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Are Stainless Steel Pans And Pots Non-Stick?

Stainless steel cookware is definitely not non-stick. But with the right technique, you can keep food from sticking.

Stainless steel is the stuff that culinary dreams are made of.

With its slick and sheeny cooking surface, stainless steel cookware allows you to simmer down the richest of sauces, sear meats to golden-brown perfection, and sauté vegetables to a sizzling finish.

Moreover, stainless steel pots and pans are versatile enough to go from stovetop to oven with ease, are dishwasher-safe, and, with proper maintenance, can last for a lifetime.

But if you’re new to cooking with stainless steel, you might be wondering: is it non-stick?

Is Stainless Steel Non-Stick?

Stainless steel pans and pots are not non-stick.

They have a bare metal surface, which can cause low-fat, protein-rich foods to stick. However, you can minimize and even mitigate this issue by preheating the vessel and cooking with enough oil.

Non-stick cookware is essentially the same as regular cookware, with the addition of a non-stick coating. This coating is applied to the cooking surface of the vessel in several layers, and then baked onto it in a furnace.

Interestingly, if you strip down a high-quality non-stick pan or pot made from stainless steel to its bare metal, you essentially get a stainless steel cooking vessel. Without the coating, the vessel can withstand high heat, is dishwasher-safe, and has a longer useful life.

How to Keep Food From Sticking to Stainless Steel

By following the simple tips below, you’ll be able to cook up a storm without worrying about your food sticking to the pan.

Bring your ingredients to room temperature before cooking them:

If you add cold ingredients, straight from the refrigerator, to a hot stainless steel pan, they are likely to stick.

To prevent this from happening, remove refrigerated ingredients, such as eggs, steaks, and bacon strips, from the fridge at least 15 minutes before cooking to allow them to warm up to room temperature.

Preheat your stainless steel skillet for 2 to 3 minutes:

To start cooking with a stainless steel pan, turn the heat to medium-high and let the pan preheat for 2 to 3 minutes without any oil in it.

Preheating allows the metal to gradually expand as it accumulates heat and evenly distribute the heat. Don’t crank the heat all the way up to high. This can cause the pan to overheat and lead to sticking.

Know when your pan is hot enough to cook in:

Before adding any oil to your stainless steel pan, you need to make sure it’s hot enough to cook in.

So, how do you know when it’s ready?

A simple trick is to flick a few drops of water onto the pan. If the drops glide and sizzle around the surface, the pan is hot enough. But, if the drops just sit there and evaporate, it’s not hot enough yet and needs more preheating time.

Add enough cooking oil to cover the cooking surface:

When cooking with stainless steel, it’s important to use enough oil to cover the cooking surface. Start by drizzling in enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan, then allow it a few seconds to heat up.

Once the oil begins to glisten, shimmer, and move around in ripples, it’s hot enough to start cooking. If the oil starts to emit a steady stream of bluish smoke, the pan is too hot and you’ll want to turn down the heat a notch.

Take your time before flipping meats and delicate foods:

Initially, food will always cling onto the bare metal surface of your stainless steel pans and pots.

However, as the food cooks and the underside browns, it will eventually release itself and be ready to flip. Resist the urge to flip it too early to avoid mangling your eggs or fish fillets.

Stainless Steel Cookware, Explained

Like cast iron and carbon steel, stainless steel is an alloy of iron and carbon. Unlike other metals, stainless steel also contains chromium and nickel, which give it a shiny look and make it resistant to corrosion and rust.

Aluminum vs. Copper Core

Stainless steel is not a good conductor of heat, which is why all stainless steel pans and pots have an aluminum or copper core to improve heat conduction.

This core heats up more quickly than stainless steel alone and distributes heat more evenly, enabling you to preheat the pan for a shorter amount of time and providing you with a better cooking experience.

The type of metal used for the core and the construction determines the price of the stainless steel pan or pot.

Higher-end stainless steel pans tend to feature a copper core, which provides superior heat conduction. However, for everyday cooking, most stainless steel cookware has an aluminum core, which is more affordable and conducts heat well enough.

Disc-Bottomed vs. Clad Construction

The aluminum or copper core can take the form of a disc bonded to the bottom of the pan in cheaper stainless steel cookware. In the case of clad stainless steel cookware, also known as bonded cookware, the core can consist of sheets of aluminum or copper sandwiched between external layers of stainless steel.

Disc-bottomed cookware is more affordable, but because the core is attached to the bottom, it doesn’t heat as evenly around the sides. Clad cookware is understandably pricier, but it heats very evenly, provides superior heat retention, and allows for better control over the heat.

Regardless of the pan’s core and construction, the cooking surface is always bare, uncoated stainless steel.

Bottom Line

Stainless steel cookware isn’t non-stick. In fact, it’s quite sticky: the cooking surface of stainless steel pans and pots is made of bare metal, which can cause delicate foods such as eggs, bacon strips, and salmon fillets to stick to the bottom and sides of the pan.

To avoid sticking, it’s best to bring your ingredients to room temperature before cooking, preheat your pan, and use a generous amount of butter, animal fat, or vegetable oil when cooking.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.