How to Keep Food from Sticking to Stainless Steel Pans? 5 Tips That Works

/ How to Keep Food from Sticking to Stainless Steel Pans? 5 Tips That Works

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Stainless steel pans are a joy to work with for many cooks, because they don’t react with food, and you can cook almost anything in it, from vegetable stir fry to stew.

In fact, for many people (including me), a meal is not quite complete unless it is prepared with a stainless steel pan.

There’s just something about this pan that makes frying eggs, searing meat, and boiling pasta a delightful and fulfilling experience.

However, not all dishes that come out of your stainless steel pans turn out the way you want them to; some of your food can stick to the bottom of the pan, making it a hassle to clean.

I know this can be frustrating. So I put together some tips and tricks that you can use to keep food from sticking to your stainless steel pans.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

How to Keep Food from Sticking to Your Stainless Steel Pans?

Here are a few proven hacks that help prevent food from sticking to your stainless steel pan and make your pan somewhat non-stick.

Tip #1: Perform the mercury ball test before seasoning

How does this test work?

The best way to keep food from sticking to your stainless steel pan is to preheat your pan properly. This test will let you know whether or not your pan is hot enough for seasoning and cooking without guesswork.

The Mercury Ball test, also known as the water bead test, adopts the Leidenfrost effect, where the water droplets you put inside a preheated pan form a mercury-like ball that dances across your pan at the Leidenfrost point (at 320°F), indicating that your stainless steel pan is hot enough for seasoning and prevent your food sticking to the bottom of your pan.

This test is an easy, beginner-friendly, and visual way of preheating your pan.

What you’ll need?

  • Some water
  • Spoon or dropper (or you can just use your hand)
  • Cooking oil with a high smoking point, such as canola oil

How to perform the test and cook food without sticking?

  • Step 1: Preheat your stainless steel pan over medium or medium-high for about 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Step 2: Add a few drops of water into the pan using a spoon, dropper, or your fingers.
  • Step 3: Observe the water droplets’ reaction. Here’s what may happen to your water:
    • Sputter slowly, do nothing, or evaporate: This means that your pan is too cold, so you need to wait for a few more seconds for it to heat up.
    • Form several small droplets: This means that your pan is too hot. So you need to lower your heat and set the pan aside for a while to let it cool down a bit before performing the test again.
    • Form a single bead that pops up and glides across your pan: This is the result that you want. It means that your pan is ready for seasoning.
  • Step 4: Wipe the water away gently with a paper towel or napkin.
  • Step 5: Add your cooking oil and swirl your pan to let it glide and coat the surface of your pan. You can also use a paper towel or rubber spatula to spread the oil evenly across the side and bottom of your pan. Pour out or wipe up any excess oil. This oil coating will give you the nonstick feature that allows you to cook your food with no mess.
  • Step 6: Add your food.

Tip #2: Use green onions

How does this method work?

Onions releases acids that react to steel or steel derivatives cookware, resulting in a nonstick surface temporarily. 

While rarely used in Europe and Western Countries, this method is widely used in Asian countries, especially amongst Chinese chefs.

What you’ll need?

  • Green onions
  • Vegetable oil

How to execute this method?

  • Step 1: Preheat the stainless steel oil over medium heat.
  • Step 2: Add some vegetable oil. Tilt or swirl your pan and let the oil cover the pan surface.
  • Step 3: Chop the green onions into several pieces. Toss them into the oil-coated pan.
  • Step 4: Occasionally stir the chopped green onions and cook them until they almost burn. Make sure to let the green onions glide across every corner of the pan, including its sides and bottom, to create an evenly coated surface.
  • Step 5: Take the onions out of the pan and discard them. Wipe off the oil with a paper towel or napkin.
  • Step 6: Add cooking oil while the pan is still hot.
  • Step 7: Add your food.

Tip #3: Keep your food dry and at room temperature

How does this method work?

Water on the surface of wet foods will lower the oil temperature and cause sticking. Cold foods are also more prone to sticking because of the same concept. 

So keeping the surface of your food dry and making sure that your food is not too cold before putting them in a stainless steel pan prevents them from sticking to the pan.

What you’ll need?

Depending on the type of food you want to cook, you may need:

  • Paper towel
  • Colander
  • Cooking oil

How to do it?

  • Step 1: Take out your food from the fridge or freezer around 10 to 15 minutes before you start cooking. Let them warm up to room temperature.
  • Step 2: Pat dry your foods with a paper towel. For vegetables, use a sieve or a colander to get rid of the extra water after rinsing them.
  • Step 3: Coat your foods with a thin layer of oil to stop them from sticking on the pan (this step is optional so you can choose to skip it).
  • Step 4: Add your food to your well-seasoned stainless steel pan.

Tip #4: Don’t overcrowd your pan

How does this method work?

Putting too much food in a pan will release moisture and water, which makes the temperature inside your pan lower and promotes sticking. 

Your pan will not be hot enough to cause caramelization and the Maillard reaction, a culinary event where your food turns brown and produce a distinctive aroma and flavor. This process is popularly known as the browning process.

Therefore, you need to leave enough room in your pan so your food can go through the browning process properly, giving you more meaty, savory, and rich flavors.

What you’ll need:

  • Properly seasoned pan
  • Small batches of food
  • A little bit of patience

How to cook your food?

  • Step 1: Preheat and season your stainless steel pan.
  • Step 2: Divide your food into small batches. Put the first batch into your pan. Cooking a small batch of food at a time keeps your pan at the right temperature and prevents your food from sticking.
  • Step 3: Once the first batch of food is done cooking, remove them from the pan.
  • Step 4: Reheat your pan and add more oil as needed before adding the new batch of food.

Note: You should also avoid covering your pan when cooking since the trapped steam and moisture will cause the top surface of your food to soften, preventing you from getting the crisp texture that you want.

Tip #5: Let the sizzling sound guides you

How does this method work?

One major mistake that most beginner cooks do when cooking with a stainless steel pan is that they flip or move their food too soon.

Why this matter?

Because as you put your food inside your stainless steel pan, its micro-crevices will grab onto your food, causing them to stick to the pan. Your pan will release the food on its own once your food is done cooking.

But how could you know that your food is done cooking?

The secret is to listen to the sizzling sounds.

Sizzling or hissing sounds happen when your food comes into contact with the hot oil in your pan.

Even after patting your foods dry, there will still be a small amount of water left. When these tiny liquid droplets come into contact with the hot oil, they vaporize into gas immediately and result in several small explosions. These explosions produce sizzling sounds.

So as long as you hear the sizzling sounds, it means that there is still water in your food and it is not yet cooked. During this time, don’t touch or move your food. Let it sit on your pan and let your pan do the work. 

You don’t have to worry about your food getting burnt at this time. Burning will only start to happen when the sizzling stops, indicating that your food is cooked.

So when the sizzling stops, it’s time to flip your food.

You’ll be surprised at how easy your food slips right out of your stainless steel pan without mess and hassle when you do this right.

Note: Diced vegetables are an exception to this method as you need to stir and move them regularly. Otherwise, they’ll burn. Just be sure to apply enough oil so they don’t stick on your pan.

What you’ll need?

  • Properly seasoned pan
  • A little bit of patience

How to cook your food?

  • Step 1: Preheat and season your pan.
  • Step 2: Add your food into the pan and let it sizzles.
  • Step 3: Once the sizzling sound stops, flip your food to the other side. If you’re not sure, try to take a little peek at the side of your food and see if it no longer sticks. Let your food rest on the pan.
  • Step 4: Take your foods off the pan when the sizzling stops. 

A few more things to consider…

Don’t use cooking sprays

One thing you need to remember when trying to make your stainless steel nonstick is to avoid using cooking sprays.


Because oil is not the only thing that cooking sprays contain.

They also contain substances, such as propellants, emulsifiers, and anti-foaming agents, all of which can become sticky at one point.

They are viscous and gluey and are very difficult to get off the pan.

Instead, use oil or butter.

Don’t let the oil sit on your pan for too long on the burner

After adding oil to season your preheated pan, don’t leave it for too long in the pan.

The longer you let the oil sit on the pan’s hot surface, the more time it has to break down and become gummy and viscous, causing your food to stick and leave residue on the pan.

That’s why you should get your food ready before you start heating your pan.

Don’t use oils with a low smoking point to season your pan

When seasoning your stainless steel pan, it is important to only use oils with high smoking points, such as canola oil and avocado oil.

Oils with a high smoke point react promptly to the heat as you season your pan. They also stick better to your pan, so you’ll have a more effective nonstick surface that lasts longer.

>>You can read the list of best seasoning oil for stainless steel cookware here.


Getting food stuck on your stainless steel pan can be frustrating. 

Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid it and make your stainless steel nonstick. As long as you follow these tips properly, you’ll be able to enjoy hassle-free cooking with your stainless steel pan.

Still, getting the methods right may need some time and practice; it’s all about trial and error.

But once you’re used to it, it will become second nature for you.

What is the secret to cooking with stainless steel pans?

The secret to cooking well with stainless steel cookware lies in preheating. As long as you preheat your pan and season it properly, you’ll be able to enjoy a mess-free cooking experience. You’ll also need to ensure your food is not too much and not too cold when adding them to your preheated and seasoned pan.

Can you use cooking spray on stainless steel pans?

You should avoid using cooking sprays to season your stainless steel pan as they contain substances that accumulate and become a viscous and sticky coating, such as anti-foaming agents, propellants, and emulsifiers. This coating is difficult to remove from the pan. Rather, use oil or butter.

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