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Seasoning stainless steel


_john
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I have a confession to make. I never wash the outside of my favorite stainless steel 5 quart. pot. Never. I have used it almost every day for a year. Boiling over often, catching oil floating around in the sink, and getting heated up over and over again has built up a layer on the outside.

exhibit A:

gallery_23727_2765_22850.jpg

black on the outside, shiny on the inside. Curious, let's take a closer look at that black part.

exhibit B:

gallery_23727_2765_8151.jpg

That looks vaguely familiar. It looks just like the seasoning on a young wok, or a blue steel French crepe pan. And it feels the same too.

This reminded me of the stainless steel sheet trays we used at my last cooking job. Most of them were well maintained and a uniform color. But a few of them, especially the "bacon pan", were almost black. If I had access to them now I would try frying an egg on one to test my nonstick theory.

What am I seeing here? Can stainless steel be seasoned?

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Filth and Grime :laugh: Looks like your pot needs a good clean.

Smell and taste are in fact but a single composite sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and its chimney the nose. - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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What you have on your pot is "mugre" not seasoning. You can clean it quickly with oven spray. Just set outside on newspaper, spray and wash. It will clean up like new.

("mugre" Spanish for dirt)

Jmahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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It is possible to season the cooking surface of a stainless steel pan to create a non stick surface but it is only good for one use. But can be redone over and over again

You heat your pan with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in it to almost smoking and then pour out the excess oil. As the pan is heated the molecules expand and allow the oil to penetrate in between them and once the pan cools they get trapped onto the cooking surface.

Its a good trick for cooking spaetzle, gnocchi, or eggs without sticking

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I have a confession to make. I never wash the outside of my favorite stainless steel 5 quart. pot. Never. I have used it almost every day for a year. Boiling over often, catching oil floating around in the sink, and getting heated up over and over again has built up a layer on the outside.

black on the outside, shiny on the inside. Curious, let's take a closer look at that black part.

What am I seeing here? Can stainless steel be seasoned?

I'm sorry, but ICK! And I am not a big clean freak or neat-nik. But it has been my belief that Cast Iron can be seasoned, Stainless Steel cannot. This just looks like plain crud.

Please, go buy a can of oven cleaner as suggested by other posters. Get a black plastic garbage bag, get all of your pans that look like this and take them outside to a sunny place. Lay the pans crud side up, clean side down inside of the bag. Spray liberaly inside of the bag and cover the outside of the pans with the cleaner (use the whole can if you have to). Close bag tightly and leave in the sun all day - even the next day. It doesn't have to be warm or hot temperature wise - the dark bag will get warm enough to allow the cleaner to work and not stink up your house.

After 'soaking' your pans, remove them from the bag. (Wear gloves if you have sensitive skin). Hose them off in a place where the water won't kill plants or grass etc.

Take them into the kitchen and finish cleaning them off in the dishwasher or sink.

This is a trick my mother told me about a long time ago when I was first starting on my own. I bought some pans at a thrift store that while servicable, looked like yours.

Good Luck -

Here's a picture of my contrasting pans at http://www.glittercity.com/potsnpans.jpg

A little scratched - but I have had the stainless for over 10 years and some of the cast iron was my husband's grandmothers and those pans are at least 75+ years old. (I just used the big cast iron skillet for homemade pancakes this morning)

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"Seasoning" is nothing more than built up layers of polymerized fat. It is necessary to season cast iron because it is highly reactive (and also quite "sticky"), but you can season any cooking material if you want to take the trouble of building up the polymerized fat. Why you would want to is another question altogether. My experience is that reports as to seasoned cast iron's purported nonstick properties are vastly exaggerated. Cast iron is nonstick only so far as sufficient fat is used -- much the same as it is for clean (unseasoned) stainless steel. And, in my experience, clean stainless steel (very few people actually keep their stainless steel cooking surfaces as clean as they should) is actually less sticky than seasoned cast iron.

There are plenty of reasons I don't recommend seasoning stainless steel. The main reason is that I don't think it offers any benefits above and beyond what are possible with truly clean stainless steel. Beyond that: If we're talking about a stock pot or saucepan, there are no potential benefits of seasoning. If we're talking about a regular thin stainless steel frypan, well they suck and there's no reason you'd want to use one. If we're talking about a stainless-lined copper or aluminum pan, leaving polymerized fat residues on the pan limits the temperatures at which the pan can be used (seasoning will burn above a certain temperature).

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And, in my experience, clean stainless steel (very few people actually keep their stainless steel cooking surfaces as clean as they should)...

So, how clean is clean? What is your usual cleaning procedure, and using what materials? I'm just getting the hang of my stainless saute pan and 12" skillet, I really like them, but still get sticking sometimes. :sad:

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First of all, what are your stainless saute pan and skillet made of? If they're nothing more than thin stainless, there are going to be all kinds of hot spots and other things that I think contribute to sticking. I also suspect that not all stainless cooking surfaces are created equal, although I don't have any scientific evidence or reasoning to back that up -- just my experience that cheap stainless pans tend to be stickier than high quality pans consisting of a thermal layer of aluminum or copper with an internal lining of stainless steel. Now that I think about it, this may simply be due to the fact that the clad-design pans are able to hold more thermal energy and therefore are better at creating a "micro-layer" of steam between the food and the cooking surface. Technique-wise, properly preheating the pan is important, as is using a reasonable amount of fat for lubrication ("hot pan, cold oil" is a good rule of thumb any time). Other things such as respecting the power of the stove and the capacity of the pan and not over-crowding the pan also help to reduce sticking. All of these things are likely to be challenging when you have a pan made of stainless steel and nothing else, and may be impossible to fully overcome. This may be the primary thing that has produced stainless steel's reputation as a "sticky" cooking material -- it's not so much that a stainless cooking surface is sticky, but rather than stainless pans are sticky due to thermal properties. It may actually be cast iron's thermal advantages over stainless steel that lead to its (undeserved in my opinion) reputation of being non-stick. I have not noticed that any of the seasoned cast iron in my collection, most of which is inherited with 100+ years worth of seasoning, is any less sticky than my stainless lined heavy copper pans, for example.

Anyway... assuming you have a stainless cooking surface bonded to decent thermal materials and are using good technique, a clean pan can make a big difference. As the recent owner of a dishwasher after some 20 years of exclusively hand washing, I can say that a dishwasher simply cannot clean a stainless steel pan as well as hand-scrubbing with Bar Keeper's Friend. Properly cleaned stainless steel is shiny and free of all visibly stains, residues and discolorations.

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Anyway... assuming you have a stainless cooking surface bonded to decent thermal materials and are using good technique, a clean pan can make a big difference.  As the recent owner of a dishwasher after some 20 years of exclusively hand washing, I can say that a dishwasher simply cannot clean a stainless steel pan as well as hand-scrubbing with Bar Keeper's Friend.  Properly cleaned stainless steel is shiny and free of all visibly stains, residues and discolorations.

Thanks, I think it's just a matter of getting the "feel" of the pans, then. They are bonded to copper, heavy and solid feeling. Also I'm cooking on electric coils, so there's that too. Love BKF, it can get almost anything off.

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  My experience is that reports as to seasoned cast iron's purported nonstick properties are vastly exaggerated.  Cast iron is nonstick only so far as sufficient fat is used -- much the same as it is for clean (unseasoned) stainless steel.  And, in my experience, clean stainless steel (very few people actually keep their stainless steel cooking surfaces as clean as they should) is actually less sticky than seasoned cast iron.

My old cast iron has better non-stick properties than some of my newer cast iron (less than 10 years old) but better than any of my stainless. However I do prepare them by heating quite high with a bit of oil before I ever put anything in them to cook.

As for fat being the reason why my old cast iron sticks less - bring it on! I can cook just about anything with no added fat tho- and it doesn't stick.

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"Seasoning" is nothing more than built up layers of polymerized fat.  It is necessary to season cast iron because it is highly reactive (and also quite "sticky"), but you can season any cooking material if you want to take the trouble of building up the polymerized fat.  Why you would want to is another question altogether.  My experience is that reports as to seasoned cast iron's purported nonstick properties are vastly exaggerated.  Cast iron is nonstick only so far as sufficient fat is used -- much the same as it is for clean (unseasoned) stainless steel.  And, in my experience, clean stainless steel (very few people actually keep their stainless steel cooking surfaces as clean as they should) is actually less sticky than seasoned cast iron.

There are plenty of reasons I don't recommend seasoning stainless steel.  The main reason is that I don't think it offers any benefits above and beyond what are possible with truly clean stainless steel.  Beyond that:  If we're talking about a stock pot or saucepan, there are no potential benefits of seasoning.  If we're talking about a regular thin stainless steel frypan, well they suck and there's no reason you'd want to use one.  If we're talking about a stainless-lined copper or aluminum pan, leaving polymerized fat residues on the pan limits the temperatures at which the pan can be used (seasoning will burn above a certain temperature).

Thanks slkinsey, That's pretty much the answer I was looking for. I thought maybe seasoning was something unique to pans made of steel that rusts easily (high carbon steels?). And that seasoning had some sort of advantage over bare stainless steel. I know what you mean about burning the seasoning. If I get my wok too hot it can easily damage the seasoning in areas where there are hot spots.

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My seasoned cast iron is WAAAAAAAAY more nonstick than my clean stainless steel. And I keep it as clean as I know how ... if there's any discoloration or spotting, I scour with BKF until it gleams. I'm not a clean freak by any stretch, but I've learned to keep the cooking surfaces shiny.

Trying to sauté a delicate fish in stainless lined copper is usually a disaster; the same in cast iron works well. This is with using a small amount of oil in each; I only use the iron pan dry with food that renders its own fat. It is definitely less nonstick than a teflon pan, which I reserve for crepes and for the most delicate fish.

That said, I agree that seasoning stainless doesn't sound like a great idea. The surface is just less versatile than plain stainless. I'm guessing that the polymerized oils would cling less well, and you'd have more issues with off flavors and even clumps of goop ending up in your food.

I have been wondering about seasoning bare aluminum, though. I have a heavy, plain aluminum griddle that I use for pancakes. It begs to be seasoned. I'm constantly scouring off a thin film of very hard oils from around the edges ... and it fights me for it. Has anyone tried seasoning this material?

Notes from the underbelly

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To be clear: I should say that there are certain instances where seasoned cast iron can be less sticky than a stainless cooking surface. But it's a far cry from "nonstick" anywhere near the same category as a PTFE-lined pan. On the scale of stickyness where dry improperly heated stainless is the most sticky and brand new PTFE is least sticky, seasoned cast iron is a lot closer to the sticky side of the scale.

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I have a confession to make. I never wash the outside of my favorite stainless steel 5 quart. pot. Never. I have used it almost every day for a year. Boiling over often, catching oil floating around in the sink, and getting heated up over and over again has built up a layer on the outside.

What am I seeing here? Can stainless steel be seasoned?

I've read that you can season stainless somewhat by using salt. I've never tried it and thought salt will pit stainless. I have though been able to season an anodized aluminum grill pan. It has layers of polymerized oil on the interior just like cast iron. It even looks the same. The coating is hard, and is semi nonstick.

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Anodized aluminum is notorious for accumulating spots of polymerized fat, which are then incredibly difficult to remove. This doesn't make much difference for a grill pan, of course, but properly cleaned anodized aluminum is considerably less "sticky" than anodized aluminum with polymerized fat. This is most obvious when there are only a few spots of polymerized fat on an otherwise clean anodized aluminum surface -- the spots of polymerized fat are always exactly where food will stick.

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Other things such as respecting the power of the stove and the capacity of the pan and not over-crowding the pan also help to reduce sticking.

slkinsey, what do you mean by "respecting the power of the stove"? Do you simply mean not overheating the pan?

I've always wondered why All-Clad's instructions for pans say not to use more than a medium-high flame.

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I've always wondered why All-Clad's instructions for pans say not to use more than a medium-high flame.

I've seen that warning on a lot of pans. I bought some calphalon pans back when they were just repackaged commercial pans, and the sticker said the same thing. Probably they assume their customers don't know how to cook, and figure they'll do less damage with less fire.

Notes from the underbelly

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Other things such as respecting the power of the stove and the capacity of the pan and not over-crowding the pan also help to reduce sticking.

slkinsey, what do you mean by "respecting the power of the stove"? Do you simply mean not overheating the pan?

What I meant is that, if you have a Crapmaster 9000 NYC apartment stove like I have, you are not putting out nearly as many BTUs as you are if you have a Wolf stove. As a result, you have to adjust your technique. In a commercial stove, you can put more food in the pan without losing temperature, because the burner is cranking out tons of thermal energy and the pan can recover quickly. On the Crapmaster 9000, you have to rely more upon the thermal energy stored in the pan, since the stove isn't strong enough for a fast recovery. I find that overcrowding the pan, which has consequences beyond simply lowering the temperature, is one of the most common mistakes made by home cooks.

I've always wondered why All-Clad's instructions for pans say not to use more than a medium-high flame.

This way they're covered liability- and warranty-wise if you crank up the heat and something bad happens.

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Thanks!

I find that overcrowding the pan, which has consequences beyond simply lowering the temperature, is one of the most common mistakes made by home cooks.

This is very, very true. I can't count the number of times I've helped someone cook and said "we're going to have to do this in batches" and then explained the difference between pan frying and steaming.

Edited by Darren72 (log)
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