The type of cookware that you choose for your home or commercial kitchen will have a large influence over your general cooking process. There are a wide variety of different types of pots and pans available to the modern chef, but none are as well-known (and argued about) as stainless steel pans and non-stick pans. The stainless steel vs. non-stick question is asked frequently by shoppers hoping to upgrade or restock their kitchen, and although people often swear by one or the other for a variety of different reasons, it is important to know about the differences between the two before making your decision. Keep the following things in mind when shopping for your next selection of pots and pans.
Stainless Steel Pans
These pans are, generally, the industry standard in professional kitchens. Stainless steel is very durable, and will resist a lot of the wear and tear (thermal stress, physical abuse, bumps, scrapes, etc.) that comes from everyday use. Stainless steel is also a strong heat conductor, and will offer better, more consistent heat distribution than non-stick pans, which will result in faster and more even cooking. Because of the consistent heat distribution, stainless steel pans are ideal for searing or browning meats, as well as for cooking liquid-based foods like sauces or curries.
Stainless steel pans typically have oven-safe stainless steel handles, meaning that dishes can be transferred straight into the oven from the stove or range, or vice versa. Additionally, because stainless steel is not coated in enamel or teflon (two common non-stick solutions), metal implements may be used without fear of scratching the coating. Metal cooking tools can still scratch the finish of the metal, however, so care should be taken when using sharp-edged metal tools with a stainless steel pan. Stainless pans are also generally lighter than other types of cookware, and can be easier for your chefs and staff to handle, especially in busy or crowded kitchen environments.
Stainless steel pans have become a symbol of reliability and durability in both the commercial and residential kitchen, but this dependability does come at a bit of a price. Stainless steel pans tend to be more expensive than their non-stick equivalents, and can be more expensive to replace in the event that an existing pan needs to be retired. Stainless steel cookware can also be harder to clean than non-stick pans, and will require thorough, regular upkeep to maintain.
Non-stick pans have several advantages over stainless steel, the most obvious being their stick-resistant coatings. Non-stick pans feature a coating of smooth material (typically enamel, ceramic, or Teflon) that prevents food from sticking to the pan during cooking and makes preparing traditionally “sticky” foods like eggs and meats a much simpler task. The non-stick coatings are much easier to maintain than the surface of a stainless steel pan, and will greatly simplify clean-up in most situations. Additionally, because less oil or fat is required to keep food from sticking, non-stick pans often produce healthier food and less overall mess. Non-stick pans also tend to be less expensive than their stainless steel counterparts, making them ideal for stocking your kitchen on a more limited budget.
"Non-stick pans have several advantages over stainless steel, the most obvious being their stick-resistant coatings.
Non-stick pans are great for quicker cooking and minimal clean-up time. However, the convenience does come with a few compromises. In general, non-stick pans do not conduct heat as well as stainless steel cookware. While non-stick cookware will be fine for most applications, the quality of heat from a non-stick pan will not be quite as consistent as the heat from a stainless steel pan. Also, non-stick pans are often made from less durable metal, and will usually be more prone to warping over time.
Unlike stainless steel pans, non-stick pans often feature plastic handles that, while they are better insulated and will stay cooler to the touch, are not oven safe. It is also not advisable to use metal cooking tools with non-stick pans, as the sharp edges can potentially scratch the pan’s non-stick coating. Scratches in the pan’s coating can pose a potential health risk, as they are hard to clean and can harbor bacteria. Once the coating has become scratched, it is recommended that the pans be replaced as soon as possible, as the non-stick coating can become a health hazard if it begins to chip or peel away into your food.
Which Do I Need?
Stainless steel and non-stick pans both have unique pros and cons that make them appropriate for use in different situations, so the question remains: which pans do you choose? The answer is simple: both. Although stainless and non-stick pans are different, one is not necessarily better than the other, making how you will most often be using your cookware an important consideration when shopping for a new set. If you do a lot of searing, sauteeing, or stir-frying, the convenience of non-stick pans may prove to be the best choice. On the other hand, if you cook a lot of soups, sauces, or steamed/boiled vegetables, the durability and sustained heating of stainless steel cookware may benefit you most.
While these examples illustrate where each type of pan might work best, it’s rare that someone would actually cook so selectively. Ideally, your kitchen will be equipped with a small variety of different types of cookware, including both stainless and non-stick pots and pans. Most kitchens can get by with a full set of either all stainless or all non-stick cookware, but there’s no real reason to avoid buying some of each. A set of high-quality stainless steel cookware with a selection of additional non-stick pans (or vice versa) will help keep you prepared for whatever recipe you may want to try next.