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I recently started to research into my cookwares and decided a stainless-steel pan was a good budget investment to learn to cook better my steaks and other items. I cooked my first steaks over the last few weeks and they were great, they didn't stick and came out delicious.

FYI: usually I cook the steak by seasoning it with some olive oil rubbed in then salting
and peppering it and letting it rest till it is at room temperature. To cook it I bring the
pan to high heat until droplets of water slip on it as if they were mercury, add a tbsp of
oil and place the steak on, reverse it after about 3min with tongs and remove after about
another 3 min. The cuts I use are often thin.

However there is one problem I have not been able to get over; the steak does not stick but its seasoning will and over the cooking period burns. This causes smoke and a real headache to clean while trying not to use a scourer side of a sponge or metal wire as I have been adamantly told it will ruin the pan's surface (this got me thinking... read on)!

So over to my question which may be a little out the box, I am a materials engineer with access to metal work machines, to my knowledge a perfectly flat surface offers less surface area to stick so if I were to buffet the pan until it were nicely polished on the surface (currently I can see all the circular grooves from the fabrication process such as you see on brushed steel) would this help reduce the sticking? Or can I simply improve the way I cook the steak and avoid the seasoning sticking and burning?

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(1) It is worth noting that many people prefer stainless steel pans to cook meats on because they are NOT non-stick (meaning they stick). The fat rendered during cooking, along with the bits of fat and meat that stick to the surface are called "fond" and are used to make pan sauces to serve with the meat. This is a big selling point for SS pans.

(2) Polishing the surface of your pans to a mirror-finish won't make your pans non-stick. The sticking has more to do with the properties of the stainless steel itself rather than with the buffing of the surface. Some people have suggested that you can season a SS pan like you can a cast-iron pan to make the surface non-stick but that sounds fishy (but, admittedly, I have never actually tried that - I used different types of pans for different types of cooking).

(3) Some seasonings just burn very easily - like paprika. Seasonings that burn easily will most likely burn or scorch whether they are still on your meat, or if they have strayed to the pan. Any spices that might burn should be applied shortly before the meat finishes cooking or applied when you serve it.

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    #3 is likely the problem, as he specifically mentions the seasoning sticking. For those times when it does start to stick, you catch it early, you can deglaze to make a pan sauce before it cooks so far that it burns. – Joe Oct 3 '14 at 17:13
  • Thank you for the useful tips. Non-stick is a difficult topic to talk about without being a little misleading, I am aware of the sticking of the meat initially and am perfectly fine with it as after a good sear it comes right off, I did however completely forget to deglaze the fat and seasoning which caused the burning, something I will move onto learning. And as for learning the time to apply seasoning another perfect thing to start looking into! Is there any source you know of that covers what seasonings should be applied when as a rule of thumb? – Fiztban Oct 4 '14 at 8:07
  • Micro-polishing (or the later term I've seen from time to time: nano-polishing) a pan surface doesn't make it non-stick, but it does descrease the surface area dramatically, as the OP was pondering. I've been looking into resurfacing kits myself for such things. 10,000 grit aluminum oxide rotary sanding pads ARE available (a .0001" is 2.54 micro-meters), but there isn't much information online as to how well it works. Hope it does, because my SS Calphalon is hosed. – tgm1024--Monica was mistreated Nov 27 '17 at 18:33
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Whenever I am going to sear meat and use olive oil, I season the meat as you describe but wait until I am ready to cook and brush with olive oil just before putting into the pan. (Works especially well with lamb chops!) This allows time for the meat to take on some of the seasoning flavors, the salt will be mostly dissolved, and the pepper will stay with the meat better.

Regarding the pan surface, the smoother the surface, the better the result should be.

  • Thank-you for your answer, I hadn't considered brushing it on later, I think in my last cook the fact that I spread some presto onto the surface (which I find adds a nice flavour) may have been responsible for some of the burning. I will Polish it and see just how much it improves – Fiztban Oct 3 '14 at 12:40
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    The pesto could have been a factor. You might try spreading the pesto after cooking but while the meat is still very hot. And welcome to Seasoned Advice! :) – Cindy Oct 3 '14 at 12:48
  • Again thank you, it seems that learning when to apply seasoning and how to deglaze and create a good sauce from the fond are my next big things to learn with my new ss pan steak cooking thank you so much – Fiztban Oct 4 '14 at 8:11
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Or can I simply improve the way I cook the steak and avoid the seasoning sticking and burning?

Polishing might help you some, but you may want to make sure you're doing things right before you go to the trouble:

  1. Make sure that the pan is well-heated before you drop in the food.
  2. Make sure that you have sufficient oil. You can either oil the food just before placing it in, or put a thin layer in the pan before adding the food. (if adding it to the pan, watch for the tell-tale shimmer before adding in the food)
  3. Don't cook at too hot of a temperature (if things burn in under a minute, it's too hot).
  4. Make sure that any coatings are well-adheared. (if bits shake off before you add it to the pan, it's going to fall off while cooking)
  5. Between batches, pour off any extra grease, then deglaze to remove the fond (stuff that stuck to the pan).

Although steel wool or metal brushes may scratch up a stainless steel pan, the scrubbing side of a sponge isn't nearly as hard as the pan, and can be used safely. (although you shouldn't have to scrub if you deglaze the pan)

  • Thank you as well for all the tips, I now see what I should focus on to prevent stuck burnt fond and how to deglaze it to turn it into something juicy. I would like to accept your answer as well as correct because they are both helpful in many ways! – Fiztban Oct 4 '14 at 8:10
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    Depends on the "scrubbing side of the sponge". The ones I've seen that are green sided are actually scotch-brite and they will scratch the living beJEEbers out of your pan. The ones with the blue side seem to be much much softer. – tgm1024--Monica was mistreated Nov 27 '17 at 18:38

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