Bare metal cookery

Making the transition to stainless steel cookware has required re-learning most of my cooking skills. Not that I had that many to start with, but they were based on having used Teflon-coated cookware my entire life. In case anyone else is thinking about making a similar transition, here are the things I have discovered.

The first is that there is an enormous price variation in stainless steel cookware. A set of 7 pans can cost from $99 to $600 or more. I subscribe to Consumer Reports, so I took a look at their reviews, and settled on KitchenAid–affordable, but almost the best for even heating and nonstick properties in CR’s testing.

The second thing I discovered is that you have to start the cooking process differently. It’s really important to pre-heat the pan. Only once the pan is moderately hot should you add the oil. My guess is that this allows the oil to float over the irregularities in the surface, rather than oozing into them. After a pause for the oil to heat up, it’s time to add the food. You’ll know you did it wrong if everything sticks to the pan.

The third important thing is choice of oil. Light virgin olive oil is OK for many things, but for pancakes (for example) you’re better off using canola. The subject of cooking oil choice could be an article in itself; I selected canola and olive as the two best general purpose oils based on info from CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter. You’ll need to use more oil than with Teflon, so it’s wise to get the healthiest.

Item four: once you start cooking, if you let the pan cool down for whatever reason, that’s it–game over. Unlike with Teflon, you can’t just heat the pan up again and continue. So, you need to think ahead a little more when coordinating multiple dishes. If you do try to restart cooking, you’ll probably find (as I did) that everything is suddenly sticking to the pan and scorching. The only way to restart cooking on stainless steel is to clean everything off the pan, heat it up again, add oil, and then put the food back, just like when you started cooking.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the results from the new pans are noticably better than from our old pans. And the old ones were Circulon, a pretty good brand. So even if you’re a casual cook, I’d say that a good set of stainless steel pans can make a significant difference.

Also good is that you don’t need to be concerned about scratching stainless. Want to use a fork to stir something? Go ahead!

However, inevitably you’ll be faced with the problem of cleaning, and that can be tough. To make life more interesting, we’re also trying to reduce the toxic chemicals in the house, again primarily for the budgie’s benefit. So soon after getting the new pans, I was faced with finding a way to clean burned chocolate chip pancakes off of stainless steel.

The solution: baking soda and a non-scratch scrubbing sponge, then white vinegar and more non-scratch scrubbing sponge action. That and elbow grease got the pan sparkling and good as new.