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What is the proper way to heat up a pan?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
I'm wondering what is the proper way to heat up a pan before putting in the food. Let's say I want to sear a steak, pork chop or chicken breast.

• Is the technique different depending on the material? I use stainless steel and non-stick.

• Should you put the oil before you start heating up? Or once the pan is hot?

• If you put the oil in the hot pan, do you then wait for it to heat up?

• Should the heat be full on during the heating period?

• What if I use butter instead of oil (ie for eggs)? What if I mix oil and butter (ie for potatoes or steak)?

post #2 of 8
Usually not. Some pans can take higher heat than others, but "stainless' and "non-stick" is not enough information to be specific.

No. At least, almost always not. The major exception comes when rendering fat, as in cooking bacon. There are others.

Yes. At least, almost always yes.


No. The heat should almost never be on full for a home cook, unless heating a very large pot full of liquid. It should not be full up for preheating the pan, and/or the oil. You should estimate the setting you'll use to do the cooking when the food first goes on the heat, and go with that. For almost all sauteing, searing and frying, the choice is between medium-high and medium. It may take you some practice to recognize medium-high on your particular stove.

It depends how you're cooking them, i.e., fried, omelette, scrambled. Fried eggs and omelettes are usually cooked at around medium heat, while scrambled eggs are cooked at a slightly lower heat. In either case, it's important to let the butter foam subside before adding the eggs to the pan.

Watch your temperatures to keep from burning the butter. Just like overcooked toast, it's not good.

Hope this helps,
post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 
Thanks a lot for the answers.

Now... I'm being curious: is there a specific reason as to why the pan should be heated before the oil is added?
post #4 of 8
When the pan heats up dry, the metal expands relatively quickly and the pan's texture changes. When the oil is added to the hot pan, the pan temperature drops, the pan begins to contract while the loses viscosity and runs into the pans gaps. -- making the pan more non-stick than if the oil had been heated in a cold pan.

Honestly, the explanation isn't completely clear, because I may not understand the metallurgy as well I thought I did. However, the dry preheat really does make a big difference in the stickiness of the pan.

post #5 of 8
- also keep in mind that if you are planning on searing a steak in a non-stick pan, such as silverstone or teflon type, you get very little if any fond development. I always do steaks in a heavy steel or cast iron skillet.
post #6 of 8
BDL- I always appreciate your insight on this forum. Thank you! Did you say your writing a cookbook? I look forward to seeing it.

post #7 of 8
Thanks. Yes, I am. Click on the link to my blog on the name line at the top of this message, if you want some insight into what's up with that. I read your post and saw that I wrote "is" when I meant "isn't." Some writer, eh?

post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 
Well I automatically corrected it when I read it, so it still made sense - not to worry. Hey, that's why there are editors, right? :lol:

Thanks a lot for all the info guys. Much appreciated.
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