Benefits of Stainless Steel Cookware
Below are a few of the reasons that many chefs and serious home cooks prefer stainless steel cookware above nonstick or any other material.
- Durable. These pots and pans can take a beating and a heating. Drop it and it likely won’t dent, but even if it does a bit, it still works great (as long as it doesn’t make it too wobbly). It can’t chip. It can’t rust. But it can take extreme heat, such as that created by commercial burners and it lasts FOREVER (heirloom, anyone?).
- Eco-friendly. Even if you do decide you’ve reached the end of your pan, that’s okay. It’s recyclable.
- Convenient. Need to finish something off in the oven? No worries, just pop the whole pan in.
- Non-toxic. Stainless steel is a non-toxic material unlike many nonstick coatings.
- Non-leaching. Stainless steel doesn’t typically cause off-flavors (such as when you cooked something previously and now its flavor is transmitting into the new thing you’re making). It also doesn’t give a metallic taste. And since there is no chemical-based nonstick coating on it, that doesn’t leach into any food either.
- Flavor-injecting. Because stainless steel pots and pans cook well, they do a better job at injecting heat-induced flavors (such as a light char or a nice roast).
- Even heating. When the cookware has an aluminum or copper core, it does better transferring heat, thereby evenly cooking foods.
- Beautiful. Stainless steel cookware is simply lovely to look at and put on display in the kitchen.
When you first get a shiny new stainless steel pot or pan, or just after you have washed one, you need to season it. Here’s how.
- Add oil. Put enough oil (I recommend a healthful oil such as lightly processed coconut oil or avocado oil, but really any oil with a high smoke point will work) to fill the pan about 1/16″ to 1/8″ deep.
- Swirl and smoke. Heat the pan over a medium to medium-high burner. Swirl the oil around the sides of the pan then let the oil reach its smoking point. This should take about 5 or 6 minutes, give or take (depends on the oil you’re using, your altitude, etc.). The pan should have a reflective sheen (that you can see yourself in like a mirror) when it has seasoned enough.
- Cool off. Remove from the heat and allow the oil and pan to cool.
- Discard oil. Pour or scoop the oil out of the pan and discard or compost it.
Voila. You now have a seasoned pan. If done properly, this will create a temporary nonstick surface. After using the pan, wipe it up with a cloth or paper towel, but don’t wash it; just let the blackened spots from cooking stay on the bottom and it’ll work even better as a nonstick “coating.”
Once your pans have gotten dirty enough to wash, do so, but then be sure to season it again before using.
- Keep it level. Make sure your cooking surface is level and the pan’s bottom is flat. This ensures even heating and therefore even cooking.
- Preheat. Always, always, ALWAYS preheat your pan before using it. This is critical to prevent anything from sticking to it. To test if your pan has preheated enough, wet your finger with water and let a drop drip onto the pan. If it sizzles and evaporates right away, you’re ready to go.
- Add fat. But wait, we just seasoned it so it’s nonstick right? Yes, for the most part. But just as you often need to add fat or oil to an official nonstick pan, you sometimes may need to add a bit to your seasoned stainless steel pan. It adds flavor anyway, so bring on the butter (or lard, or coconut oil…). Be sure your pan is preheated before adding any fat or any other ingredients.
- Cook. Add your food and cook away. Always be careful to not heat the pan too much lest you risk burning and therefore stuff sticking anyway.
- Wipe clean. Once the pan has cooled a bit (to the point you can touch it), wipe out any bits, pieces, or chunks of food that might remain once the bulk of the food has been removed. If there is blackened or browned spots on the bottom, that’s okay. That is a build up of the seasoning and will contribute to the pan’s nonstick abilities in the future.
When it comes time to deep clean your stainless steel cookware, here’s the best method I’ve found. Keep in mind that I recommend that you do NOT wash your pans after every use–let the seasoning coating build up (as described under “Seasoning” above).
- Sprinkle. Sprinkle the pot or pan with a thin layer of Bar Keeper’s Friend. If you’d rather not use BKF, just add some dish soap.
- Splash. Pour a bit of warm water into the pan.
- Soak. Allow the cleanser and water to soak for a few minutes (like 5 or so…longer if it’s really bad).
- Scrub. Scrub the pan with a nylon or plastic sponge. Avoid using steel wool as this can scratch up the surface. If necessary, add more Bar Keeper’s Friend/dish soap, soak, and scrub again.
- Soap. This step is optional, but I don’t fully trust whether Bar Keeper’s Friend is non-toxic even after it’s rinsed off. So I always wash with warm water and a natural dish soap (my favorite is Thieves dish soap) at this point to hopefully rinse off any remnants of the BKF.
- Season. Re-season the pan following the directions above.
There are many brands of stainless steel cookware out there, but honestly the best and highest quality ones are the more expensive ones. My favorite brands are Calphalon (specifically the ones with an aluminum core for even heating) and All-Clad (the kinds which also have an aluminum core that is all clad in stainless steel…which, by the way, is why they’re dubbed All-Clad).