Stainless steel cookware is definitely my favorite way to cook all my Paleo meals, but it can be a bit tricky at first. Anybody who has had some piece of meat sticking to the pan will know what I’m talking about. Once you get the trick with those pans, you probably won’t want to use anything else.
Of course, what’s interesting to us Paleolithic eaters, is that stainless pans won’t oxidize with time or when cooking with acidic ingredients and won’t leach possibly dangerous chemicals in your food. They won’t scratch either, which is a nice addition. In fact, you can almost go to war with them and they won’t suffer. Unlike non-stick pans, you can use your metal utensils to cook with them without being scared to scratch or leave some of the non-stick coating in your food.
The big drawback? If you don’t know how to use them properly or how to manage the temperature, your food will stick to the pan big time.
Science is on our side with this one. Check out the van der Waals force if you want to geek out. Stainless steel is perfectly non-stick at the right temperature. If you place the food in a pan that’s too cold, it will stick, but if your pan is too hot, everything will burn, even heat-resistant coconut oil will smoke because temperatures get high very easily on stainless steel pans.
The physics of cooking
Some physic forces will create bonds between the food and the metal of your pan at too low of a temperature and the same bond won’t happen at higher temperature.
You should never place your food or cooking fat in a cooking pan without prior preheating. Cooking is all about temperature shocks and exchanges. The reason why you usually roast a chicken at a higher temperature in the beginning is to shock the meat and create a nice, crispy and brown exterior skin and then let the rest cook at a lower temperature. This same technique is used when cooking on the stove top.
What is the trick to finding the right temperature, you’ll ask. You’ll get used to it after a while, but when you add your cooking fat, you should see it shivering somewhat in the pan. If your pan is too hot, the fat will smoke and burn, you should then discard the fat and start again (be careful, it’s very hot at this point). Try to heat the pan rather slowly at a medium high heat so it can heat up evenly.
The water droplet trick
There is a great trick with a water drop you can try in the beginning to get used to finding the right temperature. Heat your pan and drop in a small droplet of water when you think it’s hot enough. If your pan is too cold, the droplet will bubble and evaporate very fast. When you’re near the right temperature, the droplet will split in smaller droplets of water and then evaporate. At the right temperature, the droplet will stay intact and move around the pan, without evaporating, almost like a mercury ball. This is the right temperature to add the cooking fat and then your piece of meat. Just swipe the droplet of water before you add the fat with a paper towel because you absolutely don’t want oil in contact with water or it will splatter and you risk burning yourself. If the pan is too hot, the droplet of water will separate very fast in a lot of smaller droplets and move very fast in the pan. Wipe the droplets and let the pan cool down a bit, then try again.
There you have it, the way to cook with stainless steel without having food burning or sticking to the pan. I hope you’ll try cooking with stainless steel because you’ll find it’s a breeze to work with once you know how.