Preheating the Pan

Challenging the wisdom of heating a pan before adding oil or butter.

  • Elizabeth Schatz
True or False? Always heat a pan before adding the oil.

False. Watching TV chefs may have unduly influenced you in this area―professional chefs always have a pan on high heat awaiting its dose of olive oil or butter. But the Iron Chef you are not, so you might want to add the fat before the flame. Here’s why: It won’t make a difference in the way the food cooks, and watching oil or butter in a pan helps you determine when the pan has reached the right temperature.

“The oil starts to ripple and have movement when it’s ready for you to put the product in the pan,” says Gary Danko, chef of the Gary Danko restaurant, in San Francisco. “You can drop a tiny piece of bread in the pan, and if it sizzles, the pan is ready.” Dry pan? No sizzle. Also, a hunk of butter dropped into a very hot pan will burn immediately. “If you heat butter and pan together, you get an indicator of how things are going,” says Danko. “Once the butter is melted, your pan is ready.”