Category Archives: Basics

Charging a Pan

2452058411_31b275f6d1_mCharging a Pan

“Charging a pan” is another technique and term I throw around on the blog a lot that I wanted to explain further.

What is Charging a Pan?

In brief, charging a pan is just another name for preheating it.  It’s quite simple, all you have to do is put the pan on the burner, turn the burner on high and let it sit.

However, note that I said “preheating it” and “it” was a singular pronoun referring to the pan only, not the pan and oil in the pan.  If you put anything in the pan when you charge it, that thing might burn.  I was reminded of this fact this very morning when I served my son scrambled eggs with a nice aftertaste of BURNT.

I’m glad we understand each other. 🙂

Why Charge a Pan?

There are a couple of reasons why you want to charge a pan.  The best reason is when you are using a technique like a sear or a saute, which requires cooking the food over very high heat.  If you put the food in a cold pan, it can stick, it won’t cook evenly, and it won’t get that beautiful hard sear.  Also, getting the pan very hot will minimize the impact of adding food to the pan, which always causes it to cool.

Secondly, it is vitally important that you charge your pan if you are cooking something over a wok.  Have you ever seen the burners in a Chinese kitchen?  Those things are like mini jet engines, only hotter.  If you are at home on your standard burner, you need to get your wok HOT HOT HOT before stir frying for the best results.

Last, if you have an electric stove like some people (me, sadly), you should charge your pan so that it gets hotter faster.  If not, you are going to be killing a lot of time waiting for oil to get hot and water to boil.

When Good Pan Charges Go Bad

As mentioned above, just charge the pan, don’t charge the oil.

Also, you shouldn’t always charge the pan.  If you are cooking delicate foods (eggs, soft vegetables, seafood), all charging your pan will do is cause burnt food.

Last, keep in mind that even though you charged your pan on high heat, it doesn’t mean you can’t turn down your burner once you add the food.  Seriously, medium and medium high are your friend!

Thanks to Mel B. for the picture of Steam!

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Three Second Fires

4455328823_8598c2a23c_mThree Second Fires

One of the things you’ve probably seen a few times on the blog is the concept of a three second fire.  I use this technique to gauge if a fire is ready to start cooking.  (Oh, and I wish I could say I invented the method, but I pretty much stole the whole concept from Steven Raichlen because he’s a pimp behind the grill.)

Anyway, I wanted to define (definitively) what a three second fire is.  All you need to do is start your grill, come back a short time later, hold your hand above the grill about eighteen inches and start counting:

one Mississippi…two Mississippi…three Mississippi

Now, at this point it should be too uncomfortable to leave your hand above the fire any longer.  If you can leave your hand there a bit longer, the fire is too cold.  If you had to remove your hand before that, it’s too hot.

Remember, though, three second fires are not a way to prove how manly you are by keeping your hand above a roaring flame.  If your hand is too hot, move the darn thing.  There’s no reason to get burnt and besides, if the fire is too hot, you’re going to burn your food anyway.

The Three Second Fire in Review

Okay, here is the three second fire in summary:

1.  Make Fire!
2.  When the coals look they like are ready to go (no black, all gray) hold your hand above the fire
3.  Count three seconds.  If you need to move your hand at that point, the fire is perfect.
4.  If you have to move your hand before three seconds, it’s too hot.  Slow the flow of air or push the coals around.
5.  If could keep your hand above the grill for longer, consider adding more charcoal, increasing the air or pushing the coals together

Happy grilling!  Enjoy!

Thanks to Robert S. Donovan for the pic.

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