Wondering which skillet to whip out of your cabinets for cooking on the outside grill? That stainless steel pan may, or may not, be a good choice. Here’s why.
Ever since people figured out how to turn it into pans and pots, stainless steel has earned a reputation for itself as a durable and dependable material for cooking, whether at restaurant kitchens or in homes.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that the question on every griller’s mind is, “Can I use a stainless steel pan on my grill?” As with any good cooking question, the short answer is yes and no at the same time.
In this post, we will discuss why that is, and what you need to figure out before putting your trusty skillet on the grill. If that’s what you came here to find out, then let me start by saying it’s great to have you over, and I encourage you to keep reading.
Whether you can put your stainless steel pan on the grill or not depends on the grill and the pan itself. Generally, charcoal grills are a no-go. But an oven-friendly frying pan with no plastic parts may be safe to use over gentler heat on a gas grill.
Above all, it’s important to note that only oven-safe skillets can go on the grill.
Pans with metal handles are usually safe to use in the oven, whereas those with plastic, silicone, or wooden handles are not. When in doubt, refer to your pan’s usage instructions before putting it on the grill.
Second, most stainless steel pans are oven-safe up to 500°F (260°C). Some higher-end makes and models, such as All-Clad, can handle temperatures of up to 600°F (315°C).
Exposed to temperatures higher than that for a long enough time, a stainless steel frying pan may sustain damage that renders it unusable or that significantly shortens its useful life.
Perhaps that’s the reason why a charcoal grill is not the best place to use one. I’ve explained more on that below.
Why Charcoal Grills and Stainless Steel Don’t Get Along
Charcoal grills can get really, and I mean really, hot. At its peak, the temperature of burning charcoal can exceed 600°F (315°C), which is well over the threshold that stainless steel pans are built to withstand.
To put it simply, Home Cook World readers who grill on charcoal mustn’t use their stainless steel pans on the grill and should consider reaching for a heavy, thick-bottomed carbon steel or cast iron skillet—always with a bare metal handle—instead.
When you do, don’t forget that the handles on these pans get scorching hot. To prevent burning your hand, keep a kitchen towel handy and use it to hold the pan. Of course, you could always use an oven mitt, but it will turn your hand into what can only be described as a paw, and therefore worsen your grip.
Excessively high heat can cause the seasoning on your carbon steel or cast iron skillet to flake off. That’s not necessarily an issue, as it won’t make your food unsafe to eat, but you might as well need to reseason your pan after using it on the charcoal grill.
Gas Grills and Stainless Steel Pans
As far as your pan is concerned, a gas grill is like a hybrid between a gas stove and a high-powered wall oven.
Most gas grills operate at 500-550°F, and most stainless steel pans are oven-safe at temperatures of plus/minus that range. That’s why an oven-safe stainless steel pan with no plastic parts is largely okay to use on a gas grill, whether on direct or indirect heat.
This applies only to uncoated stainless steel frying pans with a bare-steel cooking surface. Non-stick and ceramic pans should never be used on the grill, or the coating may damage.
Still, I wouldn’t crank up the heat all the way up to high. For cooking methods such as searing—which require intense, direct heat—I’d turn the dial to medium-highish and keep it there.
The issue with stainless steel over high heat, and the reason why it’s not the best choice for grilling as a whole, is that, as a material, stainless steel gets twisty and bendy when heated to high temperatures.
So, despite your best intentions, you might as well end up warping your pan beyond salvation.
To protect your pan from warping, consider preheating it along with your grill. Avoid placing a hot pan on a cold surface, be it wood or stone, and never put it under cold running water. Take your foods off the heat with a good spatula and allow your pan to cool down instead.
Should You Use a Stainless Steel Pan on the Grill?
We’ve established that, under certain conditions, you can use a stainless steel pan on the grill. But the fact that you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should do it.
A good stainless steel pan can cost a hundred, hundred-and-fifty bucks. A cheap cast iron skillet, on the other hand, won’t set you back more than twenty, twenty-five dollars.
So my advice to you is this: keep your pricey stainless steel pans in the kitchen and get a cast iron skillet for cooking on the outside grill.