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Q: When do I use non-stick vs. regular pans?
A: Non-stick for eggs, and regular for browning
Browning is a combination of caramelization, plus the maillard (mail-yard) reaction.
The maillard reaction requires heat, protein, and sugar. Heat transfer is the critical difference between non-stick and regular pans.
Non-stick pans are slightly less efficient at transferring heat from the stove into the food. At the microscopic level it's like food is resting on the bristles of a brush. Basically there is an insulating layer of air between the food and the pan. As the food cooks, steam joins the party. This moisture acts as a heat sink (water “steals” some of the heat) and there is less heat available for the maillard reaction, so less browning. The oil used in regular pans displaces the air & steam combination preventing this problem.
Fluffy pans = Less Browning
Use for things that don't need browning, very dry foods (nuts/ Spices), or pan-frying (food nearly floating in oil). Non-stick works great for eggs because they don't need browning and it's easier to clean up. Non-stick also works fine to toast spices or nuts because they are naturally dry, so the steam is pretty low. They're fine for pan-frying too, because the oil fills the gaps between food and the pan.
To make perfectly seared and juicy meat start with room-temp meat and dry the surface. Heat a pan THEN add the cooking oil. Drop the meat in the pan, and don't move it until it's browned and releases.
Cold & Damp
Chilled meat drops the temperature of the pan too much, so I put refrigerated meats in a Zip-lock bag and submerge in a sink of very hot tap water for 10 minutes. Pat the meat dry with paper towels because damp surfaces make steam, which steals energy from the maillard reaction.
Hot & Slick
Heat the pan before adding the oil because it makes it easier for the oil it to “spackle” over microscopic surface imperfection that can catch the meat. The oil needs a moment to reach temperature before adding the meat. It will change thickness (viscosity) so that the oil will ripple when you tilt and swirl the pan. This is called shimmer.
Can't Touch This
Sticking happens when you move, stir, or flip the meat before it's ready. Protein contracts as it cooks, basically making the meat grip the pan. If you try to move it too soon, you basically rip the raw meat away from happy part. The meat will release easily on it's own if you give it a couple minutes to cook. I think it's because the meat tightens enough to pull itself back away from the pan... kinda magic if you give it a minute to work.
Thanks Readers - Keep the Questions coming!