Dishes ‘n’ DIYs: Pan Frying Made Simple

Too many times I've found myself ruining dinner by incorrectly pan frying. In my mind, pan frying seemed really intuitive. Even though it’s crucial to many recipes, it turns out that most people overlook the proper technique to pan frying. It only took about a thousand ruined dinners where the meat stuck to the pan, cooked unevenly, burned and/or just came out terribly for me to learn the method to the madness. Luckily, learning to pan fry is spectacularly simple.

The Method:

1. Start off by heating the heaviest pan you have over medium-high heat. A thick-bottomed pan will help distribute heat evenly. This step is important, as it’ll help keep the meat from sticking to the pan.

2. While your pan is heating up, pat your meat dry. This will help create that delicious crust you get in restaurants. Use this step to season your meat.

3. Use the water test to check out when the pan is at the perfect temperature. Drop a teaspoon of water into the pan, and watch how it sizzles. If it splatters and splits into many small balls of water, the pan is too hot. If the water forms into a neat mercury-like sphere, then the pan is at the perfect temperature.

4. Once you’ve reached the perfect frying temperature, wipe the pan dry (or else the oil will splatter everywhere) and coat the bottom in a thin layer of oil. Thin is the key word here; you’re just preventing stickage. Let the oil heat up and place the meat into the pan. (A note on oils: Use something with a high smoking point, such as vegetable oil or peanut oil. Olive oil will not sustain such high heats for too long.)

5. If you’re cooking more than one piece of meat at a time, remember to leave space in between the cuts for proper circulation. Without this, the meat will cook unevenly or steam.

6. Once the meat is in the pan, let it cook on one side for a few minutes. Resist the urge to slide it around. This part is important for crusty caramelization. Also, trying to move the meat too soon will cause it to stick.

7. Flip the meat after a few minutes and cook the other side. A good way to tell how your meat is coming along is to check for doneness along the sides. As the cooking time progresses, the sides should start to become noticeably cooked. Times change depending on your choice of meat and the thickness of each cut. Go to Eating Well or Omaha Steaks learn more.

8. While you’re cooking you should hear a nice low sizzle. If there is spattering going on, your pan has gotten too hot. If you can barely make out the sounds of a sizzle, the pan isn’t hot enough. Pan temperature is key!

Once the meat is done cooking to your liking, it’s safe to take it off the pan! Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the beauty of professional chef-level cooking. If you’re interested in learning more about the science behind pan-frying, check out The Science of Cooking.

Here are some recipes and cooking times for different things you can pan fry:

Alton Brown's Fried Chicken

A Guide to Pan Seared Steaks

Pan-Fried Salmon with Citrus Vinaigrette  

Photo Credits: