With stainless steel pans you can perform a water test to see if the pan is the correct temperature for frying but how do you tell with a non-stick pan?


6 Answers 6


You shouldn't heat a non stick pan without the oil, because it is too easy to overheat it and ruin the coating.

So, I put oil inside first, and tell by the state of the oil. It smells, looks and flows different when it is hot enough. You can also learn to judge if there is sufficient heat when you hold your palm at a given distance above the pan, but in my experience, you learn to judge by the oil before you have gotten good enough to keep the same distance and to distinguish "enough" from "not enough" heat.

If you don't have enough experience to know when the oil is ready, you have to do it repeatedly until you learn it. It takes a few less-than-great meals if you do it purely by trial and error, and goes better if you use an infrared thermometer. You can also try floating cubes of stale white bread and watch their browning behavior, but I find this method too involved logistically - you have to have the bread, cut it, then deal with messy pieces of oily bread, and end up with slowly charring crumbles in your pan.

  • That honestly sounds terrible. I guess I should just buy a stainless steel pan.
    – fordeka
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 12:41
  • @Ford what about it sounds terribe? It doesn't take too long to learn it, and the food you make in the meantime might not be stellar, but it is certainly a good dinner. For some foods (especially eggs or any number of pancake relatives) you also need a fairly non-stick surface, so you have to deal with either PTFE or cast/forged iron, which takes more care.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 12:42
  • 1
    I know this isn't a place for brand recommendations, but Moneta has a little indicator on its ceramic frying pans that becomes white when it reaches 140 C, it could help you learn the way oil behaves at that temp..
    – NickW
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 16:28
  • 1
    @NickW, true, but many brands do that these days, so Moneta is not particularly outstanding here.
    – Turion
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 17:00
  • @Turion Just my experience, I don't have that many non stick frying pans :D I think that might be a decent way of getting a baseline before you become one with your oil in a zen sense.
    – NickW
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 17:46

Just put in a little test piece of whatever you're frying. (e.g. a small piece of onions if you're frying onions)

You'll be able to tell the right temperature from its colour (Is the onion staying white? Too cold. Turning golden? Great. Turning brown/black? Too hot.) and its sound or behaviour (e.g. medium sizzling).

  • 1
    +1 I use this method too. Plus it's ok if the one piece of onion is over cooked. You can remove it if you're picky.
    – Pdxd
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 12:02

I tend to put some oil in.
Then to test if it is hot, I throw in a few drops of water. Just by running my hand under the sink, and giving it a flick.

If it spits, then it is hot.
I'm not too sure on the exact science of it.
but clearly it does indicate the oil is hot enough to boil a few drops of water.
and thus the pan is too.

Big downside of this method is that you now have oil with water in it, and it may keep spitting. (Esp if you used too much water)

  • I, too, do this even though I know there's a better way.
    – hometoast
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 16:21

For frying, you're dealing with oil, and oil is actually easy to tell when it's hot enough, no matter the type of pan:

For sautéing, look for the oil to 'shimmer'. The surface of the oil will start to form tiny waves in it when it's sufficiently hot, causing odd reflections / refraction (but if you wait too long after that, it'll start to smoke).

You can also take a piece of whatever you're cooking, and press a corner of it into the oil. If it's hot enough, some of the water will instantly turn to steam and you'll hear sizzling.

For deep frying, you typically don't want it to get quite as hot as sautéing, so you can't rely on the shimmer. The food trick will work if the food is wet enough, but I prefer using a wooden utensil (wooden spool, skewer, etc.) and putting a bit of it in the oil. If the oil is hot enough, you should see little bubbles forming around the wood that's in the oil. (don't soak the wood, just use whatever natural humidity there is ... although this might not work if you're in a desert)


You can get a good infrared thermometer for $10-$15 at an auto parts store.


i spit in the pan. my mom taught me that. my father sometimes called her "Annie Spit in the Griddle." ;o)

with good quality butter, i can tell the pan is ready when the butter stops forming oxygen bubbles.

  • 5
    After posting this, don’t be surprised if you suddenly have lots of people politely declining your dinner invitations.
    – Stephie
    Commented Apr 22, 2019 at 8:14

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