Pros and Cons of Different Types of Cookware
As a producer of cast iron cookware, we get a lot of questions about why cast iron is different than other cookware options out there, so we wanted...
As a producer of cast iron cookware, we get a lot of questions about why cast iron is different than other cookware options out there, so we wanted to put together a guide for anyone looking to learn more about the pros and cons of different types of cookware.
The Five Common Cookware Metals
There are five different metals that are used to make pretty much all the cookware on the market. They are:
- Stainless steel
- Cast iron
- Carbon steel
We’ll go through them one by one, show some examples, and talk about the pros and cons of each.
What to Look for in Your Cookware
When it comes to making a purchase, whether you're looking for premium cookware or are on more of a budget, here are some important factors to keep in mind:
One of the most important qualities of a cookware material is its ability distribute heat. Cookware that distributes heat effectively will cook more evenly, with fewer hot spots. A hot spot occurs when the heat applied to the bottom of the pan isn’t properly distributed throughout the material, causing the area of the cooking surface directly above the heat source to be much hotter than the areas around it.
Another important factor in choosing a cookware material is heat capacity, which is the material’s ability to retain heat. This is a bit harder to quantify, because heat capacity is a function of mass, which means that a thicker, heavier pan will retain heat longer. But we’ll talk about weight and material thickness more in another post.
Induction cooking is becoming more and more popular, and the induction-compatibility of your cookware is something to keep in mind if you currently have or are considering purchasing an induction range or countertop cooker. For cookware to work on an induction cooktop it must be comprised of, or contain, a ferromagnetic metal such as cast iron or stainless steel.
We’re going to mention reactivity for each of these cookware metals--specifically the way in which the cookware reacts (or doesn’t react) with acidic foods. By reacts, we mean that acidic foods will actually eat into the metal, which not only pits the surface of the cookware, but leeches some of that metal into whatever you’re cooking.
Let’s talk about aluminum first, which is one of the most popular materials these days for a frying pan. Aluminum is lightweight, cheap and very good at distributing heat. It doesn’t retain heat particularly well though, so the temperature will fluctuate as food is added to a hot pan. It’s also the softest metal on our list, so it will scratch and dent pretty easily.
The main issue with aluminum, and the reason that you never see bare aluminum cookware, is its reactivity with acid. For this reason, aluminum cookware is always coated to provide a barrier between the metal and your food.
The pan pictured below is anodized on the outside, which helps with the durability. The inside of the pan is coated with PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), commonly referred to by its branded name Teflon. These coatings are marketed as non-stick because, like the name says, it’s difficult for anything to adhere to them, which makes cooking certain foods much easier.
The issue with any coating, but PTFE in particular, is that it’s not very durable. A coating like this one can easily be scratched off with a metal utensil, and as soon as that happens, this pan should be disposed of. So even if you’re careful and don’t abuse it, you can expect to replace a pan like this every couple years.
Another potential issue with a coating like this one is the possibility of health risks. We say possibility because there isn’t a consensus on the subject, but some consumers are concerned that these coatings may be harmful or toxic under certain conditions.
Since aluminum is nonferrous, which means it doesn’t contain any iron, it can’t be used on an induction range by itself. So as induction ranges have gotten more popular, manufacturers have started applying a stainless steel disc to the bottom of the pan. Since steel is ferrous, an aluminum pan with this disc can be used for induction cooking.
Copper isn’t as popular as aluminum for a couple reasons. Even though it’s excellent at distributing heat, the best of the five metals on our list, it’s heavy and very expensive. Unlike aluminum, copper is extremely dense, which makes it durable and long-lasting.
Copper suffers from the same shortcomings as aluminum: it can’t be used on an induction range and it’s reactive with acidic foods. Because of this, copper is traditionally lined with tin or stainless steel like in the picture below, which provides a barrier the same way a non-stick coating does. This lining process is called cladding, which we’ll talk about more later on.
On top of the above issues, copper will oxidize if left exposed. Similar to the way iron oxides to form rust, copper will turn green like the Statue of Liberty or an old penny. To avoid this, exposed copper either needs to be polished regularly, or sealed with some kind of lacquer.
Stainless steel is a ferrous metal; it’s about 70 to 75 percent iron, so it can be used on an induction range. It’s not quite as dense as copper, but it’s still very durable. It doesn’t rust or oxidize so it’s easy to maintain. Stainless steel isn’t great at releasing food, which means that certain foods may get stuck and burnt if you’re not careful.
The biggest selling point of stainless steel is that it is resistant to acid. It won’t react with acidic foods the way aluminum or copper will, so it doesn’t need to be coated with anything. The problem is that it’s terrible at distributing heat, the worst of the five we’re looking at. It’s such a poor thermal conductor that stainless steel is basically unusable for cookware by itself.
The way manufacturers have worked around this is to combine it with a superior thermal conductor like aluminum. This is accomplished by fastening a disc of aluminum to the bottom of the pan, or by cladding the aluminum and steel together. Cladding is done by taking sheets of different metals and sandwiching them together before forming the material into a pan shape. This example pictured below is the most popular clad configuration and has 3 layers: stainless steel, aluminum, and stainless steel again. Some clad cookware has 5 or even 7 layers, alternating stainless with more thermally conductive metals like aluminum or copper.
Clad stainless steel cookware is effective at fixing the shortcomings of both materials (the reactivity of aluminum and the poor thermal conductivity of steel), but it’s usually expensive. The heat retention properties of the final pan depend on the composition. The example pictured above has an aluminum core, which doesn’t retain heat particularly well.
Cast iron is one of the oldest cookware materials and it’s unique for a couple reasons. In terms of construction, cast iron is the only one on our list that is traditionally made in one piece, which means there are no joints or seams. In general, cast iron is the most durable cookware because of its construction, as well as the strength and thickness of the material. It has the same density as stainless steel even though it has more iron in its composition, about 85 or 90 percent.
Contrary to popular belief, cast iron is <span">not great at distributing heat. It’s better than stainless steel or carbon steel, but not as effective as aluminum or copper. The area where cast iron shines is its ability to retain heat. Once it gets hot, it stays hot, more than any other option on our list. For this reason, cast iron works best if it’s been preheated before cooking. It’s also great at radiating that heat, but that’s a topic for another post. A common complaint about cast iron is the weight. Cast iron cookware is generally thicker and heavier than other cookware options but this additional weight is functional, as it contributes to cast iron’s heat retention properties.
The majority of cast iron is produced by pouring molten iron into a mold made of sand. This mold creates a rough, sandpaper-like surface texture. One of the main differences between the various cast iron skillets on the market is whether or not this surface is smoothed out after casting. Smoother cooking surfaces, like the one found on a Stargazer skillet (pictured below), are more non-stick and easier to clean.
These smooth cast iron skillets are generally more expensive than their rough counterparts, like the one pictured below, because of the additional labor involved in the manufacturing process.
Unlike stainless steel, cast iron will rust if left exposed, and it’s reactive with acid, like aluminum and copper. There are two popular methods to correct both issues: seasoning and enameling.
Seasoning is a layer of edible fat or oil that is applied to the cookware and heated. When the oil is heated, it goes through a chemical change known as polymerization, which turns the liquid oil into a hard, solid shell. This layer of seasoning protects the iron from rust and acts as a barrier to minimize acidic reactions. Seasoning also helps the surface release food, making the cookware more non-stick. You don’t have to worry about the seasoning getting damaged or wearing out, because it can be easily re-applied at any time.
The other method of protecting cast iron is enameling. To accomplish this, the iron is coated with glass-like enamel during manufacturing, as seen in the picture below. It is very effective at protecting the iron, even better than seasoning, but the enamel adds to the weight and the cost. The other trade-off is durability. The enamel coating isn’t nearly as durable as the iron itself, and it can chip or crack as the pan gets knocked around over time.
Carbon steel is traditionally used to make woks and French-style skillets like one pictured below. The chemical composition is very similar to cast iron, so you can expect a lot of the same pros and cons.
Carbon steel has been getting some buzz in recent years from people who are looking for a lightweight alternative to cast iron. Carbon steel cookware is thinner and much lighter, so it’s easier to maneuver on the stove. The downside is decreased heat retention, since there’s less mass there to hold the heat. It’s also not very thermally conductive, so you can expect to find hot spots which will cause some foods to cook unevenly.
That’s a Wrap!
So there you have it! We could probably fill many more blog posts on the subject, but we wanted to give you an overview of the pros and cons of different types of cookware without getting too deep into it. As you can probably guess, we favor one type of cookware over all the others 😊, but there different advantages to each one. The good thing is, there’s no rule that says you have to pick only one!
Catch you next time ✌️
Stargazer Cast Iron Has a New Headquarters!
Greetings, cast iron fans. We know it’s been awhile since we last checked in with you. Our team has been working hard to fulfill our current orders and...
Greetings, cast iron fans. We know it’s been awhile since we last checked in with you. Our team has been working hard to fulfill our current orders and cut down on our wait times for new orders, but we wanted to share this update with you. We have officially moved to our new headquarters in Allentown, PA, located in the Lehigh Valley region for those of you familiar with Pennsylvania. Our first headquarters in Cherry Hill, NJ served us well, but when it became clear that we needed to scale up, we needed a new location to meet our needs. Our 7,000 square-foot facility in Allentown certainly fits the bill!
Much, Much More Space
Our new location gives us plenty of floor space to house more equipment and more inventory to get us operating more efficiently. Towards the end of our time in Cherry Hill, it became tricky to navigate our warehouse floor, and we knew a change was in order. Our current space allows us to lay out all of our equipment in the proper orientation, making sure our operations are running as productively as possible. And, most importantly, it gives us plenty of extra space for more inventory, equipment, and team members as needed. When we decided to make the move, we wanted to secure a location that would not only fill our immediate needs, but also be large enough to accommodate growth. We believe we have found that.
New Team Members
After we made our move to Allentown, we were very fortunate to find some great new people to add to our team. They have helped us increase our skillet output thanks to their hard work and serious skills. What we do here is certainly a team effort, and we’re pleased with the way our new additions to the Stargazer crew have fit in so seamlessly and brought fresh eyes and new ideas to our process. We’re confident about what we can accomplish going forward.
As mentioned above, our move to a new facility along with our hiring of new team members and purchasing of new equipment was all done with one goal in mind: to get as many skillets as possible into our customers’ hand as quickly as possible. We are extremely grateful to our customers for their patience during our wait times for new orders. We’re cutting down on those wait times more and more each day, and we will soon get to the point where wait times are eliminated. It’s always been our goal to be able to ship new orders without delay, and our recent move has allowed us to take a huge step towards achieving that.
In addition to increased output for our 10.5-inch skillet, our new set-up will also help us in the release of new products. We know a lot of people have been asking for updates and sending us their new product suggestions, and we want you to know: we appreciate it! We are just as anxious as you to get skillets in other sizes as well as other cast iron cookware, and pretty soon we should have much more time to dedicate to new product development. We will be sure to keep everyone posted of our updates!
Our move to Allentown, PA is a homecoming of sorts for Stargazer Cast Iron as well. Two of our company founders grew up in Pennsylvania, and the three founders all met while attending college in the Lehigh Valley area (Go Leopards!). It’s nice to “return to our roots” so to speak, and we’re excited for what our new location has to offer for our future.
Here’s a short video with some footage we shot a few months ago, right before we moved in, to give you guys a brief look at our new facility. We’re still working on some repairs and upgrades to the building, so we’ll share more once we have everything complete.
Thanks so much for your continued patience and support! If you have any questions, comments or new product ideas, feel free to give us a shout in the comments. Happy cooking!
What to Cook First in New Cast Iron
Another common question among cast iron users is what should I cook first in new cast iron?While there isn’t necessarily one right answer, we’ll give you some tips...
Another common question among cast iron users is what should I cook first in new cast iron?While there isn’t necessarily one right answer, we’ll give you some tips to point you in the right direction. First, we’ll need to address using cooking oil in yourcast iron skillet
Cooking Oil for Cast Iron
We’ve received a number of questions about using cooking oil in cast iron and how this relates to cast iron seasoning While cast iron skillets are renowned for their natural non-stick properties, a brand new cast iron skillet, even a machined-smooth one like a Stargazer skillet, will not be completely non-stick right out of the box (depending what you’re cooking of course; some foods stick more than others). For proper use of your cast iron skillet, you'll want to to make sure to use sufficient cooking oil for the food you’re making. It’s a good idea to use a little extra oil for your first few cooks with a brand new (or newly seasoned) skillet
Depending on how hot your skillet gets while cooking, cooking in oil does not necessarily mean you’re adding seasoning to the skillet If the skillet gets hot enough and the oil is cooked long enough, then yes, polymerization will take place and you will begin to build up your seasoning right away. If you’re cooking something on a lower heat or using a cooking oil with a highersmoke point, then you may not be adding seasoning to the skillet during that specific cook.
Don’t Forget to Preheat!
Properly preheating your skillet is also essential for maximizing its performance. We know our skillet looks so good that you want to just dive right in and throw a juicy steak on it, but you’ll want to make sure the skillet is ready to accept your delicious offerings. Proper preheating (along with adding the right amount of cooking oil) will help reduce sticking and seasoning loss, especially on your new (or newly seasoned) skillet.
A good way to test whether or not the skillet is fully preheated is to flick a few drops of water into it. If the drops sizzle and dance, then it's good to go. If the drops just sit and steam, it needs to heat a little longer.
The Bacon Problem
We’re not entirely sure why, but bacon seems to be the go-to food to cook first in new cast iron. We are certainly not trying to stop you from frying some delicious bacon, but it’s not the best food to cook in a new skillet. Many people will cook bacon by placing it into a cold skillet, and allowing the fat to render as the bacon heats up. And with good reason! This is a great way to cook bacon, but not the best method of breaking in a new skillet
Starting out with meat on the cold skillet can make the food more susceptible to sticking. And like we mentioned above, it’s best to use a little extra oil in a new skillet, which most people do not do (again, rightfully so) with bacon, because it is already fairly greasy. Most bacon also has sugar in it, which can leave a sticky residue regardless of cooking technique.
So What Should You Be Cooking in Your New Skillet?
There isn’t necessarily one perfect food, but you’ll want to use something that accepts more liberal amounts of cooking oil. Stir fry some veggies, sauté some mushrooms or fry up some potatoes. These kinds of foods stick less, and depending on what type of oil you’re using, you can get the skillet hot enough to start building some seasoning right away.
We know that eggs are another popular item to cook first in new cast iron, but you’ll want to stay away from foods with a high water content like eggs that can also be prone to sticking and aren’t typically cooked with a lot of oil. Also, try to avoid sauces, deglazing, and acidic foods, at least until the seasoning develops a bit.
We’ll talk about this more in a future post, but when it comes to the seasoning on your new skillet, especially a machined-smooth skillet like a Stargazer, you should expect to see the color change (usually unevenly) as the seasoning builds up. It will darken more uniformly over time as you continue to use it.
That’s all for today’s post, and we hope you enjoyed our discussion about what to cook first in new cast iron. We’ll check back in soon with some more thoughts on cast iron seasoning and cooking. As always, we welcome any thoughts, feedback our questions, so don’t hesitate to leave us a shout in the comments below.
Class dismissed! 🕒
What Is Cast Iron Seasoning?
We get a lot of questions about cast iron seasoning and maintenance, so we thought it would be a good idea to get a discussion going on the...
We get a lot of questions about cast iron seasoning and maintenance, so we thought it would be a good idea to get a discussion going on the blog. In this post, we’ll take a look at the overall concept of seasoning and define and clarify some terminology. Specific questions about the different types of seasoning oils and the seasoning process will be addressed in later posts.
In the simplest terms, cast iron seasoning is a layer of fat or oil that is baked onto the iron to protect it and aid in its non-stick properties. The bare iron is coated with oil both inside and out, and when heated, the oil goes through a chemical change called polymerization, transforming the liquid oil into a hard shell. After polymerization, this layer of seasoning is surprisingly durable.
You’re probably wondering: how much heat is needed to for this chemical change to take place? The answer is that it depends on the type of oil being used. Different oils have different smoke points, which is exactly what it sounds like: the temperature at which that oil starts to smoke. Pretty simple, right? If you heat an oil past its smoke point, it will polymerize and become seasoning. In general, oils with higher smoke points work best for seasoning cast iron.
Despite its name, cast iron seasoning does not affect the taste of your food. There are some who insist that the seasoning holds flavor, and the taste of past meals will find its way into whatever you’re currently cooking. This is not only hard to believe, but also a bit gross, and we’ve found little evidence to support it. Seasoning will build up over time as additional oils get cooked onto the iron, but you shouldn’t be able to taste yesterday’s burgers in tonight’s seared salmon, assuming you cleaned your skillet properly.
Note: Seasoning is both a noun and a verb. The noun refers to the layer of polymerized oil; the verb refers to the process of applying and heating this oil.
Seasoning vs. Oiling
While the term seasoning is typically defined as we discussed above, there is some confusion about what exactly people mean when they refer to seasoning a cast iron skillet. As a standard practice, some cast iron users will wipe their skillet down with a light coating of oil after each use. While this isn’t a necessity, it’s certainly not a bad idea in order to add an additional layer of protection from rust. Often times people will refer to this practice as seasoning, but that is a misnomer, because in this case, the oil remains in a liquid state.
Heat is the key difference. Even if you are applying the oil to a relatively warm skillet, it’s not being heated long enough or hot enough to polymerize, unless of course you’re a superhero who can shoot fireballs out of your hands. On a related note, if you are going wipe your skillet down with oil after every use, make sure you are using the skillet regularly. Most commonly used cooking oils have a shelf life, and they will eventually go rancid (unless they’re polymerized).
That’s all for today. In subsequent posts, we’ll get more into the nitty gritty of cooking with and maintaining your new (or newly seasoned) cast iron skillet. And don’t worry, all this information won’t be on your next quiz! We just wanted to get this info down in one place, so feel free to share with all your friends who see the amazing Stargazer skillet you own and start asking you a bunch of questions about cast iron skillets.
We hope this post helped clear up a couple things and answer a few questions, but if you have any additional questions or want to share some of your own thoughts, feel free to give us a shout in the comments below! We can talk cast iron all day long! Until next time...
Welcome to Stargazer Cast Iron's Blog
Welcome to Stargazer Cast Iron's new blog! Stay tuned for upcoming posts regarding all things cast iron cookware: product demos, use and care, cooking tips, recipes and more!...
Welcome to Stargazer Cast Iron's new blog! Stay tuned for upcoming posts regarding all things cast iron cookware: product demos, use and care, cooking tips, recipes and more!
If you have any questions for us or any topics you'd like us to cover, don't hesitate to give us a shout in the comments below.
-Stargazer Cast Iron
WHAT IS THE IDEAL WEIGHT FOR A CAST IRON SKILLET?
There are a lot of theories and preferences about the ideal weight for a cast iron skillet. Our CEO and Product Designer Peter Huntley is going to walk...
There are a lot of theories and preferences about the ideal weight for a cast iron skillet. Our CEO and Product Designer Peter Huntley is going to walk through his thoughts on the subject and explain why the best skillet isn’t necessarily the lightest.