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Why food sticks to a hot pan

  1. Apr 1, 2012 #1
    I found this explanation here:

    Food that sticks is caused by chemical bonds that form between the food and the material of the pan - almost always a metal. These bonds may be relatively weak van der Waals forces or covalent bonds. Protein-rich foods are particularly prone to sticking because the proteins can form complexes with metal atoms, such as iron, in the pan.

    But what it does not explain is that food does not stick to a pan when cold, but it does when hot. That's what I want to know. Here's my guess. It's the same reason why you need heat to take two helium and make Beryllium. Heat increases the odds of two helium sticking together because there is more motion and hence more probabilistic resources. When food gets heated the atoms move more and there is a greater chance of the atoms from the food and the metal coming nearer each other and forming a covalent or Van der Waals bond.

    let me know if this is correct.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 1, 2012 #2


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    Science Advisor

    No, nuclear reactions and, in particular, fusion reactions do not take place at any where near "stove" temperatures! (You have to set off a fission bomb just to get the temperatures necessary for a fusion bomb to ignite.)
  4. Apr 1, 2012 #3
    I know that, what I'm saying is that with molecules moving faster there is more chance that the molecules will bump up next to each and form a permanent covalent bond. I'm not sure if covalent or van der waals are permanent bonds. but that's my idea.
  5. Apr 2, 2012 #4


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    Nuclear and chemical reactions work under different conditions with regards to the electromagnetic force and the weak and strong force so the comparision is not especially enlightening, except for the part about greater atomic vibration with increase in temperature.

    Perhaps the stickiness of cooked food is more related to how adhesives behave considering the chemical structure of the proteins in food is altered by elevated temperature. Note also that sugar complexes stick to the pan when the water content drops at the pan / sugar interface.
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