Cookware has come a long way since the days of heating stones in the fire to sear meat. From clay to copper to aluminum, many types of materials have been used to contain food and improve the ways that humans can alter it using heat and flame. These days, one of the most popular options is stainless steel.
Cooking with Stainless Steel: A Guide for Everyday Use
Stainless steel is an alloy of iron, carbon, and at least 10.5% chromium, which is a metal that would be too brittle to be a vessel on its own, but is highly resistant to corrosion and very hard. When these elements are heated together in a special process they become stainless steel, which is a very durable material that will not easily rust or become corroded. These qualities, as well as its appealing high shine, make stainless steel an attractive choice for cookware.
What sets it apart?
Compared to materials like aluminum and copper, stainless steel is much harder, and therefore it resists scratching and denting which can make it easier for foods to stick and burn. Stainless steel is also dishwasher safe, unlike cast iron, and is easy to find; because of its popularity as a material for all types of applications, there are many different types of stainless steel cookware.
One thing to take into consideration when deciding whether to invest in stainless steel pots and pans is that by itself, stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat; it is prone to hot and cool spots, since heat will not disperse through the body of the cooking vessel, and thus food may not cook properly or as well as can be accomplished with an all-copper or all-aluminum pot or pan.
One way to counteract this is to look for cookware which contains a core of another metal, such as copper. Stainless steel clad copper is a fantastic choice that maintains the fast, even heating of copper and is still resistant to corrosion and wear and tear, however it can be more expensive, and somewhat harder to find.
Take note, however; even a copper-core stainless steel pot will not have the same type of heating profile as, say cast iron. For applications where you want a long cooking period at a consistent temperature, cast iron is still going to be your best bet.
Why use stainless steel?
You want to buy stainless steel when you are looking to upgrade from coated non-stick to something a little more durable. Mid-range stainless steel and good quality Teflon non-stick pots and pans are often available at around the same price point, but very high temperature cooking in Teflon-based non-stick cookware may cause the coating to break down, releasing potentially toxic particles and fumes into your kitchen and your food. Additionally, when compared to non-stick cookware, stainless steel produces extremely even, well developed browning, and when used properly, may only stick slightly more than coated cookware would.
Additionally, stainless steel cookware can be taken from the stovetop into the oven, which can streamline the cooking process and reduce the number of pans necessary to cook more complex recipes. If you’re planning on using this technique, make sure to look for a pans that have wood or metal handles, not plastic or rubber.
Which Features are Important?
When considering stainless steel cookware, there are several points to keep in mind. As previously mentioned, stainless steel by itself is not a fantastic conductor of heat, so it can be prone to hot spots and uneven cooking across the surface of the pan. The best possible solution to this is to look for stainless steel which contains a core of another metal, such as aluminum or copper. This will give you the hardness and ease of use of stainless steel while helping to offset any heating issues.
Other than this, the biggest consideration is the composition of the stainless steel you are purchasing. The heaviest, most durable version available is marketed as 18/10 in stores and online retailers. What this means is that the stainless steel composition includes 18% chromium and 10% nickel. This is what you should look for if you want a long-lasting, high-end set, or even just one or two special pieces to round out your cookware collection.
Some other considerations when looking at specific stainless steel brands is whether or not you’ll be using the pots and pans in the oven; if so, as mentioned, avoid plastic or rubber handles. Also some stainless steel cookware comes in a set, which can be a more economical way to buy more than one piece at once.
If you choose a set, make sure you’re only buying cookware that you know you’ll be using; a 12-quart stock pot may invoke visions of industriously making chicken stock from whole carcasses, but the reality may leave you with a huge shiny paperweight taking up room in your cabinets.
What’s it like cooking with stainless steel?
Cooking with stainless steel is slightly different than cooking with other types of cookware. Most notably, since many people make the upgrade from non-stick to stainless steel cookware, the way you heat your pans before cooking is different. We’ve all heard that you should never heat an empty non-stick pot or pan, but stainless steel is different.
Like a cast iron pot or pan, you want to heat your stainless steel without anything in it, to improve searing once you add your food. Also like cast iron, stainless steel can go from the cooktop to the oven, just make sure the cookware has no plastic or rubber handles or knobs.
When preheating your stainless steel pan, make sure to do it dry. Even if you use an oil with a high smoke point, putting the oil in cold can slow down the preheating process and even potentially mess with the non-stick effect, as the layer of oil closest to the surface of the pan may start breaking down before the rest of the oil comes to temperature, gunking up the process.
Preheat your stainless steel pans on medium to medium-high setting; though stainless steel heats unevenly and may not hold heat well, it does come up to temperature quickly, and heating on too high a temperature may cause you to shoot past your optimal temperature and lead to smoking oil, spitting during cooking, and burned food in the end.
Once you’ve preheated your pan, choose your oil. You’ll want to use a cooking oil with a high smoke point, such as sunflower, olive, or peanut oil. Wait until you can see a shimmer in the oil, and then add your meat or other food item.
When cooking with stainless steel that hasn’t been seasoned (we’ll get to that in a moment), food may stick initially, even if using oil or butter. Even if your meat does stick, however, it should release once there is sufficient sear on the outside of the meat.
Should you Season Stainless Steel cookware?
If you so choose, you can also season your stainless steel cookware. Much like cast iron, stainless steel can be seasoned to seal the cooking surface, conveying superior nonstick qualities to the pot or pan. You season cookware much the same, whether it’s cast iron or stainless steel.
First, make sure your stainless steel pot is completely clean. Any residue or stuck-on food particles on the inside surface can mess with the effect of seasoning. The pan should be oiled on the entire interior with a neutral, high smoke point oil such as peanut oil.
Use something non-absorbent to spread the oil; your fingers are usually the best tool for this job. The idea is to make sure the entire interior surface of your cookware is covered in an even layer of oil.
Once you’ve oiled the pan completely, heat the pan either on the cooktop or in a 350 degree oven, just to the smoke point (this should take about an hour in the oven). You’re not looking to start a grease fire here, only heat the oil until you just barely see the surface start to smoke.
You want to take the pot or pan CAREFULLY off the heat (or out of your oven) and let it cool completely in a dry place. Once it is cool enough to handle, wipe out any residual oil from the surface of the cookware, and you’re good to go.
Once your pot or pan is seasoned, you shouldn’t need to use much (or any) additional oil to keep foods from sticking, so this is a fantastic choice for anyone looking to watch their calories, or their cholesterol.
What should I cook with my stainless steel?
So now you’ve got the right pans, and they’re seasoned (or not) and ready to go. What should you cook in stainless steel cookware?
Meat is stainless steel’s best friend. Whether it’s bacon, breakfast sausage, steak, or good old chicken, stainless steel will give your meat a beautiful brown exterior for flavor and presentation points. Stainless steel also does well with sautéing, whether it’s a good mushroom pan sauce for your perfectly seared steak, or cooking asparagus or carrots to perfection.
What doesn’t do well with stainless steel? Anything that requires a long, high temperature, including deep-frying, braising, or stews. Stainless steel comes up to temperature easily but it doesn’t hold onto that heat, which leads to far less efficient cooking over time, and can lead to uneven cooking, especially with large quantities of food.
All that said, there isn’t anything stainless steel really can’t do at all, simply tasks for which it is not ideally suited. If you’re a cook just starting out and you want a good quality, attractive cookware set to flesh out your kitchen, a mid-to-high range stainless steel set will do you just fine for the majority of your cooking.
How do I take care of my stainless steel cookware?
Stainless steel is an incredibly easy to maintain cookware material. By its nature, stainless steel is resistant to stains, but also to dents and scratches; don’t be afraid to use metal tools like whisks or spoons in your cooking. Stainless steel will not rust or corrode, making it extremely long lasting; some cooks have had stainless steel cookware for fifty years or more.
Stainless Steel is dishwasher safe, but washing with hot water and soap will remove the seasoning from your pan, if you’ve chosen to season it. The seasoning can be easily reapplied, just remember to do so after washing and before you cook your next meal in it.
Although stainless steel is resistant to dents and scratches, such wear and tear still might happen. If it does, you may try using steel wool and a mild abrasive compound to buff out the scratch; however this can damage the integrity of the cookware and potentially expose the copper or aluminum core. An alternative is to be sure to use the seasoning method; this should seal the scratch, somewhat, and keep it from holding onto food particles.
You can store your stainless steel cookware as you prefer, though many choose to keep it on display, as its shiny metallic surface make a pleasing addition to any kitchen decor. If you do end up stacking your pots and pans, place squares of paper towel or any other buffer in between each piece, to keep the cookware surfaces from banging against one another.
Choosing the Best Stainless Steel Cookware
So now you’re a stainless steel pro! Stainless steel can be a great first set of cookware for any new chef and its durability and ease of use makes it fantastic for practice. Stainless steel cookware is very forgiving of kitchen mishaps, so if you want to improve your kitchen prowess, get yourself good set of stainless steel and start experimenting!
Do all the different types of cookware have you wondering what to choose? There are lots of options when it comes to pots, pans, and skillets. So, how do you decide? First, there is no set rule that you must stick to one type of cookware. Start with a little research on the various types and try different ones out to see what you like best.
Stainless steel is durable, can be used to cook a variety of foods, and it is easy to maintain. You can do anything from browning and braising to boiling pasta in stainless steel cookware. It generally works on most stovetop surfaces and some of the cookware can even go in the oven or broiler.
Many of the newer styles are stick-resistant, which makes them easy to clean after cooking. And one of the best parts about stainless steel cookware is that most of it is dishwasher safe, unlike some of the other cookware options. Stainless steel cookware is a popular choice amongst families because it is versatile, long-lasting, and low-maintenance.
Stainless Steel Pans
Skillets and fry pans are very useful for cooking something up quick for a hungry family. A good quality skillet can handle high-heat cooking and cook food evenly. Both skillets will get the job done. All-Clad’s 10-inch tri-ply fry pan provides superb heat conductivity with its aluminum core base. Cuisinart’s 12-inch skillet’s base is large enough to cook up a big batch of food in a short period of time.
The 4110 Stainless Steel Fry Pan by All-Clad is an essential tool for the kitchen. It is extremely versatile and works great for cooking at high heat. You can even use it in the broiler up to 600 F degrees. This fry pan has some great features including:
- Starburst finish that is stick-resistant and won’t react to with food.
- 3-ply bonded construction that ensures even heating.
- Can be used on any type of cooktop.
- Dishwasher safe.
If you are looking for a high-quality stainless steel pan that can be used for a variety of purposes, then All-Clad’s Silver 10-inch Fry Pan is a great choice.
The 722-30G 12-Inch Skillet by Cuisinart is a great value piece to add to your cookware. It is constructed out of stainless steel and aluminum and comes with a glass lid. It can be used for browning and sautéing and is large enough to even cook pancakes. Some of this skillet’s top features include:
- Even heating with aluminum core base.
- Food will not react with its 18/10 stainless steel mirror finish.
- Tough enough to use with metal utensils.
- Easy clean-up and dishwasher safe.
This skillet is constructed out of high-quality materials at an affordable price. Cuisinart’s Chef Classic 12-inch Skillet is versatile, durable, and a great addition to any kitchen.
Stainless Steel Cookware Set
If you want a complete set of cookware, both these stainless-steel cookware sets are great options. All-Clad’s 10-piece set includes all the essential tools for your kitchen. And the pots and pans in this set are designed with tri-ply bonded construction. The 12-piece cookware collection by Cuisinart is a quality set of cookware and a good value for the price. It includes similar pieces as the All-Clad set and also includes a covered steamer basket in its set.
For a cohesive, high-quality collection of cookware, All-Clad’s 10-piece Stainless Steel Cookware is a must-have. The set includes 2-quart and 3-quart saucepans with lids, a covered sauté pan that holds three quarts, a covered stockpot that holds up to eight quarts, plus 8-inch and 10-inch fry pans. This collection’s best features are:
- Tri-ply bonded construction provides even, consistent heating.
- Stainless steel, contoured handles for a comfortable grip.
- All 10 pieces are dishwasher safe and low-maintenance.
All-Clad is an American company with a solid reputation for producing high-quality kitchenware. And this 10-piece stainless steel cookware set is no exception.
Cuisinart’s 18/10 stainless steel cookware set is an affordable collection of quality cookware for the both busy families and professional home chefs. This 12-piece set includes 1 ½ and 3-quart saucepans with lids, a 3 ½ quart sauté pan with lid, an 8-quart stockpot with lid, a steamer insert and lid, plus 8 and 10-inch skillets. This collections features include:
- Maximum heat retention and distribution with its tri-ply aluminum core.
- Dishwasher safe and oven safe up to 550 F degrees.
- Cool-grip handles secured with stainless steel rivets.
The Multi-Clad 12-piece collection from Cuisinart is designed to meet the culinary needs of busy families and demanding chefs. Each piece is carefully constructed to be durable and versatile and is a great addition to your kitchen.
Stainless Steel Pots
A reliable, multi-purpose pot is essential for any busy kitchen and both these options deliver. All-Clad’s Sauce Pan has high sides that keep your foods and liquids inside the pot during cooking. And T-fal ‘s stainless steel pot includes extras such as a straining lid for simple, easy cooking.
The 4201.5 Stainless Steel 1.5-Quart Sauce Pan by All-Clad is great for making sauces, reheating, or cooking foods in liquid. It delivers even heating and its handle stays cool even while you are cooking. This pot has many great features including:
- High straight sides to prevent spills while making sauces or heating liquids.
- Sturdy handles that are permanently secured with stainless steel rivets.
- Three-layer construction that includes an interior aluminum core for even heating.
- Stick-resistant interior starburst finish.
This multi-purpose, stainless steel saucepan by All-Clad is an essential tool in a well-equipped kitchen.
T-fal’s Excite Stainless Steel Sauce Pan is a great piece of cookware. It is a high performance, durable pot that cooks food evenly with its innovative base design. This pan’s top features include:
- Time-saving features such as straining lids and pouring spouts.
- Made with a polished stainless steel exterior and brushed stainless steel interior for a contemporary design.
- Dishwasher safe and oven safe up to 350 F degrees.
- Comfortable, stay-cool handle with ergonomic design.
The Excite Stainless Steel 3-Quart Saucepan by T-Fal is also PTFE and PFOA free. It is truly an exceptional a saucepan for an affordable price.
Stainless Steel Sauté Pans
When it comes to sauté pans, the right kind of base is essential. Both All-Clad and Calphalon have sauté pans with responsive, aluminum bases. And each one is extremely versatile. The All-Clad sauté pan also includes a lid that locks in moisture and controls heat. Calphalon’s innovative design features a steel handle that won’t heat up when you are cooking.
The 4403 Stainless Steel 3-quart Sauté Pan by All-Clad delivers high-performance cooking. It is an attractive and versatile piece to add to your cookware collection. It is used for searing, browning, sautéing and much more. Some of its most notable features include:
- 18/10 stainless steel, stick-resistant surface.
- Compatible with all types of cooktops.
- Moisture-lock lid that controls heat and evaporation.
- Tall sides that prevent splatters and spills.
Designed by the leading American manufacturer of cookware, All-Clad’s 3-quart sauté pan is an essential cooking tool for both seasoned and new home chefs.
Calphalon’s 3-Quart Classic Sauté Pan is highly durable and backed by a manufacturer’s warranty. It can be used for many different dishes and provides reliable everyday performance. Some of this sauté pan’s best features are:
- Responsive and fast-heating aluminum base.
- Stainless steel handle that doesn’t heat up when cooking.
- Maximum cooking surface with its wide, flat bottom.
- Easy to clean and dishwasher safe.
The 3-quart sauté pan by Calphalon is easy to cook in and easy to maintain. It is a staple piece of cookware for any busy home chef.
Stainless Steel Saucepans
Saucepans serve many purposes in the kitchen. And they need to be durable and reliable. Both All-Clad and Calphalon offer high-quality saucepans. All-Clad’s 3-quart silver saucepan has a small surface area with high sides. And Calphalon’s 2 ½ quart saucepan has short sides that make whisking and stirring a breeze.
The All-Clad 4203 3-Quart Sauce Pan has a small surface area and high straight sides which make it ideal for cooking foods in liquids, heating liquids, or making sauces. It is warp-resistant, dishwasher safe, and an overall great piece to have in your kitchen. Its top features are:
- 3-ply bonded construction consisting of 18/10 stainless steel with an aluminum core.
- Starburst finished interior that food won’t stick to.
- Classic design and high performance.
- Lid that limits evaporation and retains nutrients.
As part of All-Clad’s most popular line of cookware, this stainless steel covered saucepan is an excellent choice to add to your cookware collection.
Calphalon’s 2 ½ quart shallow sauce pan is multi-functional. Use it for browning meats, making sauces, or even cooking risotto. Its tri-ply construction includes layers of stainless steel and aluminum for maximum cooking control. This sauce pan’s features include:
- Short sides that make whisking and stirring simple.
- Stay-cool stainless steel handle.
- Aluminum core for excellent heat conductivity.
- Works on any stovetop and in the oven.
With versatile cooking capability and easy clean-up, the 2 ½ quart shallow sauce pan by Calphalon is a great piece of cookware for any busy home chef.
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