Stainless steel cookware is one of the most popular on the market when it comes to all-round cooking. How does ceramic cookware compare to using stainless steel? Here’s what to know, made simple…
If you were to buy a replacement set, what’s best to get, ceramic or stainless steel?
Read on for the details…
About ceramic cookware
There’s no metal in pure ceramic cookware. It’s one of the oldest forms of cookware and is therefore a tried and tested medium.
See my article on how ceramic cookware is made for a deeper dive into ceramic cookware manufacturer.
To avoid confusion: This article is about pure (100%) ceramic cookware compared to stainless steel.
Examples of 100% ceramic cookware brands:
- Emile Henry
About stainless steel cookware
Stainless steel is an alloy made chiefly of chromium and nickel.
Chromium (Cr) has an atomic number of 24 with a relative atomic mass of 51.996 while Nickel (Ni) has an atomic number of 28 with a relative atomic mass of 58.693.
Like iron and copper, both chromium and nickel are ‘transition metals’ which are malleable and ductile and conduct heat to varying degrees (Gray, 2012).
Chromium and nickel both contribute to rust-resistance but nickel contributes to the shine in the stainless steel makeup.
History: Stainless steel is a fairly modern resource for cookware. It was first produced in 1913 (Great Plains Stainless 2018) and was originally called “rustless steel”. It started off as an iron and chromium alloy but by the 1920’s chromium and nickel were being experimented with.
Cookware made of stainless steel include these designs:
- 3 ply with aluminum or copper core
- 5 ply with layers of aluminum or copper core
The multi-ply or cladded type usually have a core of copper or aluminum sandwiched between outer layers of stainless steel.
Take for example Made In‘s range. The cooking surface is 18/10, which is 304 food-grade stainless steel. The numbers indicate the ratio of chromium to nickel in the product.
The 430 layer is 18/0 stainless steel, meaning it has no nickel. It is all chromium. Unlike the food-grade one, this stainless steel is magnetic since chromium has unique magnetic properties.
Having this 430 layer in the base makes the cookware suitable for induction cooktops.
Some brands of stainless steel cookware are nickel-free all over. This is the 21/0 type that I cover in my ultimate guide to buying stainless steel cookware.
Low chromium stainless steel is one to avoid as it is prone to corrode and leach metals into foods when cooking with the likes of tomatoes and lemons and other acidic foods.
Fun fact: Did you know there are over 100 grades of stainless steel?
How ceramic and stainless steel cookware differ
You can go on Amazon and get a straight out stainless steel skillet that’s far less expensive than a 100% ceramic skillet.
Ceramic is non-compatible with induction cooking. Whereas certain stainless steel cookware have a layer with ferrous or other magnetic material in its composition to make it suitable for an induction cooktop.
Ceramic weighs similar to stainless steel depending on the cladding and layers involved. Multi-ply stainless steel is heavier than single layer.
Stainless steel can discolor, however. See my article on how to remedy this.
Ceramic can crack if dropped or mishandled, including thermal shock.
It’s a good idea to hand wash ceramic and then hand dry. Putting ceramic through the dishwasher will risk damage from knocks in the dishwasher.
How they are similar
Both materials can be disposed at facilities for recycling cookwares.
Both materials display low thermal conductivity compared to aluminum or copper, although stainless steel is higher than pure ceramic (see table).
|Material||Watts per metre-kelvin|
|Stainless Steel (100%)||45|
You can get a similar variety of cookware pieces in both ranges.
Both will last for ever with care. Ceramic won’t rust. Neither will food grade stainless steel rust.
How ceramic cookware is better
For me ceramic, adds a natural wholesome feel to the kitchen.
Once pre-heated, ceramic is better at retaining the heat than stainless steel and for this reason useful for serving at the table. I also think it’s more aesthetically pleasing to have on the table than stainless steel.
You can use the highest heat setting for cooking without concern with 100% ceramic.
There are no metals in 100% ceramic cookware and so no concerns of food being tainted with a metallic taste. This could result with stainless steel when cooking acidic foods, such as tomatoes.
See also: My article on nickel-free stainless steel.
Pure ceramic cookware can also be used in the microwave, a regular hot oven, and for storing left-overs in the refrigerator or freezer.
Stainless steel, just like iron, copper, and aluminum cookware, should never be used in the microwave.
What’s better about stainless steel cookware
The big advantage of using stainless steel over ceramic is that it will ‘bounce’ if you have mishaps with handling or storage of the cookware. Ceramic is prone to crack or chip with hard knocks or shocks.
Other advantages of quality stainless steel cookware are that many modern sets are compatible with induction cooktops. Check to see if the base layer is magnetic.
Also, stainless steel cookware will last forever. The handles will give way before the pot – as I’ve found. This depends on the handle type.
Steel handles will last and last, but they can get hot to touch if you’re not careful to position them away from the burner or use pot holders.
You can find out more about Made-In’s premium stainless steel in my article on Made-In’s premium 5-ply stainless steel cookware.
Why choose stainless steel?
Stainless steel is tough. It’s durable. Choose stainless steel if you don’t want to worry about how you store your cookware or if it happens to get rough treatment. You’ll get a good solid cooking vessel that will last you for ever.
It is fairly low maintenance cookware.
If you choose a stainless steel set with 3 or more ply you’ll have cladded cookware with a core of high thermal conductivity for fast and even heat distribution. This will mean evenly cooked food. The layers will make it heftier but you won’t have the hot spots resulting with lighter pans.
Examples of good brands of stainless steel cookware for your kitchen:
- Made In 5-ply stainless steel cookware
- HomiChef nickel-free stainless steel
If you want to use less oil or fat in your cooking: compare stainless steel with nonstick cookware. Cooking with stainless steel doesn’t have to be sticky – my article explains.