How To Cook With Stainless Steel

How to cook with stainless steel from

It took one meal to make it obvious that I had no idea how to cook with stainless steel. One horribly burned, disappointing meal made (naturally) when we had company coming for dinner. Needless to say, we all had a good laugh. Then we went out to eat.

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Fortunately, I’ve since figured out how to cook with stainless steel, which is good because on Mother’s Day my husband rounded out my single skillet by giving me an entire set of stainless steel pots and pans. Now, don’t worry: they’re exactly what I wanted. It always baffles me how many women get upset over receiving pots and pans, appliances or even vacuums as gifts, yet they think it’s perfectly fine to give their husbands power tools.

My pots and pans, appliances and vacuum are my tools! (That said, if I weren’t into cooking and cleaning, I’d get pretty darned insulted if someone gave me kitchenware as a hint… and I sure hope my husband knows better than to give me a gym membership or workout DVDs for that same reason.)

I’d been wanting to replace my nonstick pots and pans for years after reading that nonstick cookware has been linked to cancer, and that the manufacturer of Teflon lied to consumers — and the EPA — about that link.

Of course, there’s been enough debate on the matter that I was reluctant to toss my nonstick set out… until my husband’s cancer diagnosis. Once your loved one’s dealing with that, you do everything you can to minimize your family’s exposure to carcinogens. But I don’t want to turn this into a preachy blog entry, so I’m just going to assume you’ll make up your own mind on the matter.

As far as finding my stainless steel set, I did a lot of price comparing and, wow, talk about a HUGE range in prices! We decided to go with this 10-piece multi-ply set which received rave reviews. Plus, it cost 75% less than a similar set from All-Clad! Now that I know how to cook with stainless steel, I absolutely love it!

Here’s what I learned.

How To Cook With Stainless Steel

Use a lower temperature: The multi-ply construction used in most brands of stainless steel cookware means that the sides and bottom of the pan heat evenly, so your food’s being cooked in more than one direction. In recipes calling for “medium-high” heat, I used to set my burner at 6 or 7. Now it’s more like 4 or 5.

Preheat your pan properly: Surprisingly, stainless steel is actually porous, and the edges of those “pores” are what causes food to stick. Preheating the pan causes the steel to expand, closing the pores and creating a smooth cooking surface. (Adding oil once the pan is properly heated helps, too. Add it too early, though, and it’ll just sink into those “pores” so they’ll still grab onto your food.)

To properly preheat stainless steel, put the pan on the burner — without adding oil — and let it start getting hot. Test the rim of the pan with your hand until it almost feels too hot to touch, then add a splash of water. If it stays in a ball and rolls around your pan like what’s shown here in this video, it’s ready. NOTE: Your pan will go from properly preheated to overheated very quickly, so have your ingredients ready before preheating!

Oil properly after preheating: The instant the pan is preheated, pull it off the burner and add your oil. Swirl this around (or use a pastry brush) and return the pan to heat. This small amount of oil will heat very quickly, so in 5-10 seconds you’re ready to cook.

Meat will let you know when it’s ready to flip: If you’ve properly preheated and oiled your pan, there’s a simple test to find out if meat is browned and ready to flip — it won’t stick. No, really. Once the meat is properly seared and has developed a nice crust there’s nothing left for the “pores” of the pan to hold onto, which means the pan releases the meat and it’s easy to flip. If you have to lever the meat up with a spatula it is NOT ready.

Don’t discard the brown bits when cooking: Unless what you’re cooking is gravy*, don’t discard the brown bits at the bottom of the pan. They’re known as “fond” and they’re the source of some really amazing flavor. “Fond” is a French word which, roughly translated, means basis or foundation. (Some say it means bottom, but not derriere.) Stock is known as fond since it’s the basis for all soups; likewise, the brown bits are called fond because they’re the basis for wonderful pan sauces made through deglazing the pan.

To deglaze, remove your food to a plate then drain the fat from the pan, add a liquid (water, stock, wine) and scrape up the brown bits as the liquid comes to a boil. Continue stirring and scraping until the liquid reduces by half, then adjust your seasonings and spoon your sauce over your food. Delicious!

Don’t warp them: Stainless steel cookware will warp if exposed to temperature extremes, so don’t run your just-used pots or pans under the faucet to cool them quickly. Likewise, don’t put them on damp towels or cold marble/granite counter tops. Also, use some common sense when adding ingredients to your preheated pans. Don’t, for instance, throw ice water or anything frozen into a hot pan or you’ll just ruin it.

Don’t scour them when washing: Stainless steel is actually a fairly soft material, as those of you with SS appliances have probably already learned. When you’re washing it, stick with non-metal scrubbers. Need some extra cleaning oomph? Sprinkle some baking soda on really stuck-on spots and scrub with a sponge, or use a commercial abrasive product like “Bar Keeper’s Friend“. (That stuff’s pretty amazing on stainless steel sinks, too.) But never, under any circumstances, use a stainless steel scouring pad (steel wool) to clean your stainless steel!

There you have it, the tricks I’ve learned the hard way about how to cook with stainless steel since getting my new pots and pans. I’m pleased to report that I no longer burn meals, my chops are perfectly browned before flipping, and wow do I make a good pan sauce!

(*If you burned the gravy, pour the non-burned parts into a new pan then warm it up, add a little sugar, and the burnt taste goes away. Think that’s a cool tip? Then you’d love all the tips I share daily on Facebook and Twitter!)

My Equipment:


  1. says

    I love my stainless steel pans and the first thing I discovered was that they do heat faster and maintain heat so much better than anything else I have ever used. The set I have was a Christmas gift from my parents and one of my sons one year. I asked for them. I agree with you about pots, pans, appliances as gifts. Now, don’t get me wrong. If I didn’t ASK for a vacuum cleaner and received one I would be annoyed!

    • Katie B. says

      Exactly! And I don’t know about you, but I always feel bad during the rest of the year if I spring for pricier kitchen gadgets. Much less guilt’s involved in asking for them as gifts.

  2. Sue says

    The only thing in the kitchen I love more than my stainless steel cookware is a cast iron fry pan which dates back to my grandmother. Sometimes I feel as though I should use wrist supports when lifting it, but there are some recipes that would not seem the same without this old hand me down.

    • Katie B. says

      I have a cast iron Dutch oven which belonged to an old neighbor of mine who’d left it to me in her will. It’s one of my very favorite kitchen things, too. My husband and I hadn’t been married but a few weeks when he washed it in hot, soapy water and then a cycle through the dishwasher to get rid of the “layer of hard, shiny black stuff” (which my neighbor had spent 30+ years creating). Let’s just say my vocabulary that day surprised him, and considering he’s retired military, that’s hard to do! Fortunately, we were able to re-season the pan. Phew!

      • Sue says

        I come from a military background so I can only imagine what you must have said in order to surprise your hubby…LOL.

  3. William Wittmeyer says

    Teflon and Cancer? Before making such a statement spend the time to research the subject. What you linked to is “scare journalism. The NPR report is a class action lawsuit alleging that Teflon is unsafe because of fumes it gives off when heated. The story is written by the plaintiffs bar. The story is “Dupont evil, lying, Lawyers boon to mankind telling truth to power. NPR hyped the story to drive ratings.

    Had you spent a little time on the net, you would have found information that is not quite so scary. I am not providing the links to the peer reviewed studies, that is an exercise left for you. (hint google advanced search) These are the articles from websites addressing the public.

    • Katie B. says

      Thank you for the time you spent hunting down links. As I said in my post, I’ll leave it to other people to make up their minds on the matter. Since my husband’s diagnosis with brain cancer, we do not take chances with such things in our house. Enjoy your day.

      • Laurie says

        Teflon fumes will kill birds, and that’s been proven – there are many sad stories of pet birds dying because someone left a non-stick pan on the stove, and my local bird shelter won’t let anyone adopt a bird if there are any non-stick pans in the house. I figure, if it kills birds, it’s probably not good for people. (Thanks for the article – I found through Instapundit – I’m bookmarking and will be checking back here.)

  4. Nikita says

    Umm I have questions re SS. I would like a set but it seems so temperamental. So to put a pan in a hot oven you have to heat it first on the stovetop or how? Then when it’s hot it has to set and cool down before putting it in the sink?

    Also, what bothers me with nonstick is that it chips and flakes and you end up eating it. I just can’t see that being “a good thing.”

    Thanks for the info! The set you picked looks good and covers most cooking. Plus the price is right. Pots and pans can get so expensive.

    • Katie B. says

      Nikita, I’m trying to think of any instance when a person would put a room-temperature stainless steel pan into a hot oven. Most things require stove-top cooking before transferring to the oven, like when you saute veggies and/or brown meat, then add other ingredients and pop into the oven. Even a roast, for instance, would get browned on the stove first. And wouldn’t anything that didn’t involve stove-top cooking to start with actually go into a casserole or baking dish, and not a SS pan?

      Yeah, they are a little finicky at first, but only for a short time. Once you reach the point where you can recognize by touching the rim of the pan when it’s about ready, and what amount of oil to use, everything’s fine.

      Did you know non-stick pans warp if you put them in the sink when they’re hot, too?

      • says

        A SS roasting pan would be an example. I am looking at this site because I received a 3 ply All-Clad SS Roasting pan with rack for my birthday and am trying to figure out if I should lower the oven temp or shorten the cooking time for roasted whole chicken or cornish hens. The first one I overcooked (and I do want crispy skin).

      • says

        As it happens, I was given one a SS roasting pan recently, too. There are a couple of ways to do this. I like to put the room-temperature pan in the oven while I preheat, then pull it out and put the chicken, which has been coated with olive oil, skin-side down for a minute. That starts the skin browning and crisping, then I turn the chicken right-side up, pop a thermometer in, and roast away.

  5. DCHomewares says

    These are really great tips. I love using my stainless pots as well but glad to know that people are still using cast iron skillets and pans. You’ve got to love those vintage cookwares, I got one that is originally my grandma’s :)

  6. Katie says

    The last of our non-stick cookware is an electric griddle that I keep because I can’t seem to get pancakes to cook in SS without making a mess of every single one…do you know of any tricks for pancakes?

    • Katie B. says

      The trick is remembering to let the pan AND the oil re-heat between batches of pancakes. I think a lot of us tend to figure that if pancakes are sticking we need to turn the heat down, but that’s actually the opposite of what we need to do when using SS. Remember what I said about the pan having “pores” until it gets hot? That’s what’s causing them to stick. So put the burner on 6 and wait until it gets good and hot, as in that video clip I linked to in my entry. Then add oil or an oil-butter combo but NOT straight butter.

      You’re going to want to use a bit more than normal, too, because you want the oil to sink into those pores and create a surface on which your pancakes will float. Wait until that’s shimmering, then add your batter. Watch for the edges to begin looking dry and the bubbles that form on the top. Wait again between batches, adding more oil as needed, so those “pores” stay filled with oil and not batter. (How weird to think of oil-filled pores as being a good thing, right?)


  7. MaryLee says

    Finally had enough of my teflon pans. The teflon was coming off and although I haven’t read or done any research on the stuff, I just can’t see how ingesting the stuff can be good for my family. So with some Christmas money from my in-laws I bought a new set of SS yesterday. First thing this morning my husband cooked an egg and sprayed it with Pam. Wrong. My beautiful new pan is all grimy and brown. Hopefully with some Barkeepers Friend we can get that thing looking like new again.

    Your cooking tips and information on the SS were very helpful and I cooked a flawless dinner with my new pans, and they cleaned up beautifully after. Thanks for the info.

    • Katie Berry says

      So glad to have helped, MaryLee! My husband did the same thing with Pam on ours, and I about blew my top. Now I keep a spray bottle with 1/2 cup olive oil and 1 tbsp distilled water next to the stove. Swirl before use and spray it on just like Pam!

  8. Heather says

    I have had a set of SS since several years ago. I cooked with them a few times and hated it. I either thought I was a horrible cook or that stainless steel just plain sucks lol. Little did I know that you need to preheat the pan then add oil before cooking. My entire life all I have know are Teflon non stick pans. I finally got fed up with my dying set of pans that were cracking and chipping plus full of harmful chemicals.
    I am now learning how to cook with stainless steel and cast iron and so excited about learning new methods of cooking while I also spring clean my house and downsize my possessions from cluttered to minimalist. That way I have only what I need. Things that work great and that I actually use: LOVE to use!

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