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Dec 30, 2007 06:10 PM

Flambe + teflon = ?

I'd like to make some caramel-sauteed bananas with a rum flambe finish - would I be dumb to do this in my favorite nonstick pan?

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    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

      Sam, I usually agree with you -- but not this time. The food may look and taste okay, but flambe involves fire, and higher heat causes the dangerous chemicals in most non-stick pans to aerosolize or get into the food. That is why most are to be used on low to medium heat. High enough heat on a most coated non-stick pans can even kill pet birds because of the poison, odorless fumes they emit, which is why bird owners are told not to use any non-stick cookware.

      There may be exceptions. Some of the higher end pans don't use the usual cheap coatings, and are made of things like diamond dust or titanium alloys. I don't know about those, so if you have to use a non-stick pan for this purpose, read the original manufacturer's care and use recommendations before trying it to see what you are working with. And don't do it near your pet parrot, just to be safe.

      1. re: RGC1982

        I'd certainly agree that practices that would knock over a parrot should be avoided!

        My thoughts run along those of MakingSense, below. The pan itself will have a layer of caramel (and, for me, butter), and about half of the rum (the non-alcohol part that will not burn). Only the evaporating alcohol will burn. The flames will be well off the surface of the pan and at a relatively low temperature. Have you noticed that flambeed bananas can be eaten immediately after the flames go out? They just don't get all that hot.

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Flambéing is mostly theater anyway. You can skip it if you've got a parrot or are apprehensive about the flame.
          This is a similar trick used by side-show fire-eaters too. As I've said I've seen the waiters at Antoine's spread the flames on linen tablecloths and I've held them in my hand. It's an illusion.

          Frankly, in evaluating the teflon/bird story, consider that the pan has to reach such a high temperature before it emits the chemical fumes that would harm the bird, that your kitchen would likely be filled with smoke from burning oil and food well before that point, or you had carelessly left an empty pan on the heat and wildly overheated it to a dangerous level. You could do this with many, many common things in your home besides teflon.

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            According to this book, the flash point of 100 proof alchol is 75 degrees F -- a number I tend to agree with. This means that initial "ignition" happens at a VERY low temp --

            Further the "energy content" of such a flame is very small, in fact here a demonstation that saturates a British 5 pound note and it is unburned:

            Anyone who has uses an old fashioned camp stove knows that even pure alcohol, under pressure, is a pretty pathetic heat source, there is no way that you'd get a flambe hot enough to damage teflon.

            1. re: renov8r

              I agree with your (and MakingSense's) comments about there being no problem with flambeing in teflon, but flash point doesn't really have anything to do with it - it's simply the temperature at which a flammable liquid emits an ignitable vapor. The actual flame temperature, which is more important for the issue at hand, is unrelated the flash point. For example, gasoline has a very low flash point (well below zero) but obviously produces a very hot flame.

              1. re: FlyFish

                This is rum, not gasoline. Many people have a hard time getting it to flambé at all, much less problems with heat, since most recipes use only an ounce or two of rum or brandy. The alcohol burns at low heat as renov8r says. You can put your hand in the flames.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  Yes, I was agreeing with you on that. My only point was that the low heat at which alcohol burns is not a function of its flash point.

      2. I'll defer to Sam's expertise, but my first thought was absolutely not. It seems to me that it may be iffy to flambe in certain nonstick pans, like Circulon. But pure, old-fashioned Teflon? That just scares me. I certainly would check the manual that came with the cookware or check with the manufacturer, or shoot a question to a source like Cook's Illustrated.

        1 Reply
        1. re: nosh

          When you flambe, does the liquid in the pan vaporize immediately? If not, then the pan containing that liquid is not getting any hotter than boiling.

        2. No problem. What burns when you flambé is really the fumes from the alcohol in the rum as they volatize. You can't set wet rum, the content of your pan, or the pan itself on fire - unless you've really gotten that pan so hot (above 660 degrees) that you better call 911. The alcohol volatizes at a much lower temperature than that. The flames will actually be burning above the food and the pan.
          It's burning cooler than you think. I've seen people pour it over their hands. The waiters at Antoine's in New Orleans have spread the flames from Café Brulot Diabolique across the white linen tablecloths, creating quite a dramatic show for diners in the dimmed light. Now, don't go doing this without a lot of practice - those waiters have been at this for decades - but it is possible.

          The easiest way to flambé the dish is to push the contents to one side a bit. Heat the rum in a puddle at the cleared edge of the pan over the heat. When the rum is well warmed, touch a long-handled match to it and it WILL ignite. Instantly - with a flash.
          Practice first in the privacy of your kitchen with a small amount of rum in a pan (without the bananas and sauce) so you know what to expect. It can be kind of shocking the first time you ignite warmed alcohol - especially in front of guests and more so if you've had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner.

          1. If you're in the US, you could line your pan with Reynolds non-stick foil. This is a product that I love, although God knows what gives it its stellar non-stick qualities. NOTHING sticks to this stuff; it out-performs parchment paper and Silpat by miles.