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The Heat is On! No, seriously...
December 13, 2009 8:14 PM   Subscribe


 
Well I'll be. Wait 'til the water droplets dance before oiling the pan. If it works, that's a great tip. Not so sure that burning things doesn't also have to do with uneven element heating, though.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:22 PM on December 13, 2009


Huh, my father tried to teach that to me, but either explained it wrong or I misunderstood it.... he taught it to me as 'droplets dance across the pan', which according to this video, is too early.
posted by Malor at 8:24 PM on December 13, 2009


His explanation is completely wrong.
posted by milkrate at 8:26 PM on December 13, 2009


ah, the Ledenfrost effect.

But isn't this just setting a low point for the temperature? What indicates too hot of a pan? I guess you're supposed to catch it on the way up.
posted by TheJoven at 8:27 PM on December 13, 2009


What indicates too hot of a pan?

That's in the video, too!
posted by not that girl at 8:32 PM on December 13, 2009


One thing to make sure is that all of the water is gone before adding the oil, otherwise you are going to have spattering oil.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:35 PM on December 13, 2009


Does this work for teflon-coated SS pans?
posted by Khazk at 8:41 PM on December 13, 2009


His explanation is completely wrong.

Whose? What?
posted by crapmatic at 8:50 PM on December 13, 2009


"the opening and closing pores would bite onto the food's tissue"

That is a very weird. As milkrate notes, the scientific explanation is somewhat different.
posted by bhnyc at 8:57 PM on December 13, 2009


IO PAN! IO PAN PAN!
posted by Balisong at 9:03 PM on December 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


The pores explanation comes from the rouxbe.com embedded video, which doesn't sound like any explanation I've heard before.

While the "mercury drop" demo is cool and I want to try it out, I've successfully cooked lean pork and chicken in a stainless steel pan just by being patient. Get your pan hot, add oil, add the meat and WAIT. As the meat browns, its fibers will contract and will release from the pan. If the meat seems to resist when you try to turn it, wait a little longer, reducing the heat a little if you're concerned about browning too much.

Here's the recipe which made me trust the combination of hot stainless steel, a reasonable amount of fat, and patience.
posted by maudlin at 9:19 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interesting. Now, how do I stop my gin from bruising?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:42 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Huh, that's actually something I had figured out myself when I was a kid, cooking things on the stove. Of course, I found this out by spitting on the pan, and then saying "oh cool!".

I didn't mention the spitting part to the people I was cooking for.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:51 PM on December 13, 2009


Now, how do I stop my gin from bruising?

It's easy: just stop thinking that it's possible.
posted by kenko at 10:08 PM on December 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


I hate "tips" like this. It's labor intensive (test every 15 seconds?), twitchy, and if it goes wrong it's clearly all your fault, not the fault of the dubious test.

How about you just get an laser thermometer or a non-stick pan?
posted by chairface at 10:36 PM on December 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Turn it up high for a few minutes then turn it down to medium or medium-high, depending on your plans for the next ten minutes. It's pretty simple. Cooking on ultra-high is something some people do, but I don't think it's good for the pan or for the food.
posted by kozad at 10:40 PM on December 13, 2009


Yep, there are two tricks to preventing meat from sticking.

1: Have a good, dense pan. Stainless steel or cast iron will do. If it's "nonstick" just throw it out.
2: Cook it long enough, like maudlin mentioned. Meat will release from a good pan once it is nicely browned. If it won't, it's probably because the pan is crap.


If you are in the market for a decent pan, I can't recommend cast iron enough. Once you season it well, you will have no idea how you lived without it. My house has been using the same cast iron pan for about 30 years now. Nothing ever sticks.
posted by mek at 10:58 PM on December 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Glad I'm not the only one that's skeptical of that explanation.

The reason food doesn't stick is that hot oil causes the food to release steam which keeps the food from bonding to the surface of the metal. Same as the explanation of the water.
posted by empath at 11:00 PM on December 13, 2009


How about you just get an laser thermometer

Cause they're a little pricey? And if you have a really small kitchen (as I do) then storing new items like those is next to impossible?

or a non-stick pan?

Cause non-stick cans are creepy and contain chemicals (quite likely carcinogenic) that leach into your food?

I'll certainly try this water test next time I'm using my stainless fry pan. If it works, hey, that's awesome. Fact is, though, I cook almost everything in cast iron skillets...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:07 PM on December 13, 2009


oops, that's "non stick pans", obviously. (Although I think I did try to cook in cans once or twice as a clueless teenager...)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:09 PM on December 13, 2009


Does making a pipe out of one count?
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:22 PM on December 13, 2009


Oh, absolutely, nebulawindphone. What, you thought i was talking about food?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:34 PM on December 13, 2009


If you want easy non stick, just get a non stick pan and stop worrying about it.

I have cast iron pans. I can get along without them just fine. Most of the time, I do. I'm not interested in the ritual anymore. Just the result. My stainless, nonstick, or glass are much preferable with no fuss.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:44 PM on December 13, 2009


"and contain chemicals (quite likely carcinogenic)"
Such as? Just sticking that out there and saying "quite likely carcinogenic" does seem rather scaremongering.
posted by edd at 1:44 AM on December 14, 2009


Such as?

PFOA, for one.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:05 AM on December 14, 2009


But toxicology is all about the dose, i.e. amount. It's not a binary "yes/no bad?" thing. I seem to recall reading that research showed that as long as you don't a) overheat the pan and b) use it past the point at which the coating starts coming off, there's virtually no risk. However b) happens relatively fast so you have to treat them as expendable items, not like cast iron. (It certainly doesn't seem to make any sense to buy expensive teflon.)
posted by Rhomboid at 2:27 AM on December 14, 2009


...research showed...

Aha! Who financed this particular research? (just askin'...)

as long as you don't a) overheat the pan...

Not an especially easy thing to gauge, that.

use it past the point at which the coating starts coming off...

Also not very easy to gauge. And microscopic amounts, invisible to the eye, are probably starting to come off almost from day one of use.

you have to treat them as expendable items

Just what we need! More landfill!

It certainly doesn't seem to make any sense to buy expensive teflon...

From an environmental and a personal health standpoint, it doesn't make any sense to buy cheap, mid-priced or expensive teflon.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:40 AM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I didn't mention the spitting part to the people I was cooking for.

That's OK. Nor do any professional chefs.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:47 AM on December 14, 2009


From your own referenced article, "Overall, PTFE cookware is considered an insignificant exposure pathway to PFOA."

Anyway, interesting tip. I always thought the pan was hot when the water sizzled.
posted by cardboard at 3:01 AM on December 14, 2009


Overall, PTFE cookware is considered an insignificant exposure pathway to PFOA

I simply do not trust DuPont's research into the health effects of its own products. In any case, in the real world, most non-stick pans get scratched up pretty quickly and are heated to high temperatures.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:11 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rouxbe, except on a free day, would charge to show those videos. Curious how they're free here.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:54 AM on December 14, 2009


I simply do not trust DuPont's research into the health effects of its own products.

To be fair, there were two studies cited, and the second, non-DuPont study found much lower PFOA levels than the DuPont study. It's also noted that PFOA is volatile, so heating a pan will remove most of whatever insignificant amounts are present. Of course, licking newly-coated pans on a regular basis is probably not be advised.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:55 AM on December 14, 2009


I believe the whole bit about "pores" in the metal "opening and closing" and biting into the food is what is technically known as "bullshit".
posted by kcds at 5:09 AM on December 14, 2009


There's nothing curious about lots of videos on rouxbe.com being free. I went to the site last night, poked around, and looked at several videos. And here's what they say on their About page:
What is free on Rouxbe?

Rouxbe offers a free sample lesson every day and all of our instructional video recipes, text recipes, tip and technique videos and community forums are free. You don’t even have to sign up to learn a great deal on Rouxbe.
When I go to the section on cooking steak, for example, there's a mixture of free videos and premium content.
posted by maudlin at 5:49 AM on December 14, 2009


Cause non-stick cans are creepy and contain chemicals (quite likely carcinogenic) that leach into your food?

No matter what you fry with, the process of browning meat also produces carcinogenic chemicals.
posted by Kiwi at 5:55 AM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is in the Joy of Cooking in the "how to make pancakes" section.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:07 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have this "argument" with my in-laws every once in a while. Great believers in natural health, alternative medicine to begin with, I think they picked up the belief that Teflon pans are toxic from the guy that sold them their stainless steel pans at a gem and mineral show.

Toxic precursors do not necessarily equal toxins in the finished product. If so, we could never eat salt - do you realize what's in it?

You may be reluctant to take DuPont's own studies at face value. From Consumer Reports (linked to by wikipedia article):

"We found very little PFOA in the tested air samples. The highest level was about 100 times lower than levels that animal studies suggest are of concern for ongoing exposure to PFOA. With the aged pans, emissions were barely measurable. "

Maybe if you took a fresh teflon pan, one that had never been cooked in, scraped all the Teflon off, pulverized it and ate it, then you could have a significant exposure? Estimating 150 grams of PTFE used in coating a 30cm pan (generous estimate), with PFOA level of 4 parts per billion (from http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/pubs/600r09033/600r09033.pdf )yields 0.6 MICROgrams of available PFOA. That's assuming your body managed to absorb it all.

Compare that to the amount of PFOA in the entire body of a person living near one of DuPont's factories (not even working in one). Median blood serum level of 329 parts per billion, estimating 80-kg person, PFOA evenly distributed throughout the person (because I'm not a toxicologist) and you get a back-of-the-envelope calculation: 26,320 micrograms already in the person's body.

So PFOA sounds awful, but significant exposure from Teflon pans is impossible.
posted by etherist at 6:32 AM on December 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


Thanks, etherist, for the thoughtful write up. My future family and in-laws are health conscious and environmentally thoughtful, though none are environmental or medical scientists. Still, having a sustainability expert so close to me has provoked me to think even harder about the convenient choices I’ve made for the last 25 years in our Age of Convenience™ United States.

I understand Teflon®, whose generic chemical name is polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), is an insignificant source of PFOA. Great. But because PTFE (aka Teflon®) is only a moderately thermally durable substance, it deteriorates in temperatures commonly reached in everyday cooking. Some of PTFE’s thermal by-products are known toxicants.

But perhaps more importantly, the health concerns surrounding PTFE as an end product are in addition to the environmental harm caused by its production of PTFE. In sustainability terms, the toxicity of the life cycle of good ol’ Teflon® is not fully represented by the dangers of PFOA. The entire extraction/production/distribution/storage/disposal cycle of Teflon® is shot through with harm, and we can avoid these harms by using products made from materials such as cast iron and stainless steel.

This FPP teaches people how to use these potentially-less-harmful-than-Teflon® products effectively, and I am grateful to spiderskull for bringing it to my/our attention.

Finally,* just because browning produces carcinogens doesn’t mean we should smother our T-bones with PVC sauce. If knowledge leads you to brown meat in non-PTFE cookware and that saves you from additional carcinogens you are better off than you were before.

* Because this is dragging on way too long, I don’t have time to find a graceful transition, and you have better things to do than to read this footnote.
posted by mistersquid at 7:30 AM on December 14, 2009


I generally use my non-stick cookware for eggs and omelets only. Right tool for the job, people.
posted by monospace at 8:47 AM on December 14, 2009


A properly seasoned omelette pan is the right tool for making omelettes.
posted by i_cola at 8:55 AM on December 14, 2009


More to the point, non-stick pans don't form a fond properly, and as such are sub-optimal when you want to make a sauce of some sort after you finish the meat, which you should because it's easy and delicious.
posted by lore at 9:07 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was taught that you have to 'prove' a pan. Coat the surface with oil and heat until it smokes. Cool, wipe off and use. If you ever clean it with detergent, it's fucked and you have to start again.

Is that wrong?
posted by Phanx at 10:50 AM on December 14, 2009


You don't have to proof stainless steel pans, and they're fine if you wash them with detergent. Hot pan, fat added to the hot pan, meat that isn't icy cold, patience: that's all you need.

You may be thinking of seasoning a cast iron pan, which typically involved a longer period of heating at a non-smoking temperature. The usual rule is to avoid detergent on cast iron, and if someone does a serious scrub with detergent, you will have to re-season it, but a good pan can take some light detergent occasionally (even though it's not at all necessary) without needing a full re-seasoning. Previously.
posted by maudlin at 11:39 AM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, it frequently happened that just as soon as I thought I was actually caught up with everything, I would discover an assignment that everyone else had known about for weeks. Sometimes it was because I'd been away at extra-curricular activities when the assignment was given; sometimes I'd been daydreaming. But it was always when I finally thought I was on top of it, I finally could get everything done in the allotted time, that I found out that everyone else had been working on a ten-page book report.

That's how I feel right now.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:55 AM on December 14, 2009


Thermolon is non-Teflon non-stick.
posted by bz at 2:23 PM on December 14, 2009


Also, if you like cast iron you should try carbon steel pans (especially the ones by de Buyer). I like them even more than cast iron. They require seasoning but I think for very many tasks they are the best pan, especially good for hash brown potatoes. Once seasoned properly (controversial in itself), they are good even for quite acidic work.
posted by bz at 2:37 PM on December 14, 2009


Thanks Kiwi - that's the point I was hoping would come up. Dividing the world into carcinogens and not-carcinogens and making simplistic decisions is not an effective way to extend your lifespan. More significantly, using arguments based around what is and isn't a carcinogen without appropriate methods of stating the risk in real-world situations doesn't help focus attention on the most important factors, and exactly those kinds of arguments are used by a myriad of quacks, and distinguishing the evidence-based approach from such quackery is very important.
posted by edd at 3:14 PM on December 14, 2009


(And no, I wouldn't swap my stainless steel pans for nonstick in a lot of circumstances either, but that's just because I cook better with them)
posted by edd at 3:15 PM on December 14, 2009


"This is in the Joy of Cooking in the "how to make pancakes" section."
posted by clvrmnky

True and hilarious. I love how over complicated all explanations for cooking techniques have become post Alton Brown. What this man's blog is telling you is just plain good cooking technique. It's what I've taught cooks who have worked for me for years.

"I generally use my non-stick cookware for eggs and omelets only. Right tool for the job, people".
posted by monospace

Excellent observation. In my kitchen, non-stick only gets used for eggs and delicate fish.


"Also, if you like cast iron you should try carbon steel pans (especially the ones by de Buyer). I like them even more than cast iron. They require seasoning but I think for very many tasks they are the best pan, especially good for hash brown potatoes. Once seasoned properly (controversial in itself), they are good even for quite acidic work."
posted by bz

This x1,000. These pans are hands-down the best I've used professionally. I even have a set that have travelled from one restaurant to another with me over the course of the last five years.
posted by kaiseki at 8:06 PM on December 14, 2009


I generally use my non-stick cookware for eggs and omelets only.

My medium-size cast iron skillet makes excellent omelets that never stick. Just sayin'.

I'd like to own one of the carbon steel pans mentioned here, too, especialy with the strong recommendation from kaiseki above.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:18 PM on December 14, 2009


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