The cleavage of a lignin model compound of 2-phenoxyacetophenone (2-PAP) was studied in an anhydrous ethanol solvent. A high conversion of 2-PAP (> 99%) to the desired products (> 80% for phenol) with impressive selectivity was achieved in a stainless steel (T316SS) autoclave without any added catalyst. The stainless steel was analyzed as being effective at catalyzing the decomposition of 2-PAP because of its hydrogen transfer activity and stabilization of reaction intermediates, while anhydrous ethanol served as both a solvent and hydrogen donator. An active hydrogen-promoted reaction network was proposed to explain these results. Further investigation demonstrated that the co-catalyst, Cs2.5H0.5PMo12O40, enhanced the cleavage efficiency, which resulted in high yields of the desired products (> 98% of phenol and > 91% of acetophenone). The proposed method in this study based on the stainless steel-promoted hydrogen transfer reaction, which had the merits of a high conversion efficiency and easy handling, can be expected to develop a promising process for further transformation of lignin to valuable multi-substituted aromatics.