Stainless steel and ceramics are both popular materials for modern cookware, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. In large part, the best choice for you depends upon what you like to cook and how you like to cook it. Regardless of the material, some of the features you should consider when selecting cookware in general include:
Some of these considerations can play a role in choosing whether stainless steel or ceramic cookware is better for you and the types of cooking. Keep reading to find out.
Related: The Best Ceramic Cookware Sets
Stainless Steel Features
Stainless steel cookware is durable and versatile. It can be used at high heat for searing and broiling, and it can go from the freezer to the oven or the oven to the freezer. It can be used with gas, electric, glass, and ceramic cooktops, and if the amount of nickel used in the stainless steel is not too high, it also can be used on induction cooktops.
You can test if the level of nickel is too high by testing the stainless steel with a magnet. If the magnet sticks to the bottom of the pan, you can use it on an induction cooktop. If the magnet doesn’t stick, induction converter disks allow you to use any type of cookware on induction cooktops.
Stainless steel with a blend of 18 percent chromium and 10 percent nickel is considered to be highly durable. Stainless steel surfaces are nonreactive, which means that you can use it for cooking both alkaline and acidic foods. Stainless steel also is dishwasher safe. As you can see, stainless steel is a great general-purpose cookware material that can be used for almost every type of cooking.
On its own, however, stainless steel doesn’t conduct or hold heat well. That’s why stainless-steel cookware contains an interior layer of either copper or aluminum between the layers of stainless steel. The copper or aluminum core may extend across the bottom of the pan, or it may go up the sides as well. Some stainless-steel cookware has a core that includes both aluminum and copper.
Both aluminum and copper are excellent conductors of heat, but they both are weak metals that dent easily and that react to both acidic and alkaline foods. By combining an interior core of either aluminum, copper, or both between external layers of stainless steel, you get the best characteristics of each of these metals.
Ceramic cookware combines a durable, easy to clean, nonstick interior coating and a base that retains heat well via a metal core of either copper, aluminum, or cast iron. Aluminum conducts heat well. A copper core adds precise temperature control, and a cast iron core sustains temperature retention. As opposed to steel, many ceramic pots and pans offer a choice of colors and even different interior and exterior color combinations. You can match your cookware with your kitchen décor.
Nonstick ceramic coatings are thicker and more durable than Teflon, which is also known as PTFE. Teflon produces toxic fumes at a temperature of 500°F, and that temperature can be reached during normal cooking even at medium settings. The open space within a kitchen and the use of the vent fan reduces the chance of exposure, but nonstick ceramic coatings do not produce toxic fumes until they reach a temperature of 800°F.
However, ceramic cookware retains heat well and its useful temperature range is well below the dangerous levels, so it’s considered to be the safest coating material on the market today.
The nonstick surface is easy-to-clean but may not be dishwasher safe. Some manufacturers can say their ceramic pots and pans are dishwasher safe but if you want to extend the lifetime of your cookware, we recommend hand washing only. Other manufacturers recommend seasoning their ceramic cookware before use following a procedure similar to seasoning cast iron cookware.
Ceramic cookware is compatible with gas, electric, and ceramic cooktops, and ceramic pots with a cast iron core may be compatible with induction cooktops. As mentioned with stainless steel, induction adaptor rings allow you to use any cookware with an induction cooktop.
Stainless Steel vs. Ceramic: Health
Both stainless steel and ceramic cookware feature nonporous surfaces, so neither absorbs and retains liquids from cooking or storing food that could become a source of bacteria. One problem with stainless steel, though, is that salt can cause the surface to pit. The pits can provide a harbor for bacteria if the pans are not thoroughly cleaned. Stainless steel can be used at any temperature, however, so you can be certain of reaching temperatures that will kill pathogens.
The heat in ceramic cookware builds and then holds at a steady temperature over time, but with a meat thermometer, you can monitor the cooking temperature of your food and be certain that it has reached a high enough temperature for a long enough period of time to ensure that it is safely and thoroughly cooked. (1)
As mentioned, ceramic cookware can produce fumes, but it will not do so unless it is exposed to temperature above 800°F. As with Teflon, the open space of a kitchen and the use of a vent fan reduces the risk of exposure to any toxic fumes.
One reason to consider cooking at lower temperatures, whether you are cooking with stainless steel or ceramic cookware, is that higher temperatures can destroy some of the nutrients in vegetables. Lower temperatures preserve more of the nutritional value of the food you are cooking.
Stainless Steel vs. Ceramic: Cooking
Stainless steel cookware can go directly from your freezer or refrigerator to your oven or cooktop. If, however, your stainless-steel cookware has tempered glass lids, you will need to let the lids reach room temperature before transferring your food from heating to cooling.
You also will need to let ceramic cookware returning to room temperature before moving your food from heat to cold or cold to heat because repeated exposure to sudden changes in temperature can cause the nonstick interior to separate from the metal core.
You can use stainless steel cookware at high temperatures to sear meat, which makes it one of the most popular materials of pans for frying steaks. Depending on the materials used for the handles, you also can use stainless steel cookware under the broiler.
While stainless steel handles on either stainless steel or ceramic cookware resist heat, they still can become hot to the touch, so you should use oven mitts or potholders when handling them. Ceramic cookware, however, cannot be used under a broiler because the nonstick coating will emit toxic fumes at that high of a temperature.
Both stainless steel and ceramic cookware have nonreactive surfaces, so you can use both for cooking either alkaline or acidic foods. As mentioned, though, salt can cause stainless steel cookware to form pits in the surface.
Like nonstick Teflon coatings, nonstick ceramic pans can be damaged by metal utensils. Stick with nylon, bamboo, wood, plastic or silicone utensils. You also should avoid tapping utensils on the edge of your ceramic pans.
Both stainless steel and ceramic cookware are compatible with electric, gas, and ceramic cooktops. Stainless steel and ceramic coated cast iron cookware may be compatible with induction cooktops.
Stainless Steel vs. Ceramic: Cleaning and Durability
Stainless steel is a rough and durable cookware surface that is difficult to damage. Steel cookware that contains 18 percent or more chromium resists stains and rust. Stainless steel with 10 percent or more nickel provides a glossy shine and heightens the effectiveness of the chromium. Higher numbers add to the corrosion resistance of the pots. The material is dishwasher safe, so cleanup is easy, and when it comes to storing your cookware, you can stack pans inside of each other without worrying about damage. (2)
Ceramic cookware offers a nonstick surface that is easy to clean, but we recommend hand washing. When it comes to storing your ceramic cookware, consider using pan liners to protect the nonstick surface before stacking pans inside of each other.