Everyone is familiar with the experience of buying shiny new cookware only to have it looking like it’s years old after only a few short weeks. Charred or stained, especially on the underside (often neglected when cleaning), in no time at all the joy of new cookware has diminished. And let’s face it, good quality cookware is pricey, so you want to get value from your investment for a long time to come.
So, how do you keep your pots looking like new? I am going to give you some of my best tips for maintaining your cookware in tip-top condition, so you can continue to get the wear out of them that you paid for.
See the stainless steel pot above? Would you believe it has been used constantly in my kitchen for over a year now? It still looks brand new.
Although stainless steel is harder than a non-stick surface, it is still susceptible to scratches from your metal utensils, so to avoid marking a stainless steel surface, stir lightly and carefully with your metal utensils, if you have to use them. As shown in the photo, the inside of the pot still retains its like-new mirror finish, because it has been maintained properly.
Besides damage to the inside of the pot, the most annoying staining is the stubborn, burnt-on charring on the underside. The main source of these stubborn stains is greasy cooking. It is well known that a wok must be seasoned by oiling the inside walls and does not need cleaning with detergents.
Over time, these layers of oil accumulate preventing rust and build up a non-stick effect. Stainless steel pots also build up greasy layers, and if not cleaned completely, become troublesome stains. The layers of grease are thin and not noticeable in the beginning, but over time, these greasy layers build up and burn, producing a thick blackened layer.
After a while, it may become intolerable, but by this stage, cleaning is easier said than done.
The most effective way to prevent the discoloration of stainless steel pots is to clean them thoroughly after each use, especially the outside. Any residue of cooking must be washed with detergent and rinsed well before it can be used for frying again.
Let’s look at a stainless steel pot that we have had in our home for 10 years (see photo below). It’s not the scratches on the bottom surface I want you to notice, but the dark ring around the bottom of the pot’s sides.
Many years ago when I first bought this pot, I didn’t understand how to maintain it properly, and it became stained. Later, my husband spent half a day thoroughly cleaning it and since then we thoroughly clean the surface after every use. Keeping it always in this state means we do not need to spend half a day of scrubbing and using scouring cream.
Even the bottom of the pot, after years of wear and tear, is still relatively clean.
I should also remind you that, whether it is a stainless steel pot or non-stick pan, do not use spray oil as the mist will spread over the entire pot and burn, making cleaning difficult.
Good quality stainless steel will wear very well, but poorer quality will discolor producing blue or gold markings, which are impossible to clean off. The pot in the photo below shows an example of this discoloration. Fortunately, these marks do not affect the useability or effectiveness of the pot, and will not become worse over time.
There is some skill to cleaning a stainless steel pot properly. The pan must be hot to clean it thoroughly. This may concern some students but as long as the residue has not been left to dry for too long there is no problem.
Place the pot on the stove and pour 250 ml of water into it and gently heat. Gently scrape the oil and food residue off the bottom of the pan with a scraper. Most of the time the layer of baked on residue will lift easily and dissolve in the water. After it has cooled a little, wash with detergent.
If the frying time has been long, the grease is very stubborn, or grease has built up on the pot surface from being reheated several times, then you will need to use baking soda (bicarbonate soda). Heat the pan on the stove and sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda on the surface.
Using a damp, double-sided sponge, which has a nylon scouring surface on one side, scrub the baking soda over the surface of the pot. This will not scratch the surface of the sticky pot. Do not be tempted to add dishwashing liquid!
The baking soda with the small amount of moisture takes on the consistency of toothpaste and will do most of the work for you reducing the need for harsh scrubbing. This method is very efficient and the best way to remove stubborn stains.
If the above approach does not work and you still have some staining on the surface, you can use a scouring cream, but only do this as a last resort as these products can leave a layer of residual chemicals in the stainless steel, and can also scratch it.
Scrubbing paste usually takes a long time, and some people will probably consider the use of an oven cleaning agent, but this is not a good option. These products are toxic and will require you to clean the pot outdoors to allow adequate ventilation. They can also destroy any seasoning of the pan’s surface.
Next, we will discuss how to clean and maintain your non-stick pans.
The biggest problem with early non-stick cookware was the coating tended to peel off, and if the coating has come off then there is no need for maintenance. Non-stick surfaces are now much improved, with the coating of better quality non-stick cookware being tough and hard wearing. Generally, with everday cooking, though, it is not the peeling that is the problem, but a decline in the performance of the non-stick surface.
This is caused by the use of oil on the non-stick surface, which sounds a bit strange since the surface is designed to avoid that necessity. When the (non-stick) pan is hot, oil will splash out and evaporate meaning that any residue on the bottom of the pan will stick.
The manufacturers of non-stick cookware usually shirk the responsibility of damage caused by using oil, maintaining that oil is not meant to be used on a non-stick pan. They also say that low temperatures should be used to avoid the accumulation of burnt-on residue, which is true, but the food will lack flavor.
My husband tested the flavor produced by cooking on a non-stick surface. He fried some eggs not using any oil and found their taste quite inferior (of course!) and not worth eating. So, what is the point of buying a non-stick pot if your cooking will be unsatisfactory and the flavor inferior? Here I talk about how to clean burnt-on greasy stains accumulated on non-stick cooking pans.
A non-stick pan is usually black or dark gray, so a small amount of burnt-on grease is hard to notice, and by the time it becomes visible, it is virtually irreversible. The easiest way is to clean thoroughly, as I show you here, after each use. Detergent is not the best cleaner for a non-stick surface. White vinegar does a much better job at cleaning off a greasy residue.
Put the non-stick pan on the stove and pour in a small amount of white vinegar (the cheapest brand from the supermarket does the job as well as any, and is the best option for use as a cleaner) and then add three times the amount of water.
Heat on medium heat.
Once it is boiling, turn off the stove and leave to cool. The ‘detergent’ will do a thorough cleaning.
You will not notice any difference between before cleaning with the vinegar and after as the slick of oil at the beginning was translucent, only visible in a certain light. A non-stick coating is relatively fragile, so the first method of using baking soda is only applicable to stainless steel cookware and should not be used for non-stick surfaces.
Cleaning the outer side of the pot is also critical, and the first method for stainless steel surfaces can be used on the exterior of the pot as well. To ensure your pots and pans are kept in optimum condition, clean them thoroughly with these methods after each use. That way you can enjoy the ‘newness’ of your investment for a long time to come.