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Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel: Which is best for you?

There are a lot of cooking pans you could choose when filling your kitchen repertoire. The top two choices, in my experience, are cast iron and stainless steel.

steaming water boiling in a stock pot

There are several things to consider when spending money on cooking pans.

As you know, cooking pans are mighty pricey, especially if you are starting from ground zero and you need to purchase several.

The last thing you want is to buy a pan and later realize it is full of toxic chemicals or that it doesn’t stand the test of time.

You will find a lot of options from non-stick, which is full of unhealthy chemicals, to the generational cast iron.

Today, we will look at the benefits of cast iron vs. stainless steel since those are the top of the buying list when it comes to the best cookware to buy.

spices being poured into a stainless steel saucepan

Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel Cookware

Both cast iron and stainless steel are great options for the home cook.

They offer durability and are great for those who are looking for cookware that is healthy and easy to use.

What is Cast Iron?

Cast iron pans are made from molten iron and are one solid piece when they are made.

Their handle and pan are one piece of iron which makes them super durable, but it also means the handle heats with the pan.

They have been around for generations and are great pans for the from scratch cook.

two cast iron pots stacked on a glass cooktop

Cast Iron Cookware Pros

There are several good brands and many pans that you can choose from when it comes to cast iron.

You will see a few benefits of cooking with cast iron below:

  • Longevity– Cast iron skillets are wonderful for cooking because you will never have to buy another pan. They are, virtually, indestructible, as long as you care for them properly. These pans are so durable that they are often handed down from generation to generation.
  • Can be used on any cooking option– You can use cast iron on an electric stove, cook with cast iron on an induction stove, on a gas stove, or over an open fire.
  • Non-stick– If you cook with the proper oil in your cast iron and preheat your pan, you will have to issues with food sticking and not coming off.
  • Chemical Free– So many pans that are on the market are made using chemicals that are harmful to us and that leach into our food. Cast iron is a healthy pan to use for cooking.
  • Flavors– Cast iron flavors foods in a wonderful way since it is seasoned when it’s used.
  • Oven Safe- Cast iron is great because you can use it on the stove or in the oven. You can even take a dish from the stove and pop it in the oven to finish cooking.
  • Cleans easily– If you use a well seasoned cast iron, preheat it before use, and cook with the best cast iron cooking oils, you will have no trouble with clean up. All you will need to do is wipe out the pan with a paper towel.
  • Lots of Price Options– There are cast iron pans that cost a lot of money and others that are very affordable. I will share some great brands below.
  • Different Pan Options– You have every pan under the sun to choose from when it comes to cast iron.
cast iron skillet with butter and a pancake

Cast Iron Cookware Cons

  • Can be prone to sticking– If you don’t care and cook with your cast iron the proper way, your cast iron won’t be non-stick. You will have a mess if you don’t season your pan before using, preheat your pan before cooking, use a good oil or fat for cooking, and wipe it clean after cooking. If you use it the proper way, this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Heavy– To be honest, this is my biggest con when it comes to cast iron. These pans are just plain heavy, but the ease at which the cook and the versatility they offer me has me looking over this issue time and time again.
  • Limit Acidic Foods– The acid from some foods, such as tomatoes, can cause the non-stick coating of the cast iron to erode. The flavors of the acidic foods can also leach into your cast iron, impacting the flavors of your foods cooked on that pan.
  • No Boiling Water– Can you boil water in your cast iron? Sure, but you’re not going to want to. Cast iron is intended for actual cooking, so you’ll need another pot for boiling water.
butter and chocolate chips in a stainless steel saucepan

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel pans come in a wide variety of quality and sizes.

There is a rating system that tells you the quality of your stainless pans. All-Clad is a great company that makes very high quality pans.

Higher quality pans will have more layers of metal in the pan, which is called cladding.

While stainless is made mostly of a combination of nickel and chromium, you can occasionally find a layer of copper or aluminum to help with the heat conduction.

woman cooking bagels in a stainless steel pot

Stainless Steel Cookware Pros

When I was switching out my pots and pans to a healthier option, stainless steel was the first switch I made.

  • Lots of Pots and Pans– You have a lot of different sizes and varieties in regards to pots and pans when it comes to stainless. It is a popular metal, so companies offer a lot of variety.
  • Durable– Stainless Steel is quite durable and will last for many years. You can sauté, boil water, cook acidic foods in them, and even some brands allow you to bake and wash them in the dishwasher.
  • Non-toxic- This was the reason I switched to stainless cookware. If you are looking for a simple, non-toxic pan, then you will appreciate stainless.
  • Has Lids– Most pots and pans have lids that go with them, but since we are comparing cast iron and stainless I wanted to mention that stainless pots do come with lids, for the most part. Cast iron doesn’t always have a lid.
  • Versatile- Stainless can be used on gas or electric stoves. Some pans can be used on induction cooktops, too.
  • Affordable– You will be able to find an entire set of pots and pans for a decent price if you are looking for stainless steel. Do be aware that the lower the price, the cheaper the pan.
stainless steel pot on a stove in a white kitchen

Stainless Steel Cookware Cons

  • Food Sticks– It is true that foods can get burnt onto the bottom of stainless cookware. While that is irritating, you can clean it up easily. Just boil some water and add a tablespoon of white vinegar in the pot for 5 minutes. Then you can scrub the stuck on food loose. It shouldn’t be very hard. If you are looking to make it sparkling again, I shared tips for cleaning stainless steel.
  • Lots of Categories for Stainless- There are a lot of categories to classify stainless in. You have the 200, 300, or 400 series, all representing a different amounts of nickel in the series. The amount of nickel impacts the durability, corrosiveness, and price range for the pans.
  • Uneven heat production– Stainless does a lot of things well, but it isn’t great at dispersing heat throughout it’s cooking surface. You’ll often have hot and cool spots in your pan that prevents even cooking. They can even encourage food to stick.
two cast iron pans stacked on a stove

Good Cast Iron Cookware Brands

There are a lot of places you can find cast iron for a good price.

If you are industrious, you can get lots of good pans at the thrift store and restore them

Maybe you’d rather just buy the cast iron new. There are options for that, too.

  • Lodge Cast Iron– This is a great brand that won’t break the bank. You will love that it is American made.
  • Staub Cast Iron– This brand is a bit on the high-end side, but it’s for good reason. It’s a great brand.
  • Le Creuset Cast Iron– Le Creuset is another brand that is on the high-end, but has beautiful pans and is well worth the extra money.
stock pot on a stove with a towel over top

Stainless Steel Cookware

  • Calphalon Premium Cookware– This is a set, so if you need a full kitchen of cookware, this price is great.
  • Kitchen Aid Cookware
  • All-Clad Cookware– Your high end stainless will be found in the All-Clad brand. They are amazing pans, but do have a price tag that comes with them. This brand is also made in the United States.

Cast Iron or Stainless Steel?

You probably have a need for both of these types of pans in your from scratch kitchen.

They have strengths and weaknesses, but both perform so well when you’re a home cook.

Cast iron does a good job with low and slow cooking that allows the pan to develop the flavors.

Stainless steel is a great, low maintenance pan that can be use for quick, every day cooking.

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