Recipes can be confusing. How many grams in a pound? How much exactly is a cup? But when it comes to cooking temperatures, it can be a bit more specific, because science.
Some hobs, stove tops and induction cookers will have the temperatures marked as low, medium, and high heat, but more often than not, you’ll just have to guess for yourself when a pan is hot enough to cook on.
For the more precise home cook, you can roughly mark what the different pan temperatures are:
- Low heat is 200° F to 300° F - for slow cooking and smoking.
- Medium heat is 300 ° F to 400 °F - for cooking chicken, vegetables, omelettes and pancakes, steaks or oil frying.
- High heat is 400° F to 600° F for searing meat.
What's the best temperature for cooking eggs?
For omelettes or scrambled eggs, or for fried eggs, you need to add oil to the frying pan and cook on a medium-high heat. Experienced cooks will be able to feel the heat with the palm of their hands and know whether the pan is medium or medium high heat. If you’re not sure, though, you can wait until you heat your pan to a high smoking point.
How can I tell my pan is at the right temperature?
A good way to know if your pan is at a medium-high heat is to drop a few droplets of water on the pan. You can do this just by putting you hand under a cold tap and shaking your hands over the pan. Make sure there is no oil in the pan before you do this as the oil can spit and splash back onto you.
The water droplets should sizzle and evaporate quickly and evenly. It should have a mild sizzling sound that isn't too aggressive. Your pan is then ready to fry eggs, or stir-fry vegetables.
Can I fry with olive oil?
It’s worth noting that not all oils are suitable for cooking on a pan at medium-high heat. Butter will burn at this temperature. Many recipes, especially sweets, call for brown butter, and that is butter cooked at a medium heat for about eight minutes. An extra minute in the pan can burn the butter giving it a black colour, rather than a nice brown colour, and this will ruin it.
Sunflower oil and other vegetable oils have a higher smoking point than olive oil, so on high heat they are more suitable for cooking. You can cook with extra virgin olive oil, as its smoking point is 405° F, but it’s a very fine line.
What's the best type of pan for cooking with?
Another factor to think about is the type of pan you are going to heat up. A good quality cast-iron skillet is a kitchen investment that, with care, will last you a lifetime. Non-stick pans are much easier to use, but they must be used carefully, cleaned properly and replaced often, as detached particles can be ingested. Fortunately, most quality non-stick pans don’t use the carcinogenic perfluorooctanoic acid, but nevertheless, there are environmental concerns over having to replace cookware every year.