How To Choose Between Stainless Steel, Nonstick, And Cast Iron Pan For Cooking

You don't have to rely on the recipe to tell you what pan to use.

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ILLUSTRATOR Roselle Miranda

Reading a recipe should tell you everything you need to know about the dish that you're cooking. It should indicate what the ingredients are, give you a clue about what cooking and baking equipment you will need, and of course, how to use these ingredients and kitchen tools to execute the dish successfully. 

However, not all recipes are that informative or that detailed. There are some recipes that might leave certain decisions up to you. You might even find that you do not have the right equipment to follow the recipe to a tee and need an alternative or a substitute for what is asked for in the recipe.

One of these decisions can be what pan to use when cooking. There are some recipes that will specifically tell you to use a certain pan, such as a nonstick pan for cooking pancakes. That's easy enough to understand since it tells you what to use, but what if it doesn't? What if the recipe calls for another kind of pan that you do not have?

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You can use another kind of pan. This is because what a recipe doesn't always tell you is that some pans can do the job of another pan. So, yes, you can cook pancakes in another kind of pan with just as flawless a finish as with a nonstick pan. 

How do you choose which pan to use for what food you're cooking? Here are a few tips so you know that you're using the right frying pan when cooking: 

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For searing: Use a stainless or cast iron pan 

Searing is all about that super hot sizzle when you place your food in the pan. You will want to use a stainless steel pan for this or even a cast iron pan. Just remember that when using a stainless steel pan, you should expect it to stick, even if only for the first minute or two.

Sticking is a good thing. This means that the food you're cooking and the frying pan has good contact. Good contact means the searing of the food is going to be more even. Give it a few seconds more after you think it's ready before you check the underside of the food. If it's still stuck, leave it there to unstick itself from the pan. If your pan is hot enough and the temperature is correct, the food will naturally release from the pan, and that's your signal that it's ready to be flipped and cooked on the other side.              

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You can use a cast iron pan, too, and get the same results. Just note that cast iron will take longer to heat up than a stainless steel pan will.

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For eggs, pancakes, and fish: Use a nonstick pan

The ease of use makes the nonstick pan the most useful pan of all pans, especially for a beginner cook. There are no worries about anything sticking to a nonstick pan because of that amazing coating! This pan makes cooking any kind of egg super easy, makes resto-worthy pancakes, and allows you to cook fish perfectly without worrying about overcooking the fish before flipping. 

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If, however, you do not have a nonstick pan, you can use another pan that can serve as a backup: a well-seasoned cast iron pan. If you maintain and treat your cast iron pan right, it can do the just of a nonstick pan just as well if not better than a nonstick pan. That's because the seasoning of a cast iron pan is basically a nonstick coating. You will however still need to use oil but a minimal coating is all you need and you can cook pancakes, eggs, and even fish with an almost perfectly golden-brown crust on all of them, too. 

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For steak and pan-fried food: Use cast iron 

You'll find that steak lovers adore steak that has been seared to perfection. This is achieved on a cast iron pan which can be heated to searing hot temperatures. While cast iron does not conduct heat well, once searing hot, it can hold it better and longer than other metal pans will. That means it won't cool off before you can get it back up to temperature! 

If you do not have a cast iron pan, you can use a stainless steel pan instead. Crank up the heat, and it can sear steak just as well as a cast iron pan will. Just remember to always give pans time to come back up to the right searing hot temperature before adding the next steak to the pan for that perfectly charred crust.    

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For braises and stews: Use cast iron

What's really fantastic about cast iron pans is that it can go from the stove to the oven without needing to transfer the food into another cooking vessel or even a baking dish. You can do this with the cast iron pan since the entire pan is made with iron. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about nonstick and stainless cookware. If you take a look at these pans, you'll find many are made with plastic or other materials that are cool to the touch but cannot handle being heated up to oven temperatures.

These kinds of pans are not meant to be placed in the oven but are meant to make handling them on the stovetop easier. This is what makes cast iron cookware so versatile. You can sear steaks or chicken pieces in the cast iron pan until the outside is seared to perfection and then immediately place the pan, with the food still in it, straight into the oven. This is why Dutch ovens made of cast iron are so popular. It can go from stove to oven to the table easily. Braises and stews that require long cooking times are perfect for these types of pans and pots. 

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Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!

Got your own version of the classic dishes? Pa-share naman! Get your recipe published on Yummy.ph by submitting your recipe here.


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