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Are all stainless steel pans coated with nonstick? Can stainless steel saute or frying pans be distinguished by the quality of their nonstick coating?

I'm just afraid of accidentally buying a stainless steel pan that happens to lack, or to have shoddy, nonstick coatings.

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    I am curious: May this be a misinterpretation of "stain" in stainless steel? Because stainless is not for all kinds of stain, only for rust. (I am no native English, so maybe stain is only for rust itself?) There I see a similarity to non-sticking: get no stain/spots of burned food... Apr 28 at 10:39
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    @Allerleirauh ahhhh! maybe that explains it !
    – Fattie
    Apr 28 at 12:53
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    No. Why; what was your thinking? Apr 28 at 23:09
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A non-stick coating is a specific chemical applied to the surface which makes it very hard for food to stick. When people refer to a 'stainless steel pan', that does not imply that it has a non-stick coating, and people would normally understand that to mean a plain stainless steel surface without non-stick coating.

Having said that, for many applications cooks prefer a pan without a non-stick coating. Non-stick coatings can be damaged by excessive heat or the use of metal implements such as spatulas or tongs. Because the food does not stick, it is harder to produce fond, which is the result of the food sticking to the base of the pan and browning. Most things that can be made in a non-stick pan can be made in a non- non-stick pan, possibly with more effort and technique required. Frying eggs is really the situation where a non-stick pan is at its most valuable.

If you are looking for a non-stick pan, you should read the label carefully and (as Stephie said), look for a (usually) dark, non-metallic surface.

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    Not just eggs…  I had terrible trouble with fresh ginger, satay sauce, noodles, and several other things sticking to my uncoated stainless-steel wok and burning, despite my best efforts.  (I then followed all the recommendations and got a carbon steel one, but after several failed attempts at seasoning it, gave up and am now having great success with a non-stick one.)
    – gidds
    Apr 27 at 23:20
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    "Non-stick coatings can be damaged by excessive heat" Under-sold I think. Another common reason to use stainless steel instead of non-stick is that the former is generally ok to put in the oven while the later is not.
    – IceGlasses
    Apr 28 at 5:46
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    @Josh Actually, once applied, most non-stick coatings are completely inert, and moreover, indigestible. Even if you happened to eat some chipped-off Teflon, it would just pass through your digestive system. Microplastics we absorb from our pollution of the environment are a far greater concern, and you have a lot less control over that.
    – Bloodgain
    Apr 28 at 22:35
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    @Bloodgain: The concern (which some modern manufacturing techniques have addressed) is the chemicals (often PFOA) used to get the Teflon to stick to the metal, and/or in manufacturing the Teflon (PTFE) in the first place. Apparently some coatings have some residue of some less-desirable chemicals. cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/… has some details. You can buy non-stick pans that proclaim they are PFOA-free, and weren't manufactured with PFOAs (PFOA = Perfluorooctanoic acid). I don't know if / how over-hyped this concern might be. Apr 29 at 1:38
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    @Josh Excessive heating can cause chemicals to be released into the air. And repeated high-heat usage can cause the coating to degrade over time. When subject to very high heat, the fumes are known to kill pet birds. Here's an article about this. There's a map if you scroll down that shows known contamination sites (mostly drinking water.) While low heat cooking with coated pans is not generally a concern, what happens after they end up landfills is.
    – JimmyJames
    Apr 29 at 19:13
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I would go further than the other answers and even say that it is the opposite of your understanding:

The terms "non-stick pan" and "stainless steel pan" are mostly mutually exclusive in their usage. That is, when a cook speaks of a stainless steel pan, or a product description is titled as a stainless steel pan, this is usually taken to mean that the pan has no non-stick coating.

I am saying "mostly", because technically, they are not mutually exclusive, they are orthogonal. You can have a stainless steel pan with or without nonstick coating, and pans of another material with or without nonstick coating. This is why you can still see a product page which has the title of "nonstick pan" and somewhere in the description you will see the material listed as "stainless steel". But this is a minor detail, if you go shopping for a "stainless steel pan" you will almost certainly get only pans without a coating.

Pan materials and coatings can be a confusing topic, and if you have never experienced them live, you may not be able to recognize them from a picture. In your situation, it might be better to buy a pan offline, from a specialized store, and ask a salesperson to show you the different materials so you can start recognizing them. Just don't believe any claim the salesperson or the packaging makes about the durability of nonstick coatings, be it the teflon or the ceramic kind.

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    Interestingly, I was expecting something like in your answer, but when I was googling (needed photos for my post) manufacturers’ websites returned for example pans with stainless steel exterior and non-stick coating. So it seems that they are not as clearly disjunctive as you describe.
    – Stephie
    Apr 27 at 21:02
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    @Stephie yeah, but that would still be called a nonstick pan with stainless exterior, rather than stainless pan with nonstick coating. Apr 27 at 21:50
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No, not all stainless steel pans have a nonstick coating.

Your average pan with the silvery inside is simply stainless steel, not coated. enter image description here (Source)

Nonstick coatings are usually dark or black and have a specific, non-metallic surface.enter image description here(Source)

So if you go shopping, read the label and look at the product and the question should answer itself.

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    +1 for the picture. Generally, cookware that has non-stick coatings will advertise it very, very plainly. If it doesn't brag loudly about its non-stick coating, assume it's a plain steel or cast-iron pan that will need to be seasoned and used appropriately.
    – CCTO
    Apr 27 at 20:55
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    @CCTO I don't think it makes sense to season stainless steel. It's just best used only with foodstuff that aren't liable to sticking in the first place, and if something does stick the advantage is that you can use brute force and metal implements to scrape it off without having to worry about the coating. Apr 27 at 21:55
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    @leftaroundabout I'm not sure that it's true that stainless is best only with things that don't stick, I have cooked plenty of things that "stick" in my non-coated, stainless steel pan but they didn't stick, over easy eggs and delicate fish fillets, among many things. I can either make things stick, or not, depending on the technique used. I do agree with you that seasoning a stainless pan isn't really a thing, but one doesn't need seasoned not to stick.
    – nexus_2006
    Apr 27 at 22:11
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    @leftaroundabout I think the comment by CCTO is to be read as “<plain steel> or <cast iron ... that will need to be seasoned..>, not “<plain steel or cast iron> ...? (Although SS can be seasoned, sort of.
    – Stephie
    Apr 28 at 9:51

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