How to Cook in Stainless Steel Pans

Investing in quality stainless steel cookware is a smart choice but some people battle a degree of frustration when learning to cook with stainless steel cookware. Some struggle with food sticking or burning while cooking or are unsure of how to properly care for their stainless steel pots and pans. The solution to these problems is just a little bit of know-how and proper care and you can learn to cook delicious food with pans that will last a lifetime. Read on to find out the basics of cooking with stainless steel.

Preheating the Pan

Heat management is important when it comes to cooking with stainless steel pans. Fortunately once you have learned temperature control with stainless steel, it is easy to get used to and you can avoid uneven heating and food sticking to your pan.

The surface of stainless steel is somewhat porous. When stainless steel is heated and the pan expands, the pores shrink. Foods have a tendency to get stuck to your pan if they are pinched by pores that are still contracting. You can avoid this by preheating your pan properly.

Preheat an empty pan by placing it on a burner at low to medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes.  To determine if your pan is ready, do the water droplet test. If you drop a single drop of water into your pan (or one small morsel of food) into the pan and hear the “TSSS” sound, your pan is ready.

It is advised that you wait to add oil to your pan until after the pan is preheated. Heat your oil until it shimmers but does not smoke.

Some chefs recommend allowing food to come to room temperature before cooking as well.

Keeping Food from Sticking to Stainless Steel

One reason many people struggle with food sticking to their stainless steel pans is because they flip their food too soon. When cooking larger pieces of food like proteins, such as fish, steak or chicken, wait to flip the food until it releases naturally from the pan. The surface temperature of the pan is changed naturally when any large piece of meat is added, even if it was left to reach room temperature prior to cooking.

When the food is added to the pan, the pores on the surface widen because of the reduction in temperature. Once the pain comes back to its desired temperature, the reduced pores will grip the food on the pan, causing it to stick. Wait for the pan to come back to its proper temperature and it will begin to release food from the pan so you can easily flip it!

Once you begin to master this technique, you will be able to enjoy beautiful crusts or crunchy skin on your meats.

Seasoning Stainless Steel

You may be surprised to know that you can also season your stainless steel pans. Unlike cast iron pans, the seasoning is not built up continuously but rather is done on a more temporary basis, which helps more delicate foods to be better cooked, such as eggs or fish.

Season stainless steel by preheating the pan then add a small amount of oil to it. Spread the oil evenly around the surface with a paper towel. Wait for the oil to begin to smoke then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool fully. Wipe out excess oil and you will have a seasoned stainless pan with a nonstick surface!

Cleaning and Caring For Stainless Steel Cookware

Once you have finished cooking and the pan is still warm (but not hot so as to not hurt yourself), wipe out any extra oil or food bits with a paper towel. (If you just can’t wait and prefer to do it while it is hot, that is okay – just use tongs with a paper towel.)

Return the pan to medium heat. Once it is hot, pour one cup of hot water in to deglaze, scraping away stubborn food bits with a wooden spoon or spatula. Pour out the water and wipe it again with a paper towel, cleaning with a gentle cloth and hot soapy water.

Do not use metal scrubbers on your stainless steel as it can scratch them and damage the surface. It is also not advisable to wash stainless steel cookware in the dishwasher as it can be harsh and also has a tendency to leave a residue.

You can learn more about how you can clean stainless steel on our blog, including how to get rid of rust or water stains as well as more in-depth instruction on how to remove burnt food.