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I've been using nonstick pans exclusively all my life. Most recently, after doing a lot of research, I decided to buy a stainless steel sauté pan (IKEA).

Do I need to handle it differently during cooking? Do I have to be careful when washing? What are some things I will have to watch out for since I'm used to nonstick pans?

EDIT: I decided to split this question about cast iron and stainless steel pans into two questions. The question about cast iron skillets can be found here.

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Food will easily stick if you're not careful.

That seems a little obvious and facetious, but it is a separate concern than cast iron vs. nonstick. With cast iron, a good seasoning reduces sticking; you just have to be careful to maintain it. There's no comparable treatment for a stainless pan (the closest thing is, well, a non-stick coating) and so you are almost inevitably going to get some adhesion, especially when cooking proteins.

This is not always a bad thing. A pan sauce, for example, requires some degree of sticking so that you can deglaze the pan and utilize the good stuff in the fond. Many proteins will also "release" once the outer layer is well-seared, and be easier to remove without sticking, assuming you can let them go that long without overcooking as a whole. You must generally take care to use enough fat, and you'll likely have trouble no matter what with delicate fish, eggs, and thinner cuts of meat (keep your non-stick pan around for those). I also recommend finding a decently thick pan with good heft, as a very thin bottom layer won't diffuse the heat of the burner as well and produce hotter/colder spots on the cooking surface; this can cause problems with inconsistent sticking and release.

Stainless can also develop a sort of "haze" on the bottom of the pan pretty quickly, which seems to be a mineral buildup of some kind. It doesn't really affect the performance of the pan, and it's easily cleaned off, but it can mar the shiny beauty of nice stainless.

  • Thanks for your answer. You advise to use enough fat, which is the only thing related to "being careful". Are there other things I should pay attention to to avoid (unwanted) food sticking? – Huy May 18 '16 at 21:34
  • Make note of my comments related to delicate foods, too; some things just really aren't suited for cooking on stainless. Other than that, it's a quite durable cooking surface. You don't have to worry about scratching or ruining the finish like you do with other materials, and it cleans up pretty easily. – logophobe May 18 '16 at 21:37
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Cooking: Sticking will be the most noticeable issue. It takes some getting used to, here are some starter advice:

  1. If you are frying, make sure your meat/fish/veg is properly dry. A wet food will only worsen the sticking.
  2. Once you put the food in the pan, let it brown for at least 2 minutes before trying to move/shake it. This will allow to develop a brown coat and will help release the food relatively easily.

Washing: Its more forgiving than a non-stick pan. A metal wool can take out most tough stains. Every once in a while, a cleaner like Barkeeper's Friend will help keep the shine.

If you haven't bought already, please take a look at try-ply clad or tri-ply base steel cookware, they are better at heat dissipation and usually of better quality.

  • Thanks for the response. If I understood correctly, "try-ply" just means that there's a "sandwich" bottom consisting of an aluminum layer between the stainless steel, right? In that case, I believe this one would be good enough (for a budget solution), correct? – Huy May 19 '16 at 6:05
  • Exactly. And yes, this one will be better to cook than a steel only or aluminum-only cookware. – Ron May 19 '16 at 16:07

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