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Why I will season my stainless steel pans forever

A couple years back I switched from the typical teflon coated non-stick pans available in every department store to a set of stainless steel pans. I gotta say that I have been very happy with my decision and have not looked back.

As I have been looking to live on a boat I have been reading experiences from other liveaboards. On a boat water is used sparingly. This is not only because there is a limited water tank (though easily filled from the dock if in a marina!) but also because boats carry around all their waste with them until they get to a pump out facility. Think about all the activities you do on a daily basis that produce some sort of waste that would make its way into the holding tank. It is much greater that you would think. To that end I have been researching water conservation, particularly when it comes to the kitchen and doing dishes. Yesterday I read an article on The Boat Galley (fantastic resource for boaters, RVers, apartment dwellers, and tiny home owners) talking about seasoning stainless steel pans. I did not know this was possible with stainless steel, but not only is it, it turns stainless steel pan surfaces in to a much better non-stick pan than teflon!

Why season stainless steel pans?

  • Creates a non-stick surface – better than teflon!
  • Makes cleanup a snap. No soap needed, just water and a paper towel.
  • It only takes minutes!

How to season a stainless steel pan

Seasoning stainless steel pans is so easy my dog could do it. Seriously. You need 3 things:

  • Stainless steel pan
  • Cooking oil (your choice, I used Canola Oil)
  • Paper towels

(Update 01-04-2017): Since writing this post I have learned that Canola Oil may contain artificial chemicals that can be hazardous to some. I switched to vegetable oil as it seems like a more natural/safe oil. I am not a medical expert though so do your own research.

The process:

    • Pour the oil into the pan until the entire bottom is covered
    • Spread some oil on the sides of the pan with your fingers to ensure coverage of the entire pan. I skipped this step and have a brown ring around the pan where the top of the oil is. It is normal and will come off with soap (do not do it unless you want to reseason the pan!)
    • Turn a burner on high and set the pan on it
    • When the oil starts smoking remove the pan from the heat and turn off the burner. Let the pan completely cool
    • Dump the oil in a safe location and use the paper towels to gently wipe up the excess oil

Done! Maybe a 20 minute job tops and you now have an amazing, safe, cleanable, antistick pan.

Cleaning seasoned stainless steel

DO NOT USE SOAP OR ANY ROUGH CLEANER SUCH AS METAL MESH. It will strip the seasoning off and it will need to be reapplied.

This is the most beautiful part of a seasoned pan. To clean simply rinse the pan under hot water and wipe out with a paper towel. Done! If there is hard stuck on gunk boil some water in the pan and by the time you are done eating it should come right off.

Hands on with the seasoned pans

To test out my newly seasoned pans I made some hamburgers. Typically after cooking I would rinse the pans and then soak them in soapy water for a while. Even then I needed to use a rough scrub pad to get the gunk scraped off. Cleaning after seasoning was a snap and was completed in less than a minute! Check out the following photos for yourself.

Seasoned pan. Not yet cooked in

Notice how shiny the pan is? Seasoning creates a reflective surface on a stainless steel pan.

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Pan after cooking a hamburger

I did not add butter or any nonstick, such as Pam, to the pan.

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Pan after rinsing with hot water

This is after rinsing with hot water from the tap for 15 seconds.

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Pan after wiping with a paper towl

This is after wiping the pan with a single paper towl for 20 seconds. See how clean and shiny it is?

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Cleanup took incredibly less than a minute to complete!

I will be seasoning all my stainless steel pans from here on out!

Here’s more about anti-corrosion coating: Orion Industrial PTFE Coating Services.

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16 Comments

  1. Binkie

    That’s not seasoning. That’s heating oil until it becomes carginogenic, and then not letting it continue to transform and bond with the pan. Please stop encouraging people to harm themselves. Actual seasoning requires a very thin layer (rubbed on with an oiled paper towel, so it’s just barely there), heated to over 450F (closer to 500 is better) for at least 45 minutes (60 minutes is better). And let it cool slowy. And if you use an oil high in omega 3 (such as olive or flax) you’ll get a harder finish. And you can wash it with soap, because the only way to get it off is with oven cleaner.

    • Interesting.

      I did some research and it seems that there is a lot of confusion as to the safety of the method I recommended above. It turns out though that Berkeley University released some information saying it is safe. Many sites are claiming that if you let the oil continue on *past* the smoking point you can increase the risk of lung cancer. It should be noted that my steps above include taking it off of heat right when it begins to smoke, not leaving it on after.

      That said, I am no doctor so be sure to do your own research. And as always proceed at your own risk. Consult your doctor if you are unsure of anything.

    • Dena

      Junk science. I treated two of my best stainless steel skillets with this process. It did not work. Eggs stick worse than on an untreated skillet. Do not use this process.

      • Curious, what oil did you use to treat the pans? Did you let them smoke? How did you cool it? Etc? This method worked fabulous for me, would like to understand what struggles you had.

      • David Smith

        I was exeremely skeptical and it worked for me. I warmed pan a little. Added canola oil and swish a little in pan until it smoked a little bit. Let it cool all way down and wipe with paper towel. Tried eggs experiment, no prob. Im sold! Try it again maybe

    • matt

      I grew up with cast iron that requires penance if you dare touch them with soap. Can you elaborate on what you are talking about?

    • Konstantin

      Are you referring to heating in the oven or on the burner? I have never heard of seasoning pan that takes this long

  2. Emma

    I haven’t found the need to season my stainless steel skillets. I usually fry or sear with a bit of olive oil. Food that occasionally sticks is easily removed with an old credit card (or plastic device sold in food stores). Generally I don’t need to run the water for 15 seconds. Just put some water to cover the cooking area, scrape off anything remaining, throw out the water and air dry. No paper towel wasted.

    • Truth be told, I have switched over to mostly cast iron. In fact I do not even have the stainless steel pans anymore. The method you mention of frying/searing in oil is what I do with the cast iron and it works great. A quick wipe out with a paper towel and a thin layer of oil wiped on and they are practically non-stick pans. This method may work well with the stainless steel pans as well.

  3. john

    I use grapeseed oil to make my stainless steel pans non stick. Everyone should please understand that there are A LOT of types of stainless steel pans – some in fact claim they are stainless but really aren’t. Do some research. I broke down and bought rather a rather expensive set of stainless steel pots and pans, and they do work well when I heat up the pan very hot, add grapeseed oil, slosh it around then wipe it out. I have tried this with some cheaper oil stainless steel pans and it did not work very well. If I don’t use grapeseed oil, its it or miss whether things stick – not sure why. I know olive oil has a lower flash point so it seems to start to smoke/burn off very rapidly. Perhaps that’s why. There are as many types of pans as there types of cars it seems – so all of us are not comparing the same thing here – that is certain. The 300 series of stainless steel is often considered very high grade, which is why most food prep equipment is made with this type of stainless. It has to do with the other items found in steel to make it corrosion resistant. Do your own research, but I am quite sure my cheaper pans, that seems to stick every time were not 304 stainless as this type of steel is more expensive.

  4. Bman

    It does work. I’ve used this method on my stainless pans, and on my high carbon steel pans. A fried egg starts to slide around like it’s on glass after a few minutes of cooking. Make it easy on yourself though, put some butter in the pan and let it just start to brown before you put your egg in.

    It’s OK to let the smoke continue for a while. If you look at some professional chefs cooking, they often have a pan ready to sear, with oil smoke puffing off it in clouds. Getting your pans this hot is another trick of proper searing and caramelization.

    I let it cool completely, pour and wipe it out, then repeat the process at least once. The more the better! One professional chef made a video where he did it 14 times in a row.

    Don’t let the lawyer culture scare you, chefs have been smoking oil (in pans, not pipes) for centuries without ill effect.

  5. Lin

    Thanks, that’s a wonderful tip! I’ve seasoned my pan once, I hope that’s sufficient! 14 times is hardcore in my opinion, but the effects may be well worth the effort!

  6. Mel Smith

    Question: My Mom passed away and left me her amazing stainless steel cookware. I cherish it, however others don’t. My roommate put oil in to use for french fries, etc. is it safe to leave this oil in the pan to reuse or will it hurt the pot? Very concerned.

  7. Conor

    To those that say this method didn’t work, keep in mind that when using stainless steal you need to let the metal get hot first before putting in any additional oil or food. If you put cold food on a cold stainless steal surface, even a seasoned one, the food is much more likely to stick.

  8. sheryl wheeler

    I had received a set of stainless steel pans. I did not know you need to season. So I cooked with them. Everything stuck. So I tried seasoning them after a search on Google. I hadn’t worked. I cleaned them well use vegetable oil till it smokes let cool and wipe. No go. So I did it again the next time all the same steps. Except I did the oil thing several times. Took all day. Still is not working. What am I doing wrong. I’m very frustrated.

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