With the right tools, cooking becomes a breeze instead of a chore and can add so much more to the experience and perhaps more importantly, to the taste. Two of the most essential tools in any kitchen are cast iron and stainless steel pans.
Like most things, there are several factors to consider when determining what will work best for your kitchen. Stainless steel pans are lightweight and less reactive than cast iron pans, but provide even cooking and are easier to clean. Cast iron pans, on the other hand, are more durable and responsive, but are heavier and harder to clean. Ultimately, the main difference between the two is in the types of food you like to cook the most.
Cast iron pans
Cast iron skillets have a centuries-old history. They are made by melting blocks of iron and steel together, layering them, then adding chemicals to increase their carbon levels. After that, the molten metal is poured into a mold made of sand, water and powdered clay. The result is a sturdy pan with a characteristic textured exterior.
The first known use of cast iron pans dates back to ancient China during the Han dynasty. In the 16th century they became popular and spread throughout Europe. However, it wasn’t until 1707 that Abraham Darby patented the sand casting method, which has become the standard method of creating cast iron today. Over the past hundred years, cast iron pans have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to their incredible durability and ability to retain high heat.
What You’ll Love About Cast Iron Skillets
Cast iron pans are among the most durable cookware. By design, cookware is meant to last hundreds of years with the proper care. In most cases, cast iron pans should never be cleaned with harsh detergents or washed in the dishwasher; they must be hand washed and undergo a process called seasoning. Seasoning is the process that creates a nonstick layer on your cookware by rinsing with salt, water, and oil. Coating a cast iron skillet with oil ensures that the seasoning is protected and will continue to perform at peak performance.
Cast iron skillets are incredible conductors of heat. Their densely packed design means cast iron pans can withstand and retain large amounts of heat for longer periods of time than most other cookware, making them suitable for baking and grilling. Additionally, cast iron pans distribute intense heat evenly, ensuring things like meats are cooked through without damaging the material of the pan.
Cast iron skillets are beautiful. In many contemporary restaurants, chefs have started using cast irons for serving dishes and cooking utensils due to their sleek appearance. Some examples of the use of cast iron include dishes like fajitas or baby Dutch, where the cast iron adds to the appeal of the dish while making it look elegant and unique in its presentation.
What you should consider about cast iron pans
Due to their layered metal construction, cast iron cookware can be heavy. This adds to its durability, but on average, a standard 12-inch cast iron skillet can weigh up to 8 pounds, about twice the weight of comparable skillets. In some cases, this can make moving cast iron pans quite complicated, especially for those with wrist and hand issues.
Maintaining the quality of a cast iron skillet relies on a process called seasoning. When done correctly, cast iron pans can last a lifetime. However, if not handled with care, cast iron pans are prone to rust and severe scratching. It also affects the non-stick quality of the pan and when left unseasoned occasionally leads to more food sticking to the surface.
Cast iron skillets retain heat incredibly well. This can act as both a blessing and a curse, as the metal handles of these pans are incredibly hot when used in an oven or grill. With that in mind, it’s essential to pay attention to the handles of a cast iron and to use oven mitts or something similar when holding it.
The best cast iron pans
Some of the best choices for cast iron skillets include the Victoria Cast Iron Skillet and the Lodge 3-Piece Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet Set. The Victoria frying pan has two side handles for easy handling and a spout to help remove excess grease. The Lodge Cast Iron Skillet Set is a great choice for those looking for a cast iron set. 8-inch, 10.5-inch, and 12-inch pans ensure maximum versatility for all types of dishes.
Stainless steel pans
Stainless steel is one of the most popular materials for cookware today. It is made through coating, in which layers of metal (usually aluminum or copper) are bonded together to allow heat to spread evenly throughout the cookware set.
Like cast iron pans, stainless steel pans are incredibly durable. Additionally, pans contain chromium, which creates a passive layer of oxide on its outer surface, providing protection against things like scratches or corrosion.
What You’ll Love About Stainless Steel Pans
Stainless steel pans are extremely versatile. They can be used to cook just about anything, from breakfast options like eggs and bacon to dinner options like sautéed meats and vegetables. Stainless steel pans are considered non-reactive, unlike cast iron pans, which means acidic foods like sauces and wine won’t harm the exterior. Plus, they can be used in any situation, from the stovetop to the oven.
Unlike cast iron pans, stainless steel pans do not need to be seasoned to clean. They can be easily cleaned with soap and water and are generally dishwasher safe.
Because they have a layered metal construction, stainless steel pans heat up quickly. Many stainless steel pans have aluminum or copper cores which are excellent conductors of heat, meaning they don’t require the time cast iron pans take to heat to usable temperatures.
What You Should Consider About Stainless Steel Pans
Poor thermal conduction
Unlike cast iron pans, stainless steel pans retain and lose heat fairly quickly. This means food can cook faster but also more unevenly. Cast iron pans are designed to trap heat, while stainless steel pans are designed to be more versatile.
Difficulty of cleaning
Food is more likely to stick to stainless steel pans because most stainless steel pans do not have naturally nonstick surfaces. Therefore, they require much more effort to clean them and must be soaked in soap and water to completely remove food remains.
The best stainless steel pans
Some high-quality stainless steel pan options include the All-Clad D3 12-inch Stainless Steel Skillet and the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic 5.5-quart Stainless Steel Sauté Pan. All-Clad is a cookware leader and offers a three-ply construction, ensuring fast and even heating in all of its pans. Likewise, Cuisinart creates economical cookware that is both high quality and durable.
Should you get a cast iron skillet or a stainless steel skillet?
Cast iron and stainless steel pans are great choices for any kitchen. Ultimately, the choice comes down to what you want to use the pan for. Although more difficult to maintain, cast iron skillets are ideal for baking and grilling and can also serve as beautiful presentations for guests. Stainless steel pans, on the other hand, are much more versatile and ideal for everyday use. Both pans are durable and attractive and will look great in any kitchen.
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Jared Lindsay writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their buying decisions, saving them time and money.
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