It seems like such a simple, yes-or-no question: Should I season my stainless steel frying pan? Yet as soon as you start looking, you’ll find that there’s no clear-cut answer.
Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear that you absolutely should season your pan, that you should never season your pan, or that it doesn’t matter either way. Some folks claim that many professional chefs season their stainless skillets. Discussion board participants contradict each other and fiercely defend their stance.
We’ll get into some of the why’s of the question and take a look at what happens when you do/do not season your pan, but first let’s answer some variations of the question.
Do I have to season my stainless pan?
No, you do not have to season it.
Can I season my stainless pan?
Yes, you can usually season it without damaging it, but you should always double check with the manufacturer to be sure.
Should I season my stainless pan?
It depends. Here’s where things start to get a bit confusing because this is where there is no general consensus. Ultimately it will come down to what you think is best, so let’s dive into some info to help you come to a conclusion.
What is Seasoning?
First, let’s back up just a bit and clarify what “seasoning a pan” means, just in case anyone’s a little fuzzy.
Seasoning is a process of heat plus oil that’s typically used on cast iron and carbon steel. It builds a barrier that helps protect the pan against rust, and it creates a nonstick-like surface over time.
One thing to point out here is that once you season a pan, you don’t wash it. For instance, seasoned cast iron skillets shouldn’t be cleaned using soap and water. Instead, you use hot water and a non-abrasive brush or cloth. High heat will help keep it sanitized and soap can damage the seasoning.
Likewise, a seasoned stainless pan isn’t washed with soap either. Because of this, a seasoned stainless pan will not look shiny (or even clean) like a non-seasoned stainless skillet.
(Note: I have seen some discussion of cooks “seasoning every time” they use the pan, which really doesn’t make much sense. If you’re not going to season the pan like a cast iron, then you’re wasting time doing something that is basically the same as properly heating the pan anyway.)
Why Does this Question Exist?
The main reason people ask this question is that they are looking for their stainless to be more nonstick. Using stainless cookware can be tricky while you get the hang of things, and some of those proponents of seasoning stainless claim that it works similar to seasoning cast iron. That is, the seasoning helps create a sort of nonstick coating.
The Case FOR Seasoning
So, what is the argument in favor of seasoning? As I mentioned, some cooks find that seasoning works to create a nonstick coating on their pan. For those folks, the care, seasoning process, and cleaning is virtually identical to cast iron.
And among those conversations, you’ll see recommendations for doing this only with one pan – specifically something like a pan that you only use for eggs and are okay with not washing. This makes sense, as eggs are the number one food that cooks experience issues cooking in stainless.
The Case AGAINST Seasoning
The argument against seasoning stainless boils down to this: It’s unnecessary and it doesn’t work.
More nuanced discussions from this angle point out the correct way to cook with stainless (as in preheating the pan properly, then adding fats, and putting cold food into the pan) renders the seasoning process useless. And, it does sound as though those who season their stainless are still following that protocol when using their pan, so it’s not really adding anything to the process other than extra time to clean and care for it.
Finally, one other important note here is that often when cooks are describing “seasoning” their skillet, they’re really talking about priming it for cooking. They mean that they heat the pan, add the fat to the hot pan and coat it well, and so forth. This isn’t the same as the seasoning process we usually mean (where the pan is seasoned only occasionally and not washed after each use), so it has added some confusion to the matter, at least online.
Before you do anything, make sure you’ve checked for any manufacturer guidelines on your specific stainless pan. If they do not advise against seasoning, it’s up to you whether you’d like to try this method.
Stainless steel is extremely durable, so there’s likely no harm in trying a seasoning process if you’d like. In fact, that's probably why you did your research and got the best set stainless cookware you could. There are tons of tips and YouTube videos with various methods, so find one that appeals to you and give it a try. Just remember you’ll still likely experience a big difference if you’re accustomed to using a traditional nonstick skillet.