With the right tools, cooking becomes a breeze instead of a chore and can add so much more to the experience and perhaps more importantly, the taste. Two of the most essential tools in any kitchen are cast iron and stainless steel pans.
Like most things, there are several factors to consider when determining which will work better for your kitchen. Stainless steel pans are lightweight and less reactive than cast iron pans but provide even cooking and are easier to clean. Cast iron pans, by contrast, are more durable and more reactive but are heavier and more challenging to clean. In the end, the primary difference between the two comes down to what kinds of foods you most enjoy cooking.
Cast iron pans
Cast iron pans have a centuries-long history. They’re made by melting blocks of iron and steel together, layering them together and then adding chemicals to raise their carbon levels. After that, the molten metal is poured into a mold made of sand, water and powdered clay. The result is a rugged pan with a signature textured exterior.
The first known use of cast iron pans dates back to ancient China during the Han Dynasty. In the 16th century, they became popular and spread across Europe. However, it wasn’t until 1707 when Abraham Darby patented the sand-casting method, which became the standard way of creating cast iron today. In the last hundred years, cast iron pans have seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to their incredible durability and ability to retain high heat.
What you’ll love about cast iron pans
Cast iron pans are some of the most durable cookware options. Thanks to their design, the cookware is thought to last for hundreds of years with the proper care. In most cases, cast iron pans should never be cleaned with harsh detergents or washed in a dishwasher; they should be hand-washed and undergo a process called seasoning. Seasoning is the process that creates a nonstick layer on your cookware by rinsing with salt, water and oil. Coating a cast iron pan with oil ensures that the seasoning is protected and will continue to operate at peak performance.
Cast iron pans are incredible heat conductors. Their densely packed design means cast iron pans can withstand and retain high amounts of heat for more extended periods than most other cookware, making them suitable for baking and broiling. Additionally, cast iron pans distribute intense heat evenly, ensuring things like meats are cooked thoroughly without doing any damage to the pan’s material.
Cast iron pans are beautiful. In many contemporary restaurant settings, chefs have begun to utilize cast irons for serving dishes and cookware due to their elegant look. Some examples of cast iron use include dishes like fajitas or dutch babies, where the cast iron adds to the dish’s appeal while making it look stylish and unique in presentation.
What you should consider about cast iron pans
Because of their layered metal construction, cast iron cookware can be hefty. This adds to its durability, but on average, a standard 12-inch cast iron pan can weigh up to 8 pounds, roughly twice the weight of comparable pans. In some instances, this can make moving cast iron pans quite a hassle, especially for those with wrist and hand issues.
Maintaining the quality of a cast iron pan relies on a process called seasoning. When done correctly, cast iron pans can last a lifetime. However, if not handled with care, cast iron pans are susceptible to rusting and severe scratching. This also affects the pan’s nonstick quality, and when not occasionally seasoned, it leads to more food sticking to the surface.
Cast iron pans retain heat incredibly well. This can act as both a blessing and a curse, as the metal handles of these pans are incredibly hot when used in an oven or broiler. With this in mind, it’s essential to be mindful of a cast iron’s handles and use oven mitts or something similar when holding it.
Best cast iron pans
Some top choices for cast iron skillets include the Victoria Cast Iron Frying Pan and the Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 3 Skillet Bundle. The Victoria skillet has two side handles for easy handling and a spout to help with excess grease. The Lodge Cast Iron Skillet Bundle is an excellent choice for those looking for a cast iron set. The 8-, 10.5- and 12-inch skillets ensure maximum versatility for all types of dishes.
Stainless steel pans
Stainless steel is one of the most popular materials for cookware today. It’s made through cladding, in which layers of metal (typically aluminum or copper) are bonded together to help heat evenly conduct throughout the cookware.
Like cast iron pans, stainless steel pans are incredibly durable. Additionally, the pans contain chromium, which creates a passive layer of oxide on its exterior surface, ensuring protection against things like scratching or corrosion.
What you’ll love about stainless steel pans
Stainless steel pans are extremely versatile. They can be used to cook just about everything from breakfast options like eggs and bacon to dinners like meats and sauteed vegetables. Stainless steel pans are considered non-reactive, unlike cast iron pans, which means acidic foods like sauces and wine will not damage the exterior. Additionally, they can be used in any situation, from stovetop to oven use.
Unlike cast iron pans, stainless steel pans don’t need to be seasoned to be cleaned. They can be easily cleaned with soap and water and are usually dishwasher-safe.
Since they have a layered metal construction, stainless steel pans heat quickly. Many stainless steel pans have either aluminum or copper cores which are great heat conductors, meaning that they don’t require the time cast iron pans need to heat up to usable temperatures.
What you should consider about stainless steel pans
Poorer heat conduction
Unlike cast iron pans, stainless steel pans heat retain and lose heat rather quickly. This means that food may cook more rapidly but also may cook more unevenly. Cast iron pans are designed to trap heat, whereas stainless steel pans are created to be more versatile.
Food is more likely to stick on stainless steel pans, since most stainless steel pans don’t have naturally nonstick surfaces. As a result, they require much more effort to clean and need soaking in soap and water to thoroughly remove any leftover food debris.
Best stainless steel pans
Some high-quality stainless steel pan options include All-Clad D3 Stainless Cookware 12-Inch Fry Pan and Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stainless 5.5-Quart Stainless Steel Saute Pan. All-Clad is a leader in cookware and offers three-ply construction, ensuring quick and even heating in all of its pans. Similarly, Cuisinart creates cost-effective pans that are both high-quality and durable.
Should you get a cast iron pan or stainless steel pan?
Both cast iron and stainless steel pans are excellent choices for any kitchen. Ultimately, the choice comes down to what you wish to use the pan for. Though harder to maintain, cast iron pans are great for baking and broiling and can double as beautiful presentations for guests. Stainless steel pans, by contrast, are a much more versatile pan that’s great for everyday use. Both pans are durable and attractive and will look good in any kitchen.
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Jared Lindsay writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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