Metal cookware can leach while you cook, giving your food a metallic flavor. Stainless steel pans are regarded as the safest because they are the least reactive. But stainless steel quality varies greatly -- as does the cost -- and low-end pans, particularly, can still present a problem, especially with acidic foods.
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Best Stainless Steel Cookware
Stainless steel cookware contains chromium and nickel, with a designated number that reveals the percentage of each metal: The first number indicates chromium content, and the second number indicates nickel content. Most stainless steel pans are rated 18/10 -- 18 percent chromium and 10 percent nickel -- or 18/8 with only 8 percent nickel. Pans with high nickel content ratings are relatively non-reactive, while pans with nickel content below 8 percent are more likely to react with foods during the cooking process. Without proper care, however, even stainless steel pans with high nickel content can leach metals into food, particularly if the surface is damaged.
New Stainless Steel Pots
Regardless of the quality of stainless steel cookware, a metallic taste is likely to occur with new pots and pans. The manufacturer typically cleans and polishes them before packing and shipping them for retail sales, but a metallic taste can linger after the manufacturing process. For best results, wash and dry the cookware immediately after you remove it from the packaging. Wash stainless steel with mild dish detergent and a soft cloth. Avoid abrasive sponges or detergents that can scratch the surface of the pan and increase the metallic taste. Mineral deposits from water can also alter the taste of food, so you might wish to go so far as to use distilled water to wash the pans and avoid mineral buildup.
Acidic Foods and Stainless Steel
Stainless steel cookware is widely considered the best material for cooking because it is generally non-reactive, meaning it won't react with acidic foods, a common problem with aluminum cookware. If the stainless steel cookware has a low percentage of nickel, it can react with acid ingredients, including lemon juice, vinegar and tomatoes, which results in pitting or corrosion on the cooking surface. This pitting opens up the pans to leaching metal into the food. Always use cooking oil such as canola oil or vegetable oil that fills in the microscopic pits in the pan, creating a barrier between the stainless steel and food. Remove the food from the pan immediately after cooking to limit the time the pan has to react with the metal. Wash the pan immediately to remove any leftover acidic residue.
Stainless Steel Care
Stainless steel may be resistant to staining, but it is not scratch resistant. Even the faintest scratch on the cooking surface exposes bare metal that can affect food flavor. Additionally, scratching removes fine bits of metal particles much the same as sharpening a stainless steel knife removes small metal filings to make the edge sharp. Metal spatulas and spoons can be used with stainless steel, but use caution to avoid scratching the cookware. Never use harsh abrasive sponges or steel wool soap pads to clean stainless steel pans. The best course of action for stuck-on foods is to soak the pan in hot, soapy water to soften and dislodge the food. As a last resort, cover the stuck food with baking soda and make a paste with water. Baking soda, a mild abrasive, scrubs the food, but concentrate on scrubbing just the food to avoid scratching the metal.