I have difficulty evenly distributing oils (butter, chicken or bacon fat, and other oils) around a non-stick pan. Of course I can use cooking spray, but I need a solution for all fats.

If I don't evenly distribute the oils, when pan frying things in small amounts of oil, I get spots on the food (breaded fish, etc.) that turn out great and other spots that obviously made no contact with the fat.

  • Oh this is a frustrating problem as the oil would rather glob than spread in non-stick pans. Even using a paper towel to spread isn't perfect. I think you just might have to use more oil to cover the base. When oil gets hotter, it loses viscosity and spread easier so might need less oil than you thought. Also more oil and hotter oil can mean less greasy final product as the steam escaping from the food prevents soaking of the oil.
    – MandoMando
    Apr 26, 2013 at 13:31
  • @MandoMando regarding oil temperature, Cooks Illustrated recently discovered that starting french fries in cold oil resulted in less oil absorbtion than starting in hot oil. I'm not sure whether or not that contradicts your statement about hotter oil--though in general I've experienced the low-temperature-oil = greasy food result myself. Apr 26, 2013 at 14:33
  • funny enough, I had Jack Bishop's voice from a lecture in my head about the steam escaping from food. I'm a CI member (and love fries/poutine), could you post the link?
    – MandoMando
    Apr 26, 2013 at 14:52
  • @MandoMando I think Jeff is referring to this one: cooksillustrated.com/recipes/… ... note they're comparing single-fried to double-fried fries, and finding the single-fried from cold have less oil in them.
    – derobert
    Apr 26, 2013 at 14:59

4 Answers 4


@Rumtscho has some good points, especially around using non-non-stick pans. A cast iron frying pan would work better for that. However, if you don't have one my suggestion for pan-frying something like breaded fish would be to pull the fish through the oil puddle with your fingers or tongs as you put it in and then let the fish sit on the non-oily part of the pan. Repeat that for all the pieces.

I think what you'll find doing that though is that the breading will soak up all the oil, and you'll need to add some more in anyway in order to have enough to coat the other side when you turn the fish over. Adding more oil will cool the pan and you won't get as good as a result, so it's counter-productive. You're better off adding more oil at the beginning. If you are worried about health, don't fry in oil!


There is no really good solution for this, as non-stick pans are by nature slick, and oils bead on them.

My preferred solution is to use the right tool/technique for the job. Breaded items are normally meant to be fried in a puddle of oil at least half as high as the item (so it will have been submerged after flipping). If you insist on frying them in less oil, you should use non-coated pans. The items meant for non-stick (eggs, pancakes, etc.) do well without any fat. Dishes which indeed need a little bit of oil, but not too much, tend to be stir-fry or sautee type, and there you can start in a coated pan with the food on the bottom, then drizzle the oil on it and start stirring.

But if you don't want to change the technique or the pan, you can try distributing the fat. As long as the pan still works well, you will get disconnected beads as opposed to a thin film. The usual option is to use a silicone brush (non-silicone works too, but may burn if the pan is already hot). Pour the oil in the pan and brush it everywhere.

The second option, for liquid fats, is to fill your own oil sprayer. Normal water sprayers don't work well due to the viscosity of oil, they create a thin beam of oil as opposed to a spray. But there are special oil sprays on the market, e.g. the Misto one. I hope that they work better (I haven't tried them personally).

For solid fats, just take the block of fat as it is in the packaging and slide it along the room temperature pan bottom, just like using a sponge to clean the pan. It will leave a thin layer of fat which will melt into smallish beads when the pan is heated.

Lastly, if you have older pans where the coating starts to fail, use them for this application. You will get a more even distribution.

  • Misto sprayers work pretty well. Supposedly, you can fill them with (melted) butter, you just have to keep the butter hot. Haven't tried it myself.
    – derobert
    Apr 26, 2013 at 15:07
  • I used to have a Misto, but it always grossed me out, seemed really hard to clean, so I just ended up getting rid of it. Apr 29, 2013 at 21:26

I think non-stick pans are good for one-off use, quick recipes that don't require a lot of even heat (because they'll have movement). Frying a breaded fish seems reasonable for a non-stick. But if you're reusing the oil between heats, then that's a bad idea. Consider fudging with your dredge techniques to get a better cling when you do your fish and chips. A fry station is also not a bad choice.

Because of the absorption/adhesion of most foods, I don't evenly oil my nonsticks, I heat up oil in the center of the pan (hottest part), and lay my food directly on top of it so that oil spreads out evenly across the surface of the food in contact with the surface of the pan.


A very simple solution.

Put your oil (a little) in the pan, turn the pan a little to distribute as much as possible, then move the pan under the faucet of running water. The water provides a fine distribution.

It is also made with butter. When you make the crepes, use a little butter every two or three crepes and passes the pan again under running water, before continuing with other crepes.

My personal experience.

  • 1
    Hmm, mixing oil and water sounds like a really bad idea--not to mention soggy food. Is there something I'm missing here? Apr 28, 2013 at 1:45
  • if you pass the oil-water on the fire, before putting your food, water goes away and oil rests distributed - just in my experience Apr 29, 2013 at 18:40
  • 1
    Doesn't the oil splatter all over the place? Apr 29, 2013 at 21:25
  • No, because you don't put the pan under the tap when it is hot, but just when it is warm and just a bit. You don't need lot of water. Then, out water and out fire, round it a little the pan in air to distribute the oil. Then you put again the pan on medium fire. The water evaporates leaving just a film of oil on the bottom of it, all around. Then make the fire high again for your use. Of course, the remaining oil is very little, so this operation should be repeated every two or three uses. Apr 30, 2013 at 0:58

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