Stainless Steel Vs Nonstick Cookware: Which One Should YOU Pick? 

 Last Update December 11, 2023

By Jenny Zhang

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In the world of culinary creations, the appropriate cookware holds the power to transform an ordinary meal into a work of art. With so many options available (stainless steel, ceramic, nonstick, carbon steel, cast iron cookware), each boasting its unique set of benefits and drawbacks, selecting the perfect cookware can sometimes feel like a daunting task. Among the top contenders in this culinary cage match are the heavyweight champions: stainless steel and nonstick cookware. These two kitchen stalwarts have been duking it out for years, each with its loyal fan base and distinct advantages.

If you've ever been in professional kitchens (or seen them on television shows!), then you've seen the veritable army of stainless steel pots and pans that most professional chefs use. But aren't stainless steel pans a nightmare to clean? On the other hand, using a nonstick pan seems simple and straightforward, with no tricks to remember or heavy scrubbing afterward. But is it safe to use? There are many factors to consider.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the world of stainless steel vs. nonstick cookware, unraveling their features, benefits, and potential drawbacks. We'll explore how these kitchen essentials stack up against each other in terms of heat conductivity, cooking techniques, maintenance, and more. Whether you're a seasoned chef seeking to refine your skills or an amateur cook looking to outfit your kitchen with the finest tools, this exploration will equip you with the knowledge needed to make an educated choice.

Stainless Steel Cookware

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Benefits Of Stainless Steel Cookware

Durable

Stainless steel pans are incredibly durable pieces of kitchenware! If properly cared for, they will truly last a lifetime. There is no concern about a nonstick coating wearing away over time, and it's perfectly fine to use sharp and metal utensils with them. Stainless cookware is also entirely dishwasher safe.

High Temperatures

Stainless steel cookware can handle high heat - in fact, that's how you're supposed to use them! This means that it's perfect for achieving a deep sear and rich browning on meats. And because there's no nonstick coating to be concerned about, you can deglaze all of the juicy bits after searing and turn them into a delicious sauce.

Oven Safe

You can put your stainless steel pan straight into the oven because it can handle those high temperatures. Make sure to purchase a cookware set that is fully oven-safe, as some might have details on the lids that are not oven safe. Otherwise, your stainless steel pan can sear a steak and then go straight into a hot oven to finish.

Nonstick

Stainless steel pans, when used properly, are essentially nonstick! You just have to know how to use them. It's very different from typical nonstick cookware in that the pan must be fully heated up before adding the food. When the pan is properly heated and oiled, however, it's a very nonstick surface!

The Downside To Stainless Steel Cookware

Maintenance

Stainless steel cookware requires more maintenance than its nonstick counterparts. There is no question of setting the pan in the sink and cleaning it later! Thoroughly cleaning stainless steel demands a significant amount of effort and meticulous attention. However, it takes a lot actually to ruin a stainless steel pan. Even the most discolored or scorched pan can be scrubbed back to a shine.

Cost

Stainless steel cookware is a bit of an investment. You'll want to avoid pans and pots with thin bottoms, as they don't distribute heat evenly and can warp. However, middle- to high-quality stainless steel pieces can be well over $100 each. Full stainless steel sets can be multiple thousands of dollars. Keep in mind, though, that these pans are built to endure a lifetime.

Requires Oil, Butter, Or Lard

To cook properly in stainless steel pans, they need to be hot, and there needs to be fat. The choice of whether to use oil, butter, or lard is completely at your discretion and based on your recipe. Cooking with fats does add calories, and some cooks would rather avoid them for various health reasons.

Learning Curve

Mastering the use of a stainless steel cooking surface certainly involves a learning curve. It's very different from using nonstick cookware, both in cooking and in cleaning. The process of learning can be frustrating, and you may feel like throwing in the towel while you're scrubbing at the sink. The payoff is worth it, but it can be a steep climb.

Nonstick Cookware

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Benefits Of Nonstick Cookware

Simple

It is incredibly simple to cook on nonstick cookware. Heat the pan beforehand - or not. Add cooking oil - or not. Wait until the meat forms a sear before flipping it - or not. You can't really mess up with them! This makes nonstick pans approachable for all levels of home cook.

Fully Nonstick Surface

Nonstick cookware has a fully nonstick coating. An aluminum core is coated with ceramic, a PTFE coating, or a PFOA-free Teflon. This coating means you can cook even the most delicate foods in a nonstick pan, such as eggs, fish, or tofu.

Affordable

The affordability of non-stick cookware means that it is an option for every budget. Although there is definitely a range of quality levels within nonstick cookware, as there is with all types of pots and pans, most nonstick pans are affordable for most budgets.

The Downside Of Nonstick Cookware

Wears Down Quickly

That nonstick coating is not long-lasting. Nonstick pans need to be stored properly - with a towel or silicone pad between them when stacked - or they will scratch. Metal utensils like whisks will also break down the coating, so you'll be limited to wood or silicone utensils. The coating wears down even quicker if used over its heat limit, which is typically anywhere from 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, or when placed in the dishwasher.

Cannot Withstand High Heat

Due to their coating, nonstick pans are not suitable for high-heat cooking. They must be kept over low or medium heat on the stovetop and never placed in the oven. This limits their cooking potential, as you won't be able to sear meat or achieve a crispy stir fry.

Potential Safety Concerns

In years past, there was significant concern regarding the nonstick coatings flaking off and getting into the food. The Teflon coating substance has been reconfigured since then, but the truth is that most non stick pans contain Teflon, and it is likely that bits of the coating will indeed come off into the food. The EPA and FDA have stated that these small amounts are safe for human consumption, but you will need to weigh the evidence.

Stainless steel vs. nonstick: Which One Is The Best For You

Heat Retention

Stainless steel cookware tends to have better heat retention and even heat distribution, especially if it has an aluminum or copper core. This makes it suitable for tasks like searing and browning, where maintaining high and even heat is important.

Nonstick cookware generally has lower heat retention compared to stainless steel. It's best for cooking at medium to low temperatures and is ideal for delicate foods that require gentle cooking.

Durability

Stainless steel cookware exhibits remarkable durability, capable of enduring high temperatures and rigorous cooking techniques. It's resistant to scratches, dings, and warping, making it a long-lasting option.

Nonstick coatings can be prone to chipping or scratching, impacting their durability over time. They are less resistant to high heat and metal utensils, which can potentially harm the coating.

Weight

Stainless steel cookware tends to be heavier, especially if it has multiple layers or an encapsulated core for better heat distribution.

Nonstick cookware is generally lighter in weight compared to stainless steel. This can benefit individuals who favor more lightweight cookware for more convenient handling.

Maintenance

Stainless steel cookware requires some attention to prevent sticking, but it's relatively easy to clean if you follow proper techniques. Cleaning stainless steel may involve soaking and gentle scrubbing to remove stuck-on food.

Nonstick cookware requires less effort to prevent food from sticking due to its nonstick coating. However, using non-abrasive utensils and gentle cleaning methods is crucial to preserving the coating's integrity.

Ease of Cleaning

Stainless steel cookware can be relatively easy to clean if you use proper cooking techniques and avoid high heat without any liquids. Stuck-on food may require some soaking and gentle scrubbing.

Nonstick cookware is designed for easy cleaning due to its nonstick surface. Food particles are less prone to sticking to the coating, resulting in quicker and easier cleanup.

Lifespan

Stainless steel cookware has a longer lifespan due to its durability. With proper care, stainless steel pots and pans can remain functional for decades.

Unlike stainless steel pans, nonstick pans typically require replacement around every five years. Nonstick coatings have a limited lifespan, which can be affected by factors like cooking habits, utensils used, and cleaning methods. Over time, the nonstick coating might deteriorate, diminishing its efficiency.

Cost

Stainless steel cookware generally carries a higher initial cost when compared to nonstick cookware. This is often due to the quality of materials used, such as multi-ply construction, or the inclusion of other metals like copper or aluminum for better heat distribution. High-quality stainless steel cookware can be considered an investment due to its durability and long lifespan, potentially offsetting the higher initial cost over time.

Compared to high-quality stainless steel cookware, nonstick cookware is often more affordable. Nevertheless, the expense can fluctuate depending on factors such as brand, composition, and the quality of the nonstick coating. While nonstick cookware may have a lower initial cost, it's important to consider its limited lifespan and the need for potential replacements over time.

Versatility

Both stainless steel and nonstick cookware are versatile in the kitchen. The reputation of stainless steel cookware rests on its remarkable versatility. It adeptly accommodates an extensive array of cooking techniques, spanning searing, browning, frying, simmering, and even oven usage. If you frequently sear meats, brown vegetables, or deglaze pans, stainless steel is a better choice. The ability to transition seamlessly from stovetop to oven renders stainless steel especially valuable for recipes demanding a fusion of cooking techniques.

Nonstick cookware is versatile in its own right, but it's best suited for specific types of cooking. If you are primarily cooking delicate foods like eggs, pancakes, and fish, a nonstick frying pan is more suitable due to its easy food release and gentle cooking surface. Nonetheless, it's advised to avoid high-heat cooking, searing, or the use of metal utensils, as these actions can potentially harm the nonstick coating.

Health Risks

If you're concerned about potential health risks, stainless steel is a safer option, as it doesn't have the risks associated with nonstick coatings at high temperatures. Stainless steel is considered safe for cooking, even at high temperatures. It doesn't release any harmful chemicals or toxins into your food, making it a reliable option for health-conscious cooks.

Nonstick coatings, while convenient, can pose health concerns when exposed to high temperatures. When heated to very high temperatures, nonstick coatings can release fumes containing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and other potentially harmful chemicals. It's worth noting that advancements have been made in nonstick technology to produce coatings that are PFOA-free and more resistant to high heat. These options might be safer choices if you opt for nonstick cookware.

Consider mixing

If your cooking needs vary, consider mixing stainless steel and nonstick cookware in your kitchen. This way, you can use each type for its specific strengths. Choosing a mix of stainless steel and nonstick cookware creates a versatile and adaptable kitchen. This approach lets you choose the best tool for each cooking task, ensuring your culinary creations are consistently excellent. Whether you're searing meat in skillets, sautéing vegetables in frying pans, or simmering sauce in saucepans, having both types of cookware empowers you to elevate your cooking game and enjoy a diverse range of dishes.


Jenny passionately advocates a holistic and natural approach to health and well-being. She has a Bachelor of Science degree and years of working in food sciences, specializing in organic & natural products. She is committed to helping others embrace a balanced, natural lifestyle that fosters well-being. Jenny believes that a harmonious balance between nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness is the key to unlocking the full potential of one’s well-being.