It took one meal to make it obvious that I had no idea how to cook with stainless steel. One burned, disappointing meal made (naturally) when we had company coming for dinner. So, we all had a good laugh then we went out to eat.
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.
NON-STICK IS A NO-NO IN MY HOME
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 is dealing with something like 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 saw a HUGE range of 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.
How To Cook With Stainless Steel
1. 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.
2. Never skip preheating. With non-stick, you have to minimize preheating time, but the opposite is true with stainless steel. That’s because, when cold, stainless steel is porous — even though you can’t see or feel it. It’s the edges of those pores that cause 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 the pores so they’ll still grab onto your food.)
3. Preheat the right way. Until you get a good feel for how long to preheat, use the water drop test. To do this, wait until the rim of the pan is almost 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 in the video below, it’s ready. NOTE: Your pan will go from properly preheated to overheated very quickly, so have your ingredients ready before you preheat!
4. Oil after preheating. If you add oil to the pan before it’s preheated, the oil will sink into the pores mentioned above. So, wait until it’s hot enough then pull the pan 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 3-5 seconds you’re ready to cook.
5. 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 the 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 grab. At that point, 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.
6. Don’t discard the brown bits. They’re known as “fond” and are the source of fantastic flavor. 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!
7. 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. Let them cool on their own before washing.
8. Stick with non-metal scrubbers. Need some extra cleaning oomph? Sprinkle some baking soda or use 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 or steel wool to clean your stainless steel!
9. They’re dishwasher safe but may spot. I put my stainless steel pots and pans in the dishwasher all the time, and they come out just fine. They do sometimes acquire spots if there was a lot of plasticware in the top rack, but those are easy to remove. You can get your stainless steel cookware shiny and looking brand new by wiping it with a microfiber cloth dipped in white vinegar then buffing it dry.
FIVE YEARS LATER, I STILL LOVE THEM!
UPDATE 02/07/2018: I’ve now owned my set for almost five years and still love it. One of the great joys of cooking with stainless steel is being able to transfer food from the stovetop to the oven when cooking something like Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken Breasts. I’ll never go back to nonstick again!