you get a good season on, yes, you have to be gentle on the washing (very little soap) and have to reseason regularly. (2) Having a seasoning means that it will tend to take on some flavor from what you cook most often. Thus, I never us onions on my pancake/egg griddle, and I have a cast iron skillet that just does meats and sauces. (SS has no memory in this way). Just something to be aware of, and cast iron is pretty cheap (my 12 inch griddle was $15).

  • Camilla

    Wow. Plenty of experienced cookware shoppers here. Two questions. Does anodized aluminum scratch like non-stick, or do you have to use special utensils on it? Also, I was in IKEA yesterday and picked up a cast iron griddle, and MAN that baby was HEAVY! And that was empty. Am I looking forward to some pretty well-muscled forearms in the near future?

  • stuart

    yeah, you’re not going to be tossing stuff around in the cast iron. But you’re probably not going to be tossing stuff on a griddle anyway? Oh wait, pancakes…

    I think anodised aluminum is also technically coated (with a layer of aluminum oxide), so CAN scratch, though it will hold up for a good while to spatulas etc. So less scratch-resistant than steel, though it’s definitely more scratch resistant than Teflon, and shouldn’t be dangerous when it does. My anodised camping pots have definitely been scratched, though they may not be of the highest quality. I’ve heard stories of anodised aluminum reacting with acidic foods just like regular old aluminum, but I haven’t check this my self.

  • Camilla

    Hi friends, I came across an article about Teflon here:
    http://arch1design.com/blog/?p=5404

    The main point I got from it was that, even if using a Teflon-coated pan hasn’t yet been proven to be harmful to your health, the chemicals used in producing Teflon are definitely toxic, and the manufacture of Teflon causes these chemicals to be released into the water supply as well as hurt Teflon factories’ workers’ health (did that make sense?). It would seem that it would be better for the planet as well as everyone on it if Teflon ceased to exist.

  • I have only just read your blog, but I can already tell you that I love it! Keep up the good work!

  • Kimberly

    I came across this post while doing a little research. I have a set of non-stick cookware that I have to admit, I hate. It has two little metal knobs that hold the handle on. I have to soak the pan to clean the metal knobs without scratching the Teflon. I don’t understand the point if you have to soak it.

    Thanks for the info!

    As for what I use…
    I call my cast iron cookware, hillbilly Teflon (after my heritage) and I swear by them. I make EVERYTHING in them…crepes, eggs, etc. I am not hindered.

    But I am tired of babying those Teflon pans and need to seek out a better option.

  • Nikki

    This post helped me to decide what gift I will be giving to my mom. Thanks

  • Jack

    Having the same problems with non-stick after years of use, cracking and pealing.
    Have recently seen in some stores, ceramic cookwere. Is there any thoughts about ceramic?

  • Camilla

    I haven’t tried the new ceramic nonstick, but I now have a Greenpan which has something called “Thermolon” nonstick…supposed to be ecofriendly and nontoxic. Works well so far!