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Why do my meats stick when I try to brown them?

This has happened to me several times and I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. First time was when I tried to make chicken dumplings and I had to brown the chicken thighs and when I went to turn them they stuck to the pan! The same thing happened when I browned a chuck pot roast, it stuck to the pan. I have a gas stove, and I always put the oil in the pan cold, then heat up both the pan and oil together. I use a tri-ply calphalon stainless steel 8 qt pot. A few people told me the pan was too hot, and since I have a gas stove it's hard to tell what's "medium" vs. "medium high" vs. "high" etc. :(

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  1. One trick is not to try to move them too "early". Things will often stick as they are beginning to brown, but will release later.

    1. I have a gas stove, too, and what I've tried to do is compare the size of the flame. Light a burner without a pot on it and try to establish a visual scale for yourself. Certainly you can tell the difference between low and high? You should be able to estimate your intervals for the in between from there.

      1. I've always stood by the "hot pan, cold oil" technique. Heat the pan, then add the oil and wait a bit and then add the food. I've heard two theories behind why this is preferred, first, that the heat will "open the pores" of the metal and the oil can lubricate the pan better if the pan is hot, and second, that the oil will overheat in the time it takes to heat the pan completely. I don't completely believe either theory but I don't get any sticking when I brown meats.

        BTW, I second the "don't mess with it" suggestion. All meat sticks as it starts to brown and will generally release from the pan when it has reached some critical level of crusty goodness.

        1. Putting oil in a COLD pan is exactly wrong. Stainless steel is also problematical - like the old-style Calphalon, everything wants to stick to it. In any case, the pan should be heated first, then the fat added to it. Then when the fat is good and hot, drop in the meat, and then leave it alone until it's good and ready to be moved. If you try to move it around before then, it WILL stick and tear. When the surface next to the metal has seared properly it will be much easier to scrape it loose. This was explained to me (and a few hundred other people) by Shirley Corriher, but it was something I'd already observed in the process of learning to pan-roast fish at high temperatures.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Will Owen

            Could you please tell me how you pan roast fish? Do you start on the stove top then move to the oven? If so, at what temp? thanks.

            1. re: fauchon

              you can do all your fish on the stove top. same exact advice as above. unless the fish is marinated, pat it as dry as possible before you season it and put it in the pan. i use medium to high gas heat for most. if it's something very delicate like flounder, i'll use a softer poaching or sautee method.

              fish cooks so quickly, i prefer keeping my eye on it, rather than it disappearing into the oven.

              1. re: fauchon

                Hot pan, hot oven - pan just short of smoking, and oven at 400º. The pan is not oiled at all, the fish is - I "marinate" it at room temp for an hour or so in a mixture (usually) of olive oil and Chinese-style hot chile oil, plus salt and whatever herbs (typically a good pinch of herbes de Provence). When the pan is hot enough so that I need a hot pad to touch the handle, I drop the fish in, skin side down if it's a fillet. Four minutes per inch of thickness, then scrape it up (usually leaving a bit behind, but that's the breaks) and flip it over, and put it in the oven for another four minutes. I've done ahi steaks, mahi mahi, cod and salmon this way.

                Oh, and run the vent blower! This WILL set off your smoke alarm.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  I should add that I use an iron skillet.

              2. re: Will Owen

                excellent advice here. i'll also add, generously seasoning with salt and pepper because that will aid in carmelization, which makes for a firmer "slicker" exterior surface.

              3. This probably has something to do with protein chemical bonding.

                I am not an expert, but I wonder if the answer to the why lies here somewhere. Somebody who knows better will be able to explain it.

                Proteins begin as chains of amino acids, and when they are heated, some bonds are broken, and the chains unfold. The unfolded proteins then begin to bond to each other. During this process, it may try to bond to the pan, too, although it's not protein! I don't know about this part. Good question.

                We'd all eat better if we took advantage of our understanding of these critical phases of cooking meat.

                1. Well the usual way is to heat the pan first, then add the oil and when hot add the chicken. I am thinking that you did not cook it long enough before trying to turn it. Usually food will release onn it's own but you have to be patient and let the crust form. I don't think it has anything to do with too hot. You should not have it on high because a good pan will get plenty hot enough on medium to medium high. Usually you want a hot pan for a nice sear. Patting the chicken or meat dry before you put it in the skillet will help the crust form and the meat to release as well as preventing the meat from steaming.

                  1. The bottom line is don't add your meat unitl your fat is hot. anywhere from medium low to medium is fine, when you add your meat you want to hear a nice sizzle not a harsh crackle, if so lower your flame and wait a minute. If you're using stainless, wait a few minutes (dont mess wit it) then use a metal spatula to flip, wait a few more minutes then throw the whole pan in the oven around 300-350 to finish it. If there is some brown stuff in the pan when your down you can add some cold wine or other liquid to the pan and scrape the vittles and that can be a very yummy sauce.

                    1. Heat pan, then add oil or clarified butter. Once meat is in pan don't mess around with it for at least 2 minutes. Give the pan a shake. Meat will usually release from pan when it is ready to turn. Also try coating meats, fish, and chicken with a very light coating of flour to help brown.