All the Spokane food-related stuff that I can't figure out how to wedge into my other blog.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Non-stickify'ing a steel pan

The Before:
This pan is ready for re-non-stickify'ing.
This is scrambled egg detritus.
I love cooking on steel. It's predictable and when it's thick, it holds heat nicely. I have a couple cast iron pans and I have a couple traditional French steel saute pans. The fancy All-Clad stuff is nice, with its stainless steel around aluminum, but my daily drivers are these old steel chestnuts.

I run this procedure on them when they loose their luster. If I was the only one cooking (and cleaning) around here, they'd never loose their luster -- you can do stuff on the cooking and cleaning side of things to keep them non-stick forever -- but I'd rather just let others do their thing with the pans instead of standing over them and fussing.

The after: clean, shiny, non-sticky, and lovely.
If re-non-stickifying the pans was not as easy as it is, I probably would be more of a pain in the arse. But check this method out. It's so simple. I think some people might call this "seasoning" a pan. You can also do this with aluminum -- those cheap-ass restaurant Wear-Ever pans will take this method, but they give up the stickiness pretty quickly and under pretty low heat, so I'd only do aluminum if I was the only one using the pans ever.

I wouldn't do this to All-Clad pans, but I did this to my sister's set of Calphalon many many years ago and they took it well.

My great buddy Adam taught this to me when we were about 20 years old. By the time Adam was 20 he was fully obsessed with cooking; he'd been lead saute cook at Patsy Clarks in high school, line cook at Beverly's for a year or so, and he was CIA-bound. He learned this trick at SCC or at Beverly's before he left for New York a zillion years ago.

Anyway, this will make just about any steel (and some aluminum) pan non-stick. To keep it non-stick, use heat judiciously, stay away from high-acid foods, don't wash it in soapy water. Just wipe it out and apply a light coat of high-heat oil every now and then when the pan is hot and clean.

  • Kosher salt
  • Chunk of a burlap sack (potatoes still come in burlap -- or if you know coffee roasters, beans also come in burlap -- one coffee bag is a life time supply of burlap for this application)
  • Canola oil
  • One egg


  1. Put pan on high heat. Adam would argue that you must do this on about 20k btu's, but I do it on our dopey electric range and it's fine.
  2. Burlap on the left. Pan and salt on the right.
  3. Pour enough kosher salt in the pan to cover the entire surface with a thick layer of salt. 
  4. Let the pan heat up. I let it sit until it starts to smoke -- about 5 minutes.  
  5. Once it's hot (Adam would say "screaming hot"), push the salt into the bottom of the pan with your wadded up chunk of burlap. Burlap, for some reason doesn't burn/melt/smoke. I've tried this with a cotton kitchen towel and it doesn't work. Generally speaking, this is a fairly dangerous operation at this point. The salt is hot as shit and it likes to fall out or crowd up around your fingers.
  6. Keep grinding that salt into the steel surface. I'm thinking the idea here is that the surface of the pan is opening up a bit and the goal is to smooth out the rough texture of the steel by cramming hot salt into the open pores. But that's all guesses. Get in the edges too. If you're working a saute pan, try to get a centimeter or so up the sides.
  7. When you are satisfied that you've ground all you can, and/or you've burnt your finger enough, dump the salt out (I put mine in another steel pan and put it in the cold oven until it all cools off. You can reuse the salt too), and let the pan cool just a tad.

  8. As the pan cools, dust out the salt and burlap fibers with a paper towel. Get it nice and clean.
  9. Before the pan cools too much pour some canola oil in it. The pan still needs to be hot though. I guess if you can dance water droplets across the surface, then it's probably too hot still. If the canola is smoking when you pour it on there, it's too hot. Right below the smoking point is what you are looking for.
  10. Make sure the oil coats all of the cooking surface. Dump out the oil and wipe the surface with a paper towel.
  11. This egg was scrambled in the pan with a bit of butter.
    Amazing! If only I could get it to cut through tin cans
    then through a tomato.
  12. Cook an egg in the pan. Take satisfaction in cooking on a surface like Teflon but a) won't kill you and b) is resurectable.


  1. I recently inherited a very used comal (cast iron tortilla griddle). Do I just go to the shop and ask for some burlap? The army surplus store sells old burlap sacks for like 5 bucks or so.

    I am interested in trying this cleaning technique.

  2. Coffee roasters or produce sections usually have burlap. You can cut bits out of big burlap sack to last a lifetime of pan scraping.

    If no luck, I've got some you can have.