Cooking with stainless steel pans requires a few changes in technique, but once you get the hang they’re worth the effort. I’ll never go back!
When I got my first set over 15 years ago, I was used to cooking with cast iron and didn’t realize I needed to adjust.
So, I wound up burning a meal when we had an important guest coming for dinner. Fortunately, he had a good sense of humor.
Since then, I’ve cooked several thousand successful meals, so here are some of the tips about cooking with stainless steel pans that I’ve picked up.
Get it Hot to Start
If you’re frying or sautéing, preheating isn’t optional with stainless steel, because it’s porous when it’s cold.
Even though you can’t see or feel the pores, they’ll grab onto food and make it stick. Preheating makes the metal expand so it closes the pores, and that creates a smooth cooking surface.
Get your ingredients ready before preheating. Once that pan is hot, it’ll overheat in the blink of an eye.
Test Before Adding Food
It takes a while to recognize when your pan is preheated. One way to tell is by holding your hand. just above the bottom—if it’s too hot to keep there more than a second, the pan is ready.
Or do the water drop test. If a single drop of water turns into a ball and rolls around like a marble, the pan’s ready to go.
Oil in a Hurry
Once the pan is ready ready, add your oil and swirl it around so it spreads evenly then start cooking pronto or you’ll wind up with a layer of cooked on oil. (And VOCs in your home’s air.)
So imagine Gordon Ramsay standing over your shoulder yelling mise en place! and bust a move getting that food into the pan.
It Cooks From All Directions.
Most stainless steel cookware sets feature an aluminum core which heats up the bottom as well as the sides. So food doesn’t cook from below—it cooks all over.
That means it cooks faster, too. Don’t trust your timer until you know how hot and fast your pans cook.
Listen to the Meat
When you’re searing meat, give it plenty of time. As it cooks, the meat’s protein strands shrink, so it pulls away from the pan surface.
Meat is ready when you can easily lift and turn it. If you have to lever or pry it up, it is not ready.
The trick to cooking eggs in stainless steel pans after you’ve properly preheated and oiled the pan: turn the burner down a little before adding the food—you can always raise the temperature if you need to.
Deglazing is Divine
Those brown bits develop in the bottom of your pan are called “fond” and they’re full of flavor.
Add some liquid (water, stock, wine) to deglaze your pan to create a quick sauce. You’ll find cleanup is easier, too!
Wait to Wash
Let the pan cool to room temperature off the burner after you’re done cooking.
Rinsing or washing a hot stainless steel pan can cause it to permanently warp, then the bottom won’t sit flat and your cooking will suffer.
No Straight from the Freezer
Adding frozen food to a hot pan isn’t good for any type of cookware. It’s particularly bad for stainless steel pans.
If you’ve got to cook food frozen, let it sit a few minutes on the counter to lose the chill then add liquid to offset the temperature swing.
It’s Not a Metal Fan
Metal scratches metal, so use wooden spoons or silicone-covered utensils for cooking.
And when it’s time to clean up, skip the steel pad and use baking soda on a sponge instead.
Pop them in the Oven
Stainless steel pans are great for cooking in the oven! Some lids may not be, though, so if your pan or lid has plastic parts check the owner’s manual.
Don’t Hold the Tomatoes
Stainless steel doesn’t react to tomatoes or other acidic foods the way cast iron or copper pans do. Cook those vinegary, tomato-based dishes to your heart’s content.
Know Your Pan’s Color Codes
One signs you’re cooking with too much heat is finding a rainbow layer in your pan, which happens after chromium reacts with heat and air.
White blotches are another one: those are trapped proteins.
Both of those will come up once you scrub the pan with baking soda, salt and vinegar, or Barkeeper’s Friend.
So, if you landed here after trying to cook with stainless steel pans, give these tips a try and have patience. You’ll be turning out professional-level food in no time even without Gordon Ramsey standing there screaming at you.