Kitchenware and cookware have evolved so much that it makes it really hard to tell which is the best model, which material is the most durable, or which type is the healthiest choice to cook with. In terms of pots and pans, there are two popular choices in a tight competition, namely stainless steel and cast iron. Both come with their ups and downs and both can be a good choice, but you might prefer one over the other once you discover all the important aspects of the two materials.
What is cast iron?
Cast iron is an alloy of iron and carbon, a combination of durability, heat-conduction, and strength. The legacy of this material combination is best seen in tea preparation as even with the passing of time cast iron tea kettles have remained the preferred tool used by tea consumers worldwide. Bare cast iron cookware is common as it has great properties that enhance the flavor of recipes. When we say “bare”, we refer to non-enameled pots and pans that have been pre-seasoned, meaning they come with a non-stick layer of oil that has been added through a process called “seasoning”. This involves burning oil at a high temperature, which allows the acids to polymerize in a natural way, thus making the interior of cast iron glossy and slippery, so that food will not stick to it. Thankfully, most of the new cookware comes with a factory seasoned surface, but old pieces require this technique every once in a while so that they will not rust or become impossible to use.
What is stainless steel?
You probably heard the term stainless steel, but unless you are passionate about chemistry, you don’t know exactly what it contains. This type of metal usually contains chromium, nickel, and iron, a combination that makes it resistant to rust, this being its primary quality. Some cookware also includes a layer of aluminum that improves its non-stick property so that it can be used in anything from pans, pots, trays, griddles, or kettles.
Pros and cons of cast iron
If you are not a connoisseur, it won’t be easy to determine whether or not you need a cast iron pan, skillet, or pot, because it sounds complicated and demanding to use. Worry not, because it’s actually intuitive once you get the hang of it and you will soon see that it’s a good investment. Knowing the positive and negative sides will help with your decision.
- Great heating properties
Compared to other materials that are thinner and less conductive, cast iron distributes heat evenly so that the cooking process is smooth and the result is delicious.
- Easier to clean
Thanks to the seasoning technique, the surface of every pan remains non-sticky so food doesn’t get burned. So, it’s easier to eliminate the food remains without too much effort.
- Great heat-retaining properties
Aside from getting hot very fast, cast iron also stays hot for a longer period of time, so that food remains at the proper temperature until you are ready to eat.
- More durable
Cast iron is an investment that will last for a very, very long time. There are pieces that have been in families for generations and that have been kept in perfect condition so that they are good to use nowadays. Also, cast iron improves with time, meaning your vintage pot will get better and better with every use.
- Versatile and convenient
There is nothing you can’t cook in a cast iron skillet, tray, or pot. You can even make cakes or bread, you can have a crunchy pizza or prepare a juicy steak in the oven or on your stovetop. Also, because it heats so well, you won’t have to constantly keep an eye on the pan, meaning you can use your time more productively.
- A healthier choice
A great advantage of cooking with cast iron is that you will enjoy its non-stick properties without any added toxic chemicals that are usually found in cookware with an anti-adherent layer. Also, iron is being released from the pan while cooking, so your diet will enjoy an iron boost that is great for your health.
- Affordable price
Compared to high-end stainless steel or ceramic cookware, cast iron is more affordable and the fact that it lasts so well over time means you will spend less money on new pans and pots. The best part is that you can buy second-hand items that are a great deal so you will enjoy the same efficiency at a lower cost.
- Heavy and hard
In comparison to stainless steel, cast iron is much heavier and bulkier. Even a small pot will weigh a few pounds. Also, it’s harder than your tile, so make sure you never drop it on the floor, otherwise, a renovation will be required.
- Takes longer to heat
Yes, it’s true that cast iron heats evenly and stays warm for long, but you also need to know that it takes much longer to heat than thinner materials, because it’s denser and thicker. Therefore, you need to take your time in the kitchen with it. Also, it’s not a good choice if you want to boil water or cook acidic foods.
- The handle gets hot
Since the entire pan or skillet is usually made in one piece, the handle will get as hot as the bottom so you must be careful when you get a grip on it. Some models do come with a wood handle or a coating that protects your hands, but most of them can burn you if you are not careful.
- Intense maintenance
If you use to toss your cookware in the dishwasher, you need to know that you won’t be able to do so with cast iron. It requires hand washing without any type of soap or detergent that might affect its appearance. Also, from time to time, you will have to re-season it in order to keep it away from rust and maintain its glossy non-stick surface.
Pros and cons of stainless steel
Chances are you have stainless steel items in your kitchen but you might have never taken a close look at their properties or you simply bought them out of impulse. Next time, you will know what exactly you spend your money on if you pay attention to the advantages and disadvantages of this popular metal.
- Easy to handle
Stainless steel is lightweight, much lighter than copper or cast iron. Thus, it’s easier to maneuver and great for quick cooking that involves tossing pans or searing steaks.
As the name itself states, this material is not corrosive, so it’s not at risk of rusting over time. Therefore, it matches the durability of cast iron with the advantage of low-maintenance.
- Appealing design
Let’s be honest, we all buy items that first catch our eye, then we analyze them in-depth. Stainless steel surely gains popularity with the stylish shiny finish that compliments any kitchen decor.
- Not very pretentious
You don’t have to be very careful when cleaning or storing your steel pans. They can be washed by hand with dish soap or even placed in the dishwasher. The only thing you need to do is avoid scratching and rubbing the surface with abrasive fabrics.
- Poor heat transfer
Unless you go for a version with an aluminum base, your stainless steel cookware will not amaze with its heat conductivity. Also, cheap items will most likely turn out to be useless as they might burn and stick food to the bottom.
- High price
Sleek, quality cookware made of good stainless steel is more expensive but it will turn out to be an investment as you can use it for decades. Therefore, don’t get skimpy and only spend your money once on good quality pieces instead of poor quality.
- Food scrubbing
Even though it’s not very hard to clean stainless steel, if food gets stuck to the bottom, you might have a hard time removing it. Using it properly should avoid this from happening, but chances are that if you scrub it too hard once, it will become prone to sticking.
- Not a healthy choice
One of the most common questions is which the most toxic cookware is, and which is the healthiest one. The association with nickel makes stainless steel a dangerous alternative for those with allergies as nickel is known to trigger rashes or dermatitis in some people. Also, some metals are released from the pans when heated at high temperatures and can be easily absorbed into your body.
A quick comparison of both
Now that you’ve seen the particularities of both materials, it’s easier to decide which one to pick. There are a few benchmarks that matter when investing in cookware, and we have made a list of the most significant ones that involve both materials.
By far, stainless steel is easier to use and take care of, mostly because it’s lighter and not so sensitive. Both of them are right for a wide range of recipes but cast iron is a better heat conductor so you might find it more appropriate for your taste.
Both materials are long-lasting as long as you choose quality items and handle them with care. However, cast iron outcomes steel if we consider the antique kettles, pots, and pans that will last through the challenge of time.
If you put a high price on the design of the cookware you use, stainless steel will surely be your favorite due to its shine and glossy design. Cast iron is a more classic choice, it can be dull and doesn’t come in many options.
Cast iron is more affordable than steel, the last being more expensive if you want to invest in high-quality pieces.
This is where stainless scores the most points because it’s much easier to clean and less demanding in handling. It can be washed easier and it isn’t prone to rust.
Those who are very careful with their health always go for cast iron because it’s one of the simplest materials that bring benefits and never affect health in any way.
Bottom line, it’s a matter of preferences when deciding whether to buy stainless steel or cast iron cookware. The competition is tight because both of them are durable, efficient, and versatile. However, if you are more conservative, you will prefer the classic cast iron over the more modern stainless steel thanks to its multiple benefits for your health, for its durability, and affordable price.