Gadget Review: Cast Iron vs. Stainless pans

This is not so much a review as it is a comparison post. My old anodized pans were looking shabby, so I removed them to the camping supply box and brought out my trusty cast iron. But my dear husband doesn’t love cooking with cast iron; he has trouble modulating the heat and these pans are tricky for omelettes. I have been studying stainless options (maybe a Christmas gift for the omelet man) but have not been able to narrow down the choices. At this point, it is coming down to how the handle feels.

I digress. The biggest thing I am interested in understanding right now is the best way to use the cast iron pans vs. the stainless pans. And I have a number of questions that I thought might be of interest to others, so here is my comparison:

When do you add the oil to the pan, before heating or when hot?

Cast Iron pans – Add oil before heating the pan, or heat without oil to sear meat. The meat can be brushed with a little oil before hitting the pan, but some cuts will not require extra fat.

Stainless steel pans – Add oil to the hot pan for best results.

Can cast iron and stainless steel pans go in the oven?

CI – Absolutely, straight from stove top to oven to table. Use a hot pad; handles are very hot!

SS – Only if the handle is heat resistant. Some pans are only oven safe up to 400F, check the manufacturer’s recommendations.

What is the best way to clean a cast iron or stainless steel pan?

CI – Hot water, as hot as you can stand it, with a strong scrubby brush. Don’t use soap, it can take off the seasoning of the pan.

SS – Soap and water for most everyday; Barkeeper’s Friend on burned-on messes. Barkeeper’s Friend is also great for the bottoms of pans!

When to use stainless steel vs. cast iron?

CI – Great for searing steaks, upside down cakes, bacon, fritattas. Not good for acidic foods cooked for long periods of time (ex: spaghetti sauce). Least expensive option, but heavy, and handles can get very hot.

SS – Great for items that need a little browning, or slow-cooked sauces, or poaching lightly. Good all around pan, and generally not as heavy as CI. More expensive, however.


  1. I’m new to stainless steel (I have anodized non-stick) and Barkeeper’s friend is a MUST. I love that I can brown butter and caramelize in SS pans. You will need a good non-stick pan for omelets. SS won’t work with eggs. A cast iron pan or skillet is great for browning, and I saw a really cool tip for cleaning cast iron: let pan cool, mop up any drippings with a paper towel, sprinkle coarse salt all over the pan, using a dry cloth, rub in circular motions, rinse with water. We tried this on a flat camping grill, which worked wonders in getting the burnt grease, but keeping the grill seasoned.

    1. Kitchen Gadget Girl

      What is your recommendation on nonstick pans? I am wary of the reports of nonstick peeling and toxicity and stuff. Personally, I cook my eggs in my cast iron, or go the boiled egg route. We had anodized for a long time, which was good, but they did start to lose the coating towards the end, hence the move to the garage. I would like to bring SS into my kitchen for some of the benefits you highlight.

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