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Can You Add Water to Oil When Frying?

Cooking conundrum: adding water to hot oil. Our editor serves up the answers with a dash of dumpling wisdom.

So, you’re just starting out with cooking and you’ve got this burning question in your mind—can you add water to oil?

Well, let me tell you, my friend, the answer is a big fat no. And I’m glad you stumbled upon Home Cook World because I’m about to break it down for you, and tell you how to do it nevertheless.

Why Oil and Water Don’t Mix

Oil and water?

They’re like that pair of siblings in every family who can’t stand each other. They don’t mix. Literally, they do not mix—it’s a simple chemistry thing.

Oil is made up of molecules that are repelled by water, so when added to water, they prefer to stick together. Water, on the other hand, has molecules that are attracted to each other and form strong bonds.

When you try to mix oil and water, the oil floats on the top, and the water separates into a layer of its own on the bottom. This separation happens because the oil and water molecules have different preferences—they just don’t like to mingle.

If you shake a mixture of oil and water vigorously, you might see them mix temporarily, but they will eventually separate again into distinct layers.

Why You Shouldn’t Add Water to Hot Oil

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Cooking up a storm in the kitchen, the pan’s sizzling, the food smells fantastic, and the recipe is coming together just like you imagined. But then… disaster strikes. You accidentally add a bit of water to the hot oil in the pan, and boom! It’s like the 4th of July, except you’re not exactly sitting in a lawn chair admiring the fireworks.

And there’s the reason right there, plain as the nose on your face, why you should never add water to hot oil.

But hey, I’m not one to just drop some advice without giving you the why’s and how’s.

So, let’s dig in a bit deeper, shall we?

Oil is less dense than water, so it floats on top. So, when you pour water into a pan of hot oil, it sinks to the bottom and gets super heated by the hot metal of the pan. It’s like the water’s in the hot seat and there’s nowhere to go but up.

Now here comes the tricky part: the water wants to escape. It turns to steam, but remember, it’s under a layer of oil, which is denser and heavier than water. So, it accumulates energy like a battery and forces its way through the oil, causing the oil to splatter and spurt.

This is the culinary equivalent of a volcanic eruption—and let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. Hot oil flying everywhere is not just a mess to clean up, it’s downright dangerous and can burn your skin… badly.

How to Do It When Making Dumplings

“Now hold on a minute,” some of you might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but my dumpling recipe specifically tells me to add water to the oil!”

Ah, yes!

The delicate dance between the things we’re told not to do and the things we do anyway, all in the pursuit of a mouthwatering meal!

Here’s a little tip for cooking dumplings: you want to lightly oil the skillet, just enough to cover the cooking surface. You don’t want the dumplings swimming in oil because when you add the water, it can cause some serious—and, let’s not forget, seriously dangerous—splattering action.

Instead, what you want to do is grease the pan with some oil and let those dumplings crisp up to perfection. Once they’ve had their time in the oil, remove the pan from the heat and give it a 30 to 60-second cool down (as a rule, thin and light pans cool down quicker, and thick and heavy pans cool down slower).

Then, with one hand, carefully pour the water in while using the other hand to quickly cover the pan with a lid. Now you can put the pan back on the stove, set the heat to medium, and continue cooking for another few minutes.

Remember, you want to act quickly and be prepared just in case there’s some residual heat and the pan decides to splatter. And remember, you should never, ever, try this over the heat. If you’re using a gas stove, make sure to turn off the flame. You want to avoid any splattering that could potentially lead to a grease fire. Grease fires are no joke and can be notoriously hard to extinguish.

Safety should always be your number-one priority!

The Takeaways

We kicked off this edible expedition by addressing a puzzler—can you add water to oil?

Short answer, a resounding no. Not only is this a recipe for some kitchen calamity, it’s also a firm reminder of the sibling-like rivalry between water and oil molecules, who’d rather keep to their own kind than mix it up.

When the heat’s on, adding water to hot oil creates an explosive reaction as water-turned-steam forces its way through the oil. It’s a dangerous spectacle and a cleaning nightmare you want to avoid like burnt toast.

But, hold your whisks, because we also tackled the culinary paradox of adding water to oil when it comes to the fine art of dumpling cooking. The trick is all about managing the heat and controlling the amount of oil in your pan.

Once the dumplings have had their crispifying rendezvous with oil, remove the pan from heat and let it chill for a hot second before introducing water. Then, lid-on and back to heat for some dumpling deliciousness.

The big takeaway from today’s post?

A dance with danger can be done safely with a little finesse and a lot of caution.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.