Do your pots and pans wobble around on your stove, refusing to sit flat? Does one side of your pan tend to burn half the pancakes, while the other half undercooks them? If so, you may be guilty of breaking this vital cooking rule:
NEVER toss a hot pan in the sink and turn on the water.
The majority of my colleagues polled in our newsroom admitted to tossing their sizzling-hot pans into the sink and blasting them with soap and water, essentially scorching the burned-on bits into oblivion. It seems to work wonders, disintegrating every last bit without all the elbow grease required to scrub it off later, after it has cooled and hardened to the pan. Almost everyone does it. But that doesn’t make it right.
It will absolutely destroy your pans over time.
Want proof? We talked to experts at All-Clad and Calphalon, who explained the science behind your destructive behavior. Not to totally harsh your vibe, they also offered helpful advice on the best way to clean your pans, plus some additional ways you may be unknowingly ruining your cookware.
Why You Should Never Put A Hot Pan Under Running Water
Imagine relaxing in a hot tub. Now imagine running out of said hot tub and immediately plunging your simmering hot dog of a body into an icy lake. Doesn’t feel too good, right? You’re doing something similar to your pans when you take them straight from the stove to the sink.
“If a hot pan is placed under cold water, thermal shock, which can ruin a pan, may occur,” a representative from the Calphalon brand development team told HuffPost. “By rapidly lowering the temperature of a pan, warping and cracking may occur. If warping occurs, the bottom of the pan will become uneven, and the pan will not sit evenly on the stovetop. In addition to warping, hot and cold spots may be present if the pan is used again, not heating nor cooking evenly. Always let your pans cool down naturally before cleaning with cold water.”
“Metals expand in tiny amounts when they are heated, and they shrink when they are cooled,” explained Philicia Frasson, product manager for All-Clad. “This phenomenon is called thermal expansion and thermal contraction.” She explained that a 10-inch fry pan will grow to approximately 10.05 inches when it’s heated to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’ll shrink back to 10 inches when it cools back down to room temperature. “This thermal expansion and thermal contraction is too small to be noticed by the eye, but it is an important characteristic of metals that must be managed in cooking,” Frasson said.
The solution is simple: Be patient, let your pan cool to room temperature and then go about washing it.
“If [the pan] is allowed to cool slowly, then the pan returns to its original condition gracefully,” Frasson said. “Sometimes the warpage is temporary, and the pan returns to its original shape as it cools, particularly with a robust sturdy pan. In other cases the warpage is permanent, particularly when the cookware is less sturdy, or made with thin metal. However, repeated quenching of hot pans under cold water has the risk of damaging any pan.”
The Best Way To Clean Your Cookware
Stainless Steel Cookware
Frasson advised that, in general, it’s best to let cookware cool gradually for a few minutes before placing it in the sink to soak in warm, soapy water. After soaking it for a few minutes, you can clean the cookware with a soapy sponge. Tougher spots or burned-on food may require a stainless steel cleaner; another option is to place water and baking soda in a pan and heat it on the stove while rubbing the burned areas with a wooden spoon to loosen and wipe away the bits. After a thorough cleaning, use a soft cloth to dry the cookware.
For nonstick hard anodized cookware, the experts at Calphalon suggest the best method is to hand-wash it. “If hand-washing interior nonstick surfaces, use a liquid dishwashing detergent and a non-abrasive sponge soft bristle brush,” Calphalon’s team advised. “To remove difficult residues, use a liquid cleanser, then hand-wash in hot, sudsy water. If hand-washing exterior hard-anodized surfaces, use a liquid dishwashing detergent and a non-abrasive pad or sponge.”
However, you can check and see if the nonstick hard anodized cookware is dishwasher safe. If it is, use automatic dishwashing detergent (such as Cascade) without bleach or citrus additives.
Absolutely do NOT use abrasive cleaners or cleaning pads, baking soda, bleach or liquid household cleaners used for floors, porcelain, etc. to clean nonstick pans, as they will damage the finish.
Cast Iron Cookware
The experts at Calphalon suggest that after cooking, allow a cast iron pan to cool completely before washing ― and don’t use soap, which removes the oil and seasoning needed for cast iron pans. Instead, clean the cast iron pan with a stiff brush and hot water. Towel dry immediately after washing to prevent it from rusting. While the pan is still warm from the sink’s water, apply a light coat of cooking spray or vegetable oil, then wipe away any excess with a paper towel.
Other Common Habits That’ll Ruin Your Pans
Preheating an empty pan too hot or too long. Frasson explained that if an empty pan ― whether nonstick or not ― is placed on a stove on high heat, it can quickly reach cooking temperatures and beyond. If food is placed into an overheated pan, it can burn and stick, which can be difficult to clean. Also, non-stick coatings can start to degrade at temperatures above 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s important to pay attention to a preheating pan and add food before it overheats.
Placing salt into a pot of water before it boils. Most of us are guilty of this mistake. Salt dissolves in water at high temperatures, so the salt should only be added after a pot of water boils and the salt can dissolve rapidly, according to Frasson. “Some cooks add the salt and water at the same time and heat it all together, and the salt sits on the bottom of the pan during heating. Undissolved salt crystals are aggressive toward metals, and can leave permanent spots or stains on the bottom of the pan.”
She also noted that in extreme cases, when a pan is used to heat undissolved salt over and over again, the pot can develop small pits. Olive Garden stopped salting its pasta water years ago for this reason ― to save their pots ― and caught some major flak for failing to salt their pasta water.
Using metal utensils on nonstick interiors that are not metal utensil safe. Some nonstick cookware is metal utensil safe, but others aren’t. Check your labels.
Using a nonstick spray (like Pam) on a nonstick pan. Frasson said it’s not needed and it builds up on the nonstick surface.