What is the best way to preheat a stainless steel pan enough that the food won't stick, but not so much that it warps?
September 28, 2012 5:47 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to preheat a stainless steel pan enough that the food won't stick, but not so much that it warps?

There was this cool article awhile back which described preheating a stainless steel pan in a manner that would render it nonstick (in a nutshell, heat it up until a bit of water added to the pan will form one large bead that rolls around). Details here:


The good news is that it really does make the pan pretty nonstick--I can scramble eggs with no residue. The bad news is that I have warped two pans following this advice, both high-quality pans.

So my question is this: what is the best way to preheat a stainless steel pan such that the food doesn't stick, and the pan doesn't warp. Thanks!
posted by Jim Biancolo to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
First of all THAT IS SO COOL. Secondly, when is the pan warping? During the heating or after? I've found that warping occurs if you take your screaming hot, just cooked in pan and stick it in the sink and run water on it to cool it quickly. I've never done this water test on my pans at home, but I do preheat them for a good long time (several minutes at least, while I'm finishing mise en place) and I rarely have trouble with food sticking, and then I let always them cool to touchable temperatures before I wash them.
posted by hungrybruno at 6:00 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do this all the time without any warping, the key thing is to heat the pan just enough so that a drop of water will roll, then immediately remove it from the heat and add the oil. It will vary with different cookers but you should be able to do this on a low-medium heat.
posted by Lanark at 6:06 AM on September 28, 2012

Eek, strange that high quality pans are warping for you. I used the water bead method for a long time and never had any problems with warping pans. Perhaps you could turn the heat down a tad bit after the pan heats up. I usually heat mine up, then turn the heat down to medium/medium-high right before I put the oil in.
posted by Geppp at 6:09 AM on September 28, 2012

That is very odd.... can you be more specific about the "high-quality pans" in this situation? And I'm guessing you're not dunking them in a cold water bath immediately after cooking or something?

What kind of heating elements are you using? Gas or electric? I could maybe see an electric one heating the pan unevenly which might lead to the warping...
posted by Grither at 6:13 AM on September 28, 2012

I don't cook well, but I've left my stainless steel (All Clad) pans on my (induction) stovetop for extended periods of time because I forgot about them. The pans got pretty hot before the auto shutoff, but there is no warping.
posted by ethidda at 6:20 AM on September 28, 2012

I have never warped an All-Clad. I can't imagine even how I would, without a kiln.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:36 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've had lots of high quality pans (various brands) that do not warp even when submersing in water before the pan cools. What kind of pan do you have? Is it under warranty? This sort of heating should not warp your pan.
posted by Yellow at 7:09 AM on September 28, 2012

Over the years, I've left my stainless steel pans, of various quality, unattended too long on the stove, taken them from a hot stove and run water on them or plunged them into water and I've never had one warp.
posted by shoesietart at 7:55 AM on September 28, 2012

Response by poster: Hi folks,

Thanks for all the feedback! The first pan I warped was an All-Clad (cringe), and sadly I do not know when the warping occurred. I had it for a long time, and it wasn't until sometime after I started using this method that I noticed the pan had warped. I didn't submerge it, just heated it per that article, added a few drops of water from time to time until one beaded properly, then immediately wiped out the bead, added oil, and started cooking.

The second pan I can definitely attribute to this technique. Brand new pan, rested flat on the glass cooktop, performed the preheat as described above, cooked my food, removed from heat, removed food, put the pan on a cool part of the cooktop, and sometime later (but before washing the pan), I noticed that the pan now had a slight warp, and would rock on the glass cooktop.

(BTW, glass electric cooktop, not induction.)

The All-Clad was out of warranty, but I exchanged the new pan and have used it a few times since and it's great, still perfectly flat. But I have not dared try the water-bead method on it. I wonder if it would be safe if I heated it slower, but still got up to that temperature? At this point, I'm afraid to experiment. I'm glad others are able to use the method successfully.

Oh, FWIW, this is the new pan, which I love, and prefer to the All-Clad:


Build quality and gauge feels identical. It is slightly larger, and the handle is nicer, and it's less than half the price. And I called the company directly do to the exchange, and they took care of it, no questions asked. Highly recommended.

posted by Jim Biancolo at 9:39 AM on September 28, 2012

I have Revere pans - stainless with a copper bottom - and have warped a couple of them over the 30 years I've had them. I could probably get replacements, but meh, they work fine. It may not be the heat as much as rapid heat, and materials reacting differently to heat. You could try heating a pan verrry slowly to the right temp.
posted by theora55 at 9:56 AM on September 28, 2012

You are way over-thinking this. You just have to calibrate yourself to your electric range so that you can find that medium-high sweet spot without thinking.
posted by recurve at 10:43 AM on September 28, 2012

Life is too short to worry about your pans warping. The Sitram Profiserie sauté pan is designed for use on induction burners (so the bottom has to be completely flat). It is lifetime guaranteed for use up to 1000F. I have used it for years, and personally heated it to the point (800F+) where canola oil started to smoke literally the second it hit the pan. No warping. I dump cold wine into it immediately after searing meat. No fear. Normally you would expect performance like this to cost a bundle but it's under $100. Yes, it's a disk-bottomed pan and is ugly. Just buy it. Save the beautiful clad pans for Williams-Sonoma catalog shoots.
posted by wnissen at 12:06 PM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

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