Are Stainless Steel Pans Non-Stick? What You Need to Know

/ / Are Stainless Steel Pans Non-Stick? What You Need to Know

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If you’re ready to give up your non-stick cookware and switch to a healthier alternative, you might be wondering whether stainless steel pans are non-stick. 

Stainless steel pans are not nonstick and have to be seasoned. The seasoning layer will make the pan nonstick and prevent food from sticking to the surface of the pan, making it easier to clean. You can also give your stainless steel pan a “nonstick” surface with a little ingenuity and some common kitchen items.

Still, lacking the non-stick feature doesn’t mean stainless steel pans any less healthy. In fact, there are several reasons why stainless steel is a better choice, including that it’s easier to clean and better at conducting heat than non-stick pans.

Read on to know why stainless steel cookware sticks and little-known hacks to make them nonstick.

Why does stainless steel cookware stick?

Stainless steel pans are essential cookware in any fully equipped kitchen. 

They are easy to clean, can last a long time and can resist high temperatures without warping. 

They are also non-reactive, so you can cook almost all sorts of food in them without worrying about any toxic chemicals leaching into your food.

Their main caveat is that stainless steel cookware does not have nonstick properties. So when cooking certain foods, especially eggs, it can stick to the pan.

Why? Well, there are a few factors at play here.

One major factor is chemical bonds.

According to Science of Cooking, foods form a bond known as van der Waals forces with the pan metal material, in this case, stainless steel.

High-protein foods are especially prone to sticking on stainless steel cookware as the proteins can form complexes with the pan’s metal atoms.

Another key factor is stainless steel pores.

While stainless steel pans appear smooth, at a microscopic level, their cooking surface is actually filled with small pores.

When you heat the pan, the metal will expand and cause the pores to shrink. These contracting pores tend to grasp on your food and cause them to stick on the pan.

Luckily, there are many tricks to make your stainless steel pan and cookware nonstick (more on this below).

How to make stainless steel nonstick? 3 Essential Tips

Stainless steel pans are a joy to work with since they don’t react with food. 

But they can cause quite a headache when your food starts sticking on them.

Here are a few expert tips and tricks to make your stainless steel nonstick:

  • Make sure the surface of your pan is clean since small food particles will burn and make your food stick
  • Make sure your pan is at the right temperature (not too hot or too cold) before putting food in
  • When the pan is hot enough, season your pan with high-temperature oil, such as canola oil, avocado oil and sunflower oil. Use a paper towel or clean rug to rub the oil around your pan. Make sure there is no excess oil.

Read my article on how to keep food from sticking to stainless steel pans for detailed how-tos and other little-known hacks.

How to clean food stuck on stainless steel pans?

Cleaning a stainless steel pan can be a tricky endeavor, but it doesn’t need to be. 

The key to keeping your stainless steel clean is to start with a clean pan in the first place. 

But if you already have food stuck to the bottom of your pan, don’t despair! 

Here’s how to remove food stuck on stainless steel pans so you can get on with your evening with minimal scrubbing.

Use baking soda

The cheapest and one of the most effective ways to clean food stains off of your stainless steel cookware is by using baking soda.

To use baking soda, you need another cheap and free thing: water.

You’ll be amazed at how well this cheap method works!

So here’s how to use baking soda and water to remove food residue from the bottom of your stainless steel cookware:

  • Step 1: Cover your pan’s inner bottom with baking soda. Don’t worry about how much baking soda you need to add. Just make sure it covers the stained area.
  • Step 2: Pour water into the pan. Add around ¼ to ½ cup of water, depending on the size of your pan. If your pan is bigger or smaller, add more or less water, respectively.
  • Step 3: Mix the baking soda and water together. Work them out until you get a paste-like consistency that can cover the food stain area.
  • Step 4: Scrub the food stains.
  • Step 5: Leave the mixture in your pan for a few minutes.
  • Step 6: Wipe your pan clean with hot water and a brush or sponge. 

If everything went well, your pan will look as good as new!

While this trick works amazingly well in cleaning your pan, even from old food stains, you need to repeat the steps a few times to remove serious food residue off.

Use salt and lime

Lime and salt mixture is also another well-known method to clean stainless steel pans from food stains.

You’ll be using the lime juice’s acidity and salt’s slightly abrasive property to remove the food stains from your pan without notably scratching your pan.

Here’s how to use salt and lime to clean your stainless steel cookware:

  • Step 1: Cut the lime in half
  • Step 2: Squeeze the lime juice into the pan.
  • Step 3: Add a few spoonfuls of table salt into the pan
  • Step 4: Let the mixture sit in the pan for about 10 to 15 minutes
  • Step 5: Add a few more salts to the pan
  • Step 6: Work the mixture around using a non-abrasive cleaning pad or a soft sponge
  • Step 7: Once you’ve successfully removed the food spots on the pan, wash or rinse it with warm soapy water

Use a stainless steel-friendly multipurpose cleaner 

If ordinary soap and water do not work, you can use stainless steel or multipurpose cleaner.

Cleaner like Bar Keeper’s Friend is great in removing stubborn food stains, rust, grease, and mineral deposits on your stainless steel pans.

Pro tips: It would also be best if you start cleaning right after cooking, that is after your pan has cooled down. Cleaning your stainless steel pots and pans promptly after cooking helps prevent the food from settling into the cookware, making it easier for your to clean them.

Nonstick vs stainless steel: Which one’s better for your health?

Nonstick cookware is one of the hottest segments of the cooking market.

In fact, many beginner cooks looking for new cookware consider nonstick cookware to be a top priority.

Due to their non-stick feature, they are perfect for cooking foods like eggs, delicate fish and crepes.

Nonstick cookware is supposed to be healthier since it allows you to cook with less oil. 

But is it really? 

Nonstick pans are generally cheaper, easy to clean, and convenient.

But you’ll pay for that convenience in the form of potentially unhealthy perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a substance found to be potentially carcinogenic.

Luckily, since 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency has asked leading chemical manufacturers to discontinue the use of this cancer-causing substance.

Still, this doesn’t mean that nonstick pans are totally safe.

Because you need to worry about another substance found in nonstick pans, which is the PTFE or popularly known as Teflon.

Overheated nonstick cookware with Teflon coating may release toxic fumes that can cause Teflon flu or polymer fume fever and lung damage.

At lower temperatures, however, nonstick pans aren’t a problem.


Because the Teflon will only begin to break down and releases toxic molecules and gasses when heated at temperatures beyond 570°F.

So if you’re not going to heat your nonstick pans beyond the limit temperature, you probably don’t have to worry about your nonstick pans leaching out harmful chemicals.

You also need to follow basic cooking measures when cooking with nonstick pans to minimize your risk of getting toxic exposure, including:

  • Avoid preheating an empty pan
  • Avoid cooking on high heat
  • Ensuring your kitchen has proper ventilation
  • Using proper cooking utensils that will not scratch the nonstick coating, such as wooden utensils

Nevertheless, nonstick pans still don’t give you the same benefits as stainless steel.

Stainless steel pans are more durable, can withstand scratches and dents, and easy to maintain.

They can perform at higher temperatures and can distribute heat more evenly compared to nonstick cookware.

So they are perfect for browning or searing proteins, adding the crisp texture to the surface of your proteins.

Stainless steel pans are also more versatile; you can use them to cook just about everything.

You can even put them in the oven safely.

That said, stainless steel pans do have their disadvantages.

One major disadvantage is its nonstick feature.

Although you can make them somehow “non-stick”, you do need to put in more effort and time in seasoning them, as opposed to nonstick pans that are already nonstick from the get-go.

Also, you need to be patient when cooking with a stainless steel pan. You can’t rush in moving your food in the pan or you’ll end up tearing the flesh of your food!

Should you buy stainless steel or nonstick pans? 

Choosing the right pans depends on what you usually cook. If you intend to use nonstick pans to cook foods at lower temperatures, you probably don’t have to worry about PTFE. But if you love to sear or brown or want a toxic-free kitchen, then stainless steel pans would be your best option.

If you want a more long-lasting pan, then you should opt for stainless steel, which is more durable and can resist warp, rust, and breakage.

Nonstick pans, on the other hand, have a limited lifespan and their coating can easily be scratched. Once your nonstick pans’ coating has scratches, you need to throw them away as harmful chemicals from the coating can leach into your food.

If you’re looking for a stainless steel pan, then you should definitely check out All-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless Steel frying pan. For years, All-Clad has dominated the stainless steel cookware market and has been consistently rated best by major publications like Cook’s Illustrated and Bon Appetit.

Why do chefs use stainless steel pans?

Chefs and professional cooks love using stainless steel cookware as it is virtually indestructible, easy to maintain, and can be used to cook almost anything. It can distribute heat evenly and will not leach harmful chemicals into food. When seasoned properly, stainless steel pans can give you a nonstick feature.

What should you not cook in stainless steel?

Stainless steel is an all-rounder cookware. You can use it to cook everything, from sauces to stir-fry. But since it is not nonstick, you need to preheat and season it properly beforehand to make sure your food does not stick. You also need to prepare your ingredients before preheating as it can overheat rather quickly.

What is seasoning a stainless steel pan?

Stainless steel pan seasoning process generally includes heating the pan and coating it with oil. It is not the same as seasoning other cookware like a cast-iron skillet. Cooks seasoned their cast iron pans to prevent them from rusting and make them last longer. In contrast, they seasoned their stainless steel pans so they become more nonstick temporarily.

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