Cooking can be a messy process and considering how busy our lives are, this is not an addition to them that we would like.
No matter how delicious the food is, the moment you turn around and see the pile of plates and pans that need washing, your heart just sinks.
This is especially true with anything that is cooked in a pan. Frying, searing, braising, boiling, or simmering, all these processes are liable to make a mess around or in the pan.
When you have something stuck to the bottom of a pan, you just know as well that that pan will be soaking for a few days before you deal with it.
Enter non-stick cookware, easy to clean and deal with, but what materials make non-stick pans? Is it stainless steel? Are stainless steel pans non-stick?
What Is Non-Stick Cookware?
Non-stick cookware is pots and pans that are easy to clean, maintain, and use. These types of cookware are normally made from steel or aluminum, but what makes them non-stick is the addition of a coating over the top of the metal.
Once made, the metal is coated with the chemical polytetrafluoroethylene, otherwise known as ‘Teflon’, before being put on the market.
This coating is the reason that non-stick cookware gets its name, as it stops most things from sticking inside the pan, resulting in an easier clean and the use of less oil.
Non-stick cookware is still highly popular compared to a lot of other cookware, due to the ease of cleaning and maintaining it, but it does mean that some cooking options are left unavailable to you and that you have to be careful not to scratch the coating or the non-stick quality will disappear.
Is Stainless Steel Non-Stick?
No, absolutely not. If you buy a pan that is stainless steel, and it has made no claims to be non-stick or to have a non-stick coating, then it is not non-stick.
The only way a pan is non-stick is when they have the polytetrafluoroethylene coating over them. If they do not, then they are not non-stick.
Of course, you can have stainless steel cookware that claims that it sticks less or has non-stick properties when you are cooking, but these are either going to be false or have a very slight non-stick property that doesn’t go beyond being slightly easier to clean.
Stainless VS Non-Stick: Which Is Better?
The answer to this question is how often do you cook? And how much cleaning do you want to do? Let’s do pros and cons list for both:
- Easy to clean: The most obvious pro is that non-stick cookware is incredibly easy to clean, all you have to do is wipe the surface with warm water and soap without using a scourer or something with a harsh surface, and it should be clean in a few moments.
- Easier to cook with: Due to the non-stick surface, you don’t have to worry about using that much fat in the pan, as it is already coated in a layer that will stop the food from sticking to the bottom, and you don’t have to monitor your food constantly to make sure it doesn’t stick.
- Lightweight: Teflon pans aren’t really all that heavy and anyone can handle them with ease, which makes them perfect for people who don’t like to sweat in the kitchen.
- Price: Normally, Teflon pans are not too dear, in fact, you can normally get a set of them for $10 to $20. This is due to the fact that they don’t use too much metal in them, making them cheaper.
- Diverse cooking options: Stainless steel pans allow you to cook food however you like. If you want to sear something and get a Maillard reaction from the meat (the browning and crispening of the meat) or braise the remaining meat and sauce in the oven, then you can.
- Durable: Stainless steel is an incredibly durable metal that stands up to very high heat and can even be moved between cooking apparatuses. This is because it is a simply strong metal, rather than metal with a coating, and so it can be put on the hob, in the oven, or even on an open fire.
- Conductivity: Stainless steel pans conduct heat through them very effectively and will reach the temperature necessary for whatever you are cooking easily.
- Non-reactive: Steel, in general, is not a particularly reactive substance. This means that if you are cooking with particularly acidic foods – like alcohol or vinegar – or alkaline foods – like brine – then it should not affect the stainless steel pan whatsoever.
So, there are a few pros for both sides, but what about the negatives of either one?
- Prior problems with chemicals: Previously, there were concerns by advocacy groups, scientists, and environmentalists that non-stick coatings used a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical was pretty toxic to people and the environment. Thankfully, manufacturers have basically phased out the use of this chemical, so it does not end up in the final cookware. But it is still enough to make people wary.
- High heat: Non-stick pans cannot tolerate too high a heat. If the heat is too high, then the non-stick coating will come off and enter your food or into the air. This is a problem, as even though PFOA has been phased out, other harmful chemicals still exist in the coating. Once a high enough temperature is reached, these chemicals will enter the air and be harmful to you.
- Less cooking options: Non-stick pans can really only do three things: fry, boil, and simmer. Due to the coating and the inability to deal with high temperatures, you cannot braise or sear the meat, which means you cannot get a Maillard reaction to them. If you often cook, this is a bit of a blow to the cooking process.
- Cleaning: Stainless steel pans are far, far harder to clean. Everything sticks to them, and it normally requires a soak in order to get last night’s dinner off.
- Very hot: Stainless steel pans get very hot, very quickly, and you are liable to burn your hands on the handle if you don’t use an oven glove or a tea towel.
There are far fewer cons with Stainless steel cookware, because, quite simply, it is more versatile. However, it all depends on what you are cooking.
If you are just cooking to give you a quick meal at the end of the day, then non-stick should be fine, but if you often cook, then maybe splurge on some stainless steel.
Stainless steel is not non-stick, as that requires a coating over the entire pan or cookware piece. While stainless steel and non-stick may be different, they still both function as cookware, and it is up to you to decide which you want.