HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >

Which comes first, the heat or the oil?

m
mikie Feb 1, 2012 06:08 AM

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?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. mamachef RE: mikie Feb 1, 2012 06:12 AM

    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
      m
      mikie RE: mamachef Feb 1, 2012 06:24 AM

      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
        cowboyardee RE: mamachef Feb 1, 2012 08:02 AM

        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
          mamachef RE: cowboyardee Feb 1, 2012 10:48 AM

          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. j
        jvanderh RE: mikie Feb 1, 2012 06:32 AM

        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. g
          gourmanda RE: mikie Feb 1, 2012 07:28 AM

          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. ipsedixit RE: mikie Feb 1, 2012 07:47 AM

            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
              g
              gourmanda RE: ipsedixit Feb 1, 2012 07:57 AM

              Thanks for the concise explanation! :)

              1. re: gourmanda
                mamachef RE: gourmanda Feb 1, 2012 07:59 AM

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

                1. re: mamachef
                  f
                  foreverhungry RE: mamachef Feb 1, 2012 10:23 AM

                  "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
                    cowboyardee RE: mamachef Feb 1, 2012 11:33 AM

                    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.

                    1. re: cowboyardee
                      mamachef RE: cowboyardee Feb 1, 2012 11:42 AM

                      Works for me, thanks.

                  2. re: mamachef
                    g
                    gourmanda RE: mamachef Feb 1, 2012 10:37 AM

                    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
                      mamachef RE: gourmanda Feb 1, 2012 10:54 AM

                      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. s
                sueatmo RE: mikie Feb 1, 2012 08:09 AM

                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
                  greygarious RE: sueatmo Feb 1, 2012 12:00 PM

                  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
                    s
                    sueatmo RE: greygarious Feb 1, 2012 12:39 PM

                    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
                      l
                      Leepa RE: greygarious Mar 18, 2012 03:10 PM

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

                  2. BobB RE: mikie Feb 1, 2012 09:01 AM

                    Depends on the pan. I've developed a simple technique for searing steaks and burgers in my Le Creuset frying pans (cast iron with inner matte black enamel coating). I add a little bit of high-temp-tolerant oil like grapeseed to the cold pan, then use a paper towel to spread it around and wipe off all the excess, so there's just a sheen left behind. Heat the pan well, then add the meat, and don't touch it for at least a few minutes. Always gives a nice brown crust and no sticking at all.

                    1. g
                      gotsmack RE: mikie Feb 1, 2012 11:34 AM

                      Depends on what you're cooking. French style cooking seems to be add oil to a hot pan, Italian seems to mostly add oil to a cold pan. The exception is when you want to sweat the oil/fat out of duck or bacon then it goes in a cold pan.

                      If your pan doesn't heat evenly then add in the oil after the pan gets hot.

                      1. linguafood RE: mikie Feb 1, 2012 11:55 AM

                        I've been adding my oil (peanut for very high-temp frying) to the cold skillet/wok/braising pan, etc. until it gets nice and shiny - sometimes, for stir-frying, until it's smoking. Works fine with all materials, non-stick or not.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: linguafood
                          cowboyardee RE: linguafood Feb 1, 2012 12:15 PM

                          Frankly, I don't actually know whether heating the pan a bit before adding the oil actually provides any additional resistance to sticking or if that's just an old wive's tale.

                          OTOH, there are benefits of doing either depending on how you test whether a pan is hot enough. If you intend to cook at moderate heat, below an oil's smoke point, waiting to add oil allows you to perform the water droplet test, giving you a decent idea of the pan's rough temperature. Meanwhile, if you intend to cook on high heat, perhaps right at an oil's smoke point, the smoking oil will serve as your temperature gauge, and adding the oil at the beginning will give you a visual cue so you don't accidentally overheat your pan.

                          I personally tend to heat the pan dry first before adding oil in either case, but that may just be superstition about negligible difference in sticking.

                          1. re: cowboyardee
                            linguafood RE: cowboyardee Feb 1, 2012 12:23 PM

                            I can generally tell by the look of the oil whether it's ready or not.

                            For frying, I simply stick a wooden chopstick in, and if it bubbles up around it, it's ready to go.

                            It's really not all that complicated when one has been cooking for a long time '-)

                            1. re: linguafood
                              cowboyardee RE: linguafood Feb 1, 2012 12:31 PM

                              True enough (people also use the 'ripple test' with oil), but I find the water droplet test a little easier. And definitely easier to explain to a novice.

                              At any rate, I'm not trying to school experienced cooks. More so trying to give the easiest advice to a beginner (the kind of person who needs to know whether oil should go in first or not). More experienced cooks already have systems that work for them. I add in oil after heating the pan, despite knowing that it might not actually do anything to help avoid sticking... because that's the way I've always done it and I get perfectly fine results that way, as I'm sure you do with yours.

                        2. ike04 RE: mikie Mar 18, 2012 03:07 PM

                          I gently warm any pan on low for a few min before adding the oil. I add the oil to a warm pan then turn up the heat and then cook. This is more of a safety issue for me. I want to be near the pan and not finnishing my prep work as the oil heats.

                          Show Hidden Posts