Why does protein stick to metal pans and how I can avoid the sticking and tearing of the meat? This is one of the most frequently asked questions.

Protein-rich foods are particularly prone to sticking because the proteins in the meat can form complexes with metal atoms, such as iron, in the pan. My solution is to use cold oil in a hot pan. As soon as the oil hits the pan it heats up immediately, filling  in the valleys and caves of the surface of my pan.  Be careful to watch the oil once it hits your pan and place your protein in right away. Never walk away from the pan when the oil is heating up.

Why does the cold oil-hot pan method work?

  • Hot oil is more viscous than cold oil and will immediately flow filling the gaps
  • When the oil is hot enough a steam effect will begin to occur
  • A small amount of oil added to a very hot pan almost instantly becomes very hot oil. The oil quickly sears the outside of the food and causes water to be released from the food. This layer of water vapor (“steam”) lifts the food atop the oil film and keeps it from touching the hot pan surface. If the oil is not hot enough, the steam effect will not occur and the food will fuse to the (too) cool pan surface.” Source: Ask a Scientist, Newton BBC

  • Very hot oil will react with the metal atoms of the pan and form a coating called a patina. This leaves few free metal atoms to react with the food. This coating can easily be removed by detergents, however, so it has to be reapplied before each use of the pan. In the case of cast-iron pans the patina becomes more permanent. It has been suggested that the patina could form by a sequence of cracking followed by polymerization. Source: Kitchen Chemistry, RSC

More tips to prevent food from sticking:

  • Make sure surface area is clean
  • Surface area (pan) must be dry
  • Make sure your pan is hot
  • Make sure your oil is hot

Some chefs however prefer adding cold oil to a cold pan because the appearance of the oil in the pan can give indicate of when the pan has reached the proper temperature, but I still prefer cold oil in a hot pan and then heating p the oil a bit. Here’s why:

  • A hot pan requires less oil to cover the surface perhaps (as little as half as much).
  • Hot oil immediately flows across your surface.
  • Less oil will be needed to fill the micro-crevices and provide the necessary barrier between food and pan surface
  • I have found that because of the high temp, the meat is seared, the fat deteriorates less leaving the protein juices.
  • Overcrowding your pan will reduce the temperature and lead to sticking as well.
  • Unless you are cooking vegetables, do not move the food to quickly. Even if some sticking has occurred it will most probably be released from the pan after a short time.
  • Lastly, be sure to use the right pan for the right job! When sauteing, use a high-quality, heavy stainless steel pan. If you are still intimidated, you should know that Cuisinart recently sent me  a beautiful Green Gourmet set.  This eco-friendly branded cookware is ceramic based instead of petroleum based, helping to conserve existing oil supplies and the coating is applied at a temperature one half that of conventional non-sticks. And it’s completely free of PTFE and PFOA. The cookware’s hard anodized construction provides high heat conductivity, which requires less energy to reach desired cooking temperatures. Riveted stainless handles stay cool on the stove top and are made from 70% recycled stainless steel.

Hope you find these tips helpful; happy cooking!