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Old 05-22-2009, 12:49 PM   #1
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Switching to stainless steel

I got a beautiful set of stainless steel Calphalon pots and pans as a wedding present. Previously, I was using a simple non-stick set. I'm finding it a little difficult to transition, at least when sauteing things.

The pants came with a little insert that said it is recommended that I use low to medium heat. Does that mean with everything? I haven't gone above medium yet, and I seem to have enough heat, but everything is sticking horribly, and I have to scrub for a while to clean the pan.

I rent, so I'm stuck with an electric range. What I do is put some oil in the pan and let it heat up to the "sizzle point", and then add my ingredients. Should I start even doing things on medium-low? Is that hot enough for things like meat? I want to make sure things are properly cooked, but the sticking is costing me food while cooking (because it's stuck to the pan) and time cleaning.

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Old 05-22-2009, 12:53 PM   #2
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Heat the pan empty (no oil) then when it is hot add

the oil right before you add the food. Hot pan, cold oil food won't stick.
And you should be fine with higher than just medium heat. I would turn the heat up to med hi and heat the pan then add oil then food. shouldn't stick
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Old 05-22-2009, 01:03 PM   #3
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The electric range shouldn't be a problem.

The keys are to have a fully hot pan and fully heated oil before adding the meat. Place the meat in the pan (the meat should be dry) and don't try to move or turn it. It will stick to the pan initially but will free itself as a nice brown crust forms.

Is your cookware tri-ply or disk bottom? I have a Calphalon SS tri-ply saute pan that is regularly subjected to high heat levels. I often preheat full blast as I am impatient. I pan sear meats at medium-high without issue.

When you're done cooking, remove the food and run some tap water into the pan. Set it aside and clean it later. For stuff in the pan taht doesn't surrender to soap and water, use Barkeeper's Friend. It's a scouring powder that is the best for SS. It won't scratch and gets everything off.
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Old 05-22-2009, 01:11 PM   #4
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Ditto what has been said. Heat the pan first, and when it's at the temperature you want to cook with, then add you oil. Make sure the meat or chicken isn't wet (dry it with a paper towel) and place it on the surface. It WILL stick, but it will come loose when it is properly browned. You can test it, but if it resists turning, leave it for a bit longer.

As for temperature, you can use your stainless on low heat, medium heat, and even high heat (especially when there's food in the pan) -- manufacturers tell you not to do that because the pan might warp, but I've been doing it for 40 years on both gas and electric and I've never had any warping with GOOD stainless cookware.
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Old 05-22-2009, 01:22 PM   #5
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Let me be the contrarian here.

According to what I have read and experienced with personal testing, it is not necessary to heat the pan before adding the oil.

As long as both are at the proper cooking temperature before the meat is added, the food will not stick.

Dr. Robert Wolke, Prefessor Emeritus of Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and food scientist and author, conduced tests and published an article on this subject. He proved to his and my satisfaction that heating the pan dry is not necessary.

As I had always done the dry preheating thing, I had to prove it on my own. I used a clean SS skillet and canola oil and fried an egg both ways. First, heating the pan then adding the oil and heating that before frying an egg. Then, second, heating the oil and pan together and frying another egg. Both performed exactly the same.

Upon thinking about it, how would the food know what temperature the pan was when the oil was added?
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Old 05-22-2009, 02:02 PM   #6
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Oh, sure, apply science to test what everybody knows! What fun is that?
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Old 05-22-2009, 02:04 PM   #7
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Oh, sure, apply science to test what everybody knows! What fun is that?

Sorry, I'll try to control myself.
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Old 05-22-2009, 02:24 PM   #8
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Let me be the contrarian here.
I am glad you were the one so I didn't have to be

Seriously though, there is good advice in this thread. Don't play with your food as soon as you put it in the pan as so many people want to do. It WILL stick to begin with, but eventually it will release. Give it time. Sometimes you do need to nudge it a little bit, but it should not take much effort.

And like Scotch, I have used my SS on high heat many many times and never had an issue. It is usually not necessary to go that high, but if you ever need to then you can.
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Old 05-22-2009, 02:26 PM   #9
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This site has some helpful information on sauteing, which requires HIGH HEAT: CLICK ME

It includes this section on why the pan should be heated before adding the oil -- note in particular the last paragraph:

Important Tip - Preheating the Pan

The biggest mistake home cooks make when sauteing is not getting the pan hot enough. They take cold ingredients right out of the refrigerator, put them into a cold pan and stick it on the flame. Big mistake - don't do it. You'll end with bone dry meat, chicken or fish.

Have you ever asked yourself why your cookbooks and cooking magazines suggest you preheat a pan before adding butter or oil to it? I did and spent a lot of time looking for the answer until I contacted my friends Chef Todd Mohr and Chef Ricco. Thay had several reasons for preheating your pans:

Chef Todd
  • If you add cold protein ingredients to a cold pan and put it on the heat, the ingredients will release some of their moisture as it heats up and you end up with dry meats and fish. It's hard to watch a home cook put that cold white piece of chicken in a saute pan, slowly releasing it's moisture, gently simmering in it's own fat, rather than searing at high heat.
Chef Ricco
  • All pans have hot spots. These are places on a pan that heat up faster than the rest of the pan. If you add butter or oil to a cold pan and then heat it up, it can hit one of these hot spots and start burning. If you start with a hot pan that is uniformly heated, there is less chance for the fat to hit a hot spot and burn. When sauteing, you want the butter to foam up before you start and the oil to "almost" start smoking. If it starts smoking, you are too late and the oil will leave a bad flavor to your dish. You want the oil hot but not smoking. Now you are ready to start the saute.
  • There is an expression, "A watched pot never boils" which means if you stand there and watch a pot of water come to boil, it seems like it is taking forever. Our attention drifts and we get distracted. The same is true when heating up butter and oil in a pan. Have you ever added some cold butter to a cold pan, pushed it around a bit, became distracted and walked away only to have the butter burn? By preheating the pan you are ready to start cooking the moment you add your fat. Your attention is focused.
Why Not Just Pre-Heat The Fat With The Pan

You might think it would save time just to heat the fat in the pan at the same time but this is not a good idea. As fats heat up, they start to degrade once they reach 140 F. So rather than let the fat continuously breakdown from 140F to your ideal temperature, it's better to add the oil to an already hot pan.
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Old 05-22-2009, 02:28 PM   #10
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While that may be technically true Scotch, practically it really does not matter. The oil is not breaking down to the point that it is unusable or even compromised in the few seconds we are talking about.
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Old 05-22-2009, 02:46 PM   #11
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You, Andy, and the old chemist seem to be voices in the wilderness. That's not to say you're wrong, of course, but it seems that every recognized cooking expert disagrees.

It may not be necessary to preheat the pan, but obviously it can't hurt to do so, and a lot of people who are a lot more experienced in the kitchen than all of us combined say you should. Since it's no harder to do that, I think I'll stick with the expert cooks' advice (or at least try to -- I confess that I don't always preheat my pan, as shocking as that may seem to you).

Here's another bit from Harold McGee, the New York Times food columnist who knows a thing or two about kitchen science:

Harold McGee on When to Put Oil in a Pan

By The New York Times
(Photo: Lars Klove for The New York Times)


Q: Is there a difference between adding oil to a hot pan (classic advice) or heating the oil in the pan? Same with butter.
Posted by jonathan

Harold McGee replies: It is indeed better to heat the pan first, then add the oil or butter. The longer the oil spends in contact with the hot surface, especially metal, the more time it has to be broken down by the extreme conditions and exposure to oxygen. Broken-down oil gets viscous and gummy, and even a slight degree of this can contribute to sticking and residues on the food. This happens more slowly with saturated fats like butter, but unclarified butter has milk solids that can scorch with excessive heat.
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Old 05-22-2009, 02:59 PM   #12
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Andy, myself, and the "old chemist" are the only one cited in here, but there are others who feel this way. I have seen chefs on FoodTV (I know that is not necessarily a ringing endorsement) agree that it does not matter what order it is done. Surely Andy, myself, and Dr. Wolke are not the only ones on this planet who think this way.

I have the utmost respect for Mr. McGee. I do not disagree with what he says in the blurb you provided nor do I disagree with the same information you posted in your other blurb, but again while it is technically correct, practically (and I say this from my own personal experiences) it does not matter.
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Old 05-22-2009, 03:06 PM   #13
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Thanks, everyone. I'll try letting my food cook for a while before trying to turn it. I assume this policy is the same for non-meats (e.g. tofu) as well?
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Old 05-22-2009, 04:39 PM   #14
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Scotch, that's a lot of research. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

I couldn't help notice that NONE of your sources addressed the sticking issue as it relates to when you add the oil. All the reasons given for why to add the oil to a hot pan relate to reasons other than a food sticking problem - the issue under discussion.
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Old 05-22-2009, 07:22 PM   #15
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Scotch, that's a lot of research. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

I couldn't help notice that NONE of your sources addressed the sticking issue as it relates to when you add the oil. All the reasons given for why to add the oil to a hot pan relate to reasons other than a food sticking problem - the issue under discussion.
Read it again. McGee says this about that: "Broken-down oil gets viscous and gummy, and even a slight degree of this can contribute to sticking and residues on the food."
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Old 05-22-2009, 08:47 PM   #16
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Oops, missed that.

I won't disagree with McGee. He knows his stuff. However, I have never experienced oil's getting viscous and gummy when I add the oil to a cold pan and heat it all together. It actually gets thinner and less viscous.

I would guess the oil would have to be on the heat for quite a bit of time above the oil's smoke point for that to happen.
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Old 05-22-2009, 09:03 PM   #17
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Oops, missed that.

I won't disagree with McGee. He knows his stuff. However, I have never experienced oil's getting viscous and gummy when I add the oil to a cold pan and heat it all together. It actually gets thinner and less viscous.

I would guess the oil would have to be on the heat for quite a bit of time above the oil's smoke point for that to happen.
I suspect the differences are mostly theoretical.
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Old 05-23-2009, 08:05 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by CyberSlag5k View Post
I got a beautiful set of stainless steel Calphalon pots and pans as a wedding present. Previously, I was using a simple non-stick set. I'm finding it a little difficult to transition, at least when sauteing things.

The pants came with a little insert that said it is recommended that I use low to medium heat. Does that mean with everything? I haven't gone above medium yet, and I seem to have enough heat, but everything is sticking horribly, and I have to scrub for a while to clean the pan.

I rent, so I'm stuck with an electric range. What I do is put some oil in the pan and let it heat up to the "sizzle point", and then add my ingredients. Should I start even doing things on medium-low? Is that hot enough for things like meat? I want to make sure things are properly cooked, but the sticking is costing me food while cooking (because it's stuck to the pan) and time cleaning.
With AllClad's stainless tri-clad saute pan, we've had the same experience you describe and All-Clads instructions are similar to those in the insert described by you.
Our workaround has been to deglaze the pan with wine. This cleans up the pan pretty well and provides a basis for some tasty sauces and gravies.
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Old 05-23-2009, 08:35 AM   #19
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With the SS All-clad, we've also noticed that the cooking of foods like asparagus or tomato seems to dissipate minor spotting, staining, or discoloration that was not readily removed by gentle scouring with Bonami.
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