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When to add oil to stainless and non-stick pans?

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I have seen comments here saying to add oil to a hot stainless steel pan. However, my Viking pamphlet (that came with my new 3qt, 7-ply saute) says, "When using oil, butter, or margarine, add to a cold pot before pre-heating."

Also, I've heard that a non-stick pan should not be heated empty b/c it can release fumes. I have a Calphalon Unison skillet and I put oil and butter in it as it is heating. My SO heats the pan, then adds oil or butter.

So what is correct in terms of cooking technique, and cookware care, for stainless steel and non-stick surfaces?

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  1. When I use CI or stainless, I let the pan heat first, then add the oil if I am going to sear, saute meat or fry. If I am going to saute veggies, this procedure doesn't work so well.

    I'd follow the mfg's directions on this, but I don't know how you'd fry up breaded fish or chicken that way. I'd think you'd want to heat the pan, add the oil, then add the meat or fish.

    1. For pan frying, I add oil when the pan is hot or getting hot. I rarely add oil in the beginning.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        My method is as Chem said... I water test the pan until it's at optimal temperature. Quickly coat the bottom with cold oil. Immediately followed by the ingredients. But this is really for searing / pan frying meats where they would stick to a cold pan.

        But for veggies I can get way with a "warm enough" pan and cold oil. Most veggies won't stick to SS anyways.

        Viking's method actually makes the oil more volatile and will have a tendency to burn. In addition, how can you tell when the pan has reached optimal temperature from those different fats?

        1. re: unprofessional_chef

          < I water test the pan until it's at optimal temperature>

          Wow, we do exactly the same thing. In fact, I find it even more useful for nonstick/Teflon pans.

          You hit on a very good point. For many cooking, it is fine to add oil to a lukewarm or even cold pan. For high temperature cooking, it is not a good idea. The pan heats up slowly from room temperature to scorching hot. If the oil is in the pan from the beginning, then the oil will be exposed to high heat for a very long time, and resulting burning.

      2. The first thing that came to mind when I read the thread title was Jeff Smith's mantra all those years ago "hot pan cold oil food won't stick". Sorry!

        I don't know what to tell you. To me it's just a matter of knowing your cookware and your own way of cooking. Which can only be determined by time. Directions from cookware manufacturers mean nothing to me. But then I don't buy expensive stuff.