stainless cooking
September 28, 2008 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I am transitioning to a Calphalon stainless cooking set, but everything is sticking to the pans, despite much olive oil. What are some tricks from moving from teflon/non-stick to stainless steel on a gas range?
posted by plexi to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I've found helpful is to make sure that the fat/oil is really well heated and covering the surface of the pan before you add other foods. Sounds obvious, but the oil seems to move over the surface of nonstick pans in a much different way than it does on the stainless pans. Good luck!
posted by weezetr at 1:44 PM on September 28, 2008

Some cookware needs to be "seasoned". Calphalon seems to say that their pans don't need it. Vegetable oil might be good to use at first, as it can be heated to higher temperatures than olive oil before it starts to smoke (I think).
posted by kurtroehl at 1:45 PM on September 28, 2008

Using higher heat and not moving the food until it sears and releases from the pan is one strategy. You can use higher heat on non-teflon pans without the risk of polymer fumes.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:46 PM on September 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah, high heat has worked for me. Making sure that I don't put food in until the oil is shimmering has saved a lot of scrubbing.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 1:48 PM on September 28, 2008

I'm looking fwd to seeing the tips you get here.

I don't know a lot about this, but I do know that what sticks depends on what you're cooking. If you're cooking a salmon filet, for example, blast the hell out of the burner (turn it all the way up), let the pan get HOT, and just drop the filet in (no oil). The filet will be unstuck at just about the time it's done enough to be flipped over. Actually, that's true of lots of meats. When they're done enough, they won't stick anymore. Can't speak to non-meat dishes though.

Which leads me to wonder: maybe olive oil is the culprit. It burns at a lower temperature than other oils (corn, vegetable, etc.), so if what you're cooking should be cooked at a higher temp, olive oil could be the culprit. Have you tried cooking the same dish with different oils?

Also remember that the beauty of stainless steel is that you can use a steel spatula to dig in really good to flip the food.
posted by Rykey at 1:54 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

For me, Pam works way better than olive oil. I guess olive oil is better for you (it would be my first choice otherwise) but ... at least I use the "Organic" Pam?
posted by iguanapolitico at 1:55 PM on September 28, 2008

On review, what everyone else said :P
posted by Rykey at 1:55 PM on September 28, 2008

I agree with higher heat, just don't overdo it. Stainless conducts heat very well and can sometimes get hotter than you expect if you're used to lower heat, nonstick cooking.

Also, for things that tend to want to stick (chicken, fish, mushrooms, stuff like that), you've got two options. 1. Put the food in the pan and do not mess with it at all until the bottom browns and the food releases on its own. Don't poke it, don't stir it, just leave it be until the natural crust begins to form. 2. Put the food item in, grasp the handle of the pan, and shake it immediately. Just gently but firmly move the pan back and forth so that the food shifts in the oil. If you do this for 20 or 30 seconds, it will let the food start browning without sealing to the pan. After that, you can leave it be and just give it the occasional shake every few minutes until ready to be turned over. This works very well for things like salmon that want to stick and that are likely to cook through before it would release from the bottom on its own. There's a knack to the shaking that takes a little practice, but once you get a hang of it, the motion becomes second nature and saves a lot of scrubbing.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:55 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't add the oil straight away. Waiting until the pan is hot before adding the oil works for me.
posted by gfrobe at 1:55 PM on September 28, 2008

The best fat for seasoning is goose fat, or duck fat in a pinch. I met a guy who raised geese specifically to harvest the fat for a cutlery company to season knives. It goes right into the metal.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:09 PM on September 28, 2008

What is sticking?

You will probably have to make some changes in your cooking style. Teflon affects your perception of how food behaves when it hits a hot surface. You will eventually unlearn that, and along the way adapt to the limitations and possibilities of stainless.

Move your food around while sauteeing, for example. Shake the pan! Also, your saute will need constant attention. Don't walk away from it.

The heat should be fairly high and the pan and oil/butter heated up before you put the food in, but not so hot as to be smoking or burning. I mention adding a bit of butter to the oil in order to get a nice golden color. I always do this for potatoes and they don't stick.

In time you will get used to the heat conductivity of your pans and adjust the flame accordingly.

Otherwise, stainless is good for anything that you boil in water, for poaching, for soups and stews.

Stainless is also great for making sauces with tomato or other acidic ingredients because it's non-reactive.

Braising meats in stainless is ok because even if there is some sticking you will want to deglaze the pan and those stuck bits then dissolve, adding to the flavor of your finished dish. But you may find frying lean meat for a burger or frying chops frustrating in stainless.

For frying eggs--if you are against using teflon--it's hard to beat a nicely seasoned cast iron skillet.

Good luck!
posted by subatomiczoo at 2:14 PM on September 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's really an art. Good on to you for moving to what lots of cooks believe is the ideal cooking setup; it just takes some getting used to. I cook with Calphalon stainless pans myself, and they're fantastic.

First, remember why a gas range is the best kind of range: because it heats instantly. Often, when using an electric, I turn it all the way up to get it to heat fast and then turn it down as the pan approaches hot. You can't do that over a gas range; there's not enough time, and it only overheats the food. Overheating is one thing that can lead to sticking; so can underheating. Know your range, and heat accordingly.

You need to have the exact amount of oil, as well; again, too much or too little can kill. I find it almost always helps to heat the oil first just a bit; I heat until a very thin layer of oil coats the pan. Remember that some foods will soak up the oil, whereas some foods will not; vegetables like Zucchini will need more oil than eggs. Meats have their own oil, but it takes a few moments for it to be released, so I use a very small amount to get it started and watch it closely.

It's often bad to keep poking and prodding at food as it's cooking in a pan, but you have to be able to gauge how it's coming along in order to keep it from sticking. Once the food has set in the heat a little, you should be able to pick up the pan and move it a bit so that the food slides around. If it doesn't, it's begun to stick, and you can use your spatula to loosen it. Keep it loose, but don't disrupt its contact from the pan more than you need to.

Eggs are always good practice. I eat eggs for breakfast almost every other morning, and trying to make the perfect omelet is a great way to learn the art of keeping the eggs loose from the pan and being able to control them enough to flip cleanly and make that perfect fold.

Finally, and I can't stress this enough: keep your pans as clean as possible. I use Bon Ami or some other non-abrasive cleaner and polish a couple of times a week on my pans, and in addition to making them pretty and shiny, this keeps them functional. A thin layer of stuff on the pan, even if it's hardly noticeable, makes cooking impossible. What's more, a thin layer of stuff on the underside of the pan makes the pan heat up in a spotty and inconsistent way. You might be tempted to feel while you're scrubbing as though you're wearing your pans out faster by scraping all the crap off, but the opposite is the case; those black or brown areas on the underside of the pan that sees the flame mean food will stick because the pan's heating more in certain spots than in others, and over time that will cause your pans to warp and bend. You don't want that.

Hope some of this helps.
posted by koeselitz at 2:15 PM on September 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Medium high to high heat and canola or peanut oil (preheating pan, preheating oil)--also not rushing to flip food, it has to form a crust that is more resistant to adhering to the surface.

I'm trying to play with some Food Network advice to use hearing more during cooking--as long as it's noisy moisture is crackling as it hits the oil, when the sound gets softer, the crust is more likely to have formed. I don't have absolute faith in it, but it's a good idea and reminds me to listen because I'm usually multitasking like crazy in the kitchen.

Also, you don't want to use a ton of oil, it splatters all over the place and there's just more of it to smoke if you do pass the smoke point. Use as much as you need, either by coating the surface of the pan lightly or by coating the surface of the item you're cooking.

I love stainless steel cookware. You can really crank the heat under it for stuff like scallops, that really benefit from high heat cooking.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:17 PM on September 28, 2008

The Frugal Gourmet always chanted, "Hot pan, cold oil, food won't stick!" and I find that largely to be true, for a certain set of circumstances. Proteins in general will stick until the Maillard reaction occurs which is why woks don't work very well until they develop a layer of seasoning or are non-stick (and why you shouldn't force a protein to move on stainless until it is ready to move, or you'll lose a layer of your food). This is also why eggs are best cooked in a non-stick pan. There are times that do not call for stainless. You will get the hang of it, it's time and experience that will get you there.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:30 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Same here, although a few years ago. Now I rarely use nonstick pans, because I've found that most food really doesn't stick too badly if its cooked correctly.

Revel in your new ability to use really high heat. Blast those pans, sear and brown the food, and scrape away at that durable steel surface with a sturdy spatula. All those browned bits that stick to the pan can be deglazed with broth, wine, etc, and will add deep rich flavor to the sauce (deglaze while they are still brown; don't let them go black or your food will taste charred). You may need to deglaze several times during cooking. After the pan is deglazed, there's not much left stuck to the surface so cleanup is fairly easy.

One way to avoid the problem Lyn Never mentions is to not start with the meat first, as much as possible. Start with onions or other vegetables and brown them before adding the meat. (Many recipes call for this anyway.) Vegetables, being generally lower in protein than meat, don't stick as much, and a layer of veggies in the pan will keep the meat from sticking as badly.

Sometimes, as in Chinese stir-fries, you have to add the meat directly to the pan without anything else but oil. (By the way, I now use an All-Clad stainless steel wok and it beats the pants off my old seasoned steel wok, so seasoning is not always the answer.) In that case, blast the heat as high as you can, preheat the oil, add the meat, and stir for all you're worth. Scrape and flip and tumble and keep it moving. Brown bits will stick but will later get deglazed when liquid is added. (Note: stir-frying is its own art, probably outside the scope of the question, but you normally start with extremely high heat and gradually reduce it while cooking. The final deglazing, right before you add cornstarch to thicken the sauce, is done over medium heat.)
posted by Quietgal at 3:05 PM on September 28, 2008

Definitely wait until your pan is hot before adding oil, that will help. Apart from that, I sort of agree with the others. When I first switched to my All Clad, I was having issues with food sticking all the time. I asked the lady that sold them to me and she suggested it was because my pan was getting too hot. All of my old cookware was of the cheap variety. Good stainless cookware conducts heat so much better, that I was actually overheating when I cooked certain things. So while there are some things that call for very high heat, very high heat with good cookware =/= cheap cookware and you will have to adjust a bit.
posted by Silvertree at 5:03 PM on September 28, 2008

Clarification: Stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat, and a pure-stainless pan will not heat evenly over its surface.

All-Clad pans, on the other hand, contain inner layers of other metals, predominately aluminum, which are much better conductors of heat and help heat the pan surface evenly.

The All-Clad Stainless series of pans contains an aluminum core with stainless steel bonded (clad) to the inside and outside. Although it looks like it's stainless steel all the way through, it isn't.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:58 PM on September 28, 2008

Check out America's Test Kitchen website. They tested a bunch of stainless pans; I seem to recall them talking about this. Other than that, kuujjuarapik has it-- high heat, and don't move the food til it seers and releases. Best way to clean stainless pans is with washing soda and white vinegar. If you put this in while the pan is still hot it cleans with zero elbow grease, and it is 100% environmentally sound. (ducks when someone violently disagrees)
posted by nax at 7:23 PM on September 28, 2008

Forgot the links, sorry. Washing soda. Also, tried to find that ATK link, and they've removed it, but it was "Proper Pan Temperature: How do I know when my pan is hot enough for sautéing and searing?" from Season 5 if you want to try to hunt it down.
posted by nax at 7:30 PM on September 28, 2008

Lyn Never is right, she talked about the bit that everyone else seems to have kind of left off, and that is:

you need to heat the pan before adding the oil.

This is where you also should learn the 'water drop' test. for most cooking, when a small bead of water, flicked onto the pan, 'bounces' gently prior to bubbling off, but does not 'explode' or hiss. This is when the pan has reached correct temp for just about anything besides some really delicate cream/egg sorts of things, and at which point you should add your oil, again not too much. I absolutely guarantee this is the first step to cooking a nonstick, perfect omelette in a stainless steel or copper pan. I never, ever, ever use nonstick / teflon anything.

From what metalworkers have told me about this phenomenon, apparently the grain in the metal needs to heat up and 'close' prior to adding the oil, or else it just pulls microscopic bits of food into the grain with it, leading to sticking.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:32 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

The other thing that no one has mentioned here is: reduction sauce. All those lovely stuck on browned bits on the bottom of your pan? Flavor, m'dear - the kind you are almost never able to get with a teflon cooking surface. All that flavor is part of the reason fancy cooks don't use teflon. :)

Throw a small amount of wine or stock into the bottom of the pan after cooking to "lift" flavor and yummy brown bits from the bottom of the pan, stirring with a nice flat spatula or spoon to scrape everything up. Add seasonings - herbs, mustard, a few chopped shallots, whatever catches your fancy and finish with a little butter or cream to give it a silky finish. Yu-mmm.
posted by twiki at 1:47 AM on September 29, 2008

Err. meant to say: add stock or wine, SIMMER UNTIL REDUCED BY HALF, then add your flavor and finishing bits. :)
posted by twiki at 1:49 AM on September 29, 2008

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