This research work is an attempt to understand the effect of stored strain energy heterogeneity over macro-scale, induced during interrupted annealing treatment, on the micro structural evolution in a heavily cold rolled AISI 304L austenitic stainless steel. The cold rolled AISI 304L stainless steel (SS) samples were subjected to different annealing treatments. The microstructures obtained after each annealing treatment were characterized using optical and electron microscopy techniques. Further, an attempt was made to estimate the stored strain energy by a novel approach of micro hardness measurement both over small scale (area 3600 μm2) and large scale (area ~0.25 mm2). The stored strain energy was determined using hardness values. Using these data, spatial stored strain energy distribution contour maps were created. They were, in turn, used to characterize the local softening behavior both at micro and macro-scale levels after each interrupted annealing treatment. The results showed that, interrupted annealing treatment induces increased stored strain energy heterogeneity after each annealing interruptions. Also, it was possible to determine recrystallization kinetics of the material using stored strain energy map, which helps in designing annealing cycles for achieving ultrafine grained microstructure. © 2018 Elsevier Inc.