Cast iron skillet vs. stainless steel skillet

Cookware & Cooking Tools

Unlike nonstick cookware, both stainless steel and cast iron skillets have no synthetic coatings containing controversial chemicals, so they’re a safer choice for regular use.

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Stainless steel or cast iron: Which is better? 

With so many options, choosing the right cookware can be baffling. If you’ve decided nonstick skillets aren’t right for you, perhaps you’re trying to decide between two of the most popular alternatives: cast iron skillets and stainless steel skillets.

Cast iron skillets are extremely durable and you can create nonstick coatings on them via the process of seasoning. Stainless steel skillets are slightly less durable but lighter and easier to handle.

Cast iron skillet

Cast iron skillets are made from heavy duty raw cast iron. To use them without food sticking fast to the surface, they must be seasoned by baking vegetable oil onto the interior to create a smooth nonstick surface. Most cast iron skillets on the market today come pre-seasoned.

Due to their weight and because they retain heat well, cast iron skillets are great for charring and searing food. They can cost $10-$200, although most cost less than $50.

Pros

  • A well-seasoned cast iron skillet has nonstick properties to rival pans with nonstick coatings, and this only improves over time if you care for your skillet correctly.
  • Cast iron is so durable that you can find antique cast iron pans more than 100 years old that still are usable, so when you invest in decent cast iron cookware, it could last you a lifetime.
  • Its excellent heat retention properties allows cast iron cookware to give food a perfect sear, plus you can turn your burner off toward the end of the cooking process and finish up using just the residual heat, which saves a little energy.
  • People often talk about how difficult cast iron is to care for but it’s actually quite easy to clean and maintain; after cooking some types of food, you can simply wipe the inside clean.

Cons

  • Cast iron skillets don’t transfer heat all that effectively so they take a while to heat up and can have cold spots if the pan is significantly larger than the burner.
  • The seasoning on some pre-seasoned cast iron pans isn’t the greatest, so they may need some additional seasoning to be nonstick.
  • Cast iron skillets usually don’t come with lids.

Best cast iron skillets

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

This is a popular choice from a manufacturer that’s been producing cast iron skillets since the 1890s. You can choose from a range of sizes from 3.5 to 15 inches.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Utopia Kitchen Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet Set

Utopia Kitchen Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet Set

Great for anyone new to cast iron who wants to kit their kitchen out fully, this set contains three skillets of 6, 8 and 10 inches. They’re reasonably priced and decently seasoned and constructed.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Calphalon Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

Calphalon Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

This is a 12-inch skillet from a big name in cookware. The oversized handles make it easy to lift and it’s lighter than some cast iron, but the seasoning may need topping up before use.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Stainless steel skillet

Stainless steel pans often are in professional kitchens because they’re affordable and lightweight, yet relatively durable. Once you’ve got the hang of cooking on them, they’re fairly simple to use—although food is prone to sticking if you make a mistake.

Most stainless steel skillets cost between $10-$50, but you can find high-end options for up to $200, with highly durable multi-ply construction. If you want further details, check out the guide to stainless steel cookware sets.

Pros

  • Stainless steel skillets often have aluminum cores to make them better conductors of heat, so they heat more quickly and evenly than cast iron pans.
  • They’re easier to manage than cast iron skillets because of being lightweight; you can toss food in the pan with the flick of a wrist.
  • They don’t have a nonstick coating that can flake off, so they can last a long time if you treat them carefully.
  • Many stainless steel skillets come with lids.

Cons

  • Stainless steel skillets aren’t nonstick, so you need to learn a few techniques—and use a lot of oil—to stop food sticking to the pan.
  • They aren’t as durable or long-lasting as cast iron pans and they can stain over time or become damaged where food has stuck to them.

Best stainless steel skillets

Cuisinart Chef's Classic 12-Inch Skillet

Cuisinart Chef’s Classic 12-Inch Skillet

This is a well-constructed stainless steel skillet from a respected brand. It comes with a glass lid and has some great features, such as a non-drip rim and internal measurement markings.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Farberware Classic Stainless Steel Frying Pan Set

Farberware Classic Stainless Steel Frying Pan Set

You get two skillets in this set: one measuring 8.25 inches and the other one measuring 10 inches. The handles stay cool to the touch but are oven safe only up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Mueller Austria DuraClad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel

Mueller Austria DuraClad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel

This relatively compact 8-inch stainless steel skillet has triple-ply construction and comes with a lifetime warranty. The lid fits well and both the lid and skillet are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Should you get a cast iron skillet or a stainless steel skillet?

Neither is inherently better than the other; they just have different properties. Cast iron skillets are great for anyone who doesn’t mind dealing with a heavy pan and little bit of extra care for a lifetime of use. Plus, cast iron skillets can build up extremely effective nonstick coatings over time.

Stainless steel skillets are perfect for users who want lightweight pans that heat evenly and are easy to lift and toss. They’re still fairly sturdy, although not as durable as cast iron. Keen cooks might find they want both cast iron and stainless steel skillets in their kitchen to use for differing purposes.

 

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

 

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