Finally. Finally, in my hands, I had this gleaming, too-beautiful-to-use, how-can-I-lift-this-with-one-hand, breathtaking piece of cookware. To use in my kitchen. I had made it. Celebrity chef status, y’all. Bobby Flay, come at me bro. I am using stainless steel pans. Nobody can touch me now.
That feeling of glory lasted for all of about 15 minutes. Not too far into the sautéing and flavor layering process (interrupted with brief hops of glee at my newfound star status), the bottom of my flawless, shiny skillet had become an entirely new color. And a new texture. Not so much smooth and not so much silver. Very, very much black. And very much covered with little peaks and valleys of char. They never showed that part on Food Network… Not to fear–it should come right off!
Wrong. After my semi-disappointing cooking experience I hoped to find the silver lining in the clean-up process. But after ten minutes of ceaseless scrubbing only to uncover several centimeters of stainless steel, I was officially defeated. Fortunately for me, my husband came to the rescue. And after scrubbing for triple the time with infinitely more strength, he revived my ravishing pan.
Never again. It was one of two options. 1) Never again cook with stainless steel. It was not worth it. Or 2) Never again make whatever mistakes I didn’t know I was making.
I chose option number two. I researched. A lot. And tried again and again. And finally, I found a beautiful combination of the right way to cook and the right way to clean. So, please, deeply exhale with me when you realize that you can use your stainless steel pans on the reg without all the stress.
I’ve owned and used the above skillet for two years now and I must say, it looks pretty darn good. I am a big believer in cooking with stainless steel to create phenomenal flavors and texture. And after understanding the art of using stainless steel, cooking with it is truly a breeze. The guidelines below transformed my experience!
Why You Should Use Stainless Steel Cookware
- Durability. Stainless steel cookware has the potential to last as long as you own it (while being properly maintained).
- Non-reactive. Stainless steel will not have a chemical reaction with the foods you’re cooking and will not impart flavor from the pan. (Unlike copper, which will react with acidic foods.)
- Browning. To achieve golden brown crusts on your meat, fish, and veggies and to create a fond on the bottom of the pan, stainless steel is the place to do it. It is more difficult to make a good crust using non-stick and because of the nature of non-stick, you will not be left with a fond.
How to Cook without Sticking
Preheat your skillet!! Game changer. I’m telling you.
To preheat your skillet, place your pan on the stovetop without any food or liquid inside and turn your burner to just below medium. After heating for a couple minutes you can start the water test until you see a mercury-like water ball (also known as the Leidenfrost effect). To begin, add 1/8 teaspoon water to the pan every 15 – 20 seconds as you watch it make its way through the stages below.
If the pan is too cold, the water will:
- Sit there with no movement
- Steam and bubble (slowly at first and then more quickly)
- Evaporate immediately
- Disperse into tiny beads of water
After you see those tiny beads, you are just a few seconds away from the desired temperature. Once you add the water to the pan when it is the correct temperature you will see:
- One ball that floats upon the surface of the pan, similar to a mercury ball (Just like the video below!)
Once you see this mystifying ball gliding across the surface of your skillet you are ready to add the oil! Just wipe the water from the pan and be sure to add the oil immediately as the pan can overheat quickly at this point. The oil will heat up within seconds and it will create legs in the pan similar to that in a wine glass. Now add your food and enjoy a smooth cooking experience!
- While conducting the mercury-ball test, if you add the water and it immediately splits into many balls of water, the pan is too hot. Allow the skillet to cool slightly and try again.
- Once you get used to heating up your pans to the perfect temperature, you won’t have to use this little trick each time.
- Continue to cook around medium heat. As a general guideline, do not cook over medium-high heat (unless specified in a recipe).
- You will see some fond at the bottom of the pan as you cook–this is completely normal. After cooking your food you can use the fond to create a delicious pan sauce.
How to Clean Stainless Steel
Whether you are getting rid of tough spots on your cookware, maintaining your stainless steel on a regular basis, or restoring your pan’s shine–the following steps will help keep your stainless steel cookware looking pristine.
- Always hand-wash your stainless steel cookware. Many pieces of cookware now say they are dishwasher safe, but to keep your pans in prime condition for the long-run, hand washing is the way to go.
- Use a liquid dishwashing detergent such as Mrs Meyer’s Dish Soap. (I love these soaps! My favorite is the Basil–honestly makes me enjoy doing the dishes more because it smells so good.)
- Use a non-abrasive sponge or soft-bristle brush. These Dobie Pads are my favorite.
- For restoring shine, fixing discoloration, and working away at those really tough spots, use Bar Keepers Friend. This is by far my favorite cleaner in our house. It keeps all of our stainless steel looking brand new and allows us to remove stuck-on food with minimal effort. If you take anything away from this section, let it be Bar Keeper’s Friend. It’s a lifesaver. (Just be sure to follow the instructions!)
- Dry with a clean dish towel immediately after washing to prevent water spots.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! That was a lot of information to take in, but I promise you’ll get the hang of it all and it will make stainless steel cooking and cleaning a cinch.
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