Look, Teflon sucks. The same thing goes for other non-stick coatings. Not only do you have to baby them so they don’t get damaged, but they are also highly toxic. Class action lawsuit levels of toxic.
The best way to have non-stick pans without all that poison is to season your stainless steel cookware. While a lot of people associate this process with cast iron or carbon steel pans, the truth is that you can season stainless steel as well. There are also many pros and cons to stainless steel cookware.
And it’s not like you need special tools or equipment to get the job done. Just pick up a good oil and check out the instructions below, and you’re good to go. This can be used with all types of stainless steel cookware, including the best cookware for glass top stoves.
But before that, let’s try and figure out what’s the best oil for seasoning stainless steel pans.
What is the best oil for seasoning stainless steel?
Flax seed oil is the best oil to season a stainless steel pan.
Oils with a lower smoke point rather than oil with a high smoking point are better to season stainless steel pans. Almost any oil can do the trick if you have a very efficient heat source, but you want something that will start smoking quicker when using a regular home stove.
Also, the oil has to be “clean”. When you’re cooking, any cooking fat you use will add to the seasoning. But, for the first treatment, the oil needs to be free of food bits and impurities.
Does the oil have to be organic, cold-pressed, etc?
No. The compounds that separate “fancy” from regular oils don’t matter here at all. Those same compounds usually get burned off in high heat anyway.
Leave the fancy oil for your salad, use the cheaper oil to season your pans.
List of Oils That We Took Into Consideration
No fancy lingo here. We’ll deal only with the smoke point and see if the oil has a neutral aroma. That’s the most important in the first treatment for your stainless steel pans. The oil from your food will contribute to the signature flavor your pan adds to the dishes.
Flaxseed oil is one of the favorites for seasoning stainless steel cookware because it has a very low smoke point. It’s at only 225 , but that’s not where the good stuff stops.
When flaxseed oil heats up, it creates a polymer that bonds well with the surface of the pan. It’s durable and long-lasting – almost comparable to the stuff that would come out of the factory.
This oil is our top pick. And since you don’t have to use the cold-pressed and unrefined stuff for this task, it’s also quite affordable.
When it’s cold-pressed and unrefined it can somewhat compare to flaxseed. Otherwise, it will not behave any differently than other plain vegetable oils.
Olive oil can range from a medium to high smoking point which is usually 320 to 470 . Extra virgin tends to be lower on that scale, but refined ones can go as low as 370 .
Olive oil doesn’t have a neutral aroma. This is not a bad thing when most of your recipes come from the Mediterranean since it can contribute to the flavor. If not, pick something else.
Grapeseed oil has a relatively moderate smoke point at 390 and has a neutral aroma. It’s a pretty good choice if you already have some in your cupboard, but if you have to buy some, choose our top pick to create your non stick surface.
Butter and Animal Fat
Both have a relatively low to moderate smoking point, with butter being at 300 and animal fat coming at 375 . But they are not the best choice for the first seasoning at least. They are not neutral in flavor and can even develop a burned taste over time. So it’s not the optimal choice to season a stainless steel skillet.
If you’re still keen on using butter, ghee/clarified butter is a better option to season stainless steel pans.
Coconut oil’s smoking point can go as high as 450 , and in no way does it have a neutral aroma.
But, if you have access to high heat (and your pan can be exposed to that high heat safely), you can achieve a super slick surface with it. Everything cooked in your stainless steel pans will still taste like coconut, though.
Peanut oil has a high smoke point that can also go up to 450 , but it has a neutral aroma. It’s definitely a better choice amongst all the other nut oil to create a non stick surface, but still nowhere near our top pick to season a stainless steel pan.
Before we say anything else, no. Just no. Sesame oil has a very strong aroma that can overpower everything else. And that’s when you don’t heat it. When you introduce the heat… well, you know what burnt sesame seeds taste like.
Other than that, it still has a relatively high smoke point, ranging from 350 for unrefined to 450 for refined.
Refined vegetable oil’s smoke point also goes into the low to mid 400s. Hopefully, you already know that it has a neutral flavor and aroma.
In any case, it will do the trick if that’s all you have in the pantry and you want to practice your seasoning skills right now. Still, rethink going with our top pick at some later date to season stainless steel pans.
Ditto. Soybean oil will pretty much be the same as vegetable oil. Only, it also tends to have a slightly higher smoke point at 450 .
Though, soy is a bit more interesting since its ratio of saturated to unsaturated fatty acids is particularly beneficial in keeping rust at bay, so it’s a good choice when you need to season your stainless steel pan if you are concerned with rust.
How To Season Stainless Steel Pans
Start by giving the stainless steel pan a good wash and scrub. This is the only time you will have to do this unless you want to repeat the process from scratch. You can chuck the pan in the dishwasher if you want to, but do the final spot check to make sure it’s completely clean – especially if you’ve used the pan before.
Turn the hob to medium heat to high heat, and put the stainless steel pan on. This will make any sneaky leftovers water droplets on the bottom of the pan evaporate so you don’t need to waste a paper towel.
Since stainless steel is more heat-efficient than cast iron, your hob will do just fine. Any hob type will be ok as long as you’re seasoning the cooking surface only. If you want to season the outside of the pan for some reason, you will have to do it on a gas stove or open fire. Just make sure there’s plenty of ventilation because things will get smoky.
Grab a piece of folded paper towel with tongs. Pour a teaspoon of your chosen seasoning oil into the pan and spread it out with the paper towel. A teaspoon should be enough for a standard 22-inch skillet, so adjust the amount if you’re working with a bigger pan.
Place the pan on the hob and let it heat until you see some smoke. You can take the pan off the heat and be done, or add more oil and repeat the process a couple of times for stronger seasoning. You should now have a perfectly seasoned stainless steel pan that you don’t need to season for a while.
You can also put stainless steel in the oven if you prefer seasoning that way.
You can start cooking with stainless steel pan straight away if you want to, or let it cook completely and store away.
Don’t worry about the color change
It’s perfectly normal for stainless steel pans to become darker as you build up the seasoning during the seasoning process. They will not go dark blue or pitch black as carbon steel pans do, but they will not stay bright silver either. Unfortunately that’s a downside to pan seasoning.
The thing you need to watch out for is the rust. Rust will appear if you don’t dry the pans properly before storing them away. So make sure you dry the stainless steel pan thoroughly with a paper towel.
And honestly, seeing that rust is not the end of the world. If it appears, you will have to scrape it off (a task that is very quick and easy if you catch it early), and repeat the seasoning process from scratch.
And yes, that does mean that you can rescue any stainless steel pan as many times it takes. It may not be like when you find a fully rusted cast iron pan in your grandma’s basement that you can completely restore, but you can at least get extra years of decades of use from your stainless steel pan. Just address the problem as soon as it appears.
How To Clean A Seasoned Stainless Steel Pan
It’s a myth that you can’t use detergent on seasoned pans. You just shouldn’t use a lot of it.
Most of the time, when you’re done with cooking, you can just rinse the stainless steel pan in running water. Then wipe the excess food bits and dry thoroughly. You can follow up with a few drops of oil if you want to, but it will not be the end of the world if you skip it. Just don’t use excess oil.
But if the pan needs a proper wash, you can use some soapy warm water for the pan seasoning. Dilute a drop of dishwashing liquid in enough water to fill half of the pan. Let the pan sit for 5 minutes. Then use a sponge or a soft brush to clean the food and stains off. Don’t use anything too abrasive since it can strip the seasoning completely.
You may want to pick up one of those chain mail scrubbers. They are actually a good investment and will last you a lifetime. It may seem counterintuitive since they are made out of metal, but they are tough enough to remove any stuck bits of food and gentle enough not to scratch the surface. Just check all the links to make sure they are smooth.
Always remember to dry the pan completely with a paper towel before putting it away to prevent rust from forming. Once the pan is dry, you can spread a few drops of oil over the cooking surface to create a thin layer. Next time you put it on the hob, it will re-season itself and have a good nonstick surface again.
But if you cooked with ingredients that are high in acid (ie tomatoes), you may need to re-season it to be on the safe side. Just add a teaspoon of oil again and heat the pan to heat the oil to a smoking point. No need to repeat the rest of the process this time around.