Stainless steel cookware is the most popular cookware choice of today’s consumer. It is durable, economical, easy to care for, and useful in a variety of different cooking applications. Stainless steel also has a shiny appearance that many consumers find aesthetically pleasing.
Stainless steel is an alloy composed of two to three metals; steel, chromium and in some instances, nickel. The chromium in the alloy prevents or reduces the formation of rust in stainless steel. Higher quality stainless steel has nickel as part of the alloy along with chromium. Nickel works with chromium to increase stainless steel’s resistance to corrosion and rusting.
Stainless steel is a favorite of many cooks because it is a non-reactive metal. This means that it can be used to cook foods with heavy alkaline or acidic content without the stainless steel reacting to and changing the taste and appearance of the food. The non-reactive nature also means that stainless steel will not corrode or pit when it comes into contact with acidic or alkaline foods. In comparison, cookware made with aluminum and cast iron that is not coated nor anodized does react with acidic or alkaline foods.
Stainless steel cookware is also extremely durable. It resists dents, scratches, and is strong. The durability also makes stainless steel cookware easy to clean and maintain. There are no special cleaning requirements for stainless steel cookware as there are for non-stick and copper cookware. Therefore most stainless steel items can be cleaned with regular dishwashing soap and water.
Another reason many cooks choose cookware made of stainless steel is due to its effectiveness in browning and searing meats. Searing helps meat to retain its internal moisture, making it juicy and tender. Browning helps to caramelize the meat, bringing out the flavor and color of the internal sugars in the meat.
Browning and searing food in stainless steel cookware also creates bits of food stuck to and residual oils left in the bottom of the pan known as “fond.” Cooks pour a liquid such as wine or a broth into the pan which loosens the fond from the pan. This is known as deglazing. Deglazing is the foundation of many classical sauces and gravies, and the fond is a key element of the flavor and richness of these sauces.
One thing the consumer should keep in mind when considering stainless steel cookware is that stainless steel, for all of its advantages, is a poor conductor of heat. Because conduction of heat is a critical element of cookware performance, stainless steel cookware is usually made with a copper or aluminum core and/or bottom plate. Copper and aluminum are very efficient conductors of heat and provide much more even distribution of heat than stainless steel alone would. The consumer is encouraged to consider and purchase only stainless steel cookware that is made with copper or aluminum.