How to Season Stainless Steel Pans with Ease

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in Cookware

Did you know that there are techniques that can allow you to season stainless steel pan? I am a person that loves to cook, but I am also a person that really hates scrubbing my pans to get the food off of them after the meal is prepared, which is why I love nonstick surfaces.

I really don’t like Teflon because of the fact that it can chip and get into your food if you are not careful. For this reason, many chefs are cooking with cast iron skillets and porcelain cookware because these tend to be nonstick.

While I do love these types of cookware, and I do have many in my cupboard, I still love to use stainless steel. In this guide, I’m going to show you how to season your stainless steel pans so that they are effectively nonstick.

Cooking with Stainless Steel

So, why bother with a stainless steel pan rather than the other types of pans that are currently all over the market? Well, frankly put, stainless steel cookware has a tendency to be much less expensive than many of the other types of cookware currently on the market. Additionally, I just love the feel of stainless steel; it’s lighter when you are doing a bit of stir-frying, and to be honest, I just love the look.

Having said that, there are a few other crucial advantages that might make you want to season your own stainless steel pans. Here are a few:

  • Durability – Stainless steel just can’t be beaten when it comes to overall durability. Unlike Teflon pans, you don’t really have to worry about scratching the bottom surface, and these pans will last for decades if you’re careful how you treat them. In fact, these pans simply won’t rust or chip, so you can definitely depend on them.
  • The Ability to Be Cleaned Easily – Stainless steel pans are typically a breeze to clean, and in most situations, they are even dishwasher safe. While it is important to understand that you’ll have to treat your seasoned pans a little more gingerly, you’ll still be able to clean them with relative ease.
  • Easy Heating – When it comes to transferring heat, these pans are amazing. I use a gas stove, and it really only takes a few seconds to heat oil in my stainless steel pans when I’m about to do a bit of frying. In many situations, these pans have a copper or aluminum base that actually increases the temperature transfer, which can be VERY advantageous.
  • Keeping Your Food’s Flavor – When you cook with cast iron or even Teflon, there’s going to be a bit of a flavor change. With stainless steel, the flavor is completely preserved, which means that you’ll be enjoying the flavors as they were meant to be. Don’t get me wrong, I actually love what cast iron does to things like eggs and steak, but for the purists, stainless steel is unbeatable.

Foods that Tend to Stick the Most

Despite how great stainless steel is to cook with, no one would really tell you that food won’t get annoyingly stuck to its surfaces. In general, you can avoid this by soaking the pan in water, but ideally, you’ll want to avoid this by seasoning the pans. In any situation, here is a listing of some of the foods that tend to stick the most to stainless steel pans that haven’t been seasoned:

  • Eggs
  • Steak
  • Fried chicken batter
  • Bacon
  • Cheese

In fact, foods that are high in protein will have the highest chance of providing you a real headache come cleanup time. The reason for this is that a covalent bond, or weak van der Waals forces, causes the proteins in the food to bond with your stainless steel. With that being said, the reason that seasoning a pan like this helps keep food from sticking is that you create a barrier between the proteins and the metal.

Why Not Just Oil the Pan?

Oiling the pan does provide a layer so that a bond isn’t as easily formed, but when you just use oil, some of the oil will transfer to the food you’re cooking, which provides a medium for the food to start to stick to the surface of the pan.

Instead, seasoning your pan will provide a Teflon-like coating that won’t leech harmful chemicals into your food, and it really doesn’t take very long. In fact, seasoning is just a step you can take before you start cooking to ensure a very easy cleanup.

How to Season a Stainless Steel Pan

Now that you understand some of the advantages, let’s take a look at the process. As I mentioned before, this doesn’t take a whole lot of time, and you’ll definitely appreciate how much easier it is to clean off your pans after you’re done cooking in them.

Step One: Wash the Pan Out Thoroughly

Using soap, warm water, and a sponge that has a scrubbing surface, really clean the pan so that there’s no excess oils or debris. When I do this part, I sometimes have to scrub deeply because cooked-on food and oil can be the hardest thing to remove from a pan like this, especially if the pan has grooves where food like this can accumulate.

Once you’re done, rinse it thoroughly, examine the pan for any excess oil or food, and let it air dry. Typically, you can expect the pan to be fully dry within about 10 to 20 minutes. You need to thoroughly clean it because the oil that you’ll be using in the seasoning process will stick to the pan better if there’s nothing to block it.

Step Two: Select an Oil

When you’re seasoning your pans, you’ll want an oil with a higher smoking point. Typically, since I usually do a lot of Asian cooking and stir-frying, I usually use sesame oil, but you can opt to use peanut, vegetable, or soybean oil as well. In any situation, you won’t need a lot of oil for the seasoning. We use these types of oils because the higher smoking point will allow the oil to react to the heat more evenly, which will cause it to adhere to the pan more easily.

Step Three: Coat the Pan Evenly

When you’re applying your oil to the pan, you want to ensure that you’re providing an even, very thin coat. To do this, I typically apply the oil in a swirling pattern and kind of move the pan around so that the oil coats it as evenly as possible. When you’re done, there should be a noticeable sheen on the entire inside of the pan. Make sure that you don’t miss any spots because you don’t want there to be areas of the pan where your food will stick. During my seasoning process, I typically use about three tablespoons of my oil.

Step Four: Heat the Pan

The seasoning process is entirely dependent on heat, and now is the time that you’ll be solidifying the oil on the pan. Using a medium heated burner, place your pan on top of your stove and heat the oil for about three minutes. Medium heat is best for this because it allows the oil to season the pan evenly and not end up with spots.

I’ve even read that some people use their oven to season their pans. To do this, simply heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake it for about an hour or so.

Step Five: Remove and Cool the Pan

Once the oil begins to smoke in the oven or on your stovetop, remove it from all heat sources and you’re almost done! At this point, you’ll want the pan to cool off a bit so that you can move on to the next step. Without letting the pan become room temperature (still a bit hot is okay), pour the remaining warm oil down your drain. While this may seem wasteful, a layer of solidified oil should now be coating your pan. Ensure that there’s no excess liquid oil by using a damp paper towel on the seasoned stainless steel skillet surface.

Some Upkeep Steps for Your Seasoned Stainless Steel

Now that you’ve seasoned your skillet or pan, you may wonder how to keep it ready for nonstick cooking. Upkeep has always been an interesting topic for me ever since I learned how to clean a cast iron skillet, and cleaning a seasoned stainless steel skillet is very similar.

To start, understand that using the soap and warm water method to wash a seasoned pan is verboten – washing it this way will ensure that you strip away the oil that you’re using to season the pan. Instead, you’ll be using a soap-free method to ensure that your pan is clean. First, grab a small bowl and fill it with oil. Add a few pinches of salt so that the oil becomes a bit abrasive. Finally, using a paper towel dipped in the salt and oil mixture, rub the inside of the pan until any residue comes off. This should be very easy due to the seasoning, and don’t worry if the pan is still a bit oily when you’re done.

Also, when you’re preparing food, opt to use medium heat because this level of heat won’t melt away the oil coating that’s forming your seasoning layer. If your food starts to stick again, this is a prime indication that it’s time to re-season the pan.

Always try to keep these pans dry – storing them in water for long periods of time may remove the seasoning, also when it’s time to put your pans away, you should put a layer of cloth between your stacked pans so that the pans don’t grind off the layer of seasoning.

A Recipe that Works Well on These Seasoned Pans

Steak Frittatas

I selected this recipe because it’s protein-rich, which means that in unseasoned circumstances, this could be a real problem dish when it comes to the cleanup process. Seasoning stainless steel pans will ensure that your frittatas won’t cause you to be slaving away with a sponge after breakfast – it’ll just wipe clean.

Ingredients

  • Four ounces of Steak, cut into small pieces
  • ½ of a cup of sliced onions
  • ½ of a cup of red peppers, sliced into strips
  • Two tablespoons of milk
  • Five large-sized eggs
  • Two tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ of a cup of Monterey jack cheese

Instructions

Using the olive oil in a seasoned stainless steel skillet, sauté the onions until they are slightly translucent. Next, add the steak and the peppers, and then heat until the steak is nice and brown. Continue cooking the onions and peppers until they are somewhat soft. The cooking time for this part should take about five minutes at the most.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, the eggs, the salt, and the pepper. Transfer the egg mixture from the bowl into the skillet and top everything off with Monterey jack cheese. Using an oven mitt, transfer the seasoned skillet to the oven, and continue to cook for about 15 minutes or so or until the eggs are fully cooked. Serve and enjoy!

Final Thoughts

Seasoning is a great process that can add a bit of versatility to your stainless steel pans. For me, seasoning this way cuts down my overall effort, and as you can see from the steps that I outlined for seasoning stainless steel pans, it’s very easy to season a pan if you just take the time. While cast iron and porcelain skillets have their uses, you can achieve some great results with a good stainless steel pan.

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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