How To Cook With Stainless Steel Without Food Sticking

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Stainless steel cookware is great for many reasons. It’s perfect for searing meat, extremely durable, and it’s definitely the prettiest looking cookware. Let’s face it, though, learning how to cook with stainless steel can be an exercise in frustration when your food keeps sticking to the pan.

So, how do you cook with stainless steel without food sticking to the pan? In this article, you’ll learn all the steps you can take to minimize food sticking to your stainless steel cookware.

Why Does Food Stick to Stainless Steel?

Your stainless steel pan might look perfectly smooth, but in reality, it’s filled with tiny pores. When the pan heats up, the stainless steel expands, causing the pores to shrink. As a result, the now smaller pores grab onto the food, causing it to stick.

Certain foods like eggs and fish are especially prone to sticking. This is because these foods don’t contain enough fat to naturally grease the pan, and they are extremely delicate, meaning they easily fall apart.

How To Cook With Stainless Steel

To get the best results cooking with stainless steel you need to properly prepare your pan and ingredients.

Bring Your Food To Room Temperature

Here’s our first little secret for keeping food from sticking to stainless steel. Bring the food to room temperature before cooking.

Cold food, especially cuts of meat, reduce the temperature of the oil in the pan. This means that the pores will open back up and latch onto the food.

By bringing your food to room temperature you’ll also make cooking easier – your food will have started at a uniform temperature and should cook more evenly.

Remove Excess Moisture From Your Food

Excess water in your food can lower the temperature of the oil. Make sure your food is as dry as possible before adding it to the pan.

Moisture in your food creates the same issue as adding cold food to the pan. Meaning it lowers the temperature of the oil which in turn causes the pores of the pan to open up and grip the food.

Removing excess moisture will not only help prevent sticking, but it will also promote a crispier sear on your fish, steaks, and burgers.

To remove extra moisture from vegetables, allow them to air dry after they have been thoroughly rinsed. For meat, pat it dry using a paper towel.

Preheat Your Pan

As tempting as it might be to just jump right in, it’s important to preheat your stainless steel pan before cooking. Not sure what temperature to preheat at? Start at medium and adjust accordingly.

When you think your pan is at the right temperature you can check by running a simple test. After preheating (before oiling) put a drop of water in the pan.

If your pan is too cool, the water will form a pool with bubbles and evaporate.

Alternatively, if your pan is too hot the water will break into many smaller beads and dart around the pan.

You’ll know your pan is at the right temperature if the water forms one or two large beads. We highly recommend watching the short YouTube video below to see what this process really looks like.

Add Oil After Preheating

Coating stainless steel with oil or butter is crucial to prevent sticking. The oil fills the crevices and pores, creating a smooth barrier between the food and pan.
 
Don’t add the oil before you preheat, though, or it will just sink into the open pores of the pan and won’t do you any good.
 
Before you add the oil to the pan, quickly dry it with a dish towel to remove any excess water.
 
Add enough oil to the pan to coat it with a thin layer. A good rule of thumb is 2-3 tablespoons of oil for a 12-inch skillet.
 
Use a pastry brush or swirl the pan to spread the oil evenly. You’ll know the oil is hot enough to cook with when it swirls loosely around the pan.
 

Don’t Move Meat Around Too Much

It might seem counterintuitive, but if you move food around too frequently in stainless steel pans it can cause it to stick.

Meat needs time to brown and develop the nice crust that gives it a delicious flavor and texture. This crust also helps release the meat from the pan’s surface because the pores no longer have anything to grip. You’ll know your meat is ready to flip because it will naturally release itself from the pan. If you have to pry it off the pan’s surface, it’s not ready.

Vegetables are more forgiving and can be moved around more without sticking.

Don’t Overcrowd The Pan

Try to cook too much food in your stainless steel cookware at once and you’re going to have a bad day.

Overcrowding the pan typically releases moisture, which lowers the temperature of the pan. Not only will this cause your food to stick, but it also prevents the food from browning.

To prevent this, cook your food in batches, adding more oil and reheating the pan as necessary.

More Tips For Cooking With Stainless Steel

Season Your Pan

Did you know that stainless steel pans can be seasoned? It’s true! Seasoning a pan creates a thin layer of coating on the surface, which forms a barrier between the cookware and food.

Seasoning a stainless steel pan before use can create a smoother surface by filling the pores in the pan with oil. To season your pan, do the following:

  • Wash the pan in hot, soapy water to clean out the pores and prepare them for seasoning.
  • Dry your pan and heat it on the stove over medium heat to open the pores in the metal.
  • Place a small amount of oil in the pan. You should use oil with a high smoke point such as vegetable or grapeseed oil.
  • Using a paper towel, wipe around the inside of the pan until there is a very thin layer of oil across the entire surface.
  • Allow the pan to stay on the heat until it begins to lightly smoke.
  • Remove the pan from the burner and let it cool.
  • After it’s cooled, use a clean paper towel to wipe the pan and remove any remaining oil.

Don’t Use Cooking Spray

Cooking sprays don’t just contain oil. They are packed with additives like emulsifiers, anti-foaming agents, and propellants.

These additives build up in the pan over time and are virtually impossible to get rid of. Stick to oil or butter instead.

Don’t Add Salt to Cold Water

Used to adding salt to your pot of pasta? Avoid adding salt to the water before the water has come to a boil.

When salt is added to cold water it doesn’t dissolve quickly, causing it to sink to the bottom of the pot. Over time this can damage the cookware by causing pitting, which is a form of corrosion.

Once it’s started, pitting spreads quickly and is irreversible. The best way to prevent pitting is to avoid it in the first place.

Don’t Put Stainless Steel Cookware In The Dishwasher

It’s tempting to wash your stainless steel pots and pans in the dishwasher, especially when so many manufacturers claim their cookware is “dishwasher safe.” But over time the harsh chemicals in dishwashing detergent slowly eat away at stainless steel.

To avoid this, we recommend hand washing your stainless steel cookware using lukewarm water and non-abrasive sponges.

If you absolutely must wash your cookware in the dishwasher choose a gentle dishwashing detergent.

Don’t Put Your Hot Pan In Cold Water

Always allow your stainless steel cookware to cool before you rinse it in cold water. Otherwise, the thermal shock from cold water hitting hot metal can cause the pan to warp.

Warping is when a pan becomes bent or out of shape. A pan that has warped on the bottom will make uneven contact with the heating element, causing uneven heat distribution.

If you’ve accidentally warped your pan, check out this helpful article on wikiHow, “How To Unwarp a Pan.”

Final Thoughts

It takes some practice, but if you follow the instructions we’ve outlined you’ll master how to cook with stainless steel in no time.

The most important things to remember are:

  • Bring the food to room temperature before cooking.
  • Remove excess moisture from the food.
  • Allow the pan to preheat to the right temperature before you add oil.
  • Add enough oil to evenly coat the pan.
  • Allow meat to cook, don’t move it around constantly.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan.

Happy cooking! Let us know if this was helpful or share your own tips in the comments section below! 🙂

Sources

  1. Why does food stick to stainless steel surfaces, Science of Cooking
  2. Avacraft, How To Cook In Stainless Steel Pans, Avacraft, March 27, 2020
  3. wikiHow Staff, How to Unwarp a Pan, wikiHow, November 25, 2020
  4. How to Season Stainless Steel Pans Quickly and Easily, Made in Cookware, September 20, 2020

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