Food and Cooking Tips
Stainless Steel Cookware
Stainless Steel Cookware is actually composed of several different materials. Of course such Cookware is composed primarily of Steel, but better-quality products include Nickel, and all products also include Chromium, and either Copper or Aluminum.
While it is the Chromium that actually prevents rusting, Nickel adds to the brightness of the Cookware piece, and produces a more durable and rust-resistant pot or pan.
Stainless Steel Cookware pieces are commonly rated by the following numerical terms: 18/0, 18/8 or 18/10. This describes the Chromium/Nickel ratio. All acceptable Stainless Steel Cookware is 18% Chromium. 18/0 has no Nickel, while 18/8 and 18/10 each have considerable Nickel content, 8% and 10%, respectively.
There is not much practical difference between 18/8 and 18/10 pieces, and while 18/10 pots and pans would have a slightly more shiny luster than 18/8 pieces, any really noticeable difference is due to how it is polished. 18/0 pots and pans, containing no Nickel, are always dull.
Stainless Steel itself does not conduct heat well, and thus an additional element is needed for good heat dispersement and to avoid hot spots. For this, with the exception of many 18/0 products, either Copper or Aluminum discs are added to the bottom of the Cookware pieces.
As thicker discs do a better job of heat dispersement, the quality of Stainless Steel cookware, and how well it spreads heat and eliminates hot spots, is determined by the thickness of the Copper or Aluminum disc.
Aluminum discs are generally thicker than Copper discs, as a Copper disc does the same job of dispersement as an aluminum disc that is three times as thick. Poor heat distribution would be expected with a .5 mm Copper disc or an equivalent 1.5 mm Aluminum disc, good distribution with a 1 mm Copper disc or the equivalent 3 mm Aluminum disc, while a 2 mm Copper disc or 5 mm Aluminum disc should result in excellent heat distribution.
Copper discs are attached to the bottom of the pot or pan by a procedure called “brazing”. The disc is “brazed” on the flat part of the pan’s base, but may not extend as far as the side walls, which results in exposing pan corners directly to the heat source. This would result in hot spots, causing food in the corners of the pan to over-heat or even burn, if care is not taken to avoid this from occurring. Aluminum discs can also be attached using this procedure.
Friction or impact bonding is a second method of attachment, which can be done only with Aluminum discs. This is a heat-pressure procedure, where the Aluminum can be spread to the edges of the pan, eliminating the likelihood of hot spots and resultant uneven cooking.
Clad Cookware are pieces made by yet a different process. In these pots and pans, Aluminum is sandwiched between layers of the Stainless Steel. The entire body thus has an Aluminum “center”, so no disc is needed, and heat is conducted evenly not just on the bottom, but up the sides of the pot or pan. The one drawback of this process is that it severely limits the
thickness of the Aluminum, and though heat is dispersed evenly, foods are overall more susceptible to burning under higher heat.
Some manufacturers produce Clad Cookware made with Carbon Steel rather than Aluminum. This results in much heavier pieces that give a false impression of superior quality. However, Carbon Steel conducts heat poorly, and the Cookware pieces are actually far inferior in actual use.
Non-Stick Stainless Steel Cookware is also available, but anyone worried about original non-stick pans where the coating would readily peel off should have no fears concerning today’s quality Cookware. The process used today for Non-Stick Stainless Steel is a technology wherein the non-stick coating is applied using a method that causes it to permeate the pans’ surface coating of bonded droplets of heated steel that have first been applied to the pan. The method results in a non-stick surface that lasts for years. As with all Stainless Steel pieces, repeated or prolonged overheating may severely damage non-stick pots and pans.
Hints to keep in mind when shopping for Stainless Steel cookware and for its use:
1. As aluminum discs require three times the thickness of copper to get the same heat distribution, when shopping for Cookware, it is unrealistic to compare Aluminum disc pieces to Copper pieces. Aluminum pieces should only be compared to other Aluminum pieces, and the same for Copper pieces.
2. When Copper or Aluminum discs are attached by brazing, a brazing powder is used. As the bonding is done, the high heat used melts the powder and accomplishes the bonding. If a Cookware piece is later subjected to extended dry boiling or prolonged overheating, the disc can separate due to melting of the brazing powder. This is unlikely to occur in pots and pans that are impact bonded, as no such powder is used in the attachment process. (NOTE: Regardless of the manufacturing process, no Stainless Steel pot or pan should be allowed to dry boil or should ever be subjected to extended high heat.)
3. Both Aluminum and Copper are soft metals and both food and heat from stove burners contribute to either metal tarnishing. Aluminum thus needs to be cleaned and scoured regularly, and Copper frequently needs to be polished.
See hundreds of Cookware choices, in our Cookware and Bakeware Directory.
For more on Cookware, see Niftykitchen.com Food and Cooking Tip: Types of Cookware - Pots and Pans for the Novice to Master Chef
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