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How long do you pre-heat a frying pan?

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I have read on cooking forums that a frying pan should be preheated for a few minutes, which never seemed to get it hot enough for a good sear.

I decided to do a test. I used a Calphalon One 10" frying pan on the large burner set at medium on a GE Profile Performance smooth-top stove. It took 9 minutes to get the pan up to the right temperature based on the mercury ball test. At 8.5 minutes it was not quite hot enough. It's a fairly heavy aluminum pan, that I imagine would heat up slower than a lot of triply pans, but maybe faster than a heavy disc bottom or thick carbon steel pan.

I never turn my burner higher for preheating than I expect to start cooking at, because I don't want to overshoot my desired temp. I have also read in some recipes that the burner should be set to high or medium high but that always seemed way too high for anything but bringing liquid to a boil. Considering that my pan gets hot enough to pass the mercury ball test on medium, my instinct seemed correct.

I'm just wondering if other chowhounders would share their techniques for time and burner setting for pre-heating. Thanks.
BruceMcK

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  1. I must be impatience. 8-9 minutes are just too long for me to wait. I almost always set the heat to medium-high or high and do my water test (similar to but not the same as mercury ball test) and then turn it down to the desirable temperature during cooking.

    1. Hi all,

      This evening I used my ancient cast iron griddle (Griswold Skillet Griddle) to toast a tortilla for a tostada. I don't believe it took more than maybe 2-3 minutes to get up to temp.

      As for a test, I dunk my fingers in my glass of wine and splat a few drops on the griddle. I can tell from that it's hot enough. It sizzles.

      Editing: I set the burner on high. So the flame reaches the outer edges of the griddle. Then, when it's up to temp, I reduce the heat.

      Lucy

      1. How much oil do you use? Is there a chance that you might have put in too much oil into the pan which brings down the temperature and/or you didn't wait long enough for the oil to heat up?

        I usually let my meat sear for 30s or so at med-high before turning it down to med. However, I use induction so you may need to tweak a bit since my understanding is that electric is not as responsive.

        1. BruceMcK: I've never really timed anything like this, but I do preheat. The setting depends on what I'm cooking in and what I'm cooking in it.

          I fry a lot in tinned copper, so I am loathe to preheat a poelle for more than 30 seconds even at a medium fire before adding some fat. After that, I sort of let the fat be my guide--bubbling is fine, smoking and/or browning is nearing the red zone, so I'll either dump in the food at that point or back off the heat by half or so if I have to wait.

          But I sear in cast iron, and there I *want* some whisps of smoke, and I usually max out the setting to get there ASAP. This sounds strange, I know, but I can feel the high heat with my eyes. I usually maintain the max setting a bit past the flip and then turn off the heat.

          Pound-for-pound, AL can really soak up the heat, but I'm a little surprised your pan took 9 minutes to come up. Maybe "medium" explains it. In the interest of time alone, I'd try bumping it up higher for the first 2-3 minutes and dialing it back.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kaleokahu

            Thanks. I usually pre-heat the pan while I am finishing up prep and mise en place, so it's not that long to wait. I'll try turning the element higher for preheat and turning it down when it gets to cooking temp.

            I'll watch for feeling the heat with my eyes :) along with other signs like lightly touching the edge of the pan, holding my palm over top of it, and just the general feel of heat coming off of it.

            Thanks again,
            Bruce

          2. It's not possible to generalize since there are so many variables. If using an electric cooktop the flatness of the bottom of the pan is very important. Preheating time depends on the type of stove, the composition and size of the pan, and how much food is going into it. In my experience, I get better searing with a long preheat at a lower temp than a shorter high-heat preheat.

            1 Reply
            1. re: greygarious

              Agreed - the issue is not a specific amount of time, it's getting to the right heat. As a cook with many years experience I just wait until it feels hot enough for what I'm planning to do when I hold my hand an inch or so above the surface.