Why Do Pans Warp? – 6 Reasons You Should Know (And How to Fix Them)

Everyone cherishes a warm morning breakfast. You pull out your favorite pan, land it on the stove, crack an egg, and allow it to frizzle over the heat.

But, your morning is quickly ruined seconds later. You see sudden bumps and bulges sticking out on the pan’s surface.

Where could they have possibly come from?

Warping is a common issue with frying pans. Basically, if you have a frying pan with a raised center, it has warped. While there could be many reasons, the biggest culprit behind the expansion or contraction of the metal’s structure is heated.

If you want to know how to fix pan warping, keep reading.

The Physics of Warping Cooking Pans (Frying Pan/Stainless Steel)

When soft metals like aluminum and copper are repeatedly heated and cooled, the extreme temperatures change their hardness and distort the metal’s shape. These changes happen when the base of the pan gets hotter as compared to its walls, resulting in noticeable bulges.

We can understand this by a simple example of an ice-cube. The thermal shock causes the ice-cubes to crack the moment they are plunged into a glass of water. This is because the surface heats up faster than the inner mass of the ice. Your pans work in pretty much in the same way.

The science is simple; when the temperature stress – whether cold or heat – is stronger than the metal structure, the pan will crack or warp.

Another culprit is thinly constructed metal.

The walls of the pan play a major role in protecting it from temperature changes that can otherwise result in structural distortions.

Unfortunately, thin pans will warp faster than thicker ones as they have little heat resistance. 

They lose their heat faster and result in cold and hot spots due to the inability to maintain a stable temperature. The thickness of the metal and the method of manufacturing determine how quickly they warp due to exposure to heat.

Stamped pans, for example, warp more rapidly than spun pans because of the stretching at the knee. Whereas, hard metals like stainless steel or carbon are resistant to temperature hikes, making them a suitable option for high-heat frying.

So, yes, even when warping may seem like an inevitable cookware issue, it can be easily prevented with the right care and precaution. However, before we learn how to undo the damage, identifying what kitchen mistakes lead to pan warping is important.

Many homeowners unknowingly jeopardize the quality and luster of their pans by exposing them to high-heat, washing them the wrong way, or cooking too many things in a small-sized frying pan. Avoiding these mistakes is what can essentially save your pans from warping.

Common Reasons Why Cooking Pans Warps

Let’s inspect these kitchen mistakes in detail to understand how they can be prevented.

Excessive Heat

Over-heating typically doesn’t sound like a mistake because pans are built for the fire. However, many people are still unaware of how different metals have varying heat resistance. As discussed above, a non-stick frying pan or cast aluminum pan is likely to warp faster because of excessive heat.

Cooking quick foods like eggs, pancakes, or veggie stir-fry won’t need high heat. However, if you’re placing your pan in a preheated oven or over a high-flame burner for steaks or pasta, the damage will quickly follow. This is because the instant thermal shock causes different areas of the cookware to expand unevenly and end up bulging.

It won’t happen immediately, but the damage will pop up when you least expect it. When you put thawed meat or cold veggies to sizzle over a high heated pan, the sudden contact with cold food will cause it to warp quickly. This is because the temperature difference between the pan and the food you just put are worlds apart.

Once the pan receives a thermal shock, allowing it to cool down on its own can cause warping. The temperature difference between the piping hot pan and the air can often be too much, causing your cookware to develop cold spots.

However, remember that the pan doesn’t have to engage with something cold; the very process of overheating can cause it to warp.

Washing Your Pans with Cold Water

Heat isn’t the only offender.

Here’s the thing – washing your pans with chilled water isn’t necessarily bad unless you toss in a scorching hot pan under a cold tap (and a lot of people do this).

That is what can cause it to severely warp over time. Most people throw a super-hot pan in the sink right after they plate out their food thinking that the quicker they rinse and scrub it, the lesser the hassle.

However, rinsing under cold water triggers the atom activity of the metal, which results in uneven contraction and thus, the ugly warps. It is certainly tempting to quell the heat of the pan with cold tap water. However, the swift temperature change is just as detrimental to the metal as is the heat.

The thermal shock will result in a rapid expansion of the metal, birthing warps on the pan right under your nose! This is one reason why cookware companies always advise that you allow the metal pan to cool completely before rinsing it.

Cooking in Frying Pans with Thin, Volatile Walls

As if this point hasn’t been stressed enough. The pans of the walls play a major role in how fast it warps. Thinner, more volatile walls are quicker to crack as compared to thicker metals like stainless steel. The expansion and contraction of the metal depends on the density of the pan walls.

The issue is especially common with thinner sheet pans. They have lesser material in their structure and tend to respond quickly to temperature hikes.

They are unable to evenly distribute the heat. Due to this, all the heat concentrates in specific areas of the pan as compared to thicker metal pans. You might have already noticed cold and hot spots over your thin sheet pans.

This is because they rapidly lose all the heat to the atmosphere and turn into unstable cookware.

Frequently Cooking Over Softer Metals

It really all boils down to the kind of metal you use for cooking. If you use softer metals like copper and aluminum to frequently cook high-heat foods, they will warp and crack over time.

They have extremely thin walls and soft metal crystalline structures, because of which, they’re far more vulnerable to temperature changes.

The molecular structure of aluminum wanders loose. This makes it highly reactive to excessive heat or cold as a result of contracting and expanding more rapidly.

Moreover, both copper and aluminum are very good conductors, which isn’t good news for cooking your favorite meats.

These pans will warm up faster than thicker metals like steel, but will never be able to lock in the heat, causing it to escape quickly. However, it’s not entirely an unfortunate string of events.

You can certainly cook lighter meals that require careful temperature control like seasoned oats or tofu over aluminum pans. However, any heat spikes will cause severe warps on the pan’s surface.

Saving Money By Purchasing Low-Grade Quality Frying Pans

It’s not just the metal at fault. There are chances that your pan has been poorly manufactured from the start.

You could be extremely careful with an aluminum pan by only rustling up low-heat foods, but it could still warp.

When this happens, know that you’ve invested in a low-grade quality frying pan. As a homeowner, it’s important to do your research with pans and invest your money in high-quality, heat-resistant materials like carbon, iron, and steel. Not only are they decent conductors, but they will also prevent the pain of warps.

Single-Ply vs. Multi-Ply Cookware

Another unsuspected reason for warping is using single-ply cookware. As per their name, single-ply cookware is manufactured with only one material as compared to multi-ply, which is bundled with multiple metal layers.

You could be using a stainless steel frying pan; however, if it’s single-ply, you might just end up damaging it, too. Although steel is less likely to warp in any case, it’s definitely possible for it to warp over time.

However, aluminum plans are certainly going to warp especially if they are single-ply. In the absence of a warp-resistant material around the walls and surface of the pan, the damage is quick and severe.

So, What’s Next? 

Does this mean that you shouldn’t invest in softer metal pans like aluminum at all? Technically speaking, that is impossible. Both aluminum and copper are inevitable metals found in your cookware. You simply can’t avoid them.

However, what you can do is use them with precaution.

Here’s How to Flatten the Warp

The damage can be fixed with two quick and easy hacks. The main intent behind this fix is to flatten out the bumps and bulges using a heavy object.

The impact will help you subdue the risen warps and successfully smooth out the pan’s surface.

The Wood Block Hack

In this method, you will simply hammer down a wood block over the warps to smooth out the surface. Start by gently heating up the warped pan for up to 10 minutes on a low flame. Lay down a clean piece of a towel on a surface, and put the pan over it. The towel essentially provides a padded surface.

If the warps are upward, place the pan with its open side facing upwards. However, if the warps are downward, place the pan on the towel facing downwards. Now, put a slightly heavy 2 x 4 wooden block over the warps and hammer it lightly. After a few thumps, you will notice the warps will disappear, and the pan will return to its shape.

The reason why you should only use a wooden block is to equally distribute the impact on the pan. Focus on areas of the pan with the most raised bumps, and you will have the problem sorted.

If you don’t have a wooden block, you can always use a towel in place of it. Simply place a thick towel over a hard, even surface to prevent any damages.

Heat the pan on low-flame and place another piece of cloth over it. Now, using a small mallet or a hammer gently tap over the warps until there are no more. Flip the pan over if needed to adjust the uneven surface.

Tips to Prevent Your Pan from Warping

  • Always use a medium to low flame when using an aluminum pan to avoid thermal shock.
  • Allow your pan to reach room temperature before rinsing it water or simply wash it in lukewarm water.
  • Try using anodized aluminum pans that are far thicker and harder than the regular ones for high-heat cooking.
  • Use high-quality metal pans, like ones made from steel or iron.
  • Always bring the food to room temperature before cooking it over a heated pan.

Fixing the warps on your pan is extremely easy, and by following these tips, you might just never have to face this issue at all. Always invest in high-quality metal pans and keep them safe as they’re a lifetime investment.

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