They say that cooking is an art, and as with art, your choice of material matters.
There is little chance that your next creation will be hailed as the modern Mona Lisa or Starry Night if you use whatever art supplies you happen to find at Walmart. The same goes for cooking.
Cooking has exploded in popularity in recent years, as has the variety of cookware available for purchase. But with more options often comes more confusion over what to buy and how to use it.
Stainless steel cookware can be particularly intimidating for the average home cook. But it doesn’t have to be.
Professional chefs and kitchen enthusiasts alike prefer stainless steel cookware and for a good reason.
This material is more durable and versatile than others on the market. It can also be easy to use if you take the time to learn a few tricks of the trade.
In this article, we will dispel common myths about stainless steel cookware, explain its virtues, and help you select the best stainless steel frying pan to meet your culinary needs. Because let’s face it; the stainless steel skillet is the workhorse of most kitchens.
|#||Model||Core Material (Ply)||Weight||Warranty||PRICE|
|1.||Le Creuset||Aluminum||4.5 lbs||
|2.||All-Clad 41126||Aluminum (3-ply)||4 lbs||
|3.||Demeyere 25628||Aluminum (7-ply)||7.2 lbs (12.6”||
|4.||Tramontina 80116||Aluminum (3-ply)||2.87 lbs||
|5.||Tramontina 80101||Aluminum (3-ply)||3.45 lbs (3-ply)||
At its most basic, these stainless steel skillets are made of iron, chromium, nickel, and carbon. But there are hundreds of different combinations within that.
This accounts for the wide variety of cookware we see today. Chromium protects the material from stains and rust, while nickel makes chromium more effective and gives your pan a high shine.
To be labeled “stainless,” a product must contain a minimum of 10.5% chromium. You will often see these pans with labels such as “18/10” stamped on their bottom. These are referred to as “grades.”
The numbers denote the percentage of chromium and nickel, respectively. The two most common grades for food preparation are 18/10 and 18/8.
Steel grades fall within the broader category of “series.” The best quality cookware is part of the 300 series. The two main subtypes are 304, and 316.
Both are highly resistant to corrosion and rust, but the 316 type includes an additional element, known as molybdenum. This element increases corrosion resistance even more (and also ups the price of the pan).
Pieces in the 400 series contain only trace amounts of nickel, which can be suitable for people with specific allergies. It is much less resistant to corrosion, though.
Lastly, there are “plys.” This word is used with a number preceding it to indicate the number of layers of construction.
For example, a “five-ply” pan will be made from five different layers of metal. Generally, the more layers a pan has, the more evenly it heats.
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Buying Factors to Consider
Despite what some of us may secretly think, there are more important factors to consider when choosing a new pan than how well it matches our kitchen décor. (Ahem, guilty as charged).
Twelve-inch pans are the most popular size. You can easily cook a couple of pieces of meat at the same time or enough vegetables to make a hearty side dish.
Larger families or people who like to cook with leftovers in mind might prefer a 14” pan to avoid having to cook in batches. Pans smaller than 12” are best-suited for preparing things like sauces or individual items.
In general, heavier is better for this type of cookware. Heavier pans mean that more metal was used, which means that hot spots are less likely. Keep in mind, though, that you have to be able to lift your pan when it is full of food.
Ironically, stainless steel itself conducts heat poorly. Therefore, additional materials, such as copper and aluminum, must be added to the core (bottom part) of the pan to distribute heat evenly.
The best pans will have a “clad” core, meaning that there is an entire layer of these additional metals along the base and sides of the pot.
Is your pan supplied with a lid that fits snugly onto the pan? Are the handles well made and securely attached?
Are the sides of the pan straight or sloped? These are all important considerations when selecting a stainless steel frying pan.
Stainless Steel Frying Pan Features
Here are four of the best features of a stainless steel frying pan:
Good for browning
The high, even heat produced by this type of pan will give your meat a wonderful sear that non-stick pans can’t match.
Stainless steel is very corrosion-resistant. If you choose a good-quality pan and treat it nicely, you can expect to get years and even decades of use out of it.
Plus, there is no protective coating to worry about maintaining. Just be careful about scratching the surface.
The vast majority of these types of pans are as at home in the oven as they are on the stovetop. This versatility is a huge selling point.
You can make some delicious, fancy meals by searing your meat and then baking or broiling it in the same pan. Just check that the handle can “handle” the oven.
Easy to clean
There’s nothing worse than having to scrub a pan repeatedly to remove stuck-on food. You can easily avoid this with stainless steel.
How to clean stainless steel skillet?
Simply allow the pan to cool and then soak it in warm, soapy water. Any leftover food bits can then be effortlessly wiped off.
Stainless steel cookware has garnered an unfair reputation over the years. Many misinformed cooks consider it the Gordon Ramsey of cookware – volatile, demanding, and generally difficult to work with. But this is untrue.
Instead, cooking with stainless steel should be viewed as a romantic relationship. It can be confusing and frustrating at first, but once you get to know what the other party needs, you work seamlessly together, with delicious results.
Here are a few tips for how to get the most out of your fry pan (a.k.a. frying skillet):
Condition the pan before first use. Wash it with warm, soapy water and ¼ cup of vinegar to remove any traces of chemicals or oils. Rinse and towel dry. Once it is completely dry, you will need to condition it.
To do this, heat the pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Choose an oil with a high smoke point (not EVOO!) and add enough to the pan to coat the entire bottom part.
Heat the oil until you start to see wisps of smoke appear. This usually takes 5-6 minutes.
As soon as you see the smoke, turn off the stove and remove the pan from the heat source. Allow it to cool completely and then remove the remaining oil and wipe down the pan with a paper towel or soft cloth.
Ongoing maintenance is simple. You can also recondition the pan using the same method as the initial treatment every couple of months as prevention or when you notice food starting to stick.
One thing to keep in mind is that stainless steel can be scratched, so use the right tools such as stainless steel utensils when cooking and cleaning.
Use the appropriate heat level
One of the most common misconceptions about stainless steel is that everything sticks to it. This only happens when you use your pans incorrectly.
Preheating is essential; if you add food to your pan before it is adequately heated, it will be stick city. You can easily test the readiness of your pan by adding a small amount of water.
If the water initially separates into beads and then quickly reforms into a single drop, you are ready to cook.
Low and medium heat levels are the healthiest levels for your pan. Using high heat can degrade the metal and cause food to stick.
Using lower heat settings may mean that you have to cook your food for a bit longer than you’re accustomed to, but the result will be well worth the extra minutes of effort.
Making it “non-stick”
Speaking of things that stick, there are certain foods that are more troublesome to cook with this material than others.
Eggs are a classic example. Many people use their negative experiences trying to cook eggs in a stainless steel pan as proof that the material is more trouble than it’s worth.
The trick to making your stainless steel pan “non-stick” is to heat it until you can feel the heat rising from it and then add oil. Once the oil is almost to the point of smoking, add your food.
Just don’t let the oil start to smoke or you’ll have to start the process over again.
Oh, and by the way – it is, in fact, possible to make eggs successfully in a stainless steel pan. Check this out…
Best Stainless Steel Pan Brands
There are several high-quality pan brands that produce great stainless steel cookware. Le Creuset and All-Clad are two of the best in the industry if you are shopping for high-end products.
Le Creuset is a French company founded in 1925 in the town of Fresnoy Le Grand, France. Best known for its colorful enamelware, the company only began producing stainless steel cookware in 2002 in Portugal.
But despite this relatively short time frame, Le Creuset has applied its nearly 100 years of accumulated knowledge and manufacturing prowess to produce a full line of exemplary stainless steel pieces.
All-Clad, on the other hand, does stainless steel and nothing else. It is also 100% produced in America, which is a big selling point for many of its customers.
Founder John Ulam – a metallurgist – started the company in 1971 after acquiring more than 50 patents for various bonded metal products.
Through this work, he realized that some of these could apply to kitchenware. All of the company’s products are still handcrafted in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.
But not everyone is ready to invest a lot of money into a frying pan, especially one that has such a finicky (if unfair) reputation as stainless steel.
For those who don’t want to pay the money or are still skeptical as to the benefits of stainless steel, Cuisinart is probably the best choice you can make.
Carl and Shirley Sontheimer founded Cuisinart in 1971 to bring their fascination with French food technology to the US.
They began by importing stainless steel cookware before the rest of the country even knew what that was. Today they specialize in well-made, popular options that are affordable to a wide range of consumers.
These three brands, of course, aren’t the only worthwhile players on the market today. What makes them stand out from the crowd, though, is an established history of quality products and customer popularity.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How can I make my pan non-stick?
A: While it is not possible to 100% ensure that nothing will ever stick to your stainless steel pan, there are a few things you can do to reduce its likelihood significantly.
First, make sure that you have seasoned your stainless steel pan recently and adequately.
Second, use low temperature to heat your pan slowly.
Third, make sure you have reached the appropriate temperature before adding oil or food.
Lastly, understand that some foods, especially proteins, will initially stick to the pan but will naturally release as they cook.
Q: Can I use non-stick spray on my pan?
A: No. You should avoid this at all costs. It will cause buildup over time that will impair the steel’s natural function, thus creating more sticking over time.
Q: What is the difference between an expensive and cheap pan?
A: There are quite a few. Expensive pans (we’re usually talking $100+) tend to heat more evenly, be of more ergonomic and quality construction, and warp and scratch less than your bargain brands.
Plus, manufacturers of expensive products are much more likely to offer some sort of relevant warranty on their products.
Q: Is stainless steel safe?
A: Yes, and no.
The USDA considers stainless steel safe for use with food as long as it contains a minimum of 16% chromium. It is technically possible that this type of pan could leach small amounts of whatever metals it is made of.
The quantities are so low, though, as to be a non-issue for everyone except those with specific sensitivities.
You can reduce the chance of leaching by not slow-cooking acidic foods, promptly removing food from the pan after cooking, and cleaning with non-abrasive detergents and pads.
All of this being said, stainless steel is still much safer than any coated or non-stick pans, particularly those that use Teflon.
These pans leach all sorts of nasty chemicals into your food every time you cook, so stay away from them, if possible.
Selecting the best stainless steel frying pan can be an intimidating task for even experienced cooks.
There are many different options on the market today, and most of them more or less look similar. But the devil is in the details here.
Variations in design and quality can make the difference between a memorable cooking experience and a disastrous foray into vagaries of stainless steel.
So, know your budget, adjust your expectations, and most importantly, read your instruction manual and follow it to a T.
Because, no matter how much money you spend on the fanciest frying pan on the market, your food will stick and you will hate it if you don’t use it correctly.
But if you do, my oh my, what delicious dishes you will create.