Why is it so bad to heat a pan empty rather than with something in it?

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Why is it so bad to heat a pan empty rather than with something in it?

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It’s all too easy to mess up and burn the coating off an empty pan, particularly Teflon coating.

Some non-stick coatings can release toxic fumes. If you have food in the pan it will absorb the heat and keep your pan from overheating. My source is that episode of Good Eats about food myths

Take water in a pan at room temperature. If you put the pan on a burner the water gets hotter and hotter right? Once the water reaches boiling it stops getting hotter, it stays at 212F / 100C until all the water is gone, because the heat energy is going into evaporating the water. Once the water is gone the heat starts accumulating in the pot again, and it’ll get hotter and hotter, in theory until it reaches the temperature of the flame.

Our cookware is designed to operate in the cooking-temperature range, not to get as hot as a methane flame. The cookware can melt, deform, or release toxic chemicals or gases.

It’s not, meaning it depends on the pan. My castiron and carbonsteel pans I always preheat empty. But only to middle heat.

Non-stick pans, especially thin, aluminum ones can overheat very quickly – and you won’t necessarily notice. While hot oil has a noticeable smell.

It’s not a problem for uncoated steel and cast iron pans.