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Can you ruin an SS fry pan by stir-frying with too little oil?

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I live in a very small apartment, and don't really have the room for a wok, but I've been doing a lot more stir frying lately on an old non-stick fry pan, which isn't working too well. I'm thinking of getting a new SS fry pan with a regular surface, but I do like to minimize the amount of oil I use - about two or three long sprays from a good oil mister I have. Also, I know I have to be careful about keeping the food moving, and not letting it burn.

Can I ruin an SS fry pan by stir frying with a small amount of oil? I don't mind having to put some effort into cleaning the pan - I've seen lots of great suggestions on chowhound on how to do so. I just don't want to impair the cooking quality of the pan.

Any suggestions would be appreciated - thanks in advance.


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  1. Most woks are made of carbon steel, so I'd suggest you consider getting a carbon steel frying pan. CS pans are easy to season and clean, can take high heat (unlike nonstick pans), and aren't expensive.

    1. I don't think you're likely to ruin a solidly made SS skillet. But given the amount of oil you're using, I suspect you might continue to find it "isn't working too well." What do you mean by not too well?

      It is true that very high heat and non-stick do not play well together. Tanuki's suggestion of a carbon steel pan is good: can take very high heat while also tending to be less sticky than SS, once seasoned. But you will need to take care of it more carefully to season it and avoid corrosion--not much work, but more than with SS.

      1. You won't ruin a SS pan with high heat, but you might warp it. That'll be less likely if it's heavy and on the small side, no more than about 8-10", but it could happen. It's not really an issue on gas or electric coil stoves, but it renders the pan useless on radiant or induction ranges.

        You can cook with minimal oil and minimal sticking on SS, but you've got to "season" it every time you need it to be non-stick, or alternatively, treat it like cast iron and don't clean with soap. Of course, anything acidic will remove this faux seasoning, but it's really easy to replace it. There are some Youtube videos explaining the process. It's a LOT easier than seasoning carbon steel or cast iron, as long as you remember it's temporary. I've done it, and it works. But I don't take my SS frypans beyond med-high heat for more than a minute or two on my radiant cooktop.


        If you don't want to worry about warping, follow Tanuki soup's advice and get a heavy carbon steel skillet.

        1. You won't ruin the SS pan, but you might ruin your food.

          1. Everything is possible, but it is rather unlikely that you can ruin your SS fry pan by using too little oil. That being said, you may partially burn an oil residue and coat it onto your SS pan surface. You may have food badly stick to the pan. You may very well have subpar stir fry due to lack of heat transfer and lack of frying. It is tough to significantly cut down oil on a SS fry pan. If you really want to cut down oil, your best bet is actually a Teflon nonstick pan, follows by a carbon steel or cast iron cookware. Stainless steel should not be your choice.

            The pan is more than likely to be fine.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Come to think of it. If you are going to use a spray or two of oil on your stainless steel cookware, then you may as well not use any oil. You are better of for not using oil in this case.

            2. I had a few stainless steel pans get brown marks permanently on them that I could not get off no matter how much I scrubbed them. In fact, I think all the heavy scrubbing made the surface even more rough which caused things to stick even more.

              I think they are making new non stick surfaces these days made from ceramic, if you are concerned about the chemicals in traditional non stick pans. Also, I believe you are not supposed to get non stick pans above a certain temperature otherwise it can damage the pan and cause hazardous chemicals to be released from the coating.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Atomic76

                <I had a few stainless steel pans get brown marks permanently on them that I could not get off no matter how much I scrubbed them. >

                I realize your use of the past tense "had" makes this moot for you, but for others I've got the answer. Oven cleaner. The no heat required kind. Spray it on, leave it overnight and wash. If your brown marks are from fat (polymerized) they'll come off easily.

                SS is like cast iron or carbon steel that way. You can screw it up, but unless you break the pan, you can't ruin it. There are ways to bring it back to it's pristine beauty.

              2. The carbon is interesting, but I stirfry in my stainless all the time. I'm using a tablespoon (+ sometimes) of peanut oil, which I feel is pretty conservative. You've got to use more oil than a spray or 2, or you'll have a date with your scrubby pad after supper (and your food won't be at it's best)...and don't worry about ruining it

                2 Replies
                1. re: BiscuitBoy

                  <You've got to use more oil than a spray or 2, or you'll have a date with your scrubby pad after supper (and your food won't be at it's best)...>

                  That's why I think there are better choices for roz than SS. Your tablespoon of oil may be conservative for a SS stir fry, but IME it's not conservative for other metals.

                  1. re: DuffyH

                    Of course, and that's where a little common sense kicks in...otherwise learn to settle for nonstick

                2. I also have a very small apartment with accompanying kitchen (note my username).

                  Buy a wok. A decent carbon steel one with a flat bottom (mine is stainless and round; learn from your fellow CH's errors). Justify the space it takes by also using it for deep frying. A wok leads to less spatter and better control of oil temperature. So it's great for the healthiest and unhealthiest things you're likely to cook.

                  1. So I've been down this road, or at least my spouse has. Was using a skilled with very little oil. Scorched the heck out of it. Anyways after a bit of research this is what we did. Coat the bottom of the pan with baking soda. Fill it up with water to maybe 1 inch deep. Then put on high heat and boil the sucker. After it boils just let it cool drain it and wipe the pan/pot out. Basically what you are doing is making a super concentrated baking soda solution and when it cools the baking soda will crystalize on the scorched particles. If it doesn't get it all in one try just repeat. No scrubbing and super cheap.

                    1. Friends:

                      Thank you all for your excellent comments and suggestions. The point about adding more than a few mist sprays of oil is well taken - I've decided it is definitely improving the taste and cooking quality, and I'm just trying to avoid the massive amount of oil some of my friends use, who seem to consider stir-frying and deep-frying to be synonymous.

                      For folks who were interested in why the non-stick cookware isn't working for me - I've basically abused my frying pan with the non-stick surface by cooking on too high heat, using metal utensils inside, and using abrasive cleaners on it. I'm not intending to repeat the latter two mistakes with the pans I buy next - at this point, I can't cook anything on the "nonstick" pan that doesn't stick, even with a very large amount of oil, and it heats quite unevenly.

                      I have to say with the all the great advice I've been given, I'm almost tempted to buy a SS pan, a carbon steel pan and a wok - I'd forgotten the temptation that arises when I hear about all the uses folks have for their pans.

                      thanks again!


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: roz

                        <who seem to consider stir-frying and deep-frying to be synonymous>

                        One thing I find helpful is to use a wok scoop or some thing to drain excess oil (especially for deep fry)



                        If you want to stir fry, then I recommend either a carbon steel deep pan or a carbon steel wok. This is especially so because you want to minimize the amount of cooking oil. Food readily stick to stainless steel cookware, so you will be forced to use more oil because of this. A well seasoned carbon steel cookware is practically nonstick (not quiet as nonstick as a Teflon).

                        Here is a video which demonstrate the nonstick property of a carbon steel wok:


                      2. Roz,

                        I just ordered a copy of Stir-Frying To the Sky's Edge, and in it Grace Young recommends a stainless steel frypan if you're not going to use a wok. Thought you'd want to know. :)

                        1. Works fine. We have a cast iron wok and my wife uses a stainless fry pan all the time and her stir fries are superb.

                          Re wok, you don't need one. Ever see a Japanese cook a stir fry in a wok?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Ray2

                            Over on Amazon, while looking at braisers, the owner of a Le Creuset braiser points out that it's an ideal everyday pan, and routinely uses it for stir fry. Several other owners suggested using it for eggs, soups, and searing meat. Of course, you can bake, roast and braise in it, too.

                            The 3.5 qt has a base measurement of almost 10". Sounds like an excellent option for a cramped kitchen, especially if you park it on the stove.