Stainless Steel vs. Nonstick – What’s the Difference?
Cookware is one of the most widely used items in any home. But shopping for cookware is often a daunting task with the numerous options out there.
While every person always seems to have a preference when it comes to cookware, it is good to know what sets apart popular types like stainless steel and nonstick cookware as this will ensure you make a more informed choice.
Stainless steel and nonstick cookware are popular in almost equal proportions and are also widely available. For those that are on the fence on which options to go for, this piece is for you as here we make the differences between them clear.
Stainless Steel Overview
Stainless steel is the cookware type that you are likely to get in many professionals' kitchens, and there is way much more to it that a pleasant sparkling look.
And while this cookware is often marketed as pure stainless steel, in many instances it is usually a combination of different metal types and will sometimes be made by layering stainless steel over an aluminum base.
What makes stainless steel the preferred option by professional cooks is its long service life as it can outlast almost any other cookware material. Also, unlike nonstick cookware, it can withstand high temperatures which allows it to be used for almost any kind of cooking.
Also, many users will appreciate that in many instances stainless steel cookware will be ideal for use on induction cooktops which makes it more versatile.
This cookware material is also more stable than nonstick, and so when using it there will be little risk of leaching toxins into your foods. And better yet, you can use it with any kind of utensils as there is no coating that risks being chipped.
But, stainless steel will require some level of experience to cook with because it is not as forgiving as nonstick since food sticks easily. Also, it will require you to use lots of oil which makes your foods less healthy.
Nonstick or Teflon cookware is the kind that you can expect to find in almost every modern home as its popularity has been on a sharp rise over the years.
What makes nonstick cookware popular is the fact that when using it, food does not stick which allows you to cook with little to no oil. And it is hence more forgiving when dealing with the more delicate food types.
You can also use nonstick cookware on induction cooktops just like stainless steel because many cookware sets will include an induction-compatible base which for many users is quite convenient.
The nonstick properties of this cookware also ensure that you will have an easier time when it comes to clean up because a simple rinse on the sinks or gentle scrub with a soft cloth and dish soap is often enough to clean them.
However, like stainless steel, nonstick also comes with some drawbacks. One of the main drawbacks is the health issues associated with Teflon which is the material used to make the coating. Also, when using nonstick cookware, you can only cook with softer utensil materials like wood and plastic because metal can ruin the coating.
How it is Made
Combination of different materials like carbon, iron, and steel
Aluminum or other base metal coated with Teflon
Searing and browning meats and cooking gravies, sauces and other liquid foods that will not stick
Cooking delicate foods like eggs, fish, and pancakes
Tough and highly durable
Durable base but the coating is prone to chipping and cracking
Any including metal
Plastic, wood, silicone, and ceramic
Depends on coating
Can be a little hard
Stainless Steel vs. Nonstick
Because both stainless steel and nonstick cookware will have something good to offer, many home cooks will often have a set of both at home and use it for different uses.
For example, nonstick will be perfect for breakfast while stainless steel will be great when cooking steaks and gravies. But, if you are trying to figure out which one to buy first, here are a few points that explain their differences to help you decide.
1. How it is Made
The most obvious difference between the stainless steel and nonstick cookware is how they are made, but as obvious as this might seem, for many people the differences are not always that clear.
Stainless steel is typically made by combining several metals like steel, iron, chromium, carbon and smaller percentages of others like copper, nickel, titanium, and vanadium.
In many instances, the cookware will be made with several layers of steel and these other metal, and stainless steel used as the top layer. Having stainless steel at the top ensures that it is the only material that will come in contact with the food.
Like stainless steel, nonstick pans will also be made using various materials. In many instances, they are made by coating aluminum or steel with Teflon.
Teflon is the brand name of PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) which is the chemical compound used to coat the cookware to give it the nonstick properties.
But, it is also important to note that besides Teflon, nowadays many other materials will be used to make the nonstick coating such as ceramics, anodized aluminum, and enameled cast iron.
2. Best Uses
Given the different materials used to make this cookware and the difference in temperature tolerance, they will be ideal for different kinds of cooking.
The stainless steel cookware excels when it comes to cooking meats as it will allow you to sear and brown all kinds of meats thanks to the ability to withstand high temperatures. Also, stainless steel is good for cooking liquid-based foods like gravies and sauces that are less likely to stick. Overall, this is the best cookware for any food that requires high temperatures.
Nonstick cookware will be perfect for cooking delicate foods like breakfast dishes such as eggs and pancakes which are prone to sticking. Also, these foods will not require very high temperatures which means you can cook them easily on your nonstick pots. Other flaky foods like fish will cook well on the nonstick cookware.
One of the key things that make stainless steel cookware highly popular is its durability. With a good set, it will be many years if not decades before you need to replace it.
A well-built stainless steel pan or pot is almost indestructible and should withstand the everyday abuse that comes with cooking and any accidental falls and bumps into things in the kitchen.
While nonstick cookware will have a tough and durable aluminum or steel base, the coating makes it relatively less durable when compared to stainless steel. Even with the best nonstick cookware, you will still need to worry about the coating flaking and chipping.
No matter how keen you are with your nonstick cookware, it will be hard to use it for years without denting or chipping the coating.
4. Utensils Used
Because you will need to use some kind of utensil when cooking with either of this cookware, it is important to also consider the kinds of utensils that you can use as this will determine how convenient they will be.
Stainless steel does not limit you to using one particular type of utensil because you can cook with almost anything including metal. The tough material will not cheap no matter how hard you stir using metal utensils, and it will also work well with other utensil types like wood silicone.
Nonstick cookware, on the other hand, should not be used with metal utensils as this increases the likelihood of chipping or damaging the coating. When cooking with nonstick, you should only use silicone, wood or ceramic.
Also, note that while plastic utensils can still be used on either cookware, they will come with the risk of melting, and this is more so when cooking with the high temperatures on the stainless steel cookware.
Safety is a crucial factor to consider when choosing cookware because it will be handling food directly. And while most cookware out there is typically safe to use, the level of safety differs.
While stainless steel is often made with several metals including some that can produce toxins like nickel and chromium, only the stainless steel part is in contact with the food. Because stainless steel is a stable compound, it is less likely to leach any toxins into the food.
However, damaged stainless steel can still leach harmful substances, and hence you need to take extra precaution.
Nonstick cookware is generally less safe when compared to stainless steel because the Teflon material used to make the coating can give out some unhealthy fumes when it is heated to high temperatures, which is why this cookware is not ideal for high-temperature cooking.
Also, Teflon has a tendency of chipping and flaking, and this is more so when using the wrong utensils, and so you are likely to end up with some coating in your food, which further poses a health risk.
When it comes to clean up, the effort that you will need to put in will largely depend on how messy the food you are cooking is, but overall, the nonstick cookware will give you an easier time.
Because food does not stick on the surface, nonstick cookware should not take a lot of effort to clean, and in many instances, a simple rinse on the sink should be enough to clean up your pot or pan.
Stainless steel cookware will give you a harder time when it comes to cleaning because even if you use excessive amounts of oil, food still ends up sticking on the surface which means you have to put more effort to scrub it.
While still on the ease of cleanup, in many instances stainless steel cookware will be dishwasher-safe, but it is not recommended putting nonstick cookware in the dishwasher as you can damage the coating.
What you pay for your cookware will depend on the particular item you are buying and its size whether you go for stainless steel or nonstick. Also, buying a set can save you more cash than buying the pans and pots individually.
However, nonstick cookware tends to be more affordable when compared to stainless steel. You can get a simple 8-piece nonstick cookware set for as little as under $50, but to get an 8-piece stainless steel set, you will need to spend over $100.
Also, it is worth keeping in mind that the cost of this cookware will be highly dependent on the brand you buy from. Top brands like Cuisinart and All-Clad are known for making some top-quality products that will typically cost more than what you get from regular brands.
You can hardly go wrong with either stainless steel or nonstick cookware because both are well-built and are designed to cook well. Hence, what you choose between the two cookware will mostly depend on your specific preferences.
However, as you make the choice, you need to keep in mind important things like how they are made, ease of clean up, their best uses, and of course the cost of buying either.
All in all, if you are looking for cookware to use for your delicate breakfast dishes like eggs and pancakes, go for the nonstick as it will give you an easier time. But, if you cook steaks and other meats a lot that require more searing and browning or liquid-based foods like soups and gravies, stainless steel will do a better job for you.
- Choosing Between Nonstick and Stainless Steel Cookware - The Spruce Eats
- Is Nonstick Cookware like Teflon Safe to Use? - Healthline