Steak Pans Materials
A material that your steak pan is made of is central to the success of your steak cooking endeavor.
Yes, it’s that important.
This is why we are going to look at the 7 most common cooking pans materials, as well as their advantages and disadvantages…right below.
Copper has a number of remarkable advantages, when compared to other materials used for manufacturing of cookware.
Great Heat Conductor
Heat is really important when cooking food and steak is no exception.
Copper, to its main advantage, is an excellent heat conductor.
Okay, that’s awesome, but what does it really mean?
Imagine that you change the temperature of your stove top.
What happens to your copper skillet?
Its temperature also changes almost immediately, adjusting to that change on stove top.
That’s important, if you see that your steak is burning (doesn’t happen with SteakEat’s Stove Top Method) and you want to decrease your temperature OR vice versa, when you see that you need to power up the whole thing.
Weight is Good
A proper frying skillet can’t be light and copper skillets tend to have good weight, which also prevents the skillet from heat deformation (a very common thing when it comes to cheap light pans).
It is also not heavy to lift, meaning that you don’t have to be a strongman like with some of the best cast iron skillets out there.
Copper shines and this is easily noticed.
So, if you like beautiful things (or just want to show off), copper pots and pans is what you need to get.
Disadvantages of Copper Pans
We don’t live in a perfect world and that’s why copper pans are not perfect either (I am sure, that’s the main reason).
There are 3 main issues with copper cookware:
- Copper can get quite pricey. Don’t get carried away by cheap options out there – it’s likely they don’t have any quality there.
- Copper is toxic and reactive with food. That’s why it comes lined with either tin or steel. Tin is a cheaper option, but it wears off. Stainless steel is the choice I recommend for the long-term usage, but it is also more expensive.
- Dishwasher Unfriendly. Corrosion is a big thing for copper and that’s why copper skillets need to be polished, even when you don’t use them. For the same reason copper skillets can only be hand-washed and thoroughly dried with cloth right after. However stainless steel can alleviate some of that, you still need to maintain it.
On the final note it’s worth mentioning that some manufacturers combine layers of copper with materials like aluminum and stainless steel, which improves frying pan’s heat conductivity without any major disadvantages of copper cookware.
#2: Cast Iron
The already mentioned cast iron.
The frying pans that are made from cast iron are considered to be rather traditional, old-school things.
Nevertheless, they are very common and show no sign of disappearing!
All that happens because of these main advantages.
Cast iron skillets are pretty much indestructible and last forever.
Many people inherit cast iron skillets from their grandparents and these still serve them well (sometimes even better than contemporary options).
Cast iron is therefore a good investment, especially given its fairly low price.
Cast iron is an amazing material.
First of all, warming it up takes ages and, unlike copper cookware, it’s terrible at heat conductivity (i.e. if you decide to reduce the heat of your stove top, don’t expect your cast iron pan react any time soon), but…
…once it gets hot, it stays hot.
This simple fact makes it pretty much ideal for searing steak and developing its surface browning.
Cast iron pans, when seasoned correctly, are non-stick and that, as you might expect, is a huge benefit on its own, but it’s even better because, unlike other non-stick pans cast iron doesn’t deteriorate with time (again, it lasts forever).
You can also use cast iron on both, stove top and oven, which is perfect for when you decide to cook a steak on stove top and finish it in oven.
Cast iron also doesn’t deform because of high heat (many cheap pans have that happen to them), which is annoying on its own, but it also reduces a pan’s ability to absorb heat from the stove top.
Disadvantages of Cast Iron Pans
Even though cast iron is an amazing investment into a pro-style steak cooking, it has one BIG (and heavy) disadvantage…
- Cast iron is cast iron for a reason. It’s heavy and not every man in the Wild West…kidding! Cast iron pans are bulky and heavy to lift, so operating them requires quite a lot of crude strength.
- Even though cast iron skillets are not that ‘picky’, when it comes to maintenance (unlike copper cookware), they still need to be taken care of. Every time you use your cast iron skillet, you need to wash it with hands, use some Kosher salt to scrape it, dry and re-season it right away.
- Must be Used. You need to use your cast iron pan frequently so to maintain its seasoning, which helps to create that non-sticky surface. This is not ideal for occasional cooks.
Most popular material that is used for pans production is aluminum.
Aluminum is great for many reasons and here are some of them.
Even though aluminum is not the best heat conductor (copper is the best), it is still fairly amazing.
Good heat conductivity means that your aluminum cooking pan is quick to respond to any changes that you make with your stove top.
Heat it up and the pan will heat up fast; reduce the stove top heat, the pan also gets cooler quickly.
Yes, aluminum pans are, indeed, quite durable.
Aluminum-made pans are dishwasher-safe. They have a great heat conductivity as well. (On the pic – Calphalon Aluminum Pan)
Especially if they are anodized and forged.
Anodizing and forging are two separate processes, which both build up the pan’s durability.
The vast majority of aluminum pans are dish-washer safe and are easy to clean.
Aluminum pans are generally quite affordable.
Of course, there are more expensive brands, which offer premium quality products, but, all in all, these pans are rather inexpensive.
Disadvantages of Aluminum Cooking Pans
Even though I personally use hard-anodized forged aluminum pans when I cook my steak on stove, I am aware of the following disadvantages connected with this material.
- Okay, aluminum is aluminum, but it’s not the same. “Artem, what do you actually mean?”, – you remark. Well, there are dozens of manufacturers there and their materials and manufacturing methods differ. This is why there are many poor quality aluminum pans out there. I advise you look for quality things and consider your cooking pan as a long-term investment (check my resources page to learn more).
- Raw aluminum is very similar to copper, which means it’s very reactive. Hence, if you want to avoid consuming aluminum (I do), you need to get anodized (or better still hard-anodized) aluminum cooking pan. It’s also superior for cooking than raw aluminum.
- This actually is a part of Quality part above, but I want to make it stand out. Cheap aluminum pans are very thin and easily warp (i.e. deform) when heated to high heat. Once again, hard-anodized and even forged aluminum pans are your solution here (check my resources page to see what I use).
#4: Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is a common material used for frying pans. It has poor heat conductivity, but does’n’t react with food. (On the pic – Ozeri Pan)i
Pretty high quality general cookware, which is good for cooking many different things.
The main advantages of stainless steel pans are:
Durable & Easy-to-Clean
Stainless steel pans can be both, lightweight and heavy, which does affect their durability.
For example, pure stainless steel skillet can easily warp when treated with used for cooking at high heat (and it would be the case, when you cook a steak on stove top).
This is when the already mentioned processes, anodizing and forging, come into play.
These two seriously strengthen up stainless steel, making it so much more durable.
Stainless steel is also easy to clean, especially if it has a kind of non-stick interior, which also helps with cooking foods with less fat.
Unlike materials like ram aluminum and copper, stainless steel doesn’t react with food. It is also very durable. (On the pic – Le Creuset Stainless Steel Pan)
Stainless steel is stainless for a reason.
Unlike other materials (e.g. raw copper and aluminum) stainless steel doesn’t react with food, which makes it safe for long-term use. That’s why spoons, forks and kitchen knives are primarily made of it.
Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Pans
Stainless steel skillets have one major disadvantage, and that is…
- Poor Heat Conductor. Just like cast iron, stainless steel is not great with heat conductivity, which means that it’s slow to react to any stove top temperature changes. This is why some stainless steel pans might have copper-bottoms – all that to improve the mentioned heat conductivity. These are obviously more expensive.
#5: Carbon Steel
Carbon steel is very similar to cast iron in its properties. Heat retention is among its top advantages. (On the pic – Mauviel Carbon Steel Pan)
Also a very commonly used material, which can be found in both, more expensive and cheaper cooking pans.
Carbon steel is fairly similar to cast iron and therefore their advantages and disadvantages are quite the same.
Carbon steel pans are quite good at retaining heat, which is great for proper steak searing.
In other words, as soon as it heats up, it stays warm for a good while.
Just like cast iron, proper carbon steel works forever.
It’s a good investment from that perspective.
Non-stick…With a Twist
Carbon steel can be non-sticky, if it is seasoned properly and continuously maintained. (On the pic – De Buyer Carbon Steel Pan)
Carbon steel is not non-stick (just like cast iron), but…
Proper seasoning, which is all about heating the skillet with a thin layer of oil until it gradually builds up in the surface of the pan (it might easily take a month of continuous use), will make your carbon steel pan practically non-stick.
It’s worth to mention that, after this procedure carbon steel has a better non-stick features than cast iron, which makes it a better option from that perspective.
Finally, carbon steel pans have a more saute-oriented shape than cast iron skillets.
Given the fact that carbon steel is lighter, it is no surprise that it is used for Woks and Stri-Fry pans.
Disadvantages of Carbon Steel Pans
Their advantages become their disadvantages…
- Poor Heat Conductor. Same as cast iron, carbon steel is a poor heat conductor, which makes any manipulations with stove top temperature quite useless, simply because carbon steel pan won’t quickly change its temperature.
- Reactive With Food. Just like cast iron, carbon steel pans are not ideal for cooking acidic or alkaline foods. Therefore, I don’t recommend you try preparing a wine-based steak sauce or a tomato soup in it.
- Tricky Cleaning. Not safe for dishwasher, carbon steel pans should be handwashed, dried out and re-seasoned after every time you cook something with them. While the whole procedure doesn’t take long, it still requires extra effort.
Cladding refers to bonding of two different materials. Most commonly aluminum is clad with stainless steel. (On the pic – All-Clad Frying Pan)
Cladding, as stated by Wiki, is a process of bonding together of dissimilar metals.
When it comes to cooking, the idea of cladding lies in combining the best features of different materials…ideally without any of their disadvantages.
Most commonly, aluminum is clad with stainless steel.
Aluminum is highly-reactive material, but it conducts heat really well. Stainless steel, on the contrary, has a poor heat conductivity, but doesn’t react with food. (On the pic – All-Clad Frying Pan)
Aluminum then provides excellent heat conductivity and nice thickness, whereas stainless steel prevents aluminum from reacting with food and corrosion, making it very simple to maintain (and dish-washer safe).
Advantages and disadvantages would therefore be the same for the materials that were bonded (clad) together.
Advantages for aluminum would then be great heat conductivity, durability and affordability. Stainless steel would then also be durable, easy-to-clean and non-reactive.
When put together, possible disadvantages of these two materials would include poor heat conductivity for stainless steel (negated by aluminum layer), reactivity with food for aluminum (negated by stainless steel layer) and possible warping of aluminum, when its quality is low (negated by using hard-anodized and/or forged aluminum).
Ceramic pans are considered to be the most eco-friendly pans. They are not great heat conductors. (On the pic – Calphalon Ceramic)
Ceramic pans are not a recent invention and have been out there for a while.
Typically porcelain and stoneware are used for cooking, whereas earthernware is used as serveware.
Here is what’s good about them:
Safe With High Temperature & In Microwave
Ceramic is free of PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) and PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid), which are often used in nonstick coating for pans and skillets.
Ceramic pans are made of inorganic materials, which makes them very resist heat really well – ceramic pans tend to be fine all the way to 450C / 842F, which is quite amazing.
Quality ceramic pans are also free of lead and cadmium.
Purely ceramic pans can also be used in the microwave (given that there are no metal parts in it).
Some manufacturers offer ceramic-basic non-stick coating, which might not be very durable. (On the pic – Greenlife Ceramic)
Given its naturally non-stick properties, pans made of ceramic are simple to clean and dishwasher safe.
When compared with cast iron, ceramic pans are less heavy and are easier to manage during the cooking process.
Disadvantages of Ceramic Frying Pans
- Ceramic pans (and other ceramic cookware) are prone to cracking and breaking. Quick and extreme temperature changes (i.e. from hot to cold) can damage pans made from this material.
- Not a great heat conductor. Ceramic pans do not conduct heat really well, that’s why some aluminum is sometimes used in order to help resolve that problem.
- Ceramic pans can get discolored, meaning that their usually white surface becomes yellowy with time. It doesn’t look great.
Okay, now that you have a good (or, at least, some?) idea regarding the most common materials that steak pans are made of…
…lets quickly list them once again here:
- Copper. It’s a great heat conductor, very stylish and is not heavy. Quality copper is expensive and it itself is reactive with food, which means you need to get it lined with tin or steel (a better option for long-term). Can be dishwasher-friendly.
- Cast Iron. These steak pans last forever and are able to accumulate a tremendous amount of heat. Cast iron has a pretty much universal use, but these skillets are poor heat conductors, require extra maintenance and weight a lot.
- Aluminum. Amazing heat conductor, which means it adjusts quickly to the changes in the stove top temperature. Quality aluminum pans are durable and affordable. However aluminum is a highly-reactive material, which means you need to get a hard-anodized aluminum pan, if you don’t want extra aluminum in your diet. I also recommend you shoot for forged aluminum as your pan’s material, because it is extra strong and would definitely prevent warping (that’s quite common in cheap aluminum pans).
- Stainless steel. Durable and easy-to-clean, stainless steel is also non-reactive with food. However, it is a poor heat conductor, which also requires forging for extra strength, so to avoid a chance of wrapping.
- Carbon steel. Very similar to cast iron, but is much lighter. Heat retention is a big advantage of these two materials. Durability and non-stickiness (if seasoned and maintained properly) is also within the benefits of carbon steel. Poor heat conductivity, reactiveness with food and tricky cleaning procedure (not that time-consuming though) are the main disadvantages of steak pans made from this material.
- Clad. Bonding of the two materials with dissimilar properties. When it comes to steak pans, most frequently aluminum is clad with stainless steel. This formation creates a material that has the benefits of both of these materials, which, at the same time, cancel their individual disadvantages (e.g. stainless steel’s poor heat conductivity vs aluminum’s excellent heat conductivity etc)
- Ceramic. Environmentally-friendly, safe with high temperatures, easy to clean and fairly light weight. Ceramic pans can, however, be quite fragile and discolor with time. They are not good heat conductors.
Now is the time to make use of all this knowledge!
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