Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel vs. Carbon Steel vs Non-Stick
With the high variety pans on the market, it can be confusing to determine which pan will work best for you and your cooking needs! From carbon steel to stainless steel to cast iron to non-stick, each material varies in terms of maintenance, use, weight and clean-up. In this blog post, we break down each type so that you can determine the perfect pan for you!
How do you know which type is best for you?
There is no simple answer to what type of material is superior in the kitchen. It really comes down to preference as each material will have its advantages and disadvantages. When trying to decide what type of pan is best for you, there are a couple factors to consider. How do you typically like to cook, what do you need your pots and pans to do for you, and what sorta clean-up do you prefer? We break down the pros and cons of each material so you can find your perfect pan!
1. Cast Iron
A cast-iron skillet is a classic and beloved tool for many home cooks, due to its versatile nature and durability. However, it is important to remember that cast iron comes with a bit of maintenance, and thus might not be the best option for the minimal cook. On the market, cast iron skillets are sold as either bare cast iron or enamelled. An enamelled pan means that the cast iron is covered in a crystal coating, which protects the pan from rusting, gives it a smooth surface and allows for it to have a colour. Both enamelled and bare cast iron are great in the kitchen, but they do have some key differences to be aware of!
Cast-iron is the best at retaining heat, making it perfect for browning meats. This is the pan that we always reach for when we are cooking steak! A solid cast iron pan is also a great option for baking, perfect for treats like cornbread or rolls.
Cast iron is the most durable material for cookware, able to withstand any type of utensil (wood, silicone, metal, etc.). As long as it is taken cared of properly, a cast-iron skillet will last a lifetime! Although they can be a bit pricey, try to think of a cast-iron skillet as an investment purchase! With how durable these pans are, you will really get your money's worth over its lifetime.
Cast-iron can be used on gas, glass-top and induction stovetops, as well as in the oven or on the barbecue! This pan is really an all-rounder, making it a great option for those with minimal storage space who need their tools to go far.
Unlike other materials, bare cast iron has a rough and uneven surface texture, which can potentially cause sticking when cooking things like eggs. As well, if one is not careful, bare cast iron can scratch glass cooktops.
Bare cast iron needs to be seasoned regularly with oil to ensure that it does not rust. While this process is easy, it is time consuming and something to consider before buying one. As well, this does not applied to enamelled cast iron, which has a tough coating to prevent rusting and thus does not require seasoning.
In comparison to other pans, cast-iron is quite heavy. This can make it difficult to lift, especially when filled with food or when transferring from the stove to the oven.
2. Stainless Steel
As the most common pan to be found in professional kitchens, stainless steel is one of the most popular types of pans on the market. Due to their durable nature and quick clean up (they are dishwasher safe!), these pans are great all-rounders. However, they do require a bit of getting used to at first to ensure that food does not stick when cooking, which can be a deterrent for some home cooks.
Stainless steel can be used on the stovetop or in the oven, and is great for searing, simmering or frying! It can handle a high amount of heat, making it able to complete most tasks.
As they require seasoning, cast iron and carbon steel can sometimes react to acidic ingredients and impart a bitter taste. There is no worry of this with stainless steel, hence why most pot sets tend to be made of this material.
Quick to Heat
Stainless steel heats up super quickly and evenly, making it great for searing! This allows for an even crust when cooking items like steak, scallops or even eggs (depending on how you like them)!
There are different varieties of stainless steel available on the market. From 3-Ply vs. 5-Ply to copper vs. aluminum core, it can be a bit confusing when shopping to ensure you are getting a quality pan to last a lifetime (TIP: ask one of our associates - they are ready and have the knowledge to help with this)!
More Technique Required
Cooking with stainless steel requires a bit more practice to ensure the proper amount of oil and heat is used to make sure food does not stick. It is easy, but can be a bit of a learning curve at first!
Overtime, exposure to high heat can cause certain grades of stainless steel to discolour. While this does not change their capabilities, it is something to consider before buying.
As the home cook's favourite, non-stick pans are the most popular type of pan on the market. These are great for cooking items like eggs, pancakes or fish, as you don't have to worry about any food sticking. Non-stick cookware had a bit of a fear around them for awhile, as reports of toxic materials (teflon) within the coating circulated. Modern non-stick and ceramic cookware is now safe (as long as they are used properly), so have no fear!
Easy for Beginners
As they require little upkeep and little technique, this is a great option for beginner/amateur cooks, or those who just want something easy and practical.
Less Cooking Oil Needed
Due to the non-stick coating, less oil can be used then a normal pan to cook food! No oil can be used, but using a bit aids in protecting the coating from degrading and can really help to prolong the life of your non-stick pan.
Easy to Clean
Due to the coating, the non-stick pan is the easiest pan to clean as bits do not harden onto the pan. Just be careful not to use any abrasive cleaning tools.
Not as Versatile
While some manufacturers will state that their pans are safe in the oven, this is typically a big no. To ensure maximum longevity, it is recommended to only use non-stick on the stove.
Non-stick cookware is only going to last around 5-7 years at most. This number is further reduced based on the quality and use of the pan. Once they start to chip or flake, their use should be discontinued.
Medium Heat Only
To maintain the non-stick coating, it is recommended that the pan is only used at low-medium heat. This can make it difficult to get a quick and good sear, so we typically recommend avoiding this pan for searing proteins.
4. Carbon Steel
Carbon steel is like the lesser known sibling of stainless steel. While extremely popular in Europe, it is not as well known in Canada, but is slowly growing in popularity. It is very similar to cast-iron, with great heat retribution and the need for seasoning. However it has the added bonus of it is the weight, as carbon steel is incredible light when compared to other materials. At the moment, our store only carries carbon steel woks but we are in the process of looking to bring some more varieties of pans in!
Similar to cast-iron, carbon steel is incredible versatile, able to be used on gas, glass-top and induction stove tops. They can also be used in the oven (as long as the handle allows for it).
Can Become Almost Non-Stick
Like cast-iron, building up that seasoning coating can turn a carbon steel pan into a non-toxic, non-stick surface, allowing for easy cooking and clean-up.
Carbon steel is a lot lighter compared to cast iron, making it a great option for those who want a lighter cooking set.
Like cast-iron, carbon steel needs to be seasoned with oil to ensure that food does not stick. Due to its smoother surface, it will season quickly and thus be slightly easier to maintain than cast iron.
Due to its thinness, carbon steel can sometimes heat slightly unevenly and create hot spots when not pre-heated long enough. This can cause food to cook unevenly, but is easily avoidable when the proper technique is being used.
As it is more popular in commercial kitchens, it can be hard to find carbon steel on the market. In our store, we only carry it in woks at the present.