The magic of stainless steel is right in the name – it doesn’t stain itself or anything it comes in contact with. This is because of the toughness of the elements that make up the alloy that is known as stainless steel.
No wonder it’s the one of the most popular cookware materials used in homes around the world.
But some people doubt if stainless steel pots are safe for cooking because of the materials in the alloy.
So let’s address these doubts of “is stainless steel cookware safe?” and explain what to look for when using this type of cookware.
And even recommend other options (like ceramic cookware) when it makes sense.
What is stainless steel?
Stainless steel is an alloy made of iron, chromium, carbon, nickel, and in some cases, other metals.
The name “stainless steel” covers the entire range of alloys that contain more than 10.5% chromium.
As its composition changes, so do its properties like corrosion resistance, strength, etc.
Overall, stainless steel is highly economical, rugged, and generally doesn’t tarnish if cared for correctly.
The most commonly used cooking stainless steel is made of chromium and iron alloy. Its most popular grades are 304, 316, and 430.
In stainless steel, chromium reacts with oxygen when exposed to air, forming a protective coating of chromium oxide on its surface. So every time it gets a scratch or an aggressive alloy, the material repairs itself by forming chromium oxide on its surface.
Requirements for Food-Grade Stainless Steel?
When it comes to food-grade stainless steel, the most important thing to consider is the level of chromium present in the alloy.
Chromium is a chemical element that gives stainless steel its corrosion-resistant properties. The higher the level of chromium, the more resistant the steel will be to rust and other forms of corrosion.
There are many different grades of food-grade stainless steel, but the two most common are 304 and 316.
- Grade 304 stainless steel is typically used in dairy, brewing, and other food processing applications where cleanliness and sanitation are of utmost importance.
- Grade 316 stainless steel is often used in marine environments because it is more resistant to salt water corrosion than grade 304.
For stainless steel to be considered food-grade, it must contain at least 16% chromium. This makes grade 304 stainless steel the minimum acceptable level of quality for many food-processing applications.
However, some applications require higher levels of corrosion resistance, in which case grade 316 stainless steel would be a better choice.
How does stainless steel compare to other metals like cast iron or aluminum?
Aluminum vs. Stainless Steel
Aluminum is a lightweight material used in cookware, and it has many benefits, such as high heat conduction and precise temperature control. Besides, its non-stick surface makes it easy to clean.
On the other hand, stainless steel is three times denser than Aluminum.
So it takes longer to heat up but holds heat longer once it heats up. Its higher density also makes it more resistant to surface scratches or damage.
Note that Aluminum can react with acidic foods like citrus, tomatoes, or onions. This may alter the food’s taste slightly. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is chemically inert, thus preventing any chemical reactions during cooking.
Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel
Cast iron is an iron alloy with 2-4% carbon. It retains heat for a very long time and is a rigid material. But stainless steel contains many components like chromium and nickel, which makes it sturdier and more conducive to heat.
Cast iron is reactive to acidic foods – it might alter the taste slightly.
However, stainless steel doesn’t react to food items.
Cast iron takes a while to heat up, so you have to preheat it before beginning to cook. You have to start with a medium flame; once it heats up, it retains heat for long periods.
Meanwhile, stainless steel offers a smoother cooking experience. It heats up fast, stays hot, and allows you to control cooking temperatures quickly.
Ceramic Cookware vs Stainless Steel
Ceramic cookware offers some benefits over stainless steel cookware including:
- It isn’t affected about acidic foods (the ceramic surface is non-porous and non-reactive to foods like citrus or tomato)
- It can last much longer since it’s made from durable materials (though it can break more easily if dropped)
Enameled Steel vs Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is a type of metal alloy that includes chromium and nickel. Enameled steel is a type of coated steel that uses a layer of enamel paint. Both types of cookware are great options for home cooks who want to avoid using Teflon pans.
Enameled steel is a good choice if you don’t mind spending extra money, because they’re generally more expensive than normal stainless steel pans. The enamel coating also protects the pan against rusting and corrosion.
Stainless steel is a better option if you want to save money. Since it’s not coated, it’s less expensive than enameled steel.
How does stainless steel cookware compare to cookware with non-stick coatings?
The purpose of non-stick coatings on cookware is to help you cook food without your ingredients sticking to the pan. The non-stick coatings keep the food from sticking and can make it easier to clean. It is convenient and healthy as you need to use much less oil for cooking on them.
That said, stainless steel is more functional in all senses. Using cooking oil and preheating it can bring the non-stick property to your stainless steel cookware.
Teflon material can release toxins if you heat it to very high temperatures. So you have to take precautions every time you use it. On the other hand, stainless steel is safer as it doesn’t emit chemicals even at high temperatures.
Can stainless steel cookware be toxic?
Note that these are non-toxic elements. So unless you’re allergic, there is no risk of toxicity from using stainless steel cookware. However, to stay safer, don’t use abrasive materials while cleaning the cookware to ensure nothing leaks into food.
What about cooking acidic foods in stainless steel?
You should be aware that stainless steel pans can release low levels of nickel, chromium, and other metals into the food you cook in them.
If you’re making a quick meal, it shouldn’t matter much at all, but if you’re instead simmering a tomato sauce for a few hours, and if you have any nickel allergies, you should potentially look into using other types of pans like ceramic.
Can I use metal utensils with my stainless steel pans?
Metal utensils are perfectly fine to use with stainless steel cookware, and honestly are the preferred tool to use as you can easily scrape the food off the bottom of the pans if you need to.
Generally, you want to avoid using metal utensils with non-stick pans, because you want to avoid scratching or loosening the non-stick coating, causing it to get cooked into your food and then consumed during eating.
What are the best ways to safely use stainless steel cookware?
Let’s face it: water spots, scratches, or other marks will appear on your stainless steel cookware, and it will annoy you. But the good news is that you can avoid these by remembering some simple things while using them.
Let’s get to it:
Only add salt once water has started boiling
If you add salt to the water before it boils, the stainless steel may corrode, leaving marks on the vessel. So make sure water boils before adding salt to it while cooking.
Heat before using oil
While you cook, add oil to your stainless steel cookware only after it is preheated. This will create a static non-stick layer to keep the ingredients from sticking to it.
Don’t put cold food straight into the pan
When cold food items come in contact with stainless steel, the steel surface contracts, and the food sticks to its surface. To prevent this, leave the food items to reach room temperature before cooking them in stainless steel cookware.
Are there ways to care for stainless steel to keep it safe?
Caring for stainless steel is essential to maintain its durability and performance. The biggest issue comes from corrosion by rusting and the formation of a coating over cookware.
Use the following methods to keep them safe for use:
Completely drying pans after use
Dry your cookware fast after washing them to prevent water spots from appearing on the vessels. If they appear, use a moist sponge sprayed with baking soda to wipe it clean and rinse in water.
Always use non-abrasive cleaner and sponge
Rough scrubbers and heavy cleaning solutions cause corrosion or scratches on your stainless steel cookware. Make sure you use tools like plastic scouring pads or soft clothes to clean your cookware.
Remove build ups regularly
Follow a routine to clean up your stainless steel vessels as soon as you use them. This will stop buildups from forming on their surface.
Stainless steel is 100% safe to use as cookware. Its various properties allow you to cook smoothly without any headaches.
Use the above time-tested methods to use and care for your stainless steel, so they are safe and hygienic.