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Mar 13, 2010 10:21 AM

new to stainless steel pans, how do I get food not to stick?

I just bought a small 8 inch Calphalon stainless steel pan and sometimes stuff like fish and meat will stick to the pan unless I keep moving it around.

I just want to sear some stuff sometimes but then it tends to stick.

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  1. ingeneral when meat is done searing it releases itself from the pan

    1. What kpaxonite said. Don't flip or move the food until the bottom is seared and well browned on the bottom. Also, you want some browned bits to stick to the pan if you're making a gravy or pan sauce or braising liquid - it's called "fond," French for essence or base. After removing the meat, use a liquid to deglaze the pan (release/dissolve the brown bits etc.) and get the sauce started - water, broth, stock, wine, whatever you prefer.

      1. You should have gotten a brochure with your pan that gives excellent instructions on how to use Calphalon stainless steel pans. If you did not, I will give you an abbreviated version from mine along with a few hints I've learned over the years with my Calphalon Tri-ply stainless. (If you have not tried the anodized, I strongly recommend it as well. )
        This is synthesized info from 4 different Calphalon brochures, btw.

        Always take any meat you are cooking out at least 10 minutes before you cook it. I always bring most meat to nearly room temp (except seafood which I take out 10-15 minutes before) as chilled meat will stick to any pan even non stick surfaces.

        Use a small amount of butter, margarine or oil in the pan. I always use mostly oil with a little butter to help with browning when I sear or fry meat. The oil misters are terrific for this purpose.

        Do not ever use non-stick sprays as the propellant in the spray leaves a residue which makes it very difficult to impossible to remove after the pan has been heated.

        You will need to experiment with the proper heat for your pan in relation to your stove. But for general cooking, use a lower heat than normal. Use high heat for boiling or reducing liquids. Medium to medium-high for sauteing, stir frying and frying. Low to reheat, simmer, and preparing delicate sauces.

        So about your sticking problem with sauteing:
        As the meat cooks, it will bond to the surface of the pan. The bonding and browning process is slower than with anodized surfaces because the stainless steel does not conduct heat as well as the anodized aluminum. The meat juices will reduce as you cook but it will take longer than with aluminum. The stainless steel creates a somewhat more moist environment so it tends to take a bit longer to sear/ brown but the texture of the meat is more uniform when comparing the outside to the inside. Let the meat brown until it "releases" from the pan. Keep checking every so often using gentle pressure with a spatula so as to not pull on the meat and tear the meat surface that contacts the pan. it sounds as if you have been trying to turn it too soon if you're experiencing sticking. it will release when it has been fully seared so be patient.

        Always make sure the pan is completely cool before running water in it. My husband warped a 12 inch triply stainless skillet when he put a fairly warm pan in the sink and ran cold water in it. When cleaning, it is important to keep the pan scrupulously clean to help prevent sticking. Use a Dobie pad or similar plastic mesh pad to clean it. Also use Bar Keepers Friend, Bon Ami or Penny Brite cleanser to remove any cooking residue. Do not use any other scouring cleanser other than what is mentioned as it will scratch it. Keeping the pan very clean is one of the most important ways to prevent sticking.

        I think you will love your pan once you get the hang of it. it takes a bit of experimenting to
        get the hang of using it but it is worth the time. Forgive me if I gave too much info or if you already know some of this but I figured its better to give you everything I know than have you continue to experience problems with it. And if any of you chefs out there have any better ideas than this. please correct me.

        20 Replies
        1. re: ferallike

          thanks for taking the time to write it up. I didn't get a manual due to receiving it for free from my credit card rewards program.

          Most of my cooking experience has been using cast iron woks, cast iron pans, and non-stick pans but they usually start losing their coating within a few months so I got tired of buying new ones and I'm afraid of the possible health issues with teflon coats coming off.

          I was curious about the calphalon hard anodized pans, some people say they last for years before the non-stick coating takes notice of wear. Would you say that would be true for yours if you have one?

          1. re: Johnny L

            I also have a big concern over teflon coatings which is the reason I ventured into the anodized aluminum and I would never go back. Much of the problem with teflon comes from using too high heat with it and using improper utensils with it.

            I have had Calphalon's anodized aluminum pans and skillets since I got married in 1999 as I bought a set with a very generous gift card we received. Since the pan is comprised of anodized aluminum throughout, there is no coating to wear off as there is with teflon. My pans look and cook as good as the day we got them so I would have to say they were worth the purchase. I also use a very small amount of the Calphalon Dormond cookware cleaner religiously with the anodized aluminum so that may be part of why my anodized aluminum stays in such good shape. It's a bit pricey for the cleaner but worth it, if you're going to make this kind of investment, in my humble opinion.

            In addition, I have also have the Calphalon Triply stainless steel, one piece of their "Contemporary" non stick, and one piece of their newest version called "Unison" none of which have given me any trouble. I only use the the nonstick for making scrambled eggs for my father as he has a cardiac condition and I use just a tiny bit of butter with it. The Unison nonstick is a dream but it is a newer purchase so I wont give any feedback on it's durability yet. I have 16 pieces of Calphalon including 2 of the "Everyday" pans that do not have long handles so they fit my crowded stove well.

            As for cast iron, I also have 3 pieces of very well seasoned cast iron that I wouldn't take anything for so I understand why this comprises much of your cookware.

            This stuff can be pricey, so if you're going to venture into purchasing this, I would suggest you try (I hope I can mention this here) looking for it on Amazon as you can buy it by the piece for a good price if you watch for sales. I got the Everyday pans for about 40.00 each. Also, I initially bought 2 large collections of the Triply stainless and the anodized aluminum at Bed Bath and Beyond using the gift cards when they were on sale which they will periodically do.

            If you get any of the large skillets (12 and 14 inch) or 3 Quart or larger pans, make sure they have a handle on the opposite side from the long handle to help support the skillet when its full. I have a small kitchen so I often have to juggle pans around when I cook so this is a very important feature for me. And I don't care if you're a body builder and strong as an ox, you'll understand this if you make the same mistake I did and ignore this advice. The narrow handles are very hard to grip when lifting the pan and you might turn your meal out onto the floor. This advice, unfortunately comes from experience after I dumped about a quart of hot oil out on my floor after frying a bunch of chicken for several dinner guests.

            My first 14 inch anodized aluminum skillet didn't have the handle on the opposite side ( it was also warped by dear hubby when he put it under cold water) and it was extremely unwieldy as it didn't have the extra handle and when they are hot nothing but a silicone pot holder is safe enough to use to balance the other side. I've since replaced it with the "Everyday pan" which is, in my opinion, far safer on a crowded stove in a crowded kitchen. (More than 2 adults is a crowd in my kitchen.)

          2. re: ferallike

            Hi Ferallike, I'm venturing into SS clad, expecting an A-C Copper Core wok ("open stir fry") any day now. I will be re-reading your advice a few times, believe me. We actually returned an anodized set, and want to make sure we learn to use the SS properly.

            Do you have any experience with vege-meats like gluten or soy protein on SS? I'm sure their cooking characteristics are different from real meat, or do they stick, sear, then release also? What about veggies? Tofu? Anyone else with experience please feel free to chime in!

            1. re: davidahn


              It is unlikely fera will reply to you. Fera only wrote two posts on CHOWHOUND (what you see here), and they were two years ago. In short, I doubt Fera is active.

              "I'm venturing into SS clad, expecting an A-C Copper Core wok ("open stir fry") any day now. "

              If we are talking about wok cooking, then please consider not to use All Clad copper core. It is not the optimal tool.


              You can submit an entire new post "What is the best material for wok stir fry cooking?", and I doubt any wok experts/Chinese cuisine experts think an All Clad copper core it the ideal tool.

              Good luck.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                If you are into stir fry pan, then none of the pans you have considered are suitable. It will stick like crazy on these pans. Get a carbon steel stir fry pan.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Thanks for pointing me to carbon steel woks. And that youtube wok work video was inspiring. I've searched the interwebs and the consensus is carbon steel. I have ordered a 16" carbon steel wok and chuan & hoak.

                  But now that my Copper Core wok is already on its way to me, I wanted to see exactly how bad a SS wok is. Imagine my surprise at the positive reviews on this Calphalon SS wok:

                  How do you explain the positive reviews of this aluminum core SS wok, especially the reviewers that say "nothing sticks," "not stick too much," "no sticking problems," "can't imagine how food could possibly stick," and on and on? Yes, there are a few who say it sticks, but more that say no sticking if you use it properly, heat the oil first, etc.

                  Millions of carbon steel wokkers couldn't be wrong, right? Still, the Amazon reviews make me wonder if a SS wok isn't as bad as some people say. I won't open the Copper Core wok right away. I'll experiment with my Anolon Nouvelle Copper Stainless SS fry pans for sticking, and if they don't stick, I'll bust out the Copper Core wok and use it; if the Anolon SS pans do stick, I'll sell the Copper Core wok.


                  1. re: davidahn

                    The All Clad copper core wok is a beautiful piece of cookware, however it will not be able to cook traditional wok recipes in the same manner as a cast-iron or carbon steel fry pan. Most of the techniques for woks developed alongside woks of those materials, and so traditional wok cooking has turned what is considered a disadvantage to Western style cooking (inefficient heat transfer, hot/cold spots in the pan) into an advantage. A lot of wok cooking utilizes the different distinct "heat zones" that the All Clad copper core wok will not have.

                    The All Clad copper core wok can still turn out great food. Some of the traditional dishes cooked in the non-traditional wok material can turn out to be very similar to cast-iron or carbon steel wok cooking, some traditional dishes will not be similar at all to it. Frankly, most "stir fry" recipes that you will come across will not be "traditional" anyway. In the U.S. a search for "authenticity" is a little strange considering how many ingredients are substituted with more readily available items, such as broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, corn starch...

                    If you want to cook "traditional" wok dishes, then the All Clad copper core may leave you unsatisfied in the end. If you are just going to make the more commonly available fusion style stir fry recipes, it may serve you fine.

                    1. re: khuzdul

                      Khuzdul, thanks. I'm definitely taking all the advice to heart, and leaning toward carbon steel. I'm eagerly awaiting my carbon steel wok after seeing some wok cooking videos! My wife will also love carbon steel's less sticky, lower maintenance use.

                    2. re: davidahn


                      Let me ask you a question. In what way do you think a copper core wok works better than a carbon steel/cast iron wok? In buying a cookware, it is important buy it based on your needs. Some people go the other way around. They decide what they want, and do a reverse justification. In other words, they decide they a truck first, and then justify why they need a truck. I think it is important to know what you need first, and then buy the tool.

                      Similar to what khuzhul said, if you want a pan which looks kinda like a wok and use frying pan technique, then sure a copper core wok will work. If you want a wok and use it like a real stir frying techniques, then All Clad copper core is a poor choice.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Chem, it's not that I think the Copper Core wok is better, nor am I trying to justify my choice. I'm just trying to salvage my purchase, because I'd rather not have to eBay it! It arrives tomorrow.

                        I do love the Copper Core: it's esthetically beautiful, and it's a close visual match to the Nouvelle Copper Stainless pieces I've ordered. So if possible, I'd love to be able to use it, but only if it works well. But I'm not married to this wok; in fact, I'm now leaning heavily toward de Buyer Prima Matera and away from more A-C Copper Core pieces.

                        1. re: davidahn

                          "it's not that I think the Copper Core wok is better"

                          But if you don't think it is better, then why did you buy it? Is it only because it is esthetically beautiful? If so, then I cannot argue against that.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            I think you may have missed the story... I bought it before I found out SS sucks for wok cookery, and now I'm trying to see if it's something I can live with or should dump right away. :)

                            But yes, I have been known to buy things purely on esthetics! I can't help it, it's who I am, haha.

                            1. re: davidahn

                              This actually did not answer my question.

                              What you told me is that you bought the All Clad copper core wok, and now you heard stainless steel surface is not good for wok cooking, presumably from a few people including me.

                              Yet, this does not answer the origin question. What made you bought the copper core wok? Presumably there was a reason. Why did you think it is a good design?

                              Do you have an understanding of the various wok cooking techniques: chao, bao, ...etc, and what each of these wok techniques requires? I think if you start from the techniques, then it will serve you much better than starting from the cookware materials.

                              When you buy a vehicle, you should first find out what you need, and then pick the type of vehicle. May be you should get a truck, or may be not. Same for cookware. The All-Clad copper core cookware may serve you well, or it may not, but you should not start from the cookware materials, but rather start from the cooking techniques.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                When I bought it, it was because:
                                1. I believed the SS clad copper core was a solid material choice
                                2. We use woks a lot, though not in the same way as the pros, more as a large round sauté pan
                                3. It was on clearance

                                I'm starting to learn more about the functions determining the appropriate shape, materials, etc., but I am rather unfamiliar with wok cooking. I appreciate you pointing out the incorrect material choice, as it will save me some headache in trying to use it as a wok. But it may work fine as a round sauté pan. We'll see as we experiment and buy more pieces.

                                1. re: davidahn

                                  "1. I believed the SS clad copper core was a solid material choice

                                  All cookware construction can be made solid. There are solidly made truck and there are solidly made seda. Conversely, there are solidly made copper cladded cookware, and there are solidly made aluminum cookware.

                                  "2. We use woks a lot, though not in the same way as the pros, more as a large round sauté pan"

                                  If you really want to saute, then a saute pan is probably better than a wok. A wok is better for the various wok cooking techniques. I mean surely you can use a wok to make soup, but won't it makes more sense to use a pot to do so?

                                  "But it may work fine as a round sauté pan"

                                  It probably will, but a saute pan will work better. The wide curved part of a wok can get in the way of real sauting. It may not be a big issue, since you said you don't eat meat.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    I didn't mean solid in build, I meant a good choice as a cookware material. That was before I learned that different applications require different materials and shapes. Now I know a lot more: that one thing. :)

                                    We find for our sautéing needs (we don't toss, we stir), a wok is not functionally inferior to a sauté pan. But I suppose it's time we learn to sauté properly, eh? In which case the SS wok would indeed be useless.

                  2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Figures that would be the first piece I buy in Copper Clad. Ha! Maybe I'll try a carbon steel wok as you suggest. I just want to stay away from nonstick. Thanks, Chem.

                  3. re: davidahn

                    I've done a lot of research on woks and genuine Chinese stir-fry cooking. Two facts I've learned:

                    1.) Lightweight, well seasoned carbon steel woks are used with very high power open pit commercial stoves in Chinese restaurants. There are videos showing this on YouTube. The open pit looks like a gas powered rocket engine and they have to use a constant stream of water to keep the stove deck cool.

                    2.) There is just no way that a regular household stove can put out that amount of heat in BTU's! The work-around is to use heavy cast iron.

                    I've made great stir fry at home using the Lodge Pro Logic 14" pre-seasoned cast iron wok. It cost $50. online from Walmart with free shipping. It has a flat bottom so it sits on the stove and a round, concave interior like a genuine wok. I pre-heat it on my puny little stove for 15 minutes on high and it gets hot enough to properly sear the meat and veggies.

                    You can also look into the Le Creuset enameled cast iron wok (no regular seasoning required) for around $250. It's built similar to the Lodge with the flat bottom/round interior.

                    I would definitely stay away from non-stick Teflon in a wok because of the high temps used for stir-fry.

                    I looked at a few stainless steel "woks" but they have flat bottoms on the inside and are more like deep frying pans than genuine woks.

                    1. re: StirFryLover

                      <There is just no way that a regular household stove can put out that amount of heat in BTU's! The work-around is to use heavy cast iron.>

                      You do understand that billions (not millions) Chinese in China use thin carbon steel and thin cast iron woks in their home kitchen, right?

                      <You can also look into the Le Creuset enameled cast iron wok >

                      So you would discourage nonstick wok, but recommend the Le Creuset enameled cast iron wok. I see no redeeming factor for a >$200 enameled cast iron wok.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Chem, thanks for your reply.

                        As I understand, stoves in China are different from Western stoves. They have burners that are specifically designed to accommodate woks. They also use portable propane burners made for wok cooking. Carbon steel is "relatively" new in Chinese woks, going back about 30 years. Before that cast iron was used exclusively. Just ask any Chinese grandmother!

                        I discourage Teflon type non-stick woks because the Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) degrades under the high temperatures used in stir-fry cooking, releasing toxic substances. The enamel coating on the Le Creuset won't do this.

                        I think the Le Creuset cookware is overpriced but they have a good reputation. The redeeming factor of the Le Creuset wok is that it doesn't require the extra care and attention that cast iron needs, such as regular oiling and re-seasoning.

                        Despite the hassle, I love my Lodge cast iron wok. It's inexpensive and it serves me well as long as I maintain the seasoning.

                        I've watched videos on YouTube on how to season carbon steel woks. They are much more of a hassle to season compared to cast iron. First, you have to strip off the plastic coating on a new wok, then burn on several coats of peanut oil to make it non-stick. It is best done outdoors because of the copious amount of smoke from this process! My Lodge came pre-seasoned from the factory so all I have to do is keep it oiled.

                2. JohnnyL,

                  Stainless steel cookware have their advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage is that cooked food stick to them very easily, especially meat. Meat usually will release itself after it has been brown. Therefore, you don't want to force/tear the meat. You want to give it some time and nudge it. Few other things can help lessen the problem. Make sure you have enough oil and butter often help. The idea of using butter is to let the butter proteins get burned and stick to the surface (which you can barely see) and once the surface is coated, then meat will stick to it less.

                  1. Let meat dry off while it's warming up to room temperature. Put a paper towel on top and underneath and flip it halfway through warm up time. It will brown better.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Fahzz

                      Keep the food dry pad it with a paper towel. Don't try to sear frozen meat. Don't use high heat when preheating. Check it with the water droplet test. Then put the oil in, give the oil about 15-20 seconds to come up to temp too. Sometimes I take it off the flame because I use little oil and I don't want the oil to burn. If the oil is smoking then your pan is way too hot and you need to get food in there fast. Wait at least 1 minute before moving the food around.

                      I don't own a SS wok so the process might differ a bit.