Doing The Unstuck
December 5, 2007 10:51 AM   Subscribe

Thanks to my own stupidity, I managed to get two saucepans stuck one inside the other, with the lower one apparently containing a cavity of lower pressure holding the upper pan in place. Is there any way to get them apart without causing injury or property damage?

The other night I needed to melt chocolate to coat Christmas cookies, but I couldn't find a metal bowl, and I don't own a double boiler. So I improvised and used two saucepans, one slightly narrower and taller than the other. It was all going well until I got stupid and turned off the heat.

There was this thump. The top pan sunk into the bottom pan and stuck fast. And that's where I am now. The two pans will not come unstuck.

The bottom pan still contains water; I can hear it sloshing about.

The most obvious solution to me would be to put the pans back on the heat, get the water in the bottom pan back up to simmer, and see if I can pry them apart at that point. But I'm afraid that that hot water would rapidly go under pressure, and either I'd get nasty steam burns from prying them apart, or the top pan would get launched by the pressure.

I've thought about sacrificing one of the pans by drilling a hole, but they're both Calphalon, and I don't think I have a drill bit that could get through the anodized layer.

I don't really want to throw both pans out. If I could just salvage one, great. If I could salvage both, spectacular. But I'm running out of ideas as to how to undo this mess.
posted by dw to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
flll the sink with hot water.
put some ice & cold water in the top pot.

put the bottom pot in the hot water.

the top pot will cool & contract,
the bottom pot will warm & expand.
they should slip apart in a few minutes.
posted by twistofrhyme at 10:55 AM on December 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


Fill your sink with hot water, and let the bottom pan sit in it. Keep trying to separate them every couple of minutes. What you are aiming for is to get the metal in the bottom pan to expand slightly. A lot safer than putting it back on fire.
posted by hariya at 10:55 AM on December 5, 2007


I could be wrong, but I believe if you run hot water and submerge the pans under there for a while they should eventually loosen up.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:55 AM on December 5, 2007


Try heating the bottom one by putting it into some hot water, and cooling the top by putting ice water in it.
posted by andythebean at 10:55 AM on December 5, 2007


wow quadruple simul-post.
posted by andythebean at 10:56 AM on December 5, 2007


Dang it... if my internet connection hadn't disappeared for a second I would've TOTALLY been first. I was robbed!
posted by miss lynnster at 10:56 AM on December 5, 2007


Have you tried running them under really hot water, or pouring boiling water on top of them?

They'll both expand, as will the space between them.

Or, put the pan in a tub of really hot water and put icecubes inside the top pan. One will expand, the other will shrink.

(It’s been over 20 years since I took a science class, so I fully expect someone down thread will tell me why I’m wrong and why this won’t work)
posted by bondcliff at 10:57 AM on December 5, 2007


I caused mefi to throw an exception, or I would have been there too!

If that doesn't work, you can try reheating it on the stove very slowly. Start with the burner on the lowest setting and very gradually increase it.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:58 AM on December 5, 2007


Crap. Yeah, what they all said.
posted by bondcliff at 10:58 AM on December 5, 2007


Well, I think we found the answer. I'll give it a shot tonight.
posted by dw at 11:01 AM on December 5, 2007


Put the bottom pan in hot water. Put ice & salt water into the top pan. It will be colder.
posted by acoutu at 11:28 AM on December 5, 2007


Be sure and come back to tell us if it worked. Because, you know, some of us have no life and are really anxious about the welfare of the saucepans of internet strangers...
posted by happyturtle at 11:38 AM on December 5, 2007 [7 favorites]


Put ice, salt water, and a can of Coke in the top pan, and let us know when it's cold enough to drink?
posted by gingerbeer at 11:44 AM on December 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


Has anyone suggested putting the bottom pan in hot water and ice in the top pan?
posted by christonabike at 12:05 PM on December 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Put the bottom pan in a pool of molten lava and fill the top one with liquid Helium.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:21 PM on December 5, 2007 [4 favorites]


If you are still thinking about drilling a hole, it's perfectly ok to drill through hard anodize. You'll have to get a new drill bit afterwards, but any high speed steel drill bit will cut through it.
posted by albolin at 12:24 PM on December 5, 2007


While I think the answer has been struck upon, just for the sake of discussing it...

I don't think there's any danger with putting the pot over heat to separate them. You mentioned steam burns and pressure causing the top pot to be launched with great force; I don't think either scenario is likely. P(ressure) = F(orce) / A(rea). With pots of a common size, the surface area would be far too large to be sufficiently pressurized by the amount of force that a bit of boiling water would create. There would have to be a lot of boiled water to cause a steel pot (that is wedged tightly to another) to eject with any force. For that matter, the large circumference of the pot means that any steam should quickly and safely disseminate around the edges without enough force to cause any burns. Despite this, the heat of the stove should still easily allow for the pot(s) to expand sufficiently to manually separate them.

That being said, just wear some potholders or wrap your hands in towels if you're worried. But I'm quite sure there would not be enough pressure to be of any danger.
posted by sprocket87 at 12:31 PM on December 5, 2007


Can you slip a shim (perhaps a very thin knife or a piece of an aluminum pie pan) in between the pots? If it is merely pressure, that would surely release it.

Alternatively, you might consider putting the bottom pan in hot water while putting cold water in the top pan.
posted by JMOZ at 12:35 PM on December 5, 2007


I don't think there's any danger with putting the pot over heat to separate them. You mentioned steam burns and pressure causing the top pot to be launched with great force; I don't think either scenario is likely. P(ressure) = F(orce) / A(rea). With pots of a common size, the surface area would be far too large to be sufficiently pressurized by the amount of force that a bit of boiling water would create.

I think I put in 1/2-3/4 cup of water. The pans are about 6" in diameter, with thick anodized aluminum walls. The void is, oh, 1-2" high.

Can you slip a shim (perhaps a very thin knife or a piece of an aluminum pie pan) in between the pots?

I tried using the thinnest knife I have, and it won't go. I doubt I could get even a playing card in between.
posted by dw at 12:45 PM on December 5, 2007


if you're worried about heat, why not just pour dishwashing soap around the edge? it might give it just enough lubrication to slip apart.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:50 PM on December 5, 2007


Put em both in a pillowcase, whack the side on the floor or table.
posted by gatchaman at 1:27 PM on December 5, 2007


Put them on the floor and step on the lower pot's handle. Bend over and pull the bejesus out of the upper pot's handle to pry them apart.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:40 PM on December 5, 2007


oh as well as the heat/cold thing, try rotating them apart, rather than levering.
posted by b33j at 2:04 PM on December 5, 2007


put the pans in the freezer. the water in the lower one will turn to ice, expand, and push the upper one upwards.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:17 PM on December 5, 2007


Have you tried centrifugal force? If science has taught us anything it's that you should stand in your kitchen and spin around as fast as you can.
posted by doppleradar at 9:15 PM on December 5, 2007


Didn't work. The hot water and ice didn't work. Prying didn't work. Rotating didn't work. Soap didn't work. I finally go so angry I threw them, bent the top pan severely, all the water ran out... and they STILL wouldn't come apart.

Any more bright ideas?
posted by dw at 10:14 PM on December 5, 2007


buy some new pans?
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:38 AM on December 6, 2007


more realistically, WD-40 is your answer.

spray. wait 15 min. repeat. repeat. then try rotating, perhaps in conjunction with the heat / chill suggestions.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:42 AM on December 6, 2007


I had this happen to me recently in a failed attempt to create a double boiler. I tried all of the methods listed above and nothing worked. Finally we just started using it as a "stuck together" double boiler. As you would expect, the steam inside expanded and blew the two pots apart. No one was injured but there was a hilarious amount of chocolate on almost every surface in the kitchen, including the ceiling.
posted by Sculthorpe at 9:13 AM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Something similar happened to me recently. My solution included a sad face, my sympathetic father, and a rubber mallet. Somehow he was able to knock them apart.
posted by bassjump at 12:20 PM on December 6, 2007


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