We’re Calling It: 2023 Will Be the Year of the Stainless Steel Pan
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Ten years ago, our perfectly seasoned cast iron skillets were our pride and joy. Times changed, Instagram gave way to TikTok and suddenly a slew of direct-to-consumer brands emerged from the woodwork, convincing everyone that ceramic nonstick cookware was the be-all, end-all, “nontoxic” savior that would prevent societal collapse. But it’s 2023, and we’re sensing another shift. Our prediction? We’re on the cusp of a stainless steel renaissance, and we’re not mad about it.
Here’s why: We’ve been lucky enough to test our share of new cookware brands, from multifunctional nonstick to shiny, millennial-marketed ceramic (and even a few carbon steel skillets, too). But after a year or two of daily wear and tear, we’re left with a bunch of lackluster pots and pans and a desire for cookware that will last longer than the latest Internet food trend. As it turns out, the solution was right under our nose, in the form of those stainless skillets that have been hiding under the sink since our wedding registry went defunct five years ago.
First of All, What Is Stainless Steel Cookware?
Stainless steelcookware is made from, well, stainless steel—an alloy of iron composed of multiple metals, with at least 11 percent chromium. Unlike cast iron, it’s resistant to rusting, and unlike nonstick, it’s free from coatings. Sometimes you’ll see it marketed as “fully clad” or “triple ply,” which, as America’s Test Kitchen explains, basically means it’s constructed from a layer of aluminum sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel, and the aluminum extends all the way to the rims. (That’s a good thing for even heat conduction.)
What Are the Advantages of Cooking with Stainless Steel?
Stainless steel is a material that’s extremely durable, conducts heat evenly and can handle high-heat cooking; the same can’t necessarily be said for nonstick pans. You can scrape at the surface with a metal utensil and not worry about scratches, you can crank the heat all the way up for a gorgeously seared steak and you can store it without worrying about chips or surface damage. All in all, it’s superior for browning and searing, making it a good choice for serious home cooks and meat lovers. Since it lacks a coating, it’s also great for anyone who is tough on their pots and pans, and you don’t have to be precious about cleaning it. Some cooks will tell you that stainless steel is not as beginner-friendly as other materials, because foods will stick without the right cooking technique…but we beg to differ. If you’re struggling with food sticking to a stainless pan, it’s probably because you’re not heating it properly (more on that in a sec).
How Should You Cook with Stainless Steel?
Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell
We’d argue that a stainless steel pan can be just a slick as any ceramic-coated skillet. It can be used for frying eggs, caramelizing onions, searing off meats and sautéing just about anything. The key to success is to ensure your pan is properly preheated before you even think about putting ingredients into it. Once you know how to tell if the pan is hot enough, you’ll be singing its praises too (don’t worry, it’s easy).
How to Tell If a Stainless Steel Pan Is Hot Enough
- Start by placing your pan over medium to medium-high heat. Allow it to get hot for a minute or two.
- Drop or flick a small amount of water into the pan. If it sizzles and evaporates on contact, the pan isn’t ready. Wait another minute or so, then try again. The pan is ready when the water beads up like a marble and skates across the surface like mercury. (And if the water bursts into many tiny beads, it’s too hot. Let it cool down a bit before trying again.)
Voilà, your stainless steel pan is ready to use. Add your cooking oil, let it warm up until shimmering, then get cooking. And for visual learners, here’s a helpful demo on TikTok:
Want to Switch to Stainless? Here’s Where to Start
If you’re sold on stainless steel, don’t feel like you have to shell out a ton of cash to make the switch in your kitchen. Sure, you could buy an entire cookware set, but we’d recommend starting with one or two pieces so you can get a feel for the style and brand you like. A 10- to 12-inch frying pan (with a lid) is a versatile beginner piece, and a higher-sided saucier can be useful for making everything from sauces to risotto. Here are a few pans we recommend.
In our personal experience, All-Clad is a durable brand that’s worth the price tag. This skillet is triple-ply and compatible with all cooktop surfaces (including induction). It’s also oven safe up to 600°F, adding to its versatility.
For a slightly larger and cheaper skillet, this Made In stainless steel pan boasts nearly 20,000 positive reviews. It has a five-ply construction, is oven-safe up to 800°F (in case you have a wood-burning stove in your home?) and the brand claims it’s dishwasher safe.
At $35, this OXO pan is ideal for stainless steel newbies who want to get their feet wet. It’s triple-ply, oven safe up to 430°F and safe for all stovetops. The eight-inch size is ideal for frying up a few eggs or making a side of sautéed broccoli, just saying.
One Final Note: How to Maintain a Stainless Steel Pan
While nonstick and cast iron pans require some specific upkeep and cleaning practices, another beauty of stainless steel cookware is that there are no fancy cleaning products or precious methods required to maintain your pots and pans. While some manufacturers claim their products are dishwasher safe, we recommend hand-washing to maintain the integrity of the cookware. Beyond that, dish soap, water and a scrubby sponge will be your best friend. (And if you run into caked-on debris, we like using a mild abrasive like Barkeeper’s Friend to remove the tough stuff.)
Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City restaurants. She used to sling sugary desserts in a pastry kitchen, but now she’s an avid home cook and fanatic baker.