Cleaning Stainless Steel Cookware

Roger rogerx at
Last Updated: 2009.05.04

I own some very nice stainless steel cookware.  As with cooking, if you really want to enjoy cooking to it's fullest, having nice cookware is essential.  I personally try to invest in  All-Clad cookware.

When I first started acquiring my cookware more then five years ago, I was experiencing difficulty trying to keep my shiny new stainless steel cookware clean.  Over the past couple of years, I scoured the Internet for information for proper methods of cleaning stainless steel cookware.  Everything I found was either "Don't use scouring pads" or "Use XYZ cleaner".

Then, I got yelled at by my girlfriend concerning dirtiness one of my stainless steel sautéing pans.  (I used it only on camping trips for sautéing fresh caught trout over campfires.  I considered at the time, the carbon buildup on the outside and inside, unclean able.  I also considered carbon excellent for dietary needs if I cooked and ate anything bad. ;-)  Well, she grabbed a green scouring pad and made most of the black carbon disappear.  Now, after time of learning how to care for my cookware, the black residue is entirely gone.  Depending on good of a cook a person is, this can be either a good or bad thing!

What Works for Me

Green Scouring Pad
This works best and only on the inside of the pans surface.  Hey, if you're really going to cook, you're going to have some wear on the inside of the pan's surface anyways!  Get over the bad feelings of scratching up the inside of the surface of your shiny new All-Clad stainless steel.  Try using the green scouring pad only in circular directions, or go with the grain and reserving going only against the grain when you absolutely need to.  I try never using a green pad on the outside as this will show on the mirrored polished surface.  Using the green pad on the bottom of the pan is also usually OK.  Since my stove has all electric burners, I'm glad my cookware remains quite clean on the outside.  Adding 4+ tablespoons of baking soda and a couple drops of water greatly increases the scouring action of the green pad.

Vinegar is great for keeping the any stainless steel cookware shiny.  Vinegar is also a great rinse agent.

Using Bar Keeper's Friend (or other XYZ Cleaner)
I've finally succumbed to using the powdered Bar Keeper's Friend.  If you rinse the item well, you should be able to avoid any chemical residue tastes.  

I'm  usually reluctant using anything corrosive for cleaning my stainless steel cookware.  The reasoning, these chemicals will seem to require several heavy vinegar rinse cycles, and then if I'm lucky, my cooking won't taste of any unusual cleaners.  On a side note, the heavy cleaners seem to strip down the surface and will sometimes leave my cooked food with a metallic taste.  Whether the metallic taste is due to residue of the cleaners, the stripped surface, or just me, who knows.  If you must, I prefer the powdered version of Bar Keeper's Friend as it's a citric acid based cleaner with minimal chemical odor.  My advice here, avoid them if you can.

Dish Washing Method
I prefer hand washing everything lightly using a natural soap and using an automatic dishwasher with a vinegar only rinse.  The reasoning behind this, I've spent many years eating with dinnerware having automatic dishwasher detergent buildup.   No matter how I tried, I would still have spots or other sticky residue.

Situations you might encounter

Brown Residues
Most times when cooking with oils such as Olive Oil and Safflower, the oil will turn to a brown sticky or solid residue at the bottom of the pan.  Cooking with butter versus oil, butter is much easier cleaning at the cost of adding saturated fat.  If this happens, especially with oils, you can add some water and boil until the residue lifts.  Another method I'm just now starting to like, adding about 4+ tablespoons of baking soda with a couple drops of water and using the green scouring pad method noted above.  The baking soda is very effective aiding the green scouring action.

Water Spots
Water spots on the outside shiny surface can be avoided by drying after it's been washed.  Using vinegar, either straight or within your rinse cycle will also help.

Burned Food on the Inside
Avoid this as this costs time and effort to undo.  But occasionally, this will happen.  Fill the pan with water and boil until the material has lifted.  (I was once advised to boil my cookware after adding automatic dishwasher detergent -- don't do this.  Again, cleaners tend to be very corrosive and their vapors emitting during the boiling process are probably just as unfriendly.)  You might have to go through several complete full water boil cycles while in between each boil cycle, scrap any loose material from the bottom of the pan.  If it's really bad, after 3-5 cycles, there might still be a thin black cake layer at the bottom.  After cooling the pan, use the green scouring pad method, aggressively if you must, in a circular patter.  If needed, put the item through more water boiling cycles if you have time.  I usually try to alternate between boiling water, lightly scraping with a spatula, and using a green scouring pad.

Burned Food on the Outside Shiny Surface
Tough luck here.  This is one thing you should really avoid and you should never leave the kitchen to watch TV or surf the Internet while cooking!  You can use baking soda along with a soft clothe and rub vigorously.  But since it's the outside,  probably using a favorite XYZ cleaner might be OK.  But just ensure the item is put though several vinegar rinse cycles to ensure any cleaning residue accidentally acquired on the inside of the item is definitely rinsed completely.  (If you think I'm being paranoid, just try  omitting the rinse steps and making a 5+ gallons of "from scratch" Viennese Beef soup and finding it has a strong metallic taste to it!)  If you have black carbon inside some grooves, submerging the item into boiling water will eventually loosen the black carbon.

My Eggs Keep Sticking!
Eggs sticking on a sauté pan commonly happens more so with olive oil then butter.  You can easily find the scientific reasoning why the eggs (or any other item being cooked) sticks to a sauté pan on the Internet.

You can read further into this answer, or you can just do what I do now.  I simply apply a pea size amount of butter in the hot
sauté pan and simply wipe the excess out.  I would imagine this would work fine if you're on a low fat or no dairy diet.

One solution is merrily ensuring your sauté pan is thoroughly heated.  One might think, "Oh, I'll just turn the heat on high and within 2 minutes the sauté pan should be heated."  No it's not thoroughly heated.  The surface within the vicinity of the burner will be hot while the outer areas are much cooler.  So when the food item is added, the sauté pan cannot uphold a constant temperature because the surrounding conductive surfaces are still not hot enough, even though the surfaces around the burner were preheated.  As such,  I will preheat my sauté pans at 20%.  (Setting the dial one notch above your lowest setting.  On my electric range, the dial has 1-10 settings, this is a setting of two.)  I preheat for  at least 10 to 15 minutes.  This ensures the sauté pan is thoroughly heated and prepared for the temperature to drop when food items are added while not being to hot for olive oil.  When the item is added and the outer areas preheated, the core will return more readily to the previous heated state because it has the help of the preheated outer areas.  One more thing, I leave the eggs out on the counter during the preheating session so they warm slightly.  And to thin them, I sometimes use a little hot water with taking caution not to scald them by using a whip.

Another problem more frequently encountered, we all like to overload our pans.  Only saut
é small amounts at a time will allow the to stay evenly heated and not drop significantly in temperature.

Final Thought

After cooking chicken, turkey or beef and finding burned stuff at the bottom of the pan, one has to ask themselves, "Wow!  That's going to be tough cleaning!" or I'll bet that tastes good if I make a gravy out of it!".   Making a double reduced gravy is probably the best thing.  First deglaze with your favorite wine or water.  As Alton Brown says, first deglaze with water then add the wine in later.  Or, I'll sometimes forget and deglaze with wine without thinking and then dilute with water.   Reduce.  Strain.  Remove excess grease while you have the solution in a container.  Then put it back on the stove and reduce again.  Preferably, rather then listen to my poor advice, search Google for a better double reduction grave recipe.