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What is your preferred way to evenly preheat a pan?

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Hello Chowhounders!

This is my first topic posted, and I apologize in advance if it is rather elementary. I did do a search on the site and was unable to locate any other threads that specifically referenced this topic, so here it is:

Which is your optimal way for evenly preheating a pan?

The reason why I ask is that I just bought my first set of really good pots and pans. Some are All Clad Copper Core, and some are All Clad Stainless. I also own 2 cast iron skillets.

I recently purchased an infrared thermometer from Thermoworks, and started taking surface temperature readings of my various cookware during the preheat stage. Needless to say I was horrified at how uneven the readings were as I preheated my various cookware on my glass top electric stove. I thought good cookware was meant to prevent this sort of thing, or am I expecting way too much?

I understand that there are a number of variables in play here, but I was hoping to get some feedback from other Chowhounders on their experiences with this.

As far as I can tell, the glass cooktop seems very flat, however, I have not checked the coils to see how they are performing ( if this is even possible).

This all being said, I seemed to have found a way to get even heat to my pan: I stick whichever pan I am going to use upside down under the broiler at full heat for about 5 minutes, and voila.. an evenly heated pan!

Anywho.. I look forward to reading other people's experiences :)

Ps. Is anybody aware of information related to this topic on the Cooksillustrated site? Apparently there is some info there, however, I am unable to find it....

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  1. Welcome to CH. Questions like yours, IMO, defy the search engine ability so yeah, here's where you want to be.

    I hope others will weigh in here cause I could swear I've read that you should never preheat on high and putting it under the broiler on high for five minutes sounds not right somehow. But I don't know why I think I know this :)

    I would think that with an electric or gas cooktop, the pan will heat unevenly because the coils (in your case) are touching some areas for direct heat and in other areas the heat has to be conducted to those spots. I have no technical language or expertise here so excuse my bumbling along. And I don't know why some variation is going to matter. Perhaps you could give an example. Just can't get my brain around this one.

    But congratulations on all your nice, new stuff. Have fun.

    3 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      You should probably not heat on high if you don't want a blazing hot pan, but if you DO then high is probably your best bet. When I'm going to pan-grill a steak, my iron skillet goes on the biggest burner set to max, and the meat goes in just shy of cherry red. If I'm doing eggs sunnyside up, the pan is on a flame tamer disk on low heat for ten or fifteen minutes, and when the handle is too hot to hold the fat goes in. And when the fat starts to look wrinkly the eggs go in. It all depends on what you want to do.

      The evenest way to heat a pan up is of course in the oven, and that's where you do it if you're making cornbread or roasting potatoes. For cornbread I put chopped bacon in a cold skillet in a cold oven set to preheat to 400ยบ, and take the skillet out when the oven's up to heat, and beat the fat and crisp bacon into the batter before pouring it into the pan. For potatoes, I have my seasoned, parboiled potatoes sitting in a bowl tossed with olive oil, and the pan sitting on the top shelf of an oven preheating for chicken or whatever. When the meat goes in so do the potatoes, to be taken out and turned during the roasting process.

      1. re: Will Owen

        For me, it depends on the pan and what's being cooked. I would agree the oven is a great method and how I heat up cast iron for searing steaks before returning to the oven. The second benefit is the pan is heating as the oven is preheating Thinner pans or woks, I use a medium low flame for a few minutes to slowly heat up, then on high for 30 seconds just before putting ingredients into the pan/wok.

    2. Way too technical for me. However, once the pan is preheated as well as you can, the liquid medium, usually oil, would seem to even out the temperature. Putting under the broiler just doesn't seem right; but I will gracefully accept correction.

      1. Unless you are experiencing problem or food is not coming out the way you want, I wouldn't try to get too scientific about how to preheat a pan. Like most of us do, just place your pan on the burner and turn on the heat. If you want a very hot pan or you are in a hurry, turn on high but make sure you watch it. You have some very expensive cookware, therefore, you want to take some care. Lower burner heat if you want a less hot pan. To test how hot a pan is, just place your palm a couple of inches from the pan and feel the heat. After a little practice, you will be able to tell by how hot you pan is.

        1. Hi, jaredcook!

          I'd be nervous about putting my All-Clad pans under the broiler. At least, if I were going to do it, I'd put some cheap pans under the broiler first, use them for a while (i.e., like month) and see how they survived. This wouldn't mean that you couldn't use your All-Clad pans in the meantime, but just not under the blast-furnace like conditions of the broiler. I'd hate to see you ruin those nice pans.

          The cast iron pans ought to do okay under the broiler. They're practically indestructible and, if you lost one to cracking or whatever, no big loss. Cast iron is relatively cheap.

          But is uneven heating a big problem? That is, PBSF has the right idea, I think. Unless you are experiencing some noticeable problems affecting your food, I'd skip the oven (except for using the cast iron in it) and just stick to normal heating.

          By the way, the infrared thermometer sounds cool. Alton Brown talked about them and I thought at that time that it would be fun to get one!