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Which comes first, the heat or the oil?

  • m

I have read that when using a saute pan one should heat the pan empty, then add the oil, and then the food imeaditely afterwads. The idea is to not expose the oil to more heat history than necessary so that it doesn't change flavor. Ok, makes sense to me. But then I read the owners manual for the new saute pan I purchased and it states one should add the oil, butter, etc. to a cold pan. I'm guessing this is to avoid overheating an empty pan. So which method is correct, heat then oil or oil then heat?

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  1. I always add oil after the pan is hot, but I'd follow the instructions on the pan you bought. Is it perhaps coated or something?

    3 Replies
    1. re: mamachef

      Thanks, that's what I've done in the past. The new pan is not coated, just regular multi ply SS/Al/SS.

      1. re: mamachef

        It's not specific to the pan. Pretty much all new pans have that instruction. Manufacturers got sick of customers demanding replacement pans after they put em on a high burner for 15 minutes before adding food or oil.

        There's nothing wrong with gently heating an empty pan. The problem comes when you overheat an empty pan. As Ips says, with non-stick it's typically better to add oil before heating, just to go extra easy on the non-stick surface (and anyway, you tend to cook at lower heat on a non-stick pan, so the oil is less liable to break down quickly).

        1. re: cowboyardee

          Thanks. I never ever use coated pans, so it's not relevant personally, and you know much more than I do. I appreciate the clarification.

      2. I think everything you said is right- it's better for the pan to be heated with the oil, since the smoking oil will cool down the pan if you overheat it, but burnt oil tastes bad. If you're paying attention and not overheating anything, they're both safe. I'd rather burn oil than mess up the pan if I get distracted, so I usually heat the pan with oil in it.

        1. After reading some great CHers advice on using a cast iron pan, I now heat the pan then add the oil and the food a moment or two later. That person (sorry for not remember who posted the advice!) was absolutely right--food does not stick. So, unless I'm using a non-stick pan, I heat the pan first.

          1. The typical rule of thumb is that if it's a non-stick pan you add a little oil to the pan first before heating. Most manufacturers usually recommend this to extend the life of the non-stick coating.

            For regular pans (those without non-stick coating) you should heat them dry until you can feel the radiating from the surface when your hand is held about 6-inches above the bottom. Add your oil at this point. You'll actually need to use less oil because the same amount will spread across a greater surface area due to its decreased viscosity as it heats. Plus your oil will heat up instantly and when you add your food it's less inclined to stick. Most people get impatient waiting for pans to heat (generally speaking), which leads to all sorts of sticking issues. Also, adding oil after heating the pan also ensures that the food isn't going into a pan with oil that's cold or not hot enough. When cold oil goes into a pan and cold food ends up on top of it you'll end up with one big sticky mess.

            As for adding oil before heating the pan, the longer fats heat without anything else in the pan, the quicker they'll break down and burn. Broken-down oil gets viscous and gummy, and even a slight degree of this can contribute to sticking and residues on the food.

            7 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              Thanks for the concise explanation! :)

              1. re: gourmanda

                And do remember: peanut oil is your new BFF. Very high flashpoint.

                1. re: mamachef

                  "peanut oil is your new BFF. Very high flashpoint"

                  What does the temperature at which the vapor of a combustible liquid can be ignited in air have to do with cooking oil? If we're talking alcohols and flambe, flashpoint makes sense. With oil, not so much. The flashpoint of vegetable oil is above 600F, higher than anyone really needs to worry about.

                  Do you mean smoking point? Refined peanut oil has a smoking point of about 450F, similar to corn, sunflower, and soy. Wiki has canola oil at 475, and Safflower at 510.

                  In terms of health profiles, canola, corn, olive, soybean and sunflower all have lower saturated and trans fat than peanut oil.

                  Given the combination of smoke point and health profile, other than the distinct nutty flavor peanut oil can have, peanut oil doesn't seem make sense as an oil of choice.

                  1. re: mamachef

                    I'm a fan of rice bran oil (smoke point 490) and safflower oil (smoke point 510) specifically when trying to create a crust on meat. Warm the pan, add oil, further heat the pan until the oil just starts to smoke, add meat (also helps to make sure the meat's surface is dry). Pretty much guarantees you a good crust.

                    Additionally, both oils are very light-tasting and flavorless. I had previously been using grapeseed oil for certain emulsions and dressings because of that neutral quality, but I've found that safflower oil and/or rice bran oil is nice in that it can pull a double duty - good for very high temp frying and also for emulsions where you want to highlight other flavors.

                    Nothing against peanut oil. But it just always has a little bit of flavor that sometimes I want and sometimes I don't. Not trying to argue - I'm just recommending what I've found to work well, to you or anyone else who's interested. In truth, I keep around a few different oils and use them all for different applications.

                  2. re: mamachef

                    Nah. Olive oil is my every day oil. I'll use vegetable or peanut for the very rare occasion to fry something.

                    1. re: gourmanda

                      Foreverhungry and gourmanda: I meant as a frying oil, not an ap oil. Sorry if I was unclear. I certainly don't come here to foment debate, though. If you don't like it don't use it, for sure!!
                      I don't fry much, myself: at least not to home. But when I do, peanut oil's my trusted friend.

              2. Some kind soul on this board advised me to heat the pan first, then add the oil. I believe it was in regard to cast iron. He told me that a drop of water should immediately become a ball. (Mercury ball were his words.) I remembered that I used to do that test when I made pancakes for the family, about a thousand years ago. At any rate, that's what I do with all pans, except I don't try for a spinning ball of water in my non stick.

                When you heat the pan, and then add oil, you don't get as much sticking. Works for me. That's what I do, with some exceptions.

                3 Replies
                1. re: sueatmo

                  The geezers among us will remember the Frugal Gourmet's mantra: Hot pan, cold oil, foods won't stick. Moot point in nonstick pans but otherwise good advice. I seem to recall, though, reading something about needing to heat an un-enameled cast iron pan with oil in it to achieve polymerization for that smooth, slick surface. Heat opens the "pores" of the naked cast iron, blah blah blah. Maybe this is only when developing the seasoning, since you're supposed to just wipe out, rather than wash, cast iron. That automatically leaves some fat in the pan.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    I've been using the hot pan, cold oil for a solid year in my cast iron pans, and they have developed a very nice smooth, dark slick surface.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      I can still hear him say it.... "Hot wok, cold oil, food won't stick."