Last week, I got this question on my post about Best Pots & Pans on a Boat:
I purchased the Magma stainless nesting pans. I know there must be a learning curve with cooking with stainless pans. I’ve tried different oils and making sure the pan is hot before adding food. No matter what I try, everything I cook in the skillet sticks and creates a cleaning nightmare. I want to love my pans! Any suggestions?
When I was a young girl, we only had stainless skillets (yes, the pre-Teflon days . . . and the early Teflon wasn’t all that great, either). And my mom taught me about seasoning them. With the advent of much better nonstick pans, it seems that seasoning stainless pans has gone by the wayside. But it works just as well as ever!
The photo at the top of this article shows a slice of French toast that I made in a seasoned pan with no added oil or butter. There is absolutely nothing stuck on the pan. Below is a photo of French toast made in an unseasoned pan with a dab of margarine:
Yep. Big difference. The second side actually stuck worse.
How to Season a Pan
Seasoning a pan is really simple and takes about ten minutes, with some of that time spent letting the pan cool. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom for information on caring for your seasoned pan. Do not do this if the boat is rolling or there are large wakes, etc. — very hot oil is involved!
It’s also good to do on a day when you can totally open the boat up, because smoking oil doesn’t smell great. If you have a smoke detector, turn it off (pull the battery) until you’re finished — I can pretty much guarantee it’ll go off otherwise!
Begin by scrubbing the pan well, particularly if it’s not brand new. I usually use baking soda and some type of a scrubby. You can also use cleanser or even salt. Don’t add water — just scrub thoroughly.
I use my fingertips to make sure there aren’t any tiny little bits of anything stuck — the pan must be perfectly clean to start or you will have sticky spots.
Once you’re convinced it’s perfectly smooth, rinse and dry (get it as dry as you can so the oil doesn’t spit in the next step). Before you go any further, put on at least a t-shirt if you’re wearing a swimsuit. You’re going to be working with really hot oil and if any spits up, you want a bit of protection.
For the next step, you can use any fat that smokes at a high temperature. Most oils will work, although extra virgin olive oil and butter both smoke at too low a temperature. Most margarines are not good to use as they have water in them (particularly any marketed as reduced calorie). I usually use canola oil, corn oil or vegetable oil (anything marketed as “frying” oil should also be okay). Bacon fat and lard are traditional fats to use, too. Here’s a handy chart of the smoke points of various oils if you’re wondering about some other oil.
Add enough oil to the pan so that the bottom is fully covered. Most pans will have some spot that is high and you need to make sure this is covered by about 1/8″ (3mm), not just coated with oil. If it’s just coated, you’ll end up with a sticky spot around the high spot. (Yes, this is one of those jobs where details count.)
Place the pan on the stove over high heat and heat until the oil smokes — this should take less than 2 minutes.
Once it is smoking, turn the burner off and let the pan sit until cool enough to handle.
When it’s cool enough, pour the oil out and discard it. Wipe the residual oil out with a rag or paper towels. You may notice a bit of an “edge” at the bottom sides of the pan, where the top of the oil was. This is fine — don’t worry about it and don’t try to scrub it out (you’ll end up scrubbing part of the bottom and will remove the seasoning). Also, don’t wash the pan out with soap. Your pan is now seasoned.
A properly seasoned pan has almost a mirror quality to it — quite different from just a pan with a coating of oil:
Care and Use of a Seasoned Pan
While you can saute foods in a seasoned stainless pan without adding any oil or other fat, I usually add just a touch of oil . . . because my mom did. I did recently try getting away from this, and discovered that after just 2 or 3 uses, I’d have a few small sticking spots. And they’d grow with each additional use until I re-seasoned the pan.
The key to keeping a seasoned pan “non-stick” is to use as little soap on it as possible and never use a scrubby or any sort of scouring powder. The best thing to do is just to wipe the pan out with a rag after using it, or if that won’t cut it, just use water and a dish cloth with just a bit of texture, such as the Scrubrs. If you really have, use a little soapy water.
If something does stick — it happens, particularly over time — simply scrub it totally clean and re-season it. Depending on what I’m cooking, I may re-season mine once a month or once a year.