Still have your toxic Teflon pans — because you can’t keep your food from sticking to safer, stainless steel pans? Then pay attention, because here’s a quick cooking trick that’ll make your food look and taste better — and let you toss Teflon from your life forever.

The trick is to preheat your frying pan properly — or for the geekier types, to take advantage of the Leidenfrost Effect. Basically, when your stainless steel pan is at about the perfect cooking temperature, a drop of water plonked onto the pan should glide around neatly, like a ball of mercury. Why does this happen? Talley at Houseboat Eats explains (via Kottke):

At a certain temperature known as the Leidenfrost point (roughly around 320˚F for water, but varying with surface and pressure), when the water droplet hits the hot pan, the bottom part of the water vaporizes immediately on contact. The resulting gas actually suspends the water above it and creates a pocket of water vapor that slows further heat transfer between the pan and the water. Thus it evaporates more slowly than it would at lower temperatures. At the proper temperature, a similar effect happens with the food you place in the pan, preventing the food from sticking.
That water-acts-like-mercury moment is the temperature when you should throw your food into the pan and start cooking. For more geeky cooking fun, read Talley’s full post, which includes Rouxby videos showing exactly how to heat your pan properly — demonstrating both the Leidenfrost Effect and the Peppercorn Effect.

Okay — the latter is not an actual scientific effect, but just a demonstration using peppercorns to show how the “pores” of stainless steel pans can open and close — “biting” your food and making it stick. It’s fascinating stuff for anyone who loves science — and food.

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