With the seemingly endless number of options available out there, choosing the right steel cooking pans for your needs may feel a little overwhelming especially for those who are new to the world of culinary arts. What material is best? Which is more durable? What can I use this one for?
Here are some of the most common kinds of steel cooking pans you might encounter, as well as the pros and cons of each.
Everything You Need to Know About the 5 Most Common Steel Cooking Pans Out There
1. Stainless Steel Cooking Pans
Stainless steel is one of the most popular materials cookware is made of. It is recommended by most professional chefs as must-have cookware in anyone’s kitchen.
This material is created by adding nickel and chromium to steel, thus making it anti-corrosive. The best stainless steel cooking pans are stamped “18/10,” which refers to the ratio of chromium to nickel in the material. This composition is what makes it immune to reactions to alkaline or acidic food.
Listed below are some of its other pros and cons.
- Dent and scratch resistant – Stainless steel pans are one of the most durable pans out there. Unlike pans of other materials, this one is not prone to damages caused by metal utensils, and can also take heavy cleaning and use.
- Reactive to heat – Stainless steel cookware is highly reactive to changes in temperature. It heats up quickly and cools down just as fast, giving you more control over your cooking.
- Able to withstand high temperatures – They are also able to withstand high heats that are perfect for when you want to sear your food. Having a stainless steel handle is also a bonus as it gives you even more flexibility especially when using it in the oven.
- No transferred flavors – Stainless steel does not transfer flavors to your food, unlike other cookware that are coated with certain materials or chemicals.
- Low maintenance – Most stainless steel pans are dishwasher safe and are easy to clean. Because it is not coated with reactive chemicals, stainless steel pans are highly resistant to damages caused by dishwashers, sponges, and steel wools.
- Not non-stick – Food has a tendency to stick to stainless steel. For inexperienced cooks, this may prove to be a bit of a challenge. This characteristic forces most home cooks to add more oils and fats to prevent food from sticking.
- Does not distribute heat evenly – Stainless steel may react to temperature changes fast, but it doesn’t necessarily distribute heat well. Higher-end brands add copper or aluminum to their products to fix this, but of course, this will also cost you more.
- Not created equally – Unfortunately, cheaper stainless steel pans also tend to be weaker. They are more likely to warp and pit. Higher quality and slightly more expensive stainless steel pan, however, is more reliable, with some even having a lifetime warranty available for the buyer.
Stainless steel cooking pans are best for your usual day-to-day cooking and multi-tasking. It is one of the toughest and most versatile pans out there, so it is suited to cooking pretty much all kinds of food.
While a standard stainless steel pan may be a poor heat conductor, those bonded to copper and aluminum can provide a better alternative.
These so-called “stainless steel-clad” pans marry the impervious quality of stainless with the conductive qualities of other materials. This is why many consider cookware made of this material to be the most practical and versatile ones out there.
The All-Clad D3 Stainless 12-Inch Fry Pan with Lid is one example of this. It has a classic tri-ply construction, meaning it is made with a highly responsive aluminum core for even heat distribution and is bonded with 2 layers of stainless steel to give it more strength.
2. Cast Iron Pans
Old-fashioned cast iron pans are not just heavy-duty, they are also porous and can deliver flavors like no other when taken care of properly. Here are some of its other pros and cons.
- Good heat retention – Cast iron pans hold heat longer than other metals, making it perfect for both quick sears and slow-cooked stews. This self-regulating property is what makes this material great not just for a typical fry or grill pan, but also for a dutch oven and a griddle.
- Non-stick – With use, cast iron skillets or pans also develop a natural coating that makes its surface non-stick.
- Adds minerals to food – Cast iron pans also transfer a small amount of iron into the food. This makes it a relatively healthier choice than your typical stainless steel pan.
- Lasts a lifetime – With proper care, these pans are extremely durable and can even be handed down from generation to generation.
- Not heat reactive – Cast iron pans hold heat well, but they do not react to it quickly. Cookware made of this material tends to heat up and cool down slowly. This may be a problem especially if you want to do fast and precise cooking that is highly dependent on quick temperature changes.
- Tends to transfer flavors – Cast iron is able to hold flavors from ingredients that you season your food with. While this may be good for foods such as burgers, lighter-tasting foods may not benefit from it as they can pick up too much of those flavors.
- Hard to maneuver – Most cast iron cookwares are heavy. They often weigh somewhere around 6-12 pounds with the lid included, which makes handling them a bit of a challenge.
- Reacts to acidic food – Cooking acidic food in cast iron pans can strip it of its seasoning.
- Needs special care when cleaning – Without proper care, your standard cast iron cookware may rust and eventually lose its non-stick properties. Remember that pans made of this material are not soap or dishwasher safe. These can destroy the pan’s naturally built-up materials.
Cast iron is one of the best materials if heat retention is your top priority. Cast iron pans are perfect for slow-cooking, stir-frying, and searing. They can easily take those high heats that are great for searing steaks or deep-frying chicken.
Cookwares made of this material are virtually indestructible. They are also porous, which means they absorb and deliver flavors for as long as they are in good condition.
One such example of this is the Lodge L8SK3 10-1/4 -Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet. This cast iron pan already comes pre-seasoned so you can use it straight out of the box. Plus, it also comes in a number of sizes and with options to include other accessories and features for maximum flexibility.
Recently, makers of cast iron cookwares have also popularized the use of enameled cast iron. Enameled cast iron pans are made of cast iron but are also equipped with a beautifully-colored porcelain coating that prevents rust and makes cleaning easier.
An enameled cast-iron pan is also nonreactive – its seasoning is not stripped by acidic food. The only downside is that all these benefits come at a slightly heftier price tag.
The Crock Pot Artisan 8-Inch Enameled Cast Iron Skillet comes in 4 different sizes and 7 different colors so you can choose the one that is perfect for your taste.
3. Carbon Steel Pans
When it comes to heat conductivity, you can never go wrong with a carbon steel cooking pans. Often seen as the cousin of cast iron, carbon steel pans are made mostly of iron with some carbon. Like cast iron, it is also extremely durable, but lighter and thinner.
- Excellent heat retention – Despite being slightly slow to heat, carbon steel cookware is known for being able to achieve higher temperatures than other cookware. They also hold that heat well, making them perfect for certain high heat cooking techniques.
- Lightweight – In many ways, a carbon steel fry pan is a lot similar to its cast-iron counterpart. Where it differs, though, is in weight. Carbon steel delivers most of what cast iron does but at half of its weight.
- Non-stick when seasoned – If seasoned properly, a carbon steel skillet, wok, or frying pan will, on its own, develop a natural non-stick interior.
- Works with any heat source – Yes, this includes everything from induction cooktops all the way to campfires.
- Will rust if not seasoned – Compared to stainless steel, a carbon steel pan will require a bit more time if you want to keep it at tip-top shape. This means seasoning the pan every once in a while to make sure it retains its nonstick qualities.
- Incompatible with acidic food – When used with acidic ingredients like soda or tomato sauce, carbon steel may react and shed some of its non-stick coatings.
- Requires special care when cleaning – When cleaning your carbon steel pan, make sure to avoid dishwashers or even soapy water as carbon steel is sensitive to these. Additionally, avoid scrubbing it with a scouring pad or steel wool, as these can also damage its natural non-stick coating.
A seasoned carbon steel pan like the de Buyer – Mineral B Frying Pan is well-known for its versatility as a piece of kitchen equipment. It is perfect for high-heat and fast-cooking techniques like searing as it delivers that distinctive rich and grilled flavor.
This heavy-duty cookware is a lot like cast iron, but much thinner and lighter.
Carbon steel works well with any heat source, including a campfire. They are also flexible and are used not only for frying pans, but also for paella pans, crepe pans, and even sauté pans.
If you really want to make the most of your carbon steel pan, make sure you know how to maintain it. When cleaning pans of this material, only rinse it with hot water and scrub gently with a soft wok brush or sponge to remove any food residue.
You can then use some paper towel to dry it or leave it out to air dry.
4. Copper Pans
Copper pans are, hands down, the best when it comes to responsiveness to temperature changes. For many professional chefs, this beautiful piece of cookware is often part of their prized possessions. Here are some of its advantages and disadvantages.
- Highly responsive to temperature changes – Copper pans heat up rapidly and cool down as soon as it is removed from the heat source. This gives the user maximum control over how heat is applied to the food, which can play a big factor in the dish’s outcome.
- Has even heat distribution – More than being responsive to temperature changes, copper also distributes heat evenly which, in turn, also cooks your food evenly.
- Looks great – It also doesn’t hurt that copper cookware simply looks fantastic. The mirror finish of copper pans looks captivating, and cookwares of this material are often displayed and admired.
- Reacts with food – Copper has a tendency to react with the natural minerals and acids of a lot of food. This means that when it is used for cooking, it can add a yellowish tint as well as a metallic taste to the food.
- Often costs more – Because copper is a precious metal, naturally, you can expect a pan made of this material to be pretty expensive.
- Has limited use – Copper isn’t magnetic. As such, it cannot be used on induction ranges. They are, however, perfectly safe for oven use.
- Requires special care – Like carbon steel and cast iron pans, copper pans also require special care when cleaning. Copper pans require hand washing and even polishing for them to maintain that bright luster.
- Heavy – Pure copper can get quite heavy. A single copper pan often weighs at least 3 pounds.
Copper pans are a must-have for professional chefs and home cooks who want to have ultimate control over their cooking. They have the best heat distribution and reaction to temperature changes, which helps create those perfectly finished culinary masterpieces.
While commonly seen in kitchens of top chefs, they are not necessarily a must-have for home cooks who just need a pan for day-to-day cooking.
Copper pans and other copper cookware are a luxury. If you’re planning on getting one, make the most of it by really practicing those top-level cooking skills and making sure you know how to properly maintain it.
The MICHELANGELO 12 Inch Nonstick Copper Frying Pan is one of the most recommended copper pans out there. It comes in 4 different sizes and has a ceramic and titanium interior that is not only durable but also scratch-resistant and ultra non-stick.
5. Nonstick Pans
Non-stick pans are some of the most popular pans, especially in the last decade. These pans allow for healthy cooking because their non-stick properties allow for the use of less oil (or even none at all).
Like all the other steel pans on this list, however, they also have their ups and downs. Here are some of them.
- Easy to use – In general, non-stick cookware are some of the easiest cookwares any home chef can use. This is primarily because the coating of the pan repels food and keeps it from sticking and burning. A non-stick pan is a great piece of kitchen equipment, especially for beginners.
- Healthier cooking – Non-stick pans give you the liberty to use less oil, butter, or fat, something you cannot do with pans made of other materials such as stainless steel.Easy to clean – Food often washes right off the pans with little to no scrubbing required.
- Not for high heat – Non-stick coatings were never made for high-heat applications, so do not ever accidentally leave them on the stovetop. If you want to boil or sear certain foods, make sure to avoid doing it in non-stick cookware as this can damage the coating.
- Not compatible with metallic utensils – Pans and other cookware made of this material is easily scuffed or scratched by metallic utensils. Use heat-safe materials like silicone, nylon, or wood instead.
- Coating can deteriorate fast once damaged – Non-stick pans work well only until their coating is intact. Once it is damaged by high heat, use of metallic utensils, or improper cleaning, things deteriorate fast. It is even believed that the coating, once deteriorated, can expose food to certain toxic chemicals.
Non-stick pans are some of the most popular and common pans, especially for beginner home cooks. They are perfect for cooking a wide range of foods that have a tendency to stick to the cookware, such as eggs and fish.
However, take note of the many tips to maintain cookware made of this material. Non-stick cookware is only good for as long as its coating remains intact.
High heat, use of metal utensils and abrasives, and improper cleaning are some of the most common causes of scratches or damages to the coating. Once damaged, things start to deteriorate fast for the coating.
Additionally, when stacking pans for storage, put some paper towels between the pans so the bottom of the pan on top doesn’t touch the coating of the one below it. Even minor bumps like these can damage the pan’s non-stick coating.
With proper care and attention, you should still be able to make the most of your non-stick pans.
The T-fal Dishwasher Safe Cookware Fry Pan with Lid is a great option if you want to avoid overheating your pan. It has a thermo spot indicator ring that turns solid red once the pan is perfectly pre-heated so you never go beyond the maximum heat it can tolerate.
Understanding what pros and cons come with the different kinds of steel cooking pans out there is key to making a purchase that will definitely satisfy your needs. Make sure to read through our guide above so you can choose the most durable steel pan that will take your cooking to the next level.
Are there other types of heavy-duty or durable steel pans that you know of? Share them with us in the comments section below!