While both kitchen essentials, cast iron and stainless steel work best in different situations.
In need of a new skillet, saucepan, or stock pot? While doing your research, you’ve likely noticed that two of the most popular options are cast iron and stainless steel. But with so many options available, it’s hard to know which material will best fit your needs.
The truth is, however, that cast iron and stainless steel cookware are incredibly different, but both are building blocks for creating a well-stocked kitchen. While cast iron excels at high heat, stainless steel has the innate ability to tackle a wider variety of dishes.
Let’s take an in-depth look at both materials, so you can make an informed decision on the piece that’s best for you.
Cast iron is an alloy of carbon and iron that’s heated until molten and then poured into “casts” to form pots and pans. The result is a heavy, durable pan made in one piece, with excellent heat retention, and which—when seasoned correctly—is naturally non stick. While mass-produced cast iron cookware is a relatively recent phenomenon, the actual process of making cast iron has been around for thousands of years.
Today, cast iron cookware is available in unfinished and enameled styles. While each style might look different to the naked eye, enameled cast iron features a thin enamel coating fused to unfinished cast iron. This method creates a smoother cooking surface that requires less maintenance than the typical unfinished cast iron piece.
A classic in the kitchen, cast iron cookware is beloved by both home cooks and chefs due to its high heat resistance, naturally non-stick surface, and durability.
With the ability to withstand heat of up to 1500F, cast iron allows for use on stovetops, in ovens, and even directly on campfire embers. The material is also known to be a good conductor of heat for even cooking, and a great choice for more rustic, outdoor set-ups where there’s less temperature control.
Naturally Non Stick Surface
When properly seasoned, cast iron has a non stick surface. However, unlike other non stick pieces which need to be replaced every few years, cast iron can last lifetimes with proper maintenance.
Chefs and home cooks alike appreciate cast iron pans for their durability. With proper care, cast iron can last for generations and is less likely to warp from heat than other materials.
Before purchasing cast iron cookware, consider what you’ll be using it for. While the material certainly has its advantages, for those looking for a lightweight, easily maneuverable piece, cast iron might not be what you’re seeking.
Cast iron is an excellent choice for braising vegetables, searing meat, or baking cornbread. However, cooking acidic foods or sticky desserts in unfinished cast iron can cause the seasoning to deteriorate. (Note that this does not apply to enameled cast iron, which is protected by its coating.)
While cleaning cast iron is fairly easy, it does require more thought than most materials. We offer more in-depth information on cleaning enameled cast iron in our guide to the subject.
While cast iron has unparalleled heat retention, it does take a while to heat up and cool down compared to stainless steel. Be sure to keep this fact in mind while comparing the two materials.
Stainless steel cookware—also known as stainless clad cookware—is made by fusing layers of metal together. Most stainless clad pieces are either 3-ply or 5-ply—meaning they are constructed with either three or five layers of metal. At Made In, all of our cookware is constructed from 5-ply stainless steel for high quality performance. Our chef partners find that the extra layers provide more protection from scorching and contribute to steady, consistent cooking at every temperature.
Known for its versatility and non-reactive surface, stainless steel cookware is a favorite in both professional and home kitchens.
Stainless steel will not rust or bend with extensive use. Thus, the material is incredibly versatile in the kitchen, allowing cooks to choose from a range of recipes, including soups, sauces, fish, eggs, and more.
Thanks to the construction of our Stainless Clad Collection, which layers five metals to borrow the heat control, speed, and precision of each, stainless steel responds to adjustment in heat incredibly quickly.
Stainless steel cookware is one of the more lightweight cookware options, offering easy maneuverability. This is an advantage when sauteeing, stir-frying, and other high-heat and -speed cooking operations, or for dishes that require transferring between stove, oven, and table.
While stainless steel is known for its versatility and low maintenance performance, there are some considerations to keep in mind while shopping for the best fit for your kitchen.
Stainless steel is not non stick, so cooks must be acutely aware of the ingredients, fat, and temperature they’re cooking with. Otherwise, food will likely stick to its surface and be difficult to remove. While this can be mitigated by cooking with oil and preheating your pan, it’s a factor to take into consideration while shopping.
While stainless steel does heat up faster than cast iron, its speed may surprise unsuspecting cooks used to dealing with slow, low-quality cookware. A word of caution: Cranking the heat and leaving a pan unattended to speed up heating is the fastest way to guarantee burnt pans and ingredients.
While cast iron and stainless steel cookware perform best in different situations, both are excellent additions to your kitchen. Cast iron is known to shine while searing meat at high temps and transitioning seamlessly from stovetop to oven. However, stainless steel is known for its versatility and easy maneuverability. For a team of tools that can do it all, pair cast iron and stainless steel together.
Cast iron and stainless steel are both highly durable tools that last for years if properly taken care of. Home cooks and professional chefs alike use both types of cookware to create culinary masterpieces.
If you're interested in adding a new stainless steel or cast iron piece to your kitchen, we recommend taking a look at our collections—Our induction-compatible enameled cast iron pieces are hand-finished by expert craftsmen in France, while our award-winning stainless clad collection is optimized for induction and oven safe up to 800F.