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What is Pan Frying?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pan frying is a method of cooking food in a frying pan on a stove top or in an electric skillet or wok. Oil is used in this method, but it is still considered a dry heat one because the food to be fried is only partially covered in cooking oil. Pan frying differs from deep frying in that the food is not actually floating in oil. The oil reaches only half the height of the food or less. Since the food also touches the bottom of the frying pan or electric skillet or wok, surface browning and crispness occur.

The steam created from the hot oil in the pan helps to cook the food inside while the outsides brown. Without the presence of steam, pan fried foods would just taste greasy and be soggy rather than crispy. Care must be taken to keep the cooking oil hot enough.

If the temperature of the oil drops too much, the amount of steam produced may not be enough to brown or crisp the food. Yet, if the temperature of the cooking oil is too high in pan frying the outsides may cook too quickly and the inside of the food may be too dry. The ideal temperature range for cooking oil in pan frying is often said to be between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit (177 - 191 degrees Celsius). However, the temperature of the oil is difficult to measure, since the oil level is not supposed to be very deep. Electric skillets usually have a temperature gauge so that you can see if the temperature of the oil goes up or down.

There are a few ways to maintain a steady temperature when pan frying. First, remember to never fry too much food at once as this can reduce the temperature. Instead cook in smaller batches. Second, start with room temperature rather than refrigerated or frozen ingredients. Be sure to keep food safety in mind and don't leave perishables such as fresh meat or fish sitting out for long periods of time; instead allow meats and fish to sit out just enough to reach room temperature.

Thin, tender cuts of meat usually work best for pan frying, but thicker steaks may also be delicious when pan-fried. Chicken and fish are often breaded by coating pieces in a batter or breadcrumbs before frying. Shrimp, vegetables and bite-sized pieces of meat and poultry may also be pan fried such as in a Chinese wok in a stir fry or in a frying pan or electric skillet.

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Discussion Comments
By jlmk — On Feb 15, 2011

Dinner on Friday nights in our house is set aside for pan frying tilapia. It's a favorite meal in our family. And it's not too hard to make.

My only tip is to make sure you don't let the hot oil splatter on you when you're pan frying any food. Not only can it burn you pretty badly, but I've ruined some very good clothes that got covered in splattered oil stains.

By upnorth31 — On Feb 13, 2011

I use a large frying pan on the stove to fry up so many different kinds of foods. I think my favorite is fried green tomatoes.

I know fried foods aren't that healthy, but it seems better to me if you are using just a small amount of oil in a pan, as opposed to the food being submerged in oil in a deep fryer. Is this true?

By write79 — On Feb 11, 2011

I absolutely love making pan fried chicken. It is so good! Just thinking about it makes me want to jump up and make a batch.

I've never had a deep fryer, and honestly I don't see any need to ever get one. I can accomplish all of the frying I need to just fine in a 12 inch frying pan on the stove.

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