Stainless Steel VS Cast Iron Cookware


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Stainless steel and cast iron may seem an unlikely pair for comparison but both are undergoing increasing popularity and have qualities that turn out well-cooked food.

what my motherThese metals are workhorses and can last for generations with proper care. Stainless steel cookware owes some of its popularity going back a few decades to TV network cooking shows. Cast iron, though it has been around for decades is seeing an uptick in recent sales also due to the popularity of TV shows. So what are the features in these metals that cause cooking enthusiasts to follow the lead of well known chefs and move away from aluminum and non stick? The following is a list of the pros and cons of each.

Durability

Stainless Steel has a very good reputation of maintaining its great shiny, appearance. If slight discoloration does occur, it’s quite easy to bring the shine back with common household products. The metal, itself, is strong and does not flake. You can use all types of utensils on it like wood, plastic and metal.

Cast Iron has been around for years. The metal is so durable that many homes have cast iron skillets that belonged to previous generations. It is made from molten iron and is very sturdy and heavy. But If not taken care of properly it can rust.

Heat Distribution

Stainless Steel alone does not distribute heat evenly but all good quality stainless steel cookware has a tri ply construction of aluminum or copper sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel–at least at the bottom.

Both of those metals distribute heat very well so this tri-ply construction ensures that heat is delivered evenly throughout the pan and food is cooked evenly without hot spots. It does this quickly and water, also, comes to a boiling point rapidly.

Cast Iron distributes heat evenly and maintains heat well. It’s known for its ability to maintain those high temperatures and that is why it is good for searing meats. However, it does take a long time for the pans to heat.

Weight

Stainless steel pots and pans range from light (poor quality) to heavy. Thin cookware tends to burn food and heat is not distributed evenly.  Heavy pots and pans may pose a problem for those with hand or wrist weaknesses. Medium weight is ideal and there are several quality brands available in this weight group.

Cast iron is known for being quite heavy. It can be difficult to move the pans from one place to another when filled with food especially when considering the handles get very hot.

Maintenance

Stainless steel is often cited as causing food to stick to pots and pans. This is the result of not knowing how to use it correctly by heating the pans before adding food.  When used correctly, sticking is not a problem.

Some owners like to “season” their cookware to make sure food does not stick.  This is not necessary but is not harmful.  Seasoning involves heating oil in the items to “bake” the seasoning in the pan creating a non-stick-type surface.

Cast Iron requires great care.  It must be seasoned by adding oil to the pan and baking in an oven for at least an hour.  It may take one or more tries to get it seasoned just so, if not, food will stick to the surface.  Also, boiling water in the pan or not keeping it dry, can cause it to rust.  When seasoning wears down, it must be seasoned again.

Reactivity

Stainless steel does not react to food so there is no metal taste added to your food. In fact, food cooked with this metal retains the flavor of the food.

Cast Iron reacts to acid and alkaline food like tomatoes and wine.  It can also leave a metallic taste in food if the cookware is not thoroughly seasoned.

Appearance

Stainless Steel has a shiny appearance.  It is a feature that attracts a lot of people to this cookware. Some items are so shiny it is sometimes referred to as  “mirror” and “polished.” Sometimes a “brushed” finish is used on the outside of the items.  Although not bright and shiny, this brushed design with its faint etched lines is also attractive.

Cast Iron, in contrast, has a very familiar plain, black stubbly finish. There are newer forms of this metal referred to as enameled cast iron and these items are quite attractive and available in many bright colors.  However, enameled cast iron is not the same as the original form of this metal that we are comparing.

Versatility

Stainless Steel pots and pans can be used inside the oven or on top of the stove when the handles and lids are also stainless.  Glass lids generally can go into the oven up to temperatures of 350 degrees.

Some brands, but not all, with handles that are silicone can be placed inside an oven.  This metal is versatile.  It can be used on gas ovens, electric ovens and glass cooktops.  The number of sets manufactured for use with induction cooktops is rapidly increasing.

Cast Iron conjures up visions of a black, somewhat knotty skillet.  In reality, you can find it in other forms of cookware.  A Dutch Oven for instance.  However, the trusty skillet can be used on top of the stove and inside the oven.

It goes from one to the other easily.  Handles get very hot, though and moving a filled skillet out of the oven requires a balancing act and great care. These skillets can be used on gas stoves, electric stoves, glass cooktops and induction cooktops.

Price

Cast iron is usually thought of as being very inexpensive. However, I compared the price of a 12 inch cast iron skillet vs a 12 inch stainless steel skillet and the price difference was very small. A typical 12 inch cast iron skillet from a reputable manufacturer costs about $27.  A comparable 12 inch stainless steel skillet from a very popular manufacturer runs around $32.

Conclusion

Both forms of cookware have advantages, but I feel that cooking with stainless steel offers more options than cooking with cast iron. With stainless steel you can get started immediately rather than having to go through the process of seasoning your cookware as you must do with cast iron if not purchased pre-seasoned.

Cast iron also requires more repeated care.  If you neglect maintaining the seasoning, the surface of the pan can rust and can leak into your food giving it a metallic taste.

You can wash your stainless pots and pans with dish washing liquid and most of them are very safe for dishwashers. You cannot wash cast iron pans at all, if you do, they must be seasoned again.

You have more options to choose from with stainless steel. Pots and pans come in various sizes and shapes that you can choose according to your cooking needs.

The most common cookware for cast iron is a skillet. Although a surprising variety a food can be cooked in a skillet, it cannot compete with foods that must be boiled.

Cast iron is made of iron and is very heavy. If a skillet is used in the oven, it’s difficult to remove. This could be a major problem for someone with weak arms or wrists especially when factoring in the fact that the handle can get very hot.



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