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Is Stainless Steel Safe For Cooking?

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In recent years, we’ve all become much more aware that our cookware might not be as safe as we once thought.

With headlines screaming at the dangers of some non-stick pans and aluminum cookware, it is a minefield trying to find the safest option for our kitchens.

So, is stainless steel safe for cooking, or should we be switching to something different? Stainless steel is a safe and durable material, which is only bettered by cast iron, glassware, and ceramic when it comes to safety. Low-grade stainless steel may potentially leach nickel into food and should be avoided by anyone with a sensitivity to nickel.

Whether you’ve already got a set of stainless steel pans, or are thinking of investing in some, we’ve got all the facts you need to know about this versatile cookware.

What Is Stainless Steel Cookware?

Stainless steel pans were once very fashionable until they fell out of popularity when modern non-stick coatings came on the market.

However, many people have become increasingly concerned about the risks of non-stick pans, and are considering whether stainless steel was actually the better choice after all.

With their shiny silvery appearance, stainless steel pans are stylish and robust. They normally have long handles that stay cool even when the pans are super hot.

They come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, from tiny frying pans to huge stockpots.

The innermost section of stainless steel pans is normally made from either aluminum or copper.

This core is magnetic, making these pans suitable for most stovetops. The inner core is clad with several layers of stainless steel, which are fused together. 

The steel in stainless steel pans is actually a steel alloy, which contains chromium. This protects the steel and prevents corrosion, and also adds some light heat resistance.

Advantages Of Stainless Steel Cookware

The great thing about stainless steel pans is that the magnetic core radiates heat evenly over the cooking surface of the pan.

This eliminates any cold spots that could cause food to cook unevenly. The stainless steel coating itself is a poor heat conductor, which is why the handles of the pan do not get too hot to touch.

Stainless steel pans are also very durable. Fans of this cookware will tell you that it will last a lifetime, and many pans get passed on to the next generation of home chefs!

They are low maintenance and can be cleaned in the dishwasher without any issues. Many stainless steel pans are also oven-safe and can be used under the broiler.

Another advantage of stainless steel cookware is that it is non-reactive. This means that the cooking surface will not react with acidic foods, and you can cook anything in a stainless steel pan.

Disadvantages Of Stainless Steel Pans

While stainless steel pans sound great so far, there are some disadvantages to these pans.

Firstly, there can be some difficulties in keeping this shiny cookware pristine – burnt food will leave marks that require some serious scrubbing to remove.

Food can also stick more easily to stainless steel than other types of pans, so a light spray of oil is essential. Dry frying is not a good idea in stainless steel pans unless you’re a fan of scrubbing burnt on food for hours on end!

Another common problem with stainless steel pans is the handles, which can become loose or even fall off.

This is because they are molded separately to the pan, and attached with rivets. Not ideal if your pan handle comes off when you’re moving a large pan of hot food!

The magnetic core of stainless steel pans is also susceptible to damage from high heat.

If you repeatedly overheat your stainless steel pans, you will see a blue or orange tint on the cooking surface. This is called heat tint, and is impossible to remove!

Taking all this into consideration, stainless steel cookware is a useful addition to any kitchen, and we think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

However, these are one of the more expensive cookware ranges, so be prepared to shell out more than normal for a good set of stainless steel pans.

But one thing we haven’t looked at yet is the burning question of the day – is stainless steel safe for cooking? Let’s find out!

Is Stainless Steel Safe For Cooking?

One fear that many people have with metal pans is that metals will leach into food.

We all remember the alarming moment when we found out that aluminum pans were not as safe as we thought they were, but does the same thing happen with stainless steel too?

Luckily, stainless steel ranks pretty highly on the safety index, and it is one of the safest types of cookware out there.

There are some potential risks when it comes to stainless steel, but we can eliminate these by ensuring we buy the best pans available.

Steel itself is completely non-toxic, so there is nothing to worry about there. The potential problems come from the substances used to coat it to make it stainless.

While these do a great job of keeping our pans shiny and pristine, they are not always that good for us!

Most stainless steel coatings consist of a mix of chromium and nickel. The chromium makes the pan resistant to rust, while nickel improves taste neutrality.

A small amount of chromium is actually normally part of our everyday diet, although you probably hadn’t realized it! So a little bit of chromium in our food is not going to do any harm.

However, nickel is not something that is normally included in our diet and is considered to be harmful to the human body. It is not a good idea to intentionally expose yourself or your family to nickel in your food.

But do these two substances leach into food when we use a stainless steel pan? 

Well, the jury is still out on this one, but generally speaking, stainless steel cookware is regarded to be very safe. The stainless steel used to make pans is food grade, meaning it has been approved for use in cooking.

However, not all stainless steel is equal! There are different grades of stainless steel, and some contain less nickel than others. So, if you can, opt for a high-quality stainless steel pan with minimal levels of nickel in the alloy.

Is Stainless Steel As Safe As Other Types Of Cookware?

Good quality stainless steel is as safe, if not safer, than most other types of cookware.

The only types of cookware that rank higher in terms of safety are cast iron, and glass or ceramic pans.

Even these have their downsides though! Cast iron is difficult to care for and needs regular seasoning to maintain the cooking surface.

Glass and ceramic can break easily, especially if subjected to extreme changes in temperature.

Stainless steel comes without these problems and is one of the most versatile types of cookware available.

And although there is a slight concern about nickel leaching into food from stainless steel, buying the best quality pans you can afford will help to minimize this risk.

Stainless steel is without a doubt safer than aluminum cookware, which comes with a myriad of problems and complicating factors!

The topic of aluminum is too big to go into today, but let’s just say that if you are considering buying aluminum pans then you need to do your research thoroughly.

Many people adore their non-stick pans, coated with Teflon-type materials. However, these can disintegrate and leach toxic chemicals, particularly when subjected to high heat.

And finally, copper pans are so unsafe that they need to be lined with another metal. Ironically, quite often copper is coated in stainless steel to make it safe!

How To Safely Cook With Stainless Steel Cookware

While there are some concerns about the nickel contained in stainless steel pans, the risk to human health is thought to be very low.

People with sensitivities to nickel should avoid stainless steel pans, but for the rest of us, they are considered to be very safe.

It is thought that metals are more likely to leach into food when cooked for long periods, so if you are concerned then keep cooking times to a minimum.

This is particularly the case when cooking acidic foods, such as tomato or wine-based sauces.

Another great way to improve the safety of stainless steel cookware is to season your pans regularly. 

While these versatile pans can be used without seasoning them, this process will create a natural non-stick coating that not only prevents leaching but also greatly improves the cooking surface of your pans.

How To Care For Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel cookware is robust and pretty much indestructible, but there are some tricks to keeping it in peak condition!

High temperatures can cause heat tint on the cooking surface of the pan, so it pays to cook at lower temperatures wherever possible.

Burnt on food can be scrubbed off without damaging the surface of the pan, or even cleaned in the dishwasher.

However, to keep your pan at its best, try to season the cooking surface regularly to build up a protective coating.

To season a stainless steel pan, heat it on medium heat then add a coating of cooking oil. Heat until the oil starts to smoke, then take the pan off the burner and allow it to cool. Pour the excess oil away, and wipe the pan clean.

This non-stick coating will stay in place as long as the pan is not cleaned with soap. In fact, if you wipe it clean after use, you may find there is no need to wash your seasoned stainless steel pan at all!

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