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Keep Food From Sticking to Stainless Steel

No, you can’t make your stainless steel pan non-stick. But you can make it less sticky if you do these three things.

Yo, home cooks! Are you fed up with food sticking to your stainless steel frying pan? You know… eggs, chops, fillets, bacon strips, burger patties, you name it, all clinging to that bad boy like there’s no tomorrow?

If, reading this, you got up from the couch, all pumped and ready, shouting “Damn right, I am!” then listen up. Because I’ve got some news for you. News that will change your stainless steel cooking game for good (and for the better).

The thing is, no matter how hard you try, you can’t make a stainless steel pan non-stick. Forget about it. But if you preheat your pan long enough and cook with a little bit of oil, you can make it less sticky. And that, my friends, is what we’re all about. Am I right?

Want to know how much oil to use and how long is long enough? Don’t worry, I’ve got you. Read on, and I won’t leave you hanging.

Why Stainless Steel Pans Are Sticky

But first, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of why stainless steel frying pans are so sticky.

Stainless steel frying pans are notorious for being sticky because their cooking surface is made of bare steel. They’re not sprayed with a slick coating like ceramic or non-stick frypans are, and they don’t have seasoning that keeps the food from reacting to the metal the way cast iron and carbon steel skillets do.


They’re just bare steel, as bare as steel gets.

What happens to bare steel when it heats up and cools down? Well, let me tell you, it expands and contracts. And if you paid attention in high school physics, you already knew that. But for the rest of us, it’s just another fascinating aspect of the world of cookware.

Check out that stainless steel cooking surface. It looks all smooth and shiny, but it’s really covered in these tiny, microscopic pores all over. And as the pan heats up and cools down while you’re cooking, those little pores grow and shrink, and they latch onto your food, making it stick to the pan.

This is more of a problem when you’re cooking on electric or induction stovetops, because the thermostat is constantly turning on and off. With a gas stove, the flame is steady, so the pan will be less sticky. But it will still stick, because the food will also form bonds with the metal until it browns and releases its hold on the pan (more on that, below).

How to Keep Your Pan From Sticking

Okay, so what can you do to keep your stainless steel pan from sticking?

Preheat the pan for a few minutes before you get cooking. Trust me, it will help. You’ll know the pan is hot enough when you flick a few drops of water on the surface and they start hissing and racing around the pan.

When your pan is hot enough, make sure to drizzle in enough cooking oil to completely coat the bottom of the pan. You don’t want to deep-fry your food, but you want there to be enough oil to form a barrier between the food and the surface.

Got it?

And one last trick: Don’t rush to flip your food. Don’t poke, nudge, or try to slide your spatula under it. Just give it a few minutes to brown without interruption and wait for it to release itself naturally from the pan before trying to turn it over.

Let the food talk to you, my friends, and talk to you it will. When it’s ready to flip, it’ll tell you. You’ve got to learn the language and recognize the signs. It’s like a dance, baby.

And that’s that. Anyone that tries to tell you there’s more to it is just lying to keep you reading and the ads flowing.

Thanks for reading and happy 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.