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Tips for cooking with stainless steel cookware?

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I received a beautiful stainless steel cookware set for Christmas, to replace the nonstick collection I have amassed over the years (and recently decided I no longer want to use). I got online last night to read reviews, and the first one said something along the lines of "people who don't like this set don't know how to cook with stainless steel cookware".

Ack! Now I am having a crisis of confidence about putting these shiny beauties to use. Any tips and cooking with them, cleaning, etc?

Just FYI, I (unfortunately) have a ceramic stove top.

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  1. Congratulations on the new cookware. While you will gain more personal wisdom about these as you cook with them, I just two quick tips:
    1. Always make sure the pans & pots are properly heated before actually cooking in them. Depending on the material and your stove, it may take up to 5-10 minutes to heat them.
    2. Get Bar Keeper's Friend (a baking soda type of cleaning agent and it now comes in liquid form too) and non scratch sponge pad. They will save you a lot of time and heartache when you think you "dirtied" your pans beyond warm water & soap soak remedy. If you kitchen water is hard, be prepared to either boil lemon in water or cook tomato based sauce in the pans to remove white spots that may develop over time.

    Google these terms and you will be ready. As for ceramic cook top - the only thing I am aware of is that you shouldn't put a hot pan (as most stainless steel pans can go into oven) on a cold ceramic top - the sudden temperature change may crack the ceramic. Of course, most adults understand that no dragging and dropping heavy pans across any cook top surface.

    Enjoy!

    1. Start with things where sticking isn't much of an issue. Saute onions, making sauces, boiling things in water, oatmeal, rice, frying steaks, etc. Also if food like oatmeal starts to stick, take it off the heat for a few minutes, and let the moisture loosen the crust is starting form. As long as you catch it before it starts to burn, it can be stirred back in.

      For now hang on to the nonstick for eggs, and starchy things that tend to stick. Maybe later you can pickup ideas for those. I still have nonstick frypans, but try to use SS as the default.

      As long as you match the food to the pan, SS is easy to use, and easy to clean and maintain.

      2 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        Like ycyc said, preheat the pan; and what paulj has alluded to, don't overheat the pan.

        I learned from a cooking show, and have since read here, about the dancing water method...preheat the pan until a water droplet added to the heated surface beads and dances across the surface, stabilize that temp, then add your oil. This was the best tip for me. I liken it to sealing the pores of the pan to obtain a smooth cooking surface.

        Currently I only use two pans, a cast iron and a stainless. As a newish cook, once I discovered how to heat these pans properly for different uses, I minimized any burning/sticking issues. With the stainless, it took realizing that I was cooking too hot; a recommended medium-high setting of 7.5 out of 10, was equivalent to 6–6.5 burner setting with 'my' pan and burner.

        I think what the reviewer is saying is that people who have a problem using stainless steel cookware don't know how to moderate the heating surface. It comes down to the ol' knowing how to use 'your' tools since you're likely using a different burner rating/spread, and pan size/material/thickness than others.

        I've since learned how to properly cook scrambled eggs using 'my' stainless steel pan whether starting cool or preheated, with nonstick spray, oil, or butter; though I prefer preheated, then add oil. I don't make omelets or fried eggs so I can't say if these would slide out of my stainless pan like they do for teflon users, but I no longer have the sticking issues that I previously had.

        1. re: paulj

          This link http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/825480 is a similar question to yours and explains the difference you're likely to see between teflon and stainless. Be sure to watch the youtube video in the last post for an example of the dancing water.

        2. <I got online last night to read reviews, and the first one said something along the lines of "people who don't like this set don't know how to cook with stainless steel cookware". >

          This is not unusual. Many people are have only used Teflon cookware. When they move to stainless steel surface cookware, they hate their experience. Often they attribute this to the failure of a specific brand of the stainless steel cookware, but, in reality, their description of their problem reflects stainless steel surface cookware in general and their lack of skill. The most common complaint is that meat stick to cookware. Well... there is a reason why Teflon cookware is called nonstick cookware, right? Anyway, the reviewer whom you read is probably frustrated with the negative reviews from people who lack experience. It is like people who complain the Sunbean microwave oven cannot produce a flaky crust compared to a convention ovens, or a neighbor's Chihuahua dog is smaller than a Great Dane. While these observations are true, they miss the larger picture, and are not legitimate complaints.

          <Any tips and cooking with them, cleaning, etc?>

          There are quite a few questions along this line on CHOWHOUND. For usage, I strongly suggest you to look up some of the older posts for some really good suggestions and great video links. Basically, stainless steel surface cookware has a much narrower window of usage (in term of temperature) than Teflon cookware, and therefore require greater timing and skill. This window shifts depending on the type of food as well. For vegetables, the window is much wider. For meat, you want to heat the pan to desirable temperature before adding the food. The water drop test is very useful. It is also known as the mercury ball test.

          http://rouxbe.com/cooking-school/less...

          For eggs, it is at a much lower temperature.

          Basically, everything can be done on stainless steel surface cookware, but it takes more practice.

          Cleaning stainless steel cookware is very simple. Typically, you can use detergent and water. Bar Keeper Friend is helpful for tougher stains.

          The cermaic stove top wouldn't post much problem in this regard.

          1. Meat presented my biggest challenge when I started using stainless.

            At first, I would get frustrated when trying to brown ground beef, cook chicken pieces, etc. because I thought everything was sticking. What I didn't realize was that I was trying to turn things too soon. At the right temp, proteins release when they are "ready" to be turned. Basically, I needed to stop messing with my food and actually let it cook.

            I also learned how to deglaze pans, which goes a long way in the quality of my dishes AND easing the clean up process.

            1 Reply
            1. re: cleobeach

              <At the right temp, proteins release when they are "ready" to be turned. >

              Agree. This is correct. On the other hand, if the proteins (meat) are put in way too early, then it can stick pretty bad, which can result overcooked meat -- even if it eventually release. At a higher pan temperature, the meat will release a bit earlier, so giving the cook a bit more control.

            2. All I use is stainless. The key to never have anything stick on it is to season it first. Take about half an inch of Kosher salt and and enough high heat cooking oil like cheap canola oil to mix in with the salt so it's like a loose paste. Cover the bottom of the pan and up the sides and crank up the heat. Let it get SMOKING HOT! Open the windows. Remove the pot/pan from the heat and let it cool right down to room temperature then wipe out the salt/oil. Do this a couple of times for the best result. But why? Because contrary to commom belief stainless steel is VERY porus. By seasoning with the salt and oil the high heat opens up the 'pores' in the metal and the salt and oil actually fill up these pores. Then when the pot/pan is used and all those pores are plugged up. It's the food making it's way into the pores that causes sticking. Never wash with soap. Just a luke warm rinse and a wipe with a paper towel. The next time you use the pot/pan pre-heat them up only to medium. If you heat them too much all those plugged pores will expand and some of the salt/oil will be removed then the food will stick and you'll have to season the pot/pan all over again. Don't worry about the oil in the pores going 'bad'. We're talking about a micro amount.
              Add whatever butter/oil you want and heat it then add what you are cooking. Don't stir much at first. Let the food heat up to the same temp as the pot/pan first then stir if you need to.