Cooking with stainless steel.
For those accustomed to using Teflon, the idea of using stainless steel for much more than boiling pasta can be a bit intimidating! I know, because I was there once too.
Even though my mom has been using her stainless steel cookware for longer than I've been alive, I honestly didn't do much cooking until after I was married -- at which point I was using my husband's Wearever Teflon pots and pans.
I loved using Teflon, but studies have shown that the fumes released during high heat are just not good for us (and DuPont, the maker of Teflon has lied about this for financial gain). (Since this isn't a post about the dangers of Teflon, I'll let you do your own further research if you desire!)
When our Teflon pans wore out, I relied on my cast iron skillet more than ever (read about cooking with cast iron here!), along with a few stainless steel pans from a garage sale. Even though my stainless steel pans weren't the highest quality (far from what I now use!) they worked well enough and keeping the health benefits in mind, using the stainless steel pans was not the nightmare I had envisioned! :)
Obviously, the quality of the stainless steel cookware will determine somewhat how easy it is to use.
In a nutshell, when looking for stainless steel cookware (at thrift stores or even brand new) the best options are 18/10 stainless steel (18/8 is all right as well) and have either a thick multi-ply bottom or else multiple layers all the way through (like All-Clad or Multi-Clad), which help conduct the heat evenly. Pans that are thin just burn too easily. If you do a lot of cooking, good cookware is an investment that you'll be enjoying every day!
Tips from my personal experience with stainless steel cookware
1. Keep the heat at medium or below (sometimes higher but never above medium-high!) and keep an eye on what you're cooking. Stir, check, and adjust the heat as you learn about your cookware and even your stove. (The electric burners on my stove are all very different from each other! Truly!)
2. Don't be afraid to add some oil (for frying) or water (for re-heating leftovers). I often refer to package instructions for the best way to cook different frozen veggies. I've learned when I prefer to use my pan lids, and when I prefer to leave the pan uncovered. Usually it's just a matter of experience and trial and error for the various foods! :)
3. Don't expect stainless steel to cook exactly like Teflon cooks. But since I do have a high-quality set of cookware, I haven't had issues with sticking food or burning things. (It is amazing how much difference the quality of the cookware makes when it comes to food sticking!!)
There is one exception though. I am still experimenting with the best way to cook scrambled eggs in stainless steel. (Cast iron seems to work better for eggs, usually.) Sometimes my eggs don't stick a bit; other times they stick a lot. I'm guessing that there is a perfect balance of pre-heating time/temp, oil, and cooking temperature (which of course is affected by the number of eggs thrown into the skillet!) and I just haven't figured out how to do it on my stove. Yet. :) (Anyone have tips for this??)
4. If something is stuck on stainless steel, I usually just do a soak in soapy water and it wipes clean the next day. If you're in a hurry or have a particularly annoying stuck-food issue, Bar Keeper's Friend works wonders. It's mild and effective. You could also put some water in the pan and bring it to a boil, to loosen the food.
5. While it is certainly safe to use metal utensils on stainless steel, they will leave small scratch marks on the cookware. This is mostly cosmetic, though larger scratches could increase sticking.
For these reasons, I have personally opted to use only wooden/bamboo, silicone, or nylon utensils whenever they will touch the cookware. I do still have two of my "garage sale pans" and use metal serving utensils with those. They are very scratched but still don't stick much, as long as I've followed rules #1 and 2 above! ;)
Does anyone have any tips to add to my list?
Originally published in April, 2009
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