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Nonstick vs. Stainless Steel

My recent adventure with making baingan bharta (curried eggplant plus), got me thinking ...
when would someone choose to use a stainless steel skillet/frying pan over nonstick other than for greater browning effects?

I know that some cooks choose not to use nonstick cookware for perceived health reasons, and that nonstick is recommended to be heated to only medium to medium high temperatures.

I have stayed away from using my stainless steel cookware (frying pans, that is, I still use my sauce pots all the time!) in favor of the nonstick due to the ease of cleanup.

For sauteeing and more gentle heating of food, is there some other reason why stainless steel cookware is not used more often? When I was cooking the eggplant dish which consisted of heated canola oil, onions, ginger, garlic, many other spices, and a mixture of canned diced tomato and mashed precooked eggplant, the mixture seemed to dance effortlessly over the surface of my first time used Caphalon nonstick 10 inch omelette/sautee pan (with an anodized surface). I wondered if I would have had the same ease using the stainless steel pan, or if the oil would tend to stick more to the surface.

And what about the pans that consist of the higher grade version of the anodized surface? My skillet surface looked like the older Teflon type surfaces of old, but it was labeled as anodized (can be used for oven cooking also). The other anodized surfaces I refer to are the more expensive ones that don't look like they have any kind of coating, but rather consist just of a material that has been constructed in a way to make it nonstick.

Some cooking shows I watch typically use what looks like stainless steel frying pans.

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  1. I use 2 nonstick fry pans and plain stainless everything else. The reason I use the nonstick pans is because I can use less oil, and they are easier to use and clean up. I learned to make an omelet in a cast iron skillet many years ago, and I used cast iron to fry in as well. I do prefer the non stick, but yes, you don't get nice browning.

    But I understand that when you use a non-stick pan, you should never heat it on high. If you need to use high heat, you would need to use stainless.

    Also, the pan will outlive the non-stick surface eventually. That is why I don't invest much money in my non-stick pans any more. And I store them with plastic wrap over them, particularly if I have to stack something on them. And, you cannot put them through the dishwasher. And, as you probably know, you must use nylon or wood spatulas with most of them.

    4 Replies
    1. re: sueatmo

      Yep, you can beat the crap out of your stainless steel pans, and they just end up looking lived-in. With teflon, you have to be so careful. Cooking. Cleaning. You have to treat it like glass.

      I'm not the kind of person who should cook with glass.

      1. re: greglor

        Yes, stainless steel pans can take a lickin' and keep on tickin', but good luck keeping that egg from stickin'... Now, don't throw that shiny All-Clad into the pond, because teflon just won't produce fond.

        My Blog: http://www.epicureforum.com

        1. re: sirregular

          I learned the secret to cooking with stainless steel frying pans years ago and if you do this every single time, nothing - including eggs and hotcakes - will stick. (You do not need to do this if you are cooking food in boiling water - this is only if you are putting food directly on a stainless steel surface such as eggs, fried chicken, hotcakes...etc.)

          So here's the secret - it has two parts:

          Part 1) Before putting anything into the pan - including oil, butter or sprays - you must season the frying pan first meaning, you must get the pan hot - not just warm, but hot. You will know it is hot enough when you sprinkle a couple drops of water in the pan and the water sizzles and forms little balls that dance on the surface. Before cooking, remove from heat until pan cools slightly (if you add oil or butter at this point it will burn) Once pan has reached the desired temperature, add oil and cook whatever.

          Part 2) Always keep the bottom of your pans clean - get rid of any brown build-up - a stainless steel scouring pad works best.

          I find "barely-used" expensive Faberware pans at Thrift stores all the time and as I'm buying them for $5, I chuckle to myself. I know that pan ended up in a thrift store simply because the owner failed to use it correctly.

          If you heat your frying pans and keep the brown build-up from forming, you will love cooking with your stainless steel ccokware. If not, you will hate it and your stainless steel will end up in a donation bin somewhere.

          Try this. You will be amazed.

          1. re: I love 2 cook

            I love 2 cook... were we separated at birth? I've been singing the praises on non-nonstick for years :)

    2. Dyes can be incorporated into the anodizing process, hence there are anodized aluminum products in the brightest of colors. But it seems that most anodized cookware is a dark gray. If the inside surface of pan appears the same as the outside, then I'd guess it was anodized without a nonstick coating. But if the inside is different, usually a darker gray, the I'd suspect a Teflon (PTFE) coating. No one is going to put that coating on the outside.

      1. Stainless steel all the way! I am a huge fan of them...

        I used to really like the nonstick because I could use less oil, until the day I actually did melt the teflon coating off of it and realized how absolutely horrifyingly dangerous it was. They say it's safe up to a reasonable temperature, and that you would not typically use it at high enough temps to be dangerous, but this is patently false and misleading... temperatures do get very high in the pan even in normal home cooking. Bacon fries at about 500.

        Most people, I think don't use stainless out of perceived health benefits of nonstick (less oil)... and also stainless can stick and requires a little more attention; (e.g. pan must be hot, but not too hot before oil goes on it, etc)

        But as far as safety of the food and performance, I think that your best bet really is stainless steel. Oh, and they make pan sauces excellently... cast iron will give off a slightly metallic taste and non-stick doesn't have fond to speak of, but stainless will work wonders

        2 Replies
        1. re: oryza

          The pan sauce/gravy making ability of various pans is a huge thing and something that the Consumer magazines rarely mention. I suspect that for the mass market it is not a big deal, but if you love fond you really must have SS or hard anodized cookware, and of the two SS is more versatile, though to get the uniform heating of classic Calphalon you have to step up to muli-ply SS, and that adds considerably to the raw materials cost, not to mention the big promotion budgets of the "name" cookware makers.

          On TV (or even a kitchen demo at a store) the reflectivity of a SS pan will make it much easier to see what is happening inside a pan, at home I do find myself turn the lights ALL the way up when I'm cooking in a Calaphalon pan.

          1. re: oryza

            Your preference for stainless is a personal choice but your science shouldn't be.
            The melting temperature of pure teflon is 635 degrees F at which point it's likely that you would have had much larger problems in your kitchen than whatever was going on in your pan, including with any fat in that pan.
            Bacon can be cooked at 400 degrees in the oven and will cook at that temperature or lower on the cooktop.
            Physical properties of teflon: http://www.boedeker.com/teflon_p.htm

          2. I hardly ever have a hard time cleaning my All-Clad pans...and use the NOT non-stick pans the most. When I occasionally need the non-stick pan, I pull out a Tramontina one from Sam's- it was at most $15...while the All-Clad one sits in the cupboard collecting dust. I do LOVE my AC non-stick double griddle pan though!

            1. I really don't like the idea of nonstick...and I don't trust myself to cook lower than the 'safe' temperature! I must admit I still love a nonstick for fried eggs, but I'm trying to get used to SS for this too.
              The secret to ss pans is to make sure you heat them WELL before adding any oil. I'll turn on the the heat, then chop the onions. What this does is the metal expands sealing any microscopic nooks and crannies that food might stick to. THEN you add the oil. The other thing with heavy stainless (I have all clad) is that they hold so much heat that you don't have to heat them on VERY hot. a good medium high is perfect for almost everything and you get less sticking. and they clean SO well if you use those stainless steel scrubbies on them - a breeze.

              And if we're talking health benefits, I'd much rather eat an extra few tablespoons of olive oil once in a while than whatever's in teflon.

              1. After years of using only Calphalon anodized and stainless steel, I will never understand the appeal of nonstick. You have to be so careful about not scratching the surface and the heat of your cooktop. And the few times I have used nonstick (at other people's houses), there was no browning going on... pretty hard to sear a steak and make a pan sauce that way! Even for eggs... but that's just me. And just try whisking in a nonstick saucepan... not fun... too much to worry if the little black flecks are pepper or teflon

                Calphalon anodized is non-reactive and is not nonstick... the color comes from the anodizing process. The new Calphalon One series has something bonded to the surface that is guranteed not to flake off but has properties of nonstick. They don't make the old anodized kind anymore.

                Stainless steel can go in the dishwasher and is pretty easy to keep clean with a bit of Brillo (yeah, I know the little booklet that comes in the box says not to use it but seriously... it needs it sometimes, usually on the outside)

                And someone else has mentioned this... hot pot + cold oil = food not sticking. I can't stress that enough! You don't need a lot of oil but it does have to be the right temperature! Your mentioned recipe would probably stick a bit to stainless but you would have more flavor from the browning especially if you used a bit of broth to deglaze the pan before adding the tomatoes.

                Cuisinart makes a well priced 12" stainless saute pan that heats pretty well and has not warped on me yet. Just don't put it in water while hot.

                1. To me, the question is more "What are the few circumstances when you SHOULD use non-stick"

                  IMHO, the answer is 1. eggs, and 2. delicate fish. Other than that, go with regular.

                  The whole idea of heating and adding cold oil is one I'll have to be more conscious of..don't know if I've gone quite as far as others have reco'd.

                  To the one poster who mentioned the melting point of Teflon being over 600 (implying don't worry about it, it clearly discolors if overheated, and also off-gasses at lower temperature. In fact, I know overheating a Teflon pan if you have a pet bird is very dangerous, because the vapors, which may be harmless to people, are fatal to avians.

                  Finally, in the event you do get sticking or residue in a non-non stick pan (such are a dish where you don't deglaze to make a sauce, you can still "deglaze" the pan with water and a drop of dish soap while you do other clean up, and it will wipe clean effortlessly when it's time comes.

                  1. Folks, pardon the interruption, but discussions about birds and the possible harmful effects of teflon on them is beyond the scope of this board and Chowhound. We've had to remove some posts that focused on that subject.


                    1. Number one if your pan is so hot as to melt Teflon you have more problems that the hot Teflon going on. Even butter at that temp will give off noxious fumes.

                      But as to Stainless steel pans put a pinch of salt in the pan bring to heat then wipe the pan with a paper towel with a dab of oil on it. You will have less sticking problems .

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: blade

                        I heartily confirm the non-stick benefits of salt and oil on stainless steel...!

                        The way I learned it, the oil is heated to smoke level, then a couple of tablespoons of salt are added, followed by serious rubbing. Discard the salt with a paper towel and voila! You have your seasoned, non-stick pan! No water after that should touch the SS, just an oil and paper towel wipe-down after use -- like a regular seasoned pan. (Stick to lower heat.)

                        'Works beautifully; I love it!

                      2. I just purchased my first set of SS cookware. I decided on the Calphalon 13 piece Tri-Ply set. I have other Calphalon Hard Anodized cookware and am very happy with them. I've done much research on comparable sets and found the Calphalon to be the best choice for me. While the set does include two frying pans I thought I might want a few non stick pans for whatever reasons. While I would never purchase non-stick coated pans I have found out about "marble coated" pans and would like to purchase one if they are safe. It appears they are more common Asia. Does anybody have any more info on these types of pans?

                        1. I use non-stick for eggs and the like, but otherwise I use
                          neither. BTW, an anodized exterior surface
                          has no effect on the non-stick interior. It just
                          looks nice.

                          1. My mother bought be my first set of pots and pans 14 years ago and they are stainless steel, so for years I just didn't know any difference because SS is what I was used to. I still use the same SS set that is 14 years old everyday, and they still look and work wonderfully. I have only one non-stick frying pan and I use it only for eggs. I've never had an issue cleaning my SS. I just let them sit with water in them in the sink, then a rinse them and sometimes use the scrubby side of the sponge, and throw them in the dishwasher. I've never had issues cooking anything other than eggs (mostly just because I prefer not to add oil to my eggs), but like others have said, you just have to heat them up correctly. I love the way they heat evenly and perfectly brown, never mind the fact that they hold up so well that I have never had to buy a new set. Stainless is the way to go :-)

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: isis8266

                              The argument I'm reading is that Teflon coating is helpful, providing a non-stick cooking surface. It is also an inexpensive process, allowing for a low cost pan to be sold.

                              That is, IF you do not overheat the pan, and IF you do not scratch the pan surface. Those facts, I note are rarely stated on advertisements or packaging for most teflon-coated pans. Having just examined a number of said pans during the holiday buying season, I can attest that many emphasized terms such as " MIRACLE " and " HEALTHY " instead.

                              If you do manage to overheat or scratch the teflon-coated pan surface, an easy enough thing to do, then KNOWN ( not perceived ) carcinogens are released from the Teflon, which may be inhaled or ingested.

                              Stainless steel can be heated to high temperatures, placed in an oven, scrubbed hard to clean, and the inside surface itself does not contain carcinogens. As noted above, when heated and lightly oiled, it can cook food items that do not stick, and at lower temperatures.

                              Which would you then choose ?

                              1. re: isis8266

                                A gift that keeps on giving. That was money well spent and saved over 14 years. I bet your nonstick lasted long too since you don't use it often.

                                What set did your mom get you?

                                1. re: unprofessional_chef


                                  My parents gave me a Römer, or clay-baking set. Unique, but not to this discussion.

                                  My first stainless pan and pot set was made locally by Stöckli. Replaced later by Tramontina-Brasil, and since about 1994 replaced 100 % by Rösle.