Your pans need TLC
EC: 3 Ways to Keep Food from Sticking Beyond Butter and Oil
Credit: GIF by Lauren Kolm

Cooking breakfast before work is a wonderful thing. But it can quickly become your own personal hell when scrambled eggs stick to your pan like paint, leaving you with a gnarly dish you need to clean during your already busy morning. “Just use nonstick pans!” people say. Sure, nonstick pans are ideal for getting food to, well, not stick. But you may not know how to properly maintain their nonstick pans. Many poor, neglected nonstick pans out there are all scratched up from metal utensils or have the nonstick coating chipped away, leaving them vulnerable to food sticking. Once you know why food sticks and some tips to prevent it, you’ll always get your eggs onto the plate without any hassle.

Why does food stick? Your food is literally forming a chemical bond with the pan. So to prevent that from happening, you’ll need some kind of lubrication, like oil or butter, to act as a buffer between the pan and your food. If you don’t have a buffer, you'll increase the risk of those chemical bonds forming and your food sticking. Beyond that, here's what you should do:

Season your pan. If you’re not using a pristine nonstick, you’ll need to make sure your pan is seasoned. And I’m not talking about salt and pepper. Seasoning a pan refers to the formation of a protective layer that can act as a buffer and prevent food from sticking. Seasoning a pan is dead simple. Rub your pan down with some canola or vegetable oil (you need a neutral, high-smoke-point oil) and throw it in a 425°F oven for 30 or so minutes. Do this a few times to build up a coating.

Make sure your pan is hot. Food cooked in a hot, oiled pan will actually be protected from the pan by a thin layer of steam. Steam is a result of water being heated above 212°F, so if your pan is ice cold when you add your eggs, you’re asking for trouble.

Dry your food. This is obviously not possible with eggs. But let’s say you defrosted some sausage patties the night before. Blotting them dry will decrease the chance of them sticking. If they’re super-wet, you’d have to evaporate more water off the surface to get that steam buffer. So the drier the food, the better.

Once you master these techniques, you won’t need to rely on your nonstick pan for all your breakfast cooking. You’ll open yourself up to frying eggs in cast iron, making French toast in stainless steel, or even flipping pancakes in carbon steel!