Tips for cooking with stainless steel

A friend wrote, asking…“Just bought 12″ fry stainless steel pan w/lid, and now at 70 plus years, I am faced with a great amount of trepidation about using it.  Any info on learning to use this will be greatly appreciated. I want to brown some great thick-cut bone-in pork chops I found at a local store. I want this to give me the pan drippings so I can try and figure out how to make a sauce.”

Cooking with stainless steel tips

Okay, so first things first…I am answering a specific question, about a specific product, not weighing in (or asking anyone else to) on the pros and cons of any type of cookware. I have at least four different styles of cookware in my kitchen, from cast iron to Teflon, and the all have their purpose.

This post is about stainless steel.

There’s a lot of info out there, a lot of do’s and don’ts, and if you’re going to ask the great and powerful Google, I strongly suggest you stick to the answers written by names you know and trust…and even they don’t all agree.

However, the basics of cooking with stainless steel, that most everyone seems to agree on, are are:

1. ALWAYS preheat your pan before adding food, especially meat you want to brown, and keep the heat at medium-high or below. Stay at the stove, baby your food, and adjust the heat often until you’re familiar with how your pan, works with your stove, and even with each burner. My electric burners all vary, and SS is going to have the least forgiving margin of error.

Pre-heating your pan is key, nothing else will work right afterwards, if you don’t.

2. For best performance I suggest using 50/50 oil and butter. The butter is going to give you better flavor and caramelization, and the oil, which has a much higher smoke point, is going to help the butter not to burn. Plus, it’s a little healthier.

Cooking with stainless steel tips

3. The meat IS going to stick, period. Let it! If the meat doesn’t move easily in the pan, it’s not ready to be moved. Let it cook until the pan releases it.

Cooking with stainless steel tips

You WANT the meat to stick to the pan.

This is also how the lovely brown “fond” that’s the base for your sauce or gravy, is formed.

This is also why “non-stick pans, though not out of the question, are at least less desirable and effective for creating sauces and gravies.

(By the way, if you’re enjoying this article, you may want to subscribe to our free newsletter; we’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each week. Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk teens!)

For more on browning, see last week’s post: “Secret #7: Brown is Beautiful!“, and here’s one of my all time favorite pan sauces for steak, Umami Merlot Sauce.

Filet Mignon with Umami Merlot Sauce Recipe

Now, a word to the warning…

I’ve know folks who have switched from non-stick (teflon) to stainless steel, and couldn’t be happier. I’ve know others who developed an almost instant hatred of the stuff. If you’re fairly new to cooking, non-stick is a much more forgiving material to work with, and I highly recommend that you start out with the best you can afford, and put off stainless steel until you have more experience with the other elements of cooking.

Non-stick has a nearly zero learning curve, is easy to cook with, and super easy to clean.

Also, good stainless steel (and you want good stainless steel) varies from really expensive to nose bleed expensive, so, if possible, see if you can borrow a good 12-inch pan from a friend for a week or two, before you blow junior’s college fund on a 12-peice All-Clad collection.

Lastly, for my friend who posed this question, here is, undoubtedly, my favorite stove-top pork recipe… Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Cider Sauce.


– Chef Perry