Learning to toss food in a pan is an efficient and fun way to mix food around your pan for an even cooking experience. It’s an under appreciated skill that takes a bit of practice, but with the right pan and technique, it can be mastered by anyone.
Have you ever watched one of those cooking shows and saw professional chefs moving at lightning speed, expertly tossing food around and flowing throughout the kitchen? No, I’m not talking about Rachel Ray’s Home Cooking, but rather Iron Chef America. If so, you might notice that they don’t just take a spatula out every time that they want to move something around a pan. Instead, they toss, turn, flip, scoop, and shake that food around masterfully, and are able to handle multiple pans at once. It’s pretty fun to watch.
The exciting thing is, it’s actually pretty simple to master! You don’t have to be a pro to start flinging and flipping like a real chef.
While the majority of us will never be on Iron Chef America no matter how many times we imagine ourselves when messing around in the kitchen, we can still master the basics. And learning to toss your food around is a super valuable skill to learn. Just be aware that you run the risk of sometimes making at least a small mess. Even the pros. But sometimes you just have to get your hands (or counter space) dirty.
Here is a step by step guide to get you to master this craft and impress at your next dinner party.
Picking the right skillet
Cuisinart 8 inch classic french style pan with enough of a lip to keep food in while moving it around
Before even considering tossing food when cooking, you should make sure that you have the right skillet handy. Luckily there are a ton that can be used to toss with some being better than others.
The skillet should be light enough to move around, and have a comfortable handle. A true 8″ stainless steel skillet is probably ideal, but most non stick pans work perfectly fine as well.
However, be aware of cast iron skillets and other heavier pans. Unless you are Hulk Hogan these pans are insanely heavy move around, let alone to toss food around in, and are usually just not shaped appropriately for it.
What you can toss
Consider the food you are choosing to toss as just as important as the skillet. Want to toss around some roasted veggies? Perfect. Want to flip a frittata? That’s going to be tough. I think it’s best to start with dry ingredients like beans or rice just to get the hang of the motion. Place them in the skillet and you can practice as much as you like with minimal mess or at the very least easy cleanup.
How to toss the food in a pan
Ok time for the real deal – the art of the toss. Get prepared by feeling out the weight of your pan with the food in it, moving it around. Can you comfortably pick it up with one hand? If so, you are ready to go.
You can imagine the act of tossing by thinking about food sliding around the edges of the pan, and then seamlessly back towards the middle of the skillet. Prepare by envisioning this in your mind to get the right handle on how you should move your pan about.
Once you are sure the food is fairly evenly distributed and not sticking to the pan you can begin.
Start by lifting the handle of the pan so the front gets tilted facing slightly down. As you do this, at the same time start to pull the pan back towards you. This will cause the food to move downwards towards the edge.
As soon as the food starts to slide down, you’ll want to lift the front edge of the pan while pulling back ever so slightly. This will redirect the food’s trajectory so that it shoots up vertically, or even backwards and slightly towards you landing safely in the pan.
Regardless you should shift the pan forward to make sure you are catching all the food inside. The food should land safely back in the middle of the pan and ready for your next toss.
Generally you’ll want to toss your food a few times before it’s mixed thoroughly. Watch out for oils and other liquids in the pan because those certainly increase the risk of causing a mix (or getting hurt).
As with any cooking technique – practice, practice, practice. Grab a good cookbook and find some recipes that incorporate this newfound skill. Next thing you know, you may be invited on Iron Chef 🙂