Stainless Steel Cookware Tips

stainless steel cookware
For the longest time I resisted the idea of cooking with stainless steel. It’s ‘stick cookware’, right? And who wants to spend their time scouring pots and pans? Let’s face it, once you’ve gotten used to non-stick pans, you get used to the idea of food not sticking to the pot and effortless clean up of the pans.

But there is something about stainless steel cookware. Apart from the nice and shiny appearance, of course.

For one, you just can’t get the same sear on meats with non-stick as you can with stainless steel cookware. And don’t ask me why but food does taste better when cooked in stainless. And seriously, it’s pretty low maintenance… you can scratch it, stack it, use metal utensils, bang it together (those with kids will understand!) it’s still intact and still performs.

So it was time to look at cooking with stainless steel cookware as an option. And that’s when I discovered:

The Five Secrets to Cooking with Stainless Steel!

1. Non-Stick. The trick to making a stainless steel non-stick can be summarized as ‘hot pan, cold oil’. Heat the empty pan on medium high till you can place a hand above the pan and feel the heat rising. Add a bit of oil at room temperature, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Wait for the oil to become hot. You will notice a tiny bit of smoke coming out. This tells you the pan is ready. Voila, you just turned your stainless steel pan into a non-stick cooking pot.

2. Searing: When searing meat, don’t force the food to flip. Meat will stick to the pan but will release when ready.

3. Heat: Another secret to cooking with stainless steel is to cook on medium heat. Cooking at too high a heat can also cause foods to stick.

4. Cool off: After you are done cooking, I know you are in a hurry to soak the pan so that nothing stays stuck (guilty!). But wait! Let the pan cool to room temperature before adding water. Otherwise you could end up with warped pans.

5. Soak: Once the pan is cooled off after cooking, soak it in soapy warm water for a while. Then when you are ready to clean, the food easily wipes off.

Stainless Steel Pan Advantages:

— does not react with foods e.g., tomatoes and wine
— makes excellent sauces after sautéing by dissolving products of caramelization and mallaird reaction

Stainless Steel Disadvantages:

— stainless steel heats uneven
— many types of food stick to surface of stainless steel unless proper techniques are applied.

Why food sticks to stainless steel pans?

Food that sticks is caused by chemical bonds that form between the food and the material of the pan – almost always a metal. These bonds may be relatively weak van der Waals forces or covalent bonds. Protein-rich foods are particularly prone to sticking because the proteins can form complexes with metal atoms, such as iron, in the pan.

How to prevent sticking or why hot oil prevents sticking?

The oil, being liquid, fills in the valleys and caves of the pan surface. Although the pan may look smooth at a microscopic level the surface of even the smoothest metal pan looks rough with hills, valleys and even caves. Hot oil is less viscous than cold oil and will immediately flow filling the gaps.

When oil in the pan gets hot enough a steam effect begins to occur —

“A small amount of oil added to a very hot pan almost instantly becomes very hot oil. The oil quickly sears the outside of the food and causes water to be released from the food. This layer of water vapor (“steam”) lifts the food atop the oil film and keeps it from touching the hot pan surface. If the oil is not hot enough, the steam effect will not occur and the food will fuse to the (too) cool pan surface.” Source: Ask a Scientist, Newton BBC

In addition very hot oil will react with the metal atoms of the pan and form a coating called a patina. This leaves few free metal atoms to react with the food. This coating can easily be removed by detergents, however, so it has to be reapplied before each use of the pan. In the case of cast-iron pans the patina becomes more permanent. It has been suggested that the patina could form by a sequence of cracking followed by polymerization. Source: Kitchen Chemistry, RSC