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Mar 12, 2008 08:29 AM

How do I know when my CI skillet is 'Hot" enough?

Hi I know this may be a bit dumb but what is "considered very hot"? How long would you heat it? Say if it was a cast iron skillet and I had the flame on high, how long would it need to get heated to before i put a chop on it for it to get a great brown sear? I mean I know when people say heat up an oven to say 400 degrees to preheat that is easy because I can obviously see the tempearture on the oven but how can you tell on top of a stove with a cast iron skillet?

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  1. You can tell by dropping water on it--if it evaporates immediately, it's very hot. For a more precise answer, check out this article:

    It describes the water "dance" with temperature.

    1. Stoves vary, pans vary -- I swear it adds several minutes of "pre-heat time" to my pancake making when it is very chilly on winter mornings compared to warm summer mornings.

      The "skittering water" test is useful, but still leaves a big range of temps. like 400 to 650 -- over 500 and chop won't sear it'll incinerate. I find that for the most reproducible results it is worth getting a "non contact" or "laser IR" thermometer. You point it at the surface and the digital readout says precisely what the surface temperature is.

      2 Replies
      1. re: renov8r

        I'd love to have a laser thermometer. I've never used it but have seen Alton use it. Also, if exact temperature is important, leave the cast iron pan in the stove at 400 degrees for half an hour and you'll have it.

        1. re: chowser

          Thanks all. The laser thermometer is a great idea. So should I presume that 400 degrees would be the odeal temp to get a skillet if I want a nice sear on somehing (and then if I want to cook it more into the oven right?)

      2. Buzz such a good question. I have often wanted to know the same thing. There has been a time or two, cooking meat, the hot pan will "sear" but not in a good way. There is a gray tone, with sort of lines and it toughens the meat. Obviously, I must not of had the pan or grill hot enough. I've usually done the water droplet thing, but I find that the best way is watch for when the oil barely smokes, whatever temperature that is, is perfect. (Canola)

        1 Reply
        1. re: chef chicklet

          That was exactly my problem about thinking it was hot enough and then the meet coming out kind of gray color. Thank you for the hint about the oil. I was thinking I needed to just discipline myself and say leave the pan on high flame, but then i dont know would it take anywhere for 3 minutes to like 10 minutes (or more) to get it to the right for searing soemthing....

        2. While on the topic of heating cast irons, a friend of mine (and this really is a friend, ie, not me) was heating a cast iron pan on high and the pan shattered. Since i had also purchased the same pan for searing etc, i went back to the store and asked. They said that if you heat it for to long, at to high a heat then the iron will become very brittle and break apart.

          However, the sales person could not really explain exactly how long, or how high a heat should be avoided. Any thoughts on this?

          4 Replies
          1. re: pierrot

            Not on that one, but once I set the vegetable oil in my cast iron pan on fire when I was heating the pan up. That was fun. The grass in that spot still doesn't grow right...

            1. re: pierrot

              Huh. I thought you could get cast iron really, really hot without any problems. I mean, like almost glowing red hot for blackening. I've done that, on the outdoor propane burner a couple of times; you just have to re-season the pan afterwards. Now I'll be all nervous about it shattering.

              1. re: Bat Guano

                This was a le creuset enamel coated cast iron pan. May be the enamel coating makes the difference?

                They told me that, you get the pan hot, and then turn the heat down. Leaving it on a high heat will change the tempering of the iron essentially, making it brittle and the pan will shatter.

                This is all second hand information, i could be completly wrong, I'm just looking for clarification.

                1. re: pierrot

                  LC recommends 450F maximum. Their instructions always recommend low heat, and they probably should not be used for searing. Pure cast iron will go much higher.