Why Does Stainless Steel Stick?

by Sid Wilson | Published On

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You may have heard about stainless steel cookware being the most useful item for a chef in the kitchen.  Stainless steel cookware does not react with vegetables such as tomatoes or wine and is considered good for sautéing and making a delicious sauce.

While they are good for making sauces, there could be chances where the heat is unevenly spread on the surface because of which food sticks on the surface of the pan unless you use the proper cooking techniques.

If you want to know more about them, this article will help you with understanding everything you need to know about stainless steel cookware.

Why Does Stainless Steel Stick

Why Does Food Stick On A Stainless Steel Pan?


A stainless steel pan looks smooth and shiny on the surface but when looked closely under a microscope it could be seen that it actually has tiny pores in it.

These pores that are present on the surface shrink when the pan is heated and expands when the pan is either cooled or comes into contact with food.

The food sticks to the pan when you put the food on the heated stainless steel pan without using oil, the pores expand, and the food sticks to it.

The problem of food sticking to the pan is because of the temperature and the lack of grease on the surface, doing so fills the tiny pores and creates a barrier so that the food does not stick to it.

There are four main factors that lead to the sticking of food on the stainless steel pans which are-

  • Excess Heat

    As you may know, that heat is the imp factor that causes the tiny pores on the surface to expand because of this when food comes in contact with the pan the drastic temperature difference leads to the sticking problem.

    The food stuck on the surface starts to burn which will make the clean-up really difficult and some burnt pieces left behind on the food will taste awful.

    Usually, stainless steel pans come in an aluminum coating that is a good heat conductor, this leads to the pan being heated up in a few minutes.

  • Lack Of Heat

    Just as high heat makes the food stick, low heat as well makes the food stick on the bottom of the pan. In order to prevent this from happening you should wait for the pan to heat up enough so that when you put food on it, the contact will create a sizzling noise otherwise the food will stick to the pan.

  • Cooking Wrong Types Of Food

    By “wrong” type of food we mean, food that is rich in protein such as eggs, chicken, fish, and steak. These foods are prone to sticking because proteins make a complex bond with metal atoms.

    But it does not mean that one cannot cook protein-rich food on a stainless steel pan, you can use the right cooking methods.

  • Not Cleaning The Cookware Properly

    Harsh chemicals or hard/rough scrubbing pads can damage the surface of the pan which could make more pores and increase the probability of food sticking to the pan.

    On the other hand, if you do no clean the pan thoroughly, some particles might still remain stuck on the surface which will burn the next time you use the pan.

What Causes Sizzling?

Sizzling is the sound created when the food comes in contact with the pan covered in oil. Sizzling is the sound of water vaporizing on the surface of the oil.

Followed by the sizzle, when it’s over, it’s probably time for you to remove your food from the pan, if you are going to cook it any further, it might cause your food to burn.

Thus, give a nice hear to sizzling as it indicates that the oil would begin cooking your food.

How To Prevent Food From Sticking To Stainless Steel Cookware?

There are some steps mentioned below that you can follow which could minimize food sticking to the surface of the pan-

  • place the pan on the stove and bring the heat to low to medium (remember not to keep it at high flame)
  • Let the pan heat up for a few minutes
  • Add some oil, and make sure that the pan is at the right temperature not too hot, or too cold
  • Bring food at room temperature before cooking
  • Cold foods such as meat are prone to sticking on the surface because it lowers the temperature of the oil
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan
  • If you overcrowd the pan it will drop the temperature drastically and let go of the moisture from the food which makes it so that the steam barrier will not hold and the food will stick to the pan
  • Be patient with flipping the food over that depends on the type of food you’re cooking

Does Hot Oil Help With The Sticking Of Food?

When you add the oil to the pan it fills the tiny pores and functions as a barrier between the pan and the food. Since the food is not touching the pan directly it does not form bonds with it and does not stick.

What To Look For When Buying Stainless Steel Cookware?

These are some things to keep in mind before buying stainless steel cookware-

  • The grade of stainless steel used in making the cookware: Check that it is made of 18/8 or 18/10 grade because this is the standard for good quality cookware. You can look for it on the bottom side of the packaging.
  • The weight of the cookware: You will want to look for heavier ones, they will probably cost more but they will be good for long-term use. It is sturdier than the other and most likely to have fewer pores which means the food will cook properly.
  • The material used for the coating: As you may know that stainless steel is a poor conductor of heat, you will want to have a pan that has a coating of either aluminum or copper. A pan with a copper coating will be pricier than the aluminum one.

Tips On How To Take Care Of A Stainless Steel Cookware

  • For the cookware to last a long time it needs to be maintained and taken care of regularly. After cooking, clean any food or oil remnants with a paper towel.
  • You can easily remove small bits and pieces of food by pouring water while the pan is still hot. Doing so will loosen any stuck food particles.
  • Then wash it with some normal-temperature water and mild dish soap. Let it dry completely before using it again.

What Type Of Pan Should You Use?

No matter how hard you try, some foods are going to stick to the stainless steel cookware. Even if you use the right cooking method, some foods will stick to the pan.

Stainless steel is still a great option for cooking a variety of dishes, we would recommend that you season your pan properly and follow the cooking tips so that there is minimum food that sticks.

Frequently Asked Questions/FAQs

Stainless steel cookware sets are safe to store food. Just make sure that you use good-quality stainless steel cookware which does not have any scratches.

Let the pan heat up just enough and coat the surface with oil. Let the oil heat up as well before putting food on it, doing so should not stick the food on the pan and hence it will be non-stick.

Stainless steel is usually considered safe for cooking. Stainless steel cookware is certainly better than other options such as aluminum-coated pans which lose their non-stick ability over time and glass or ceramic pans which are bad conductors of heat and break very easily. Cast iron cookware needs to be seasoned every time otherwise it will rust.

By hearing stainless you might think that it never stains or rust but in reality, sometimes it does stain and rust. There are some reasons why your stainless steel cookware is showing traces of rust, like
the composition of the cookware. Nickel-free 18/0 steel can rust more than 18/10 stainless steel. The stainless steel cookware that includes chromium which is the main element that makes the stainless steel cookware rust-resistant so should be 18 to 20% chromium. The usage and the environment of the pan: cooking too much acidic food or cleaning the pan roughly might contribute to rusting of the stainless steel pan.


If you’re looking to buy kitchen cookware, you can consider stainless steel. As mentioned in the article they are safe to use and can cook a variety of dishes.

You will be able to take care of the pan and know everything you need to know about stainless steel cookware and why they stick by the end of the article.

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Sid Wilson

Being a father, a golf lover, and an engineer by profession are the things that define Sid Wilson. He spends most of his time in his garage building and experimenting with stuff. Unscrewing things and then screwing them up is his favorite hobby. Doing these things in his garage has made him what, he is today.

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