Do This If Your Food Is Always Sticking To The Pan

Having food stick to the pan when you cook it can be so incredibly frustrating. Not only does this keep your dish from being the best it can be, it also makes for a bigger mess to clean up after the meal is over. But it doesn't have to be this way; if you understand what's causing the sticking to happen, you can fight it more effectively.

Ultimately, some food sticks because of chemical reactions between the food and the heat of the pan, according to The Exploratorium. Some foods that are high in protein can stick even more. As explained by The Royal Society of Chemistry, "Protein-rich foods are particularly prone to sticking because the proteins can form complexes with metal atoms, such as iron, in the pan" (via The Washington Post). Basically, this binds the protein to the pan.

But what you might not realize also is that the surface of your pans is not actually smooth. According to Newton BBC (via Science of Cooking), there are a wide variety of bumps on the cooking surface, and when oil or butter or a cooking spray doesn't cover the entire surface (filling in these gaps), you can get uneven cooking and delayed "steam."

One common method that prevents sticking is obviously heating oil or melting butter in the pan before adding whatever it is you plan to cook. But if you're trying to limit the amount of oil or butter you use to cut down on fat or calories, you likely need another solution.

Methods to keep food from sticking to begin with

Those who don't want to use a lot of oil or butter to help keep food from sticking to pans can rely on three alternative tricks, according to MyRecipes. One preventative trick actually has to do with food prep. Try to dry foods, such as thawed meat, rinsed veggies, or other ingredients that might be damp or wet, well before adding them to the pan. By drying them off, the reduced moisture can turn into steam more quickly. And a layer of steam — a buffer — between the food and the pan can work against sticking.

Another way to get that layer of steam between your food and pan is by making sure the pan and oil has had plenty of time to heat up properly. If the pan is hot enough, the food should make that thin layer of steam and not stick. As Newton BBC explained it years ago (via Science of Cooking): "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." 

Finally, MyRecipes suggests making sure pans that are not nonstick, such as cast iron pans, are seasoned well with a layer of cooked-on oil. That way, the food shouldn't stick even if you don't add more oil to the pan as it cooks.