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Crab cake question

I'm cooking my way through a cookbook my kids bought me, cause they keep bugging me to... But I think it will be fun.

anyway there's a crab cake recipe that instructs me to heat the oil in a skillet to "hot but not smoking". Any advice on how I know I've reached this ideal temp? Should I use my thermometer? The instructions seem kind of vague.
Fortunately most of the directions in the book are not over my head, but I'm afraid this one is!

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  1. I hold my hand a few inches over the pan, palm down.

    1. The directions are pretty clear. They mean pretty high heat.

      Test it a couple time before you make them .

      Get your skillet and oil hot enough so that it is hot but not smoking (THAT IS BURNING).

      1 Reply
      1. re: C. Hamster

        The oil will start to shimmer and be more fluid. Use your hand and if you can't hold it there longer than 5 second, it's fine. You could also place the corner of a crab cake in the oil to see if it sizzles

      2. Depends on what type of oil you're using if you want to rely on a thermometer. There's a wide range of smoke temps depending on the oil type. Generally, I'd say 350-375 is pretty safe for crab cakes. Once you put them in the pan, the temp will drop at least 20-40 degrees, so don't crowd the pan.

        In most pans, the oil starts to really shimmer before it smokes, but give the variance of smoke temp, you need to know your oil. I like rice bran oil for things like this. Certain oils will be way to hot by the time they're almost at smoking temp.

        1 Reply
        1. re: hankstramm

          hank is right - know the oil you choose. you definitely don't want olive oil, maybe peanut or safflower, even generic vegetable oil would be better than olive (in this application anyway, as I love olive oil for other purposes) corn wouldn't completely suck, but would add a lot of it's own flavor.

          and then research the smoke points from there.


        2. Turn the heat to about 7/8 if the knob has 10 numbers. Once the oil starts to shimmer drop in a bread crumb or what have you. If it makes a sharp sizzle and hissing sound its hot. If no sound it is not hot enough yet

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ttrockwood

            Problem with that is it will burn.

            I just did this exact thing tonight with a few pieces of fish. Knob on 7 (out of 10) pre heated pan, put oil in when the pan was nice and hot, put in fish, INSTA burn. No brown. No gold. No crust. Just black.

            I'd start at setting 5 (assuming you're using a decent pan) let it pre heat and go from there. A few drops of water in the pan that sizzle and evaporate immediately means your pan is ready for oil.

            1. re: Kleraudio

              I guess everyone's stove is very different- 5 on mine would just be warm...

          2. im in the camp that says to hold your hand over the pan, palm down, a few inches above the pan. When the hand is too hot to handle the heat, the pan is really hot too!
            ps i think you are right - this is a completely vague direction..but i'm not sure how one would write it out to make it clearer: using a thermometer wouldn't really work, unless you had one of those expensive scanning types that would give you some sort of accurate temp. i'm afraid this might be a bit of trial and error for you!

            1. The smoke point of an oil or fat is the temperature at which it gives off smoke. The smoke point of oil depends to a very large extent on its purity and age at the time of measurement. A simple rule of thumb is that the lighter the color of the oil, the higher its smoke point. When frying, it is important to choose an oil with a very high smoking point. Most foods are fried between the temperatures of 350-450 degrees Fahrenheit so it is best to choose an oil with a smoking point above 400 degrees.

              Great chart here of a wide range of oils and smoke points


              1. As others have said, this depends on the oil, but a general rule of thumb is that you want the oil to be hot enough to make food sizzle. You can test whether this is the case by moistening a wooden chopstick and dipping it into the oil

                2 Replies
                1. re: Scrofula

                  Or just dip the corner of a crab cake.

                  1. re: Scrofula

                    I have always done this as well. I do not moisten the wooden chopstick(water + oil = bad). You can use the handle of a wooden spoon as well. Place the wood in the oil and if there are lots of bubbles the oil is ready. I learned this trick from a great Asian chef.

                  2. I lightly fry my crab cakes in a little oil and butter on medium heat. The crab is cooked or should be.Make your cakes with little binding to just barely to hold them together. Put back in fridge for 20 min or so. I've used saltine crackes,or maybe dusted with flour for a coating.No need to fry the crap out of them.

                    1. You can drop a small cube of bread or a sliver from any vegetables you have used as an ingredient for the crabcakes. It will start to sizzle when it's hot enough to drop the crabcake in.

                      I recommend a medium flame.

                      1. This is one of those cooking instructions that applies to almost all similar foods: fritters, bean cakes, crab cakes...

                        My advice is to practice with low-budget fritters first, and apply what you learn to crab cakes once you're confident. Unless you're right on the Chesapeake bay and crabs are dirt cheap.

                        You don't want a lot of oil; it isn't like frying a chicken. But it should coat the entire base of the skillet. Unless your skillet is copper, start the heat at just-above-medium under the empty pan. Wait just a half minute or so. Add the oil to coat the base thinly, and keep your eye on it. When it shimmers slightly, put in the item to be sizzled. {If you do have a copper frying pan, add the oil before turning on the heat, and look for the same shimmer.}

                        1. and AND on the first batch don't load the pan, the first go 'round of anything fried is never as good as the second. just put the first 2 or at most 3 cakes on a cookie sheet in a warming oven as you go through the rest. actually, don't load the pan on any batch, crowding may seem like an economy in effort, but it is not your friend.