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Oct 12, 2008 03:00 PM

When to use stainless steel, vs non-stick vs cast iron?

Hello food lovers!

I just splurged on my kitchen and got a stainless steel cookware set that has a copper and aluminum sandwich. I also got a nice non stick 10" fry pan and a Lodge regular cast iron grill skillet.

Now I'm trying to figure out which pan is best for what type of cooking... I already know that the non-stick is perfect for eggs, and that the cast iron grill pan is great for pan searing steaks. What else do you all think I should be using these pans for if anything? When is the appropriate time to use my stainless? Should it be for everything else, or are there times the cast iron or non-stick preform better?

Any advice would be much appreciated!

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  1. Other than the Lodge, do any have oven-ready handles?

    Besides material, pan shape matters. Some are better for boiling water, steaming vegetables. Other shapes are nice for frying with a lots of stirring and mixing ('stir fry'). Yet others are nice for roux and cream sauces (smooth flared sides that can be wiped clean with a spatula).

    1. It appears you've pretty much answered your own questions. Non-stick, of course, is also good for crepes and non-blackened fish.Clad stainless saucepans work great. I'm one of those who don't like stainless fry pans because they require quite a bit of oil to prevent sticking and are time consuming to keep looking new and shiny. But you may well decide otherwise.

      1. Personally - here's how I choose pans for the job:

        If I need need a sear (high heat) and want to end up with fond - I prefer CI (though if I just want fond and less sear, I'd use anodized). A pan seared MR steak can beat a grilled steak anyday done correctly.
        For CI - remember not to cook acidic foods (for a long cooking time), like tomato based sauces. Adding some tomato at the end for a quick cook through has never hurt my 12 yr old CI pan, but you wouldn't want to slow cook a tomato sauce.

        Non-Stick gets the most use from me for breakfast - as you said, anything egg related is perfect, especially omelets. That said, a fried egg in a well seasoned cast iron pan just rules. A bit of bacon grease (or butter) and they'll have wonderful flavor and won't stick.... if you've seasoned well. I sometimes use a small (8 1/2 in) NS to reheat a saucy item... I just reheated a leftover serving of Beef Stroganoff last night and it did the job perfectly as the noodles boiled.

        Stainless is kind of the medium of the others. Foods I want to take a bit of browning, but not using the high heat that I would use with CI and can't be achieved with NS.... a salmon filet comes to mind - or any fish really. Use a bit of fat and medium to med-high heat gives some nice color without overcooking.

        There are no real hard and fast rules - but these are the things that popped into my head.
        Like anything else, you'll learn as you go and may end up disagreeing with me and others. Cool - as long as you're happy with your food! That's what counts.

        On a related note - I never buy full sets of pans. I don't need, nor would ever use, a full set of pans with the same finish. Create your own collection using the pan sizes, types and finishes that suit your specific cooking and you'll save a ton on money (not to mention space!)

        Good luck!


        5 Replies
        1. re: ArizonaDave

          Second what you say about pan seared steak and mix-and-match cookware.

          I tend to cook a wide variety of dishes (methods and cuisine) and 1 type simply does not fit all.

          1. re: CPla

            Enjoy your site CPla - very nice. Lot's to go through!
            I just posted my (and Alton's - combo?) method for pan seared steak here for those interested:



            1. re: ArizonaDave

              Thank You, nice of you to say so.

              1. re: CPla

                I have the same question. I am in the process of upgrading my cookware and I'm looking to purchase a stainless steel 12 inch skillet and a 12 inch cast iron skillet. So I'm wondering what applications are best suited to the SS vs the CI? All I really know is that for a nice sear on steak, CI is the way to go because it gets hotter and retains heat better, but how about other applications?

                Stir fries or sauteed veggies? Sauteed chicken breasts?

                Or to put it more succinctly, what advantage does a stainless steel skillet have over a cast iron one? And vice-versa?

                1. re: turkob

                  For a skillet, I can see no blue ribbons/gold medals for either stainless or non-stick. And, of course there are skillets and there are skillets: a ribbed skillet for making steaks is completely useless to fry eggs; you want a smooth surface to fry an egg. For a saucepan, stockpot, or saucier, stainless is superior, and for a dutch oven, cast iron is superior. For frying eggs, nothing beats cast iron, unenameled, but properly seasoned, and not heated as high as you might heat a stainless frying pan; for scrambled eggs, which we like to cook in a dab of butter, enameled cast iron is the one we grab.

                  If you believe in nonstick surfaces, by all means investigate Sitram Cybernox, which is not quite as slippery as Teflon, Silverstone, etc., but is way ahead of plain stainless for nonstickiness, and much more durable. Just do not use Scotchbrite, or any of the other cleaning cloths that have embedded mineral scouring grit, on Cybernox.