Friday, June 4, 2010

How to Wash a Stainless Steel Skillet

Ken Burns might have "Jazz," "The War," and "The National Parks," but I have "My Dirty Skillet" -- the hottest new documentary taking the world of cinematography by storm.

You know how I always tell you about the joys of stainless steel cookware in class and you always tell me about the pain and suffering of scrubbing these pans for half an hour? Janet Bucceri (my lovely assistant) and I try to persuade you guys that a stainless steel skillet can take less than a minute to clean if you know a few tricks, but you often have a skeptical look on your face.

Our dynamic duo has teamed up to bring you this unabridged video that is intended to make a stainless steel convert out of you. I wrote the script, and played the lead role in this exciting drama. Janet provided her cinematography talent to bring out the natural beauty of this narrative.

I am sure NPR will be calling any moment now for an interview, but I thought you guys deserve the first question and answer session.

Q: What did you cook in the pan before filming?
A: Skirt steak. It was the movie crew's lunch.

Q: Did you go easy on dirtying that pan since you knew you'll have to scrub it on camera?
A: Are you kidding me? I did everything I don't normally do: overheat the oil, leave empty spots in the pan to create as much splatter as possible, and leave the dirty pan to sit for at least an hour before starting to clean it. The fan could barely keep up.

Q: Are you planning a sequel?
A: Most likely. We do it Star Wars style. What you saw is episode 2: how to clean an extremely dirty pan, and we are thinking episode 1 might be in order: how do you prevent your pan from getting so burnt up in the first place, avoid fire alarms, and keep those brown bits yummy instead of bitter. We'll have to come up with a slightly shorter title.

Q: Do you have any questions for your viewers?
A: Yes! When do you guys watch this stuff? In my office day job days, I used to keep up with the world of food media at work. You are sitting there bored in your cube... what better thing to do than browse epicurious or catch up on your favorite food blogs. But when you are playing a video, doesn't the rest of your office know that you are goofing off? They probably are too, but at least they are doing it quietly. So, what's your strategy? Do you wear head phones? Or do you watch this stuff at home?


grahams said...

I watched the video in the office, but that was mostly just a function of when I checked my RSS reader..

I listen to music with headphones on all day, so I just paused the music while playing the video...

Keep 'em coming!

Unknown said...


Stainless Steel Skillets said...

Thanks for the video. Many people don't realize that scour marks from improper cleaning will leave a "hot spot" on stainless steel cookware. Stainless still is already a poor conductor of heat, so the hot spot makes on area that will always burn your food.

Helen said...

Hi there,

What exactly is a "scour mark" and how do you get it? From what I've seen, a stainless steel skillet is impossible to ruin. Even if you have stuff stuck to it for months, you can scrub it off using the method I describe in the video. Although the stainless steel is a poor conductor, a good pan will have an aluminum or copper core, which conducts heat beautifully. Mine are aluminum core. One is by All-clad for $100. The other one is by Tramontina for $30. Both are wonderful and no hot spots.


~M said...

Cute video. What are your thoughts on using baking soda instead of Bar Keeper's friend to make a scrubbing/scouring mixture with the soap and water?

Helen said...

Haven't tried baking soda. Will try it next time and report. If it works, that's great! But if you are just trying to avoid Bar Keeper's Friends because you heard it's bad for your stainless steel skillets, stop avoiding it. It's absolutely safe and doesn't cause any harm. All-Clad even recommends it.

~M said...

I'm not trying to avoid Bar Keeper's friend...just trying to simplify since I already have a huge sack of baking soda for cooking, cleaning the tub, scrubbing my face, etc. :)

Irina said...


Do you use cast iron skillets? If so, would you do a post or a video on how you care for them, including cleaning and keeping them well-seasoned? I've consulted with my mom and checked out various advice online, and I'm still struggling with how to keep my cast iron non-stick.

I wash them with hot water using no soap, try not to leave them soaking for too long unless they are an absolute mess, and re-season periodically by filling the pan with salt (I think it's a Russian trick) and heating it in the oven, then discarding the salt and coating them with a thin film of vegetable oil. However, I still have trouble with food sticking and find myself using more oil for frying/sauteing than I'd like to.

Thanks so much!

~M said...

Hi Irina,

Have you ever tried to use coconut oil on your cast iron? That helped make my cast iron pan much more non-stick and it's much healthier than vegetable oil. Also, I've heard you can heat up the pan in the oven with oil to seal it in. I try to "wash" mine with oil instead of water as much as I can. I love making dutch baby pancakes in mine - and they slide right out!

Irina said...


Thank you for the suggestions! I will look into coconut oil... Do you use it for cooking or for wiping your skillet - or both? It's interesting that you say that coconut oil is healthier than vegetable oil because I'd hear somewhere that coconut oil is actually the least healthy of all, due to its saturated fat content, I believe. I actually use canola oil for seasoning my cast iron, which I think is supposed to be one of the pretty benign vegetable oils.

In any case, I am a big believer in the principle that a small amount of anything won't hurt, so I will try to get a hold of some coconut oil.

As far as heating the pan in the oven with oil in it - I tried it and the oil started smoking. Maybe it would have worked at a lower temperature? I might try it again.

~M said...

Hi Irina,

I use coconut oil for cooking and wiping my skillet. I occasionally use extra virgin olive oil for cooking, but usually use the virgin cold-pressed coconut oil I buy from Mountain Rose Herbs by the gallon. I use coconut oil for lots of applications - in and out of the kitchen. According to Sallon Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, coconut oil is a very stable fat; most newer/man-made oils are less stable and go rancid quickly (including canola and vegetable oil). Coconut oil also has a high smoke point, which is great for frying. In terms of the health benefits, I recommend you read this article. After researching the issue, I have concluded that coconut products are very healthy; and its oil/fat contain lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid, which is converted to energy, and not stored long-term. I use lots of coconut products: coconut aminos (soy-free soy sauce that's super tasty), coconut butter (not the same as coconut oil), coconut water, coconut milk, coconut flour, etc. Bruce Fife has a fabulous book on the virtues of coconut ingredients.

I'm not sure about the smoking from heating your pan in the oven. I do know, however, that there are tons of youtube video clips about seasoning and caring for your cast iron pan...have you looked there?

Helen said...

Hi Irina,

Here are Cook's Illustrated instructions on seasoning and cleaning cast iron pans. They are different than advice you'll get on most sites and really work!

Here are some other tips:

1) no matter how properly you wash and season your cast iron skillet if you use it for incorrect applications, you'll make it sticky again. Never put acidic ingredients into it (no tomatoes, lemon juice, wine, etc). Don't cook any liquids in it or even soak it, as you saw in my video, water can lift all that burnt on stuff very well. Wonderful benefit for stainless steel and a disaster for cast iron.

2) if possible buy a pre-seasoned skillet. Lodge sells them. They make your seasoning job a lot easier.

3) Choose your cast iron skillet tasks carefully. In spite of a recent home cook craze for this cookware, it's NOT all-purpose (unless it has an enamel coating). Assuming your skillet is partially seasoned, here are some things that will season it well: bacon, duck, nicely marbled steak. I find that cooking these things 10-12 times before attempting more risky things (like fish fillets) seasons the pan way better that rubbing it with oil and letting it sit in the oven. Cook's Illustrated stove top seasoning method is based on the same idea.

3) don't cook eggs (or any other sticky foods) in cast iron until it's very well seasoned.

4) use the scrubby side of a sponge or a stiff brush (not steel wool) to wash the pan (without soap). It's ok to apply a lot of pressure and really scrub and if you need extra abrasiveness, sprinkle some kosher salt on it. Dry immediately. If your pan doesn't have years of patina, I suggest heating it on the stove top over med-low heat for about 5 minutes to dry it more. Rub a small amount of canola oil into it with a paper towel and cool completely.

To tell you the truth, I hate cast iron skillets because of their weight (I have bad wrists, so lifting them is a pain). I also hate the hoops one has to jump through to clean them and dry them. But for some tasks, they are unbeatable: roasting potatoes, corn bread, farinata, searing fish. Basically, anywhere you want the browning of a stainless steel skillet with a release of a teflon :)

Irina said...


Thank you so much for the advice! I realize now that I've been doing some things wrong, like using my skillet for cooking liquids and tomato-based dishes. I thought this was OK because I remember that during my childhood in Russia, cast iron skillets were the only kind we had, so I assumed that they were pretty much all-purpose. However, after your post, I remembered that my mom and grandmother only used cast iron skillets for frying. All other cooking was done in pots. Once in a while we probably did use the cast iron skillets to make eggs and tomatoes (яичница с помидорами), but the skillets must have been so well-seasoned that a few occasional pieces of tomato couldn't ruin them.

Thanks again!

Kenon Thompson said...

Awesome video. I just watched this at home since there is no way possible that I could watch this at work seeing that I work in a restaurant :)

Again great job and I can't wait for the next episode.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you made a video on this subject. Although mundane to most, I found it oh so helpful. I recently purchased stainless steel cookware and was experiencing intense buyer's remorse. I look forward to trying our your new strategies.

I loved your post filming interview :)

stainless steel sheet said...

This is great! I can say that this is the first time I visited the site and I found out that most of the blogs here are interesting to read. Well, for me.. A very beneficial feature of stainless steel is that it does not discolour, and it does not retain the taste or odour of anything prepared in it. Anyway, thanks and I definitely visit this blog more often.

Unknown said...

SS Pipes Manufacturer
that's a very good post because cooking is my hobby and I like to do my all work myself. I watch your video, I hope it would be helpful for me.

Unknown said...

thanks for the video, but my teacher said that it will be much better if we cook with teflon pan, is it right? thnk u

regards Rianna

Helen said...

Who is your teacher? Are you in a professional culinary program? I can't imagine any professional telling you that teflon pans should be the default. That being said, teflot pans have their uses: delicate fish and eggs. I also find them to be great for quick seared burgers. Here is my post on when to use which pan:

Stainless steel fabrication said...

Thanks for sharing your technique on how to clean a skillet!

Anonymous said...

Normally I use baking soda, but I accidentally let coconut oil burn (due to my own forgetfulness )and it won't remove a palm size spot. I will have to get barkeepers and try.

Inez Maldonado said...

Amazing video. It was sooo useful. I realized I was doing most of the things wrong. Thank you for sharing this great information. Best regards!