- by Cindy
Food is unique. It can be both simple and complicated, basic or gourmet. It can be merely sustenance or a delightful experience for all the senses. Time, ingredients, and skill can all be factors in which camp you fall into, but tools are a key element no matter what type of cooking you’re attempting. Finding quality tools can be a large investment of time and money. No one wants to buy cookware that breaks or wears out in a few months or years, nor do they want to purchase an expensive set that is rarely used. One of the biggest questions we have when outfitting our kitchen is stainless steel or nonstick cookware? It can be a daunting decision, but it’s important to understand their differences to make the right choice.
Stainless steel is extremely durable. You don’t have to worry so much about protecting it against chips, bangs, or setting the heat too high, and nearly any utensil can be used with it. Stainless cookware is also great for searing; the pans allow foods such as steaks to achieve that beautiful brown color, making for a delicious and visually appetizing meal. Additionally, many sets come with handles made out of steel, creating a versatile option that’s great for oven use as well as stove-top.
The downside many find with stainless steel is that they may require some extra muscles for cleaning. Food does have a tendency to not only stick, but burn into the pots and pans if they aren’t properly lubricated with oils or butter prior to cooking. The same can happen if food is left on the pan for too long. Stainless steel is dishwasher safe, but that won’t remove discoloration. A combination of baking soda and white vinegar (yes, your elementary school volcano project ingredients) helps to lift the burnt-on residue, but still requires a bit of elbow-grease and an abrasive sponge.
Stainless steel cookware sets can cost quite a bit, even for lower-end options. While the price tags may be intimidating, if properly cared for they can last years or even a lifetime. Most companies recommend replacement only if underlayers of copper begin to show or the metal begins to warp.
High-End Option: All-Clad Master Chef 9 Piece Set
What people love about nonstick cookware is in the name: nothing sticks to it, making it both easy to use and easy to clean. They require little maintenance and are great for beginners as well as those preparing delicate foods such as fish or eggs. Because of the coating, less oil and/or butter is needed, making them appealing for health-conscious or calorie counting cooks.
While nonstick is easy to use and clean, that’s only if you follow directions. If left on the heat too long, the coating can be damaged as well as produce an unpleasant smell. Low to medium heat is advised. Heat specifications also prevent searing and browning certain foods, eliminating some recipes options. They also don’t hold up as well over time as stainless steel; nonstick is prone to nicks and chips from utensils, so you’re limited to using wood and silicone rather than metal spatulas, forks, and spoons. Scrubbing sponges and steel wool are also known to remove some layers of the nonstick coating, so soft sponges and rags are preferable when it comes to cleaning.
Health concerns have also been raised with regard to the safety of nonstick and Teflon coatings. While most experts say there’s not much to be concerned about, they do advise the chemicals can begin breaking down if temperatures are too high and recommend throwing out any chipped or damaged cookware. Many companies now, though, are transitioning into nonstick cookware made from alternative, non-toxic/eco-friendly materials. Teflon also phased out PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid- the chemical most often linked to health issues) in its production since 2013, making more recently produced nonstick cookware safer than older versions.
Nonstick definitely has a more palatable price point, but due to the coatings even the most careful cooks will need to buy a replacement on average between every 3-5 years. This will run you close to the same amount as buying one set of stainless steel pots and pans.
High-End Option: T-Fal Culinaire 16 Piece Set
Budget: T-Fal 18 Piece Set
So which set reigns supreme? Well, that depends on your needs. If you’re short on time or really hate cleaning (not that anyone really loves doing dirty dishes), you should be looking at nonstick options. Cooks who are just starting out or those on a budget may also consider nonstick a more immediately affordable choice. But, if you’re into making slightly more elaborate dishes or need the versatility of both stovetop and oven use, an investment in stainless steel is the better bet.
Once your preferred cookware is purchased, there are a variety of recipe options to get your kitchen capers started. Those with a set of nonstick pans can create lean, healthy options such as sauteed snapper. The skin of the fish won’t cake and stick onto the pan, leaving the fish more in tact and causing little to no damage. The same goes for a grated zucchini omelet. The eggs will gently release from the pan, keeping your dish from splitting apart and opening. If you’re looking for heartier options, your stainless steel pans will beautifully sear dishes like pork tenderloin, allowing the meat to turn a dazzling golden brown. You can also experiment with the versatility of stainless steel with a dish like steak pizzaiola. The same pan can be used from start to finish for each component. Starting with the onions, you can then move onto the meat and then finally deglaze the pan, never losing any of the delectable flavors of the ingredients.
If this all sounds too delicious to pass up, you can always opt for purchasing a few individual cookware pieces of each type to achieve your desired culinary goals. It’s not always as cost-effective, but it certainly allows for a range of options and creativity.