Why Food Sticks to Nonstick Pans

A dry spot opens in the oil on a nonstick pan.

Whether you’re cooking with ceramic, Teflon, or a well-seasoned cast iron pan, it seems like food always wants to stick. It’s not your imagination: it’s fluid dynamics.

As the thin layer of oil in your pan heats up, it doesn’t heat evenly. The oil will be hotter near the center of the burner, which lowers the surface tension of the oil there. The relatively higher surface tension toward the outside of the pan then pulls the oil away from the hotter center, creating a hot dry spot where food can stick.

To avoid this fate, the authors recommend a thicker layer of oil, keeping the burner heat moderate, using a thicker bottomed pan (to better distribute heat), and stirring regularly. (Image and research credit: A. Fedorchenko and J. Hruby)

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