Kathleen Purvis Q&A

When do you add oil to a skillet?

July 16, 2013 

Q: I have been told that heating a skillet before adding oil prevents sticking. I’ve never noticed the benefits and have had food stick as soon as I put it in the pan. How hot should the pan be before adding the oil? And is this pointless when using nonstick?

“Hot pan, cold oil” is one of those cooking mantras that may or may not work. There are some claims that heating the pan first closes pores in the metal, keeping the oil on the surface. But food scientists such as writer Harold McGee actually say that it has more to do with the oil. If you wait until the pan is hot before you add oil, there is less chance for the oil to burn or break down. However, you also will have less chance to watch for the oil to shimmer or smoke to gauge how hot it is.

Your problem with sticking may come from trying to turn meat too soon. Meat will release when it has developed a browned surface. Nudge it a little before trying to turn it. If it’s sticking, let it cook a little longer to see if it will release on its own. That works on grills as well as on metal surfaces.

Nonstick pans are a different issue. If the coating gets too hot, it can release fumes that may be toxic. You shouldn’t heat those pans empty. Manufacturers usually suggest adding oil before heating the pan and never heating the pan beyond medium-high.

Email questions about food or cooking to Kathleen Purvis at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com.

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