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Old 03-02-2012, 12:27 PM   #1
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Sauteeing without burning oil

Hello All,

I've been trying mightily to sautee foods (chicken breasts in this case) without burning the oil, but without much success. For example, I closely followed the technique I've seen described several times about heating the pan on high heat, and then putting in the oil. I wait until a flick of water from my fingers boils away immediately, then I add the oil.

But every time, as soon as I put in the oil, it smokes a huge amount. So clearly the temperature is too high, but the recipes for true sauteeing seem to always say set the temperature on high heat.

I'm using high quality stainless steel cookware with tri-ply aluminum core.

So what am I missing here, and how can I correct it?

Thank you very much.

Steve

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Old 03-02-2012, 12:32 PM   #2
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What kind of oil are you using? Different oils have different smoke points.

I tend to start the burner then put the oil in. When it starts to ripple you should be just under the smoke point.
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Old 03-02-2012, 12:49 PM   #3
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In this case olive oil, but it doesn't seem to matter what oil I use, even the higher smoke point oils. The temp must be to high, but I'm just following the directions about high heat. Also, using a gas stove.

Should I turn down the heat when the oil starts to ripple, then? I want to get that "pop" and sear that proper sauteeing is supposed to result in.

Thanks

Steve
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Old 03-02-2012, 12:56 PM   #4
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You gotta be quick with gas heat. Like 30 seconds. Just practice and don't worry too much. You are better being a little lower than too high, right?
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Old 03-02-2012, 01:25 PM   #5
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There is really no benefit from heating the pan first, unless you are deliberately using a low smoke point fat and accepting the short window before it smokes, or if you are using a light pan. For instance, if you want to use butter and still have it very hot, you need to heat the pan, add the butter, and use it in the brief time available. But for oils with smoke points high enough to keep them at working heat for longer, you might as well put the oil in the cold pan, so that you're not guessing about the pan temperature, which can get overly high in a short time.

If you want to use olive oil, use light olive oil. It has less plant matter in it to burn and has a very high smoke point. I find that when the oil begins to ripple, it's at a useful temperature for most things and can be adjusted on the fly for finer control.

That old advice about heating the pan first is misleading in two ways. One is that what was originally meant was that you should not put the FOOD in the cold pan. That's right. Meat being heated in a cold pan will give off water long before the oil is hot enough, and you won't be able to saute, because you'll be boiling it. The other reason no longer applies to most home cooks. Traditional restaurant cookware and the formerly very common sort of home cookware, such as Revereware thin stainless copper bottom, had hotspots that could smoke some of the oil before most of it was ready.

You're using tri-ply steel, heavy and with a heat distributing slug or aluminum embedded in it. Your hotspot situation will be greatly reduced or non-existent. And, if you think about commercial cooking, the fires generally stay on. You throw the pan on the fire. It gets hit quickly, probably by the time you get the fat in the pan, and a commercial burner puts out so much heat that the whole operation is over very quickly. You don't have that kind of heat at home. The time required to heat a pan is long enough that misjudgments matter. Just put the oil in and watch for it to get hot. How much you have to adjust depends on the mass of food being cooked.
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Old 03-02-2012, 01:26 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by riversurf View Post
In this case olive oil, but it doesn't seem to matter what oil I use, even the higher smoke point oils. The temp must be to high, but I'm just following the directions about high heat. Also, using a gas stove.
You need to be very careful with high heat, especially on a gas stove. High heat doesn't necessarily mean you turn the heating element as far as it will go. It sounds like you're very lucky you haven't started a fire. There have been a couple times I've added oil to a super heated pan, turned my back for a few seconds, only to turn around and see a fire raging in the pan.

Anymore I do it the way Frank mentions. Turn on the burner, put the oil in the pan, and then add the food when the oil is shimmering. I know that's not always the way the "experts" say to do it, but I think it gives you better control. And if you're using a good quality pan, you probably don't need to turn the burner flame any more than three quarters. Most chef quality pans are excellent conductors of heat.
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Old 03-02-2012, 01:38 PM   #7
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The goal is to develop a nice browning on the first side of the breast. That can be done easily at lower than top temp setting. You don't have to use the highest heat setting to get the job done. Try it with the burner set at 75% that's what I do.

Some smoke is to be expected when you add the food. It's not necessarily the oil that's smoking. That would have been smoking before you added meat if it was too hot.

You can start at high heat and turn it down when you add the meat. A little experimentation is in order to figure it all out. I have learned which numbers (1-10) on my burner dial are appropriate settings for different foods.
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Old 03-02-2012, 02:30 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by riversurf View Post
But every time, as soon as I put in the oil, it smokes a huge amount. So clearly the temperature is too high, but the recipes for true sauteeing seem to always say set the temperature on high heat.
As you said, clearly the temperature is too high. Just ignore the instructions and start out on medium heat for a short time, or just add your oil to a cold pan and warm it until the oil reaches cooking temperature.

About the only reason I can see to use high heat is to shorten the wait. As you gain experience you can adjust the preheating temperature and time to suit yourself.
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Old 03-02-2012, 02:49 PM   #9
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Wow, thanks for all of the very helpful (and fast) responses. I'll just have to experiment with lower temperatures & get a feel for the stove.

Thanks

Steve
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Old 03-02-2012, 02:52 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by riversurf View Post
...I'll just have to experiment with lower temperatures & get a feel for the stove.

Thanks

Steve

Exactly right!

Good luck
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Old 03-02-2012, 03:03 PM   #11
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Thanks, a little luck won't hurt, I'm cooking for my wife's birthday tomorrow.
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Old 03-02-2012, 06:12 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Kroll View Post
You need to be very careful with high heat, especially on a gas stove. High heat doesn't necessarily mean you turn the heating element as far as it will go. It sounds like you're very lucky you haven't started a fire. There have been a couple times I've added oil to a super heated pan, turned my back for a few seconds, only to turn around and see a fire raging in the pan.
Which makes the point of never heating oil in a covered pan. I don't remember why I did that years ago. Nevertheless, I did, and which I lifted the lid, superheated oil flashed. After years in the fire service and knowing better, I compounded the incident by trying to remove the pan from the fire. I have a portion of my left hand that has thin skin that won't tan 25 years after the burn and peculiar brown spots on one foot from the hot oil. (Had I just replaced the lid and turned off the burner, it would have been okay.)
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Old 03-02-2012, 06:13 PM   #13
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GLC CWI?
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Old 07-02-2012, 09:26 AM   #14
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I'm tagging this onto the old topic, because in it, I said I saw no point in heating the pan before adding oil. Having had some other discussions along this line, I have to take that back.

The point that was made to me was that for many purposes, like searing a steak, the pan needs to be evenly heated across the bottom surface, and though they are good transmitters of heat, even aluminum and cast iron need time to equalize the heat across the bottom.

So it becomes a bit more of a skill than just putting oil in a cold pan and heating until a hint of smoke or signs of heat are shown. And more than leaving a pan on the fire to become terminally hot before adding oil and likely smoking it. The first doesn't evenly heat the pan. The second overheats the oil.

I now approach this situation in two stages by preheating the pan over a fire high enough to contribute enough heat to bring the pan to a moderate, even heat across the surface but not so much fire that it get overheated. Then bringing up the fire, so that there's enough to bring the oil, added at this point, to cooking heat and enough to recover from the meat being dropped on it.

This may not be such a big deal with an electric range where the fire is in contact over most of the bottom to about the same degree. Over gas, home ranges don't have enough of a flame pattern to accomplish that, so we're always needing more time for heat to migrate through the pan. The oil may get evenly hot through the convection currents set up in it, but the metal pan bottom may still be relatively cool away from the flame points, especially when the pan much exceeds the outer limits of flame.

Here's your typical home gas range burner.


Infrared image of the same burner with temperatures.


(More images at: Teaser Infrared Image – The Answer | Thermal Imaging Blog from Fluke Thermography )

Even considering that the grate can heat sink to a greater distance from the flame than a pan and the fact that there's no pan redirecting the heat, the temperature range from the burner out to the diameter of a useful saute pan is substantial, and it obviously takes some time for the pan to get to something akin to equal heat across the whole pan. My largest gas burner, the "quick boil" burner, is still only about 1/3 the diameter of my workhorse pan.
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Old 07-02-2012, 09:47 AM   #15
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without reading all the responces, doesn't SS requires medium heat and Not high heat? I do not use the stuff, never got hang of it, but i think I remember reading it here or elswhere that you cannot use high heat withh SS. Maybe that is the problem.
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Old 07-02-2012, 11:24 AM   #16
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I think the problem is that "high," "medium," etc. have so many different interpretations. There are huge differences across my gas burners as to what "high" could mean on any of them. And there's HIGH meaning highest flame/setting, HIGH meaning actual heat of the pan unloaded, and HIGH meaning what highest working heat you should maintain under load.

I use tri-ply SS. My gas burner, being typical, are mostly a bit lame. I can, of course, get an unloaded pan very hot indeed, but I mostly have to think about keeping it hot.

I've seen the advise to avoid high heat with SS, but I wouldn't use it if I couldn't use high heat when appropriate, and I haven't had any problem. I have hunted for some specific reason for the high heat advice. I can only find some comments implying food sticking. I suspect that is from people who had become used to non-stick coatings and who did things like turning meat they were browning before it naturally released. They can get away with that with non-stick but not with SS, but SS will release it when it's ready. I'm also particular about not using metal, SS being relatively soft, and I try to avoid scratches. The only sticking I encounter is really just burning on of oil and liquids on the sides, and Barkeepers Friend handles that.

And I suppose it might have been that early versions of laminate core SS could be delaminated by very high heat, and that might have prompted the warnings.

When Cuisinart warns about avoiding high heat, they follow it by saying that food could burn because the cookware is so conductive. It seems almost like their bragging by "warning" that their product is so good you'll burn your food without realizing it. But those who know their tools won't have that problem. And if you want to burn some food, there's nothing better than the classic Revereware copper bottom thin SS. I did do some sever damage to the copper on one of those years ago when I turned off the wrong burner.

So I think it's back to the problem of what "high heat" means in terms of the overall effect of heat method, burner size, pan material, pan size, and pan load.
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Old 07-04-2012, 10:06 AM   #17
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Out of curiosity I experimented with SS, I have few SS pots, so I decided to use one to sauté some onions. I had two pots non-stick and SS side by side; set the gas fire to about the same and put pots on the stove. Preheated both, the way I normally would preheat a frying pan for sautéing, added oil, preheated oil and added diced onions. The SS pot immediately started to burn the onions with huge amount of smoke; I had to turn the heat down to about half way. And then it worked about the same, I mean two pots worked the same. Maybe I should consider SS frying pan for the future. Save on gas.
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