Cast Iron vs Stainless Steel Cookware: The Ultimate Comparison

Are you ready for a kitchen battle that will leave you with the ultimate cookware? It’s time to put cast iron vs stainless steel to the test and see which one comes out on top!

The never-ending battle between cast iron and stainless steel cookware can make it tough to decide which one to choose for your kitchen. But fear not, I have good news! They’re both amazing for different reasons and you don’t have to choose just one! 

Cast iron vs stainless steel comparison pin

I believe that every kitchen needs both cast iron and stainless steel cookware, and you’ll see why.

Not only are they durable, but both cast iron and stainless steel are also considered among the safest and most non-toxic cookware options available. With either option, you can rest assured that you’re using healthy and reliable cookware that will last years to come.

In this review, we’ll dive deep into the pros and cons of these two popular cookware types and their differences. We’ll explore everything from their unique features like weight, durability, toxicity, and maintenance to which foods and uses they’re each best suited for.

So, whether you’re looking to upgrade to the best cookware or learn how to maximize the ones you have, we’ve got you covered!

Overall, the choice between cast iron and stainless steel cookware depends on your cooking style and preferences. If you prioritize quick heating and versatility, stainless steel is a great option. But if you love searing and slow-cooking with better non-stick properties, cast iron may be the way to go. And of course, having both in your kitchen will give you the best of both worlds!

Overview: cast iron vs stainless steel

Stainless steel is the sleek and modern superhero of the kitchen, known for its durability, non-reactive nature, and easy maintenance. 

On the other hand, cast iron is the traditional and rustic champion of the kitchen, known for its ability to create crispy and flavorful dishes, infuse iron into your food, and last for generations. 

Each has its unique strengths and weaknesses, making them perfect for different tasks.

Here’s a breakdown:

Shot overhead cast iron pan

Cast iron cookware:

Cast iron is known for its incredible heat retention and ability to create the perfect sear, making it a popular choice for everything from steaks to cornbread.

It also adds a unique flavor to your food that other cookware materials simply can’t match. And you can enjoy the benefits of cast iron for generations with proper care and maintenance.

However, cast iron requires regular seasoning to maintain its non-stick properties and prevent rusting (though it’s very easy and quick). It’s also a little more fragile than stainless steel since it can crack or chip if dropped.


  • Excellent heat retention: Cast iron is a heavy-duty material that can retain heat for a long time, making it perfect for slow cooking, braising, and roasting.
  • Naturally non-stick: When seasoned properly, cast iron develops a natural non-stick surface, which is perfect for searing meats and frying foods.
  • Adds iron to your food: Cooking with cast iron can actually increase the iron content of your food, which is essential for a healthy diet.
  • Adds unique flavor: The buildup of fats and oils as cast iron is used over time can add a unique, rich flavor to your food that is unmatched by other cookware materials.
  • Extremely durable: Cast iron is extremely durable and long-lasting, with some pieces even being passed down through generations.
  • Compatible with all cooktops: Cast iron is also compatible with all cooktops, including induction, gas, electric, and ceramic. 
  • Versatile: Cast iron cookware is also versatile and can be used for a variety of cooking techniques, including searing, simmering, baking, frying, and roasting.
  • Ideal for outdoor cooking too: Cast iron cookware is not only great for indoor cooking but also perfect for outdoor cooking over an open fire or on a grill.


  • Requires seasoning: Cast iron cookware needs to be seasoned regularly with oil to maintain its non-stick surface and prevent rusting. However, it’s very easy to learn and can be done quickly at home. 
  • Prone to rust: If not seasoned properly or left wet, cast iron can rust, making it difficult to clean.
  • Heavy and bulky: Cast iron cookware is quite heavy and bulky, which may be tough for those with weaker wrists.
  • Reacts to acidic foods: Cast iron cookware can withstand quick cooking of acidic foods like tomatoes, wine, or vinegar, but though not dangerous, when cooked for long periods of time it can cause the food to take on a metallic taste. 
  • Takes time to heat up: The thick material tends to heat more slowly and unevenly initially, but once properly heated it retains its heat very well. 
  • Not dishwasher safe: Cast iron cookware should not be cleaned in a dishwasher since the high heat and harsh detergents can damage the seasoning and cause rusting.
  • Handles get hot: The handles of cast iron get hot while cooking, so you need to use pot holders or gloves to handle it.
Overhead shot of stainless steel pan

Stainless steel cookware:

Sleek, stylish, and durable, stainless steel cookware is very easy to care for and maintain. It’s known for its versatility and is great for cooking any type of meal.

It is non-reactive and non-porous, so it won’t absorb flavors or smells from food, making it a good choice for cooking a wider variety of dishes than cast iron. 

However, it won’t retain heat or offer as much crispiness to foods as well as cast iron, and it can be more expensive than other materials.


  • Durable: Stainless steel is a strong and durable material that can withstand high heat and resist scratches and dents
  • Easy to clean: Stainless steel is non-porous, so it doesn’t absorb food particles or flavors. This makes it easy to clean and maintain.
  • Non-reactive: Stainless steel is non-reactive, which means it won’t interact with acidic foods and alter the flavor.
  • Even heat distribution: Once stainless steel cookware is heated, it will distribute heat evenly across the surface of the cookware. 
  • Resistant to stains: Stainless steel is resistant to stains and odors, which means it won’t discolor or retain smells from the food you cook.
  • Compatible with all cooktops: Stainless steel is compatible with all cooktops, including induction, gas, electric, and ceramic.
  • Versatile: Stainless steel cookware is versatile and can be used for a variety of cooking techniques, including sautéing, stir-frying, boiling, and simmering.
  • No seasoning required: Unlike cast iron, stainless steel does not require seasoning to maintain its non-stick surface.
  • Often dishwasher safe: Many stainless steel cookware sets are dishwasher safe, making cleaning up after cooking even easier.


  • Food sticks easily: Since stainless steel is not non-stick, food can stick to the surface if not enough oil or fat is used or the pan is not properly preheated.
  • Expensive: Stainless steel cookware can be expensive, especially if it’s made from high-quality materials like tri-ply or copper core.
  • Often combined with other metals: Most stainless steel cookware is blended with other types of metals like aluminum or copper to enhance its heat conductivity and distribute heat more evenly.
  • Slow to heat: Pure stainless steel is not a good conductor of heat, which means it can take some time to fully heat up to avoid hot spots or uneven cooking. This is one reason why most stainless steel cookware is blended with other metals like aluminum or copper.
  • No flavor enhancement: Unlike cast iron, stainless steel doesn’t add any flavor to your food, which can be a pro or con depending on your preference.
  • Warping risk: Stainless steel cookware is at a higher risk of warping than cast iron, especially if subjected to fast temperature changes or high heat.
  • Needs more oil for non-stick: To make stainless steel non-stick, you may need to use more oil or fat in your cooking process, which could be a con for those trying to limit their oil intake or expenses.
Cast iron pot with enamel coating

Enameled cast iron or stainless steel

Adding an enameled coating to cast iron or stainless steel cookware not only provides a pop of color to your kitchen but also adds a layer of protection and convenience to your cookware!

The enamel coating adds a non-stick surface that’s easier to clean and resists scratching, while still retaining the heat retention and durability of the underlying cast iron or stainless steel. 

The non-toxic, non-stick surface is great for cooking a wide range of foods, from delicate fish to sticky caramel. Plus, enameled stainless steel or cast iron is protected from rusting or corroding over time.

When applied to cast iron specifically, it also creates a non-reactive surface that won’t interact with acidic foods, and it eliminates the need for seasoning which makes it easier to clean and maintain. 

Risks of enameled coating?

The downside is that enamel can chip or crack, so metal utensils are a big no. Luckily, if there are scratches or chips in the enamel coating of cast iron or stainless steel cookware, the underlying metal is safe and non-toxic unlike Aluminum or other cookware. 

But, if an aluminum or copper blended stainless steel cookware is scratched deeply enough, it’s possible that aluminum or copper may be exposed. This could potentially be a health hazard since aluminum and copper are reactive metals that leach into food.

RELATED: If you’re considering cast iron cookware, take a look at the pros and cons of hard-nitrided cast iron!

Heat retention: cast iron vs stainless steel

The winner: Overall, cast iron retains heat better and distributes it more evenly.

Cast iron:

Cast iron is a heavy material that retains heat really well. This makes it great for cooking dishes that require even, steady heat, like searing meats or frying chicken.

However, its slow heat-up time means that it will take longer to get to your desired temperature.

Stainless steel:

Stainless steel does not retain heat as well as cast iron, but it does heat up faster. 

This makes it a better choice for cooking dishes that require quick changes in temperature, like sautéing or pan-frying. 

Heat distribution: cast iron vs stainless steel

The winner: Proper maintenance and preheating are necessary for both cast iron and stainless steel to ensure even heating while cooking, but cast iron is king in heat retention and distribution. 

Cast iron:

Cast iron’s thickness can cause uneven cooking if not properly preheated before use, leading to hot spots. However, once properly preheated, it distributes heat evenly. Once preheated it’s perfect for cooking dishes that require even, steady heat, like searing meats or frying chicken.

Stainless steel:

While stainless steel is generally thinner and more lightweight than cast iron, it can still develop hot spots if not preheated fully. Once preheated, it distributes heat evenly, especially when layered or blended with other metals like aluminum or copper. This makes it a better choice for cooking dishes that require quick changes in temperature, like sautéing or pan-frying. 

Heating speed: cast iron vs stainless steel

The winner: Stainless steel has an advantage over cast iron when it comes to how quickly it can heat up.

Cast iron:

Cast iron takes longer to heat up than stainless steel due to its thickness and high heat-holding ability.

Stainless steel cookware:

Stainless steel heats up faster than cast iron due to its lower heat-holding ability.

Durability: cast iron vs stainless steel

The winner: Overall, both cast iron and stainless steel are highly durable and can provide many years of reliable use, but cast iron has a slight edge when it comes to overall durability and resistance to damage.

Cast iron:

Cast iron cookware is renowned for its longevity. When properly cared for, it can last for generations. It’s incredibly tough and resistant to damage, which is why it’s often passed down as a family heirloom. 

With its thick walls and heavy weight, cast iron is not easily dented or scratched. In fact, it can even withstand the occasional drop or fall without breaking! And because it’s made of iron, it’s naturally rust-resistant unless it’s left wet.

Stainless steel:

Stainless steel cookware is also quite durable but in a different way than cast iron. It’s incredibly resistant to scratches, dents, and other forms of damage. It won’t rust or corrode, even after years of use. 

Stainless steel’s durability means that it’s often used in professional kitchens where it needs to stand up to heavy use daily.

Maintenance: cast iron vs stainless steel

The winner: Though not completely maintenance-free, stainless steel takes the cake with maintenance. 

Stainless steel is easier to clean and maintain, whereas cast iron requires more delicate care, like hand-washing and seasoning.

Cast iron:

Cast iron requires a bit more work to maintain. Luckily, it’s well worth it for its incredible heat retention and non-stick properties. 

To keep your cast iron in good shape, you’ll need to season it regularly. This involves coating it with a layer of oil and heating it to allow it to soak in. Seasoning creates a non-stick surface and prevents rusting. 

You’ll also need to avoid using soap and harsh scrubbers when cleaning your cast iron, as this can strip away the seasoning. Instead, after cooking, just rinse it with hot water and scrub gently with a non-abrasive sponge or brush. 

If you do end up with some stubborn stuck-on bits, you can boil some water before using a gentle brush. Alternatively, you can use a bit of salt as a natural abrasive.

Stainless steel:

Stainless steel is much more low-maintenance but still requires some care to keep it looking shiny and new. 

Unlike cast iron, it’s often dishwasher-safe and doesn’t require seasoning. Due to its non-porous and non-reactive surface, it’s easier to clean and far less prone to rust. Though, stainless steel can be prone to discoloration and staining if you don’t clean it properly. 

Generally, avoid using harsh cleaners or scouring pads on stainless steel to prevent scratches. Instead, use mild dish soap and a soft sponge or cloth to clean your stainless steel. For stains, use water and baking soda.

Though stainless steel does not require seasoning, you can season it to create a non-stick surface.

Cooking versatility: cast Iron vs stainless steel

The winner: Both cast iron and stainless steel are highly versatile cookware options, with stainless steel having a slight edge. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses that may make one more suitable than the other depending on the task.

Cast iron:

Whether you’re a meat lover, bread baker, or stew fanatic, cast iron has got you covered. Its unique ability to hold onto heat evenly for long periods makes it ideal for a variety of cooking methods.

Picture yourself searing a perfect steak, frying crispy chicken, or baking homemade cornbread in your trusty cast iron skillet. And don’t forget about the sweet treats! Cinnamon buns and bread rolls also come out perfectly in a well-seasoned cast iron pan.

Plus, cast iron’s ability to hold heat makes it perfect for simmering stews and braises for hours on end. It’s also so helpful for one-pot meals that can be started on the stove and finished in the oven, like baked pasta, frittatas, and roasts. And let’s not forget about deep frying! Cast iron’s also ideal for frying up your favorite crispy treats.

Cast iron is great for stovetops of any kind. It’s even ideal for an open flame on the grill or out camping.

What cast iron cookware is not best for:

  • Cooking highly acidic foods for long periods of time like tomato sauces
  • Boiling for short periods of time since it takes longer to get to a boil
  • Cooking delicate fish or seafood that require precise temperature control

Stainless steel:

Stainless steel cookware is another staple kitchen workhorse. Its versatility knows no bounds! Use it to sauté vegetables, sear meats, simmer soups and sauces, boil pasta, and much more.

Stainless steel is also the better choice for acidic dishes like tomato sauce or citrus-based marinades. This is because it won’t react with the acid and change the flavor of the food. But keep in mind that acidic foods like tomatoes or vinegar-based sauces can cause discoloration.

Stainless steel’s durable and can be used for one-pot meals that can be started on the stove and finished in the oven, so long as its handle can go in the oven, too. And stainless steel’s sturdiness makes it ideal for frying up your favorite crispy treats, too! Stainless steel pans can be especially great for certain dishes like roasting vegetables or broiling.

Plus, stainless steel can handle the heat whether you’re cooking on an induction stove or an open flame. And though it is more prone to sticking, you can season it to further enhance its non-stick properties.

What stainless steel cookware is not best for:

  • Delicate foods that require precise temperature control may stick to the pan and be a bit tricky to cook perfectly.
  • Foods prone to sticking
  • Baking

Price and value: cast iron vs stainless steel

The winner: In general, cast iron tends to be less expensive than stainless steel. Though, stainless steel and cast iron cookware can vary widely depending on the brand, size, and quality of the product.

Cast iron:

You can find a variety of cast iron cookware, including skillets, Dutch ovens, and griddles, at reasonable prices. The cost of cast iron cookware depends on factors like size, quality, and brand. While some high-end cast iron brands can be expensive, there are also tons of more affordable options available.

And since cast iron is so durable (when taken care of properly), it can last for generations. So not only will you save money by not having to replace your cookware every few years, but you’ll also have a reliable kitchen workhorse that will never let you down.

Stainless steel:

Although it may come at a slightly higher price point than cast iron, investing in a high-quality stainless steel set will pay off in the long run.

While it may not have the same heirloom quality as cast iron, stainless steel is incredibly durable and can withstand heavy use even in a professional kitchen. It can last a lifetime with proper care. 

And because it’s so versatile, you’ll be able to use it for everything from sautéing veggies to boiling pasta to frying up crispy treats!

Toxicity and safety: cast Iron vs stainless steel 

The winner: Both cast iron and stainless steel are great non-toxic options for cookware. They are made from natural materials, do not have synthetic coatings, and do not contain harmful chemicals. 

However, those with metal sensitivities may want to be cautious with stainless steel, and those with iron deficiencies may benefit from using cast iron.

Cast iron:

Cast iron is a non-toxic option that has been used for centuries. It does not contain harmful chemicals like PFOA or PTFE, which can be found in many non-stick coatings. Plus, cast iron is made from natural materials and does not contain any synthetic coatings.

One thing to keep in mind is that cast iron does leach small amounts of iron into food, which can be a bonus for those with iron deficiencies but may not be suitable for everyone. With proper seasoning and maintenance, the amount of iron that leaches into food is minimal.

Stainless steel:

Stainless steel is also a non-toxic option since it does not contain harmful chemicals like PFOA or PTFE. It is made from natural materials and contains no coatings that can chip or peel.

Some stainless steel cookware may have non-stick coatings applied to them, which are typically made of synthetic materials and alter the behavior of pure stainless steel.

Stainless steel cookware also often contains trace amounts of nickel since it is one of the key components of stainless steel. This can be an issue for those with metal sensitivities or allergies. 

Non-toxic coatings:

Stainless steel is usually made entirely of metal, while cast iron is often coated with a layer of seasoned oil or enamel.

Enamel is a type of glass that is fused to the surface of cast iron, which can provide a non-stick surface, prevent rusting, and remove the need to season it.

Avoid cookware with non-stick coatings made from materials like PTFE (Teflon), which, even in modern-day “PFOA-free” versions, can be toxic.

ALSO NON-TOXIC: See our list of the best non-toxic waffle makers and what you need to look out for in their coatings.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Does cast iron work on induction

Yes, cast iron works beautifully on induction cooktops! The magnetic properties of cast iron make it an excellent conductor of heat, which allows for even cooking and precise temperature control. With cast iron, you can enjoy all the benefits of induction cooking, including fast and efficient heating, while also experiencing the unique taste and flavor that only cast iron can provide. 

Is cast iron magnetic? 

yes, cast iron is magnetic, which means it can be used on induction cooktops. Induction cooktops work by creating a magnetic field that interacts with the metal in the cookware to generate heat, so having a magnetic material like cast iron is essential for them to work properly. 

What’s the best oil to season cast iron?

When it comes to seasoning cast iron, you want to choose oils with a high smoke point, which means they can withstand high heat without burning. My favorite options for seasoning cast iron are avocado oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, and bacon fat.

Avocado oil has a neutral flavor, so it won’t affect the taste of your food cooked in cast iron cookware. It’s a healthy oil that is high in monounsaturated fats, which can help improve cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. 

Flaxseed oil is a great non-toxic choice with a neutral flavor. It creates a hard, non-stick surface that is free of harmful chemicals. Flaxseed oil is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help promote heart health.

If you’re looking for an oil that will add flavor to your cast iron, consider using bacon grease or coconut oil. Bacon grease can give your cast iron a delicious smoky flavor, while coconut oil can add a subtle sweetness to your food.

Do both stainless steel and cast iron need to be seasoned?

Cast iron needs to be seasoned to create a non-stick surface and protect it from rusting, while stainless steel does not necessarily need to be seasoned because it is a non-porous material that does not rust. However, you can still season stainless steel to help create a non-stick surface and improve its overall performance. So while seasoning is essential for cast iron, it can also be beneficial for stainless steel.

Can stainless steel go in the oven? 

Stainless steel cookware is generally oven-safe, but some stainless steel cookware may have a lower oven-safe temperature limit than others so it’s best to check with the manufacturer before using it in the oven.

Can stainless steel go in the dishwasher?

Most stainless steel pots and pans can handle the heat and detergent of the dishwasher without any damage. However, if your stainless steel cookware has a non-stick coating it may not be recommended for the dishwasher as it could potentially damage the coating. Also, certain types of dishwasher detergent can be harsh and abrasive, so it’s always a good idea to check the manufacturer’s instructions before running your cookware through the dishwasher. 

What are cast iron and stainless steel as materials?

Stainless steel is a type of metal alloy that is made by combining steel with chromium, nickel, and other elements to improve its strength, corrosion resistance, and other properties. It is a relatively lightweight and durable material that is often used in cookware due to its ability to conduct heat evenly and efficiently.

On the other hand, cast iron is a type of iron that is melted and poured into a mold. It is a dense and heavy material that has excellent heat retention and distribution properties, which make it ideal for cooking many foods. 

Can cast iron add flavor to food?

Yes, cast iron can add extra flavor to food because of its porous surface. Its porous surface absorbs the delicious flavors and seasonings from previous meals, adding depth and richness to your dish that cannot be copied. Not only that, but cast iron’s slow heating and excellent heat retention allow for even cooking and caramelization of the food’s sugars and flavors, creating a taste experience that is both unique and unforgettable.


  • I am in dire need of new pans and pots. I have a few cast iron skillets, but I’ll definitely be investing in some stainless steel pots and pans after this read.

  • I learned a lot reading your article about cast iron vs. stainless steel cookware. I didn’t realize that you can get stainless steel without a teflon coating. (My husband switched us to ceramic a handful of years ago, so he did all the research.) This is good to know when we need to replace what we have. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

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