Yesterday as soon as I added 2 chicken breast fillets to a 350°F (175°C) pan (the oil) it dropped all the way to 250°F (120°C). And it took forever for the heat to climb back up.

Is there a way to minimize the heat you lose when you add ingredients?

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    Would you be interested in a technique to sear chicken breasts in a way that they are always crusty on the outside and juicy and fully cooked on the inside? Even if that technique does not involve measuring the temperature of oil?
    – Jolenealaska
    Dec 16 '16 at 14:02
  • Is your meat at room temperature or fridge temperature ?
    – Max
    Dec 16 '16 at 15:32
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    Heat up two pans and after 30 seconds in the first pan transfer it to the second pan. Add pans to taste.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 16 '16 at 15:46
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    It sounds like you're trying to deep fry the chicken (at least from the target temperature and the fact that you've got a thermometer on the oil). Is that correct?
    – derobert
    Dec 16 '16 at 16:00
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    @Jolenealaska: I don't know if the OP would, but I know that I certainly would! Dec 16 '16 at 19:11

Yes, you need to place the meat in a system which can keep more heat. This means 1) more mass, and 2) less conduction.

This is generally done with cast iron pans, because they are great for that purpose. You have to wait until they are properly heated, but once they are there, adding food does not faze them and they keep the original temperature pretty steadily.

Also, if you use too little oil, the oil itself will cool down quickly. Fill the pan generously, to come a bit above half of the chicken breasts, and then you will see much less heat loss. You can also deep fry them, which keeps the temperature really stable, but then you need something much deeper than a pan for safety reasons.

  • 1
    @rumtscho That snark is not necessary.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 16 '16 at 12:17
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    @Paparazzi I didn't mean to be snarky. Just stating a fact - stainless steel pans are widespread, so it is natural to expect that recipe authors use them. My answer does not mean that cast iron pans are the only viable way to sear meat, just that they are a good solution to the particular problem the OP encountered.
    – rumtscho
    Dec 16 '16 at 12:49
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    Stainless steel pans are better than cast-iron for making pan sauce with the fond created by searing the chicken breasts. Stainless steel, cast-iron and nonstick pans all have their purposes. Since the original question asked how to maintain the temperature of the oil, it is only natural to gravitate towards cast-iron. That is what cast-iron does. There was not a hint of snark in @rumtscho's comment.
    – Jolenealaska
    Dec 16 '16 at 14:08
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    @BarAkiva Stainless Steel pans are better at heating evenly than cast iron. Cast iron makes up for it in being heavy and thus keeping the heat once heated. But the pan does not heat as evenly as stainless steel, it will tend to have hot spots and such.
    – Joe M
    Dec 16 '16 at 14:38
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    The main reason cast iron pans are seen as holding more heat is that they are thicker, not because the iron itself inherently holds heat better than stainless steel, which is really just iron with some stuff added. A thicker pan means a larger amount of metal, which means more total heat capacity.
    – barbecue
    Dec 16 '16 at 22:51

One additional factor: moisture. The more there is on the exterior of your chicken, the more energy is lost turning that moisture into steam. Try patting your chicken dry with paper towels or just a clean dish towel before frying. That is probably only a part of your problem though, a drop from 350 to 250 probably means you need more thermal mass in the pan as the other answers say. Drying the exterior of your meat is more important if you're searing than deep- or shallow-frying.

  • I agree moisture is a factor and energy is required to turn the water to steam but I think it's important to understand that liquid water will never be hotter than it's boiling point which is roughly 210. The oil will tend to move towards equilibrium with the water temperature as it evaporates (taking the heat with it). I larger thermal mass is probably the best solution but when using my steel wrapped aluminum pans, I'll use the biggest burner and once it hits the right temperature, crank the heat all the way to 11 as I things in.
    – JimmyJames
    Dec 16 '16 at 20:57

That seems like a big drop. Some temperature drop is expected.

The temperature and mass of the chicken is a factor. Don't use frozen chicken. You could pull the chicken from the fridge a few minutes before and let it warm up a bit. But just a few minutes for food safety.

Add more mass / heat capacitance to the pan as covered by rumtscho.

The target cooking temperature is like 300°F to 325°F (150-165°C). Start with a higher temperature (up to the smoke point). Find what starting temp works for your conditions.

A lid will reduce heat loss even if it is tilted for some circulation.

An odd idea. Lean them up against each other and stand them on side for a short time.

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    I don't think pulling the chicken out a few minutes ahead of time would make much of a difference, it wouldn't raise the temperature enough when talking a 300 degree differential, would it?
    – Joe M
    Dec 16 '16 at 14:39
  • @JoeM So it would not make much of a difference. It would make a difference.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 16 '16 at 16:17
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    IIRC Serious Eats did a test and found that 'resting' your meat out of the fridge made no difference whatsoever (even when done for longer time), though it may have been more focused on roasts/larger pieces of meat.
    – Joe M
    Dec 16 '16 at 16:21
  • One other thing that might be worth noting in the answer: pay attention to the oil smoke point if preheating to a higher temp; if you're using an oil that has a 400 smoke point, you don't want to heat it to/past that, after all, so the (good) advice to heat to a higher temperature has an upper limit and/or may require changing the oil.
    – Joe M
    Dec 16 '16 at 16:25
  • ''resting' your meat out of the fridge made no difference whatsoever (even when done for longer time)' - but unfreezing meat (in fridge) will certainly make difference (energy necessary to melt ice is enormous). Dec 22 '16 at 11:45

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