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Looking for a new cookware set or individual item? Pot, pan, saucepan? Confused about which material to opt for? Understandable! There many options out there, all boasting different features and benefits.
To really assess the scale of options out there, we are going to look at two very different materials: Teflon and stainless steel. By the end of this post you’ll know exactly what both of these materials are made of, what they offer, the setbacks they pose, and which is best for you.
Enough chat, let’s talk about Teflon vs stainless steel cookware!
Table of Contents
We’re going to start with Teflon, as it’s the more complicated and controversial of the two…
What is it?
Teflon is the brand name given to the chemical formulation PTFE or Polytetrafluoroethylene (don’t even try!). Teflon was first formulated and marketed by the brand Chemours, an offshoot of DuPont.
Teflon/PTFE is a chemical which is used for much more than just cookware. It is used for many different applications in construction, aerospace and industrial work. But it’s cookware we’re interested in here…
The reason why Teflon was such a revelation in the cookware realm was because of its non-stick properties. Home cooks could fry eggs, pancakes, and meats without mess or stuck food. This not only made the cooking process easier, but it made the clean-up far easier too.
Note: Teflon is the coating which covers the base material of the cookware, often stainless steel or aluminum.
Skip forward to today; Teflon is still very much around, and nonstick cookware is still a kitchen superstar.
You’re probably itching to know more about the controversial side of Teflon…because there definitely is one. Over the past few years, the health and safety of nonstick cookware, (especially Teflon) has been under the consumer microscope.
This is because it was found that after a certain heat point (around 570 degrees F), the PTFE can break down and send nasty chemicals into the air around you. As long as your Teflon isn’t overheated, it’s actually a safe material which you can use confidently.
However…there used to be another substance in Teflon which got a bad reputation, and for good reason. It’s called PFOA and it’s not great for our health, especially for the thyroid, liver and kidneys. This is partly why Teflon was cast out as a dangerous product. Good news, PFOA has now been banned from cookware in the USA and Teflon no longer contains PFOA.
Pros of Teflon
Easy to clean (food slides off easily)
Helps with cutting down on fat content in your cooking (less oil and butter needed)
Easily transfer eggs and stick-prone foods from pan to plate without losing any food
Safe when kept to a maximum medium heat
Cons of Teflon
Sensitive to high heats
Not ideal for searing meats to achieve a golden crust or browning (stainless steel is better, as we’ll see soon!)
Can scratch when sharp or hard utensils are used (such as metal utensils)
Now we switch gears completely! Let’s talk about stainless steel.
Stainless steel is a metal comprised of iron, chromium, nickel and sometimes molybdenum.
There are varying levels of stainless steel, depending on how much chromium and nickel is present. That’s what those numbers you see on stainless steel goods mean, often 18/8 or 18/10 (the first number indicates chromium, the second indicates nickel).
The reason for the chromium, nickel and molybdenum is to prevent rusting and tarnishing. The result is a metal which is non-reactive, meaning it won’t clash with acidic foods, leaching metals into your meal.
Stainless steel is long-wearing and won’t chip or scratch off due to the fact that there’s no coating to be chipped in the first place.
In terms of health and safety, stainless steel is great. The only exception to this regards people who have very sensitive and serious nickel allergies. Such people should choose another cookware material as even tiny amounts of nickel transferred from stainless steel might be problematic.
When choosing stainless steel cookware, make sure to find a brand which layers their metals. Find a brand which has a stainless steel interior and exterior, with layers of stainless steel and copper or aluminum in the core. This will ensure an even heat distribution without hot and cold spots. This is because stainless steel alone isn’t a great heat conductor.
Check out T-Fal, Cuisinart, Cook n Home, Calphalon and Cooks Standard for high quality and affordable stainless steel cookware.
Attractive and stylish
Can be seasoned to be reasonably nonstick
Won’t chip or peel
Safe and healthy to use
Great for searing and achieving a golden “tan” on your food
Not totally nonstick
Not a great heat conductor on its own (needs copper or aluminum to bolster it)
Can be tough to clean if you get sticky bits of food burnt onto the surface
Which one is best for you?
Instead of choosing one over the other, why not have both?
You could nominate stainless steel for your core set, with a Teflon skillet or two as a backup for pancakes and eggs. A stainless steel stock pot, saute pan, saucepan and skillet would make a fantastic, safe everyday set.
You can cook a little “harder” with your stainless steel cookware on a daily basis, meaning you can fire up the high heat, use different kinds of utensils and not have to worry about being delicate.
Throw in a Teflon frying pan for eggs, pancakes, fritters, crepes, pikelets, fish (and days when you need to cut down on calories by eliminating extra fat).
A good rule of thumb is to use your stainless steel cookware for anything which requires a good blast of high heat, such as seared meats or stir-fried veggies. Then use your nonstick pan for anything which needs a low-medium heat and poses the risk of sticking.
Stainless steel and Teflon are two very different cookware materials indeed.
Teflon is great for a very specific purpose: nonstick cooking. While stainless steel is more of an all-rounder with both aesthetic and functional benefits.
Stainless steel is more reliable in terms of safety, as it won’t emit toxins into the air…while Teflon can IF it’s subjected to high enough heat. In saying that, Teflon is safe when low-medium heat is used and soft utensils (no metal!) are favored.
We think that the best way to go is to choose both! A Teflon frying pan will always come in handy, as will a stainless steel saucepan or skillet.