How to Cook on Different Metals

Cooking With The Pans You Have

Lately people have been doing a lot of cooking at home and that has led to some questions on how to cook on different kinds of metals. If your kitchen is like mine then you have pots and pans made in a variety of shapes and sizes. Generally speaking the cooking surfaces on those pots and pans are made up of four different metals; stainless steel, aluminum, Teflon or some kind of nonstick material and cast iron. There are a lot of variations of pans out there. Some aluminum pans have stainless coatings and some cast iron are coated with enamel. I could go on forever about pans. The cooking methods below will cover just about any pan you come across

Cooking on Stainless Steel, Aluminum and Carbon Steel

Stainless Steel Pans

Stainless steel is a great metal to cook with. It’s long lasting, easy to clean and tough. It doesn’t retain heat like cast iron and doesn’t conduct heat as evenly as a copper lined pan but stainless still makes for an all around good kitchen tool. Eventually the flat bottom cooking surface will warp and become convex but with a high quality pan that will take many years of cooking. Try to find skillets that don’t have rubber or plastic molded to them so they can safely go from the stove top to the oven.

-Generally speaking you should always preheat any pan that doesn’t have a nonstick coating. This helps create a barrier between the metal and what you put inside it.
-Once the pan is hot then add your oil and get the oil hot. One way to know if the oil is hot enough is to tilt the pan at an angle and the oil will ripple across the surface.
-Once the oil is hot then add the ingredients you intend to cook.
-If you’re searing a steak the oil should just start to smoke before you put it in.
-When cooking proteins like chicken pieces, fish fillets and steaks try to resist the urge to move them around for a few minutes once you’ve put them in. As they cook they will form a crust and pull away from the surface of the pan.
-Make sure your ingredients are as dry as they can be. Ingredients that are wet will usually stick to the bottom
If you’re cooking with whole butter then still preheat the pan but on a temperature low enough that won’t burn the butter when you add it.

Cooking on Cast Iron

A cast iron pan

Cast iron is the workhorse of the kitchen and one of the best metals to cook on. It can be used for sauteeing, searing and sweating on the stop top, baking bread and braising in the oven and grilling over an open fire. It does have some drawbacks though; cast iron pans are very heavy and require seasoning and oiling to keep them in good shape. One other downside is that the metal becomes brittle over time and can crack or break. For the most part cooking on cast iron is just like cooking on stainless steel but with a few exceptions.

-Always preheat the pan first but on a lower heat. Cast iron is a decent conductor but it’s very thick so it takes a little time to get evenly heated. Once the pan gets hot they will retain heat very well.
-Just like a stainless steel pan, preheat the pan first and then add the oil and get the oil hot before you add any ingredients to the pan.
-Try to remove any excess moisture from your ingredients
-Use a metal spatula for turning. You’ll probably melt a plastic one.
-Once your finished don’t scrub it with harsh chemicals and don’t use metal to clean it. Be gentle with your cleaning methods if possible.
-Be cautious when grabbing the handle, it can get extremely hot.

Cooking on Nonstick Surfaces

A Teflon skillet

Cooking on Nonstick has some great advantages and many disadvantages. It’s easy to clean and of course, not much sticks to it. One of the supposed advantages of using a nonstick pan is the ability to use less fat, but cooking fats aren’t just about lubrication. The main purposes of using fats is to impart flavor and conduct heat evenly to a food product. One other major disadvantage is that heating Teflon on very high heat may cause it to give off harmful gasses. While there are high quality Teflon coated pans out there, most are cheaply made. I use Teflon pans occasionally but only with certain preparations.

-Don’t preheat the pan, especially over an open flame. Nonstick pans can quickly overheat.
-Don’t use metal spatulas or spoons to stir and flip foods. Use wood or high temperature silicon or plastic to stir food in a nonstick pan.
-Don’t leave a lot of empty space in the pan when cooking. It is easier to overheat a pan with only a small quantity of food in it. Try to at least cover the bottom of the pan with whatever you’re cooking.
-Use nonstick pans for cooking foods that require low temperature cooking and don’t require a preheated pan like eggs and reheating soups and sauces.
-Don’t stack anything inside of it when in storage. Keep a towel on top of it to protect the cooking surface from damage.

Please leave a comment if you’d like to see information about specific cooking techniques and pans to use.

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